Bring back the battleships

Ever since Billy Mitchell, a lot of people have claimed that battleships are obsolete–a sentiment that became common after WW2. I don’t believe it. I believe that battleships have a role to fill in modern force-projection. The trouble is that almost everybody is stuck 70 years in the past. I contend that a modern, well-designed battleship would be able to take care of itself quite well.

One of the most common arguments against battleships is that they are an inefficient use of manpower.

This argument is both disingenuous and incredibly stupid. The newest battleships in existence are 70 years old! (As I said, people are stuck 70 years in the past.) Any modern design that is even halfway competent would be computerized and otherwise changed to the point where it would require far fewer sailors to operate.

Another argument–submarines. It’s claimed that battleships are too vulnerable to torpedoes. What many people don’t realize is that some of these arguments can also be applied to aircraft carriers. (The US Navy tries very hard to pretend that those arguments don’t exist.)

When the last battleships were designed, submarines and torpedoes were just beginning to be advanced enough to be a major threat. Any new design would obviously take the current situation into account. It would be quite simple to make such a ship double-hulled, with energy-absorbing material between the hulls.

Another argument, and possibly the most common, is air power. Again, this argument applies to aircraft carriers as well.

Billy Mitchell famously argued that no battleship could defend itself against aerial attack. But today we have the Aegis and Phalanx, which any modern battleship design would most assuredly include.

In addition, most modern anti-ship weapons are designed to be used against an un-armored target. The Iowa-class ships had 7.5 inches of armor on the decks and a belt of 12.1 inches. And if that’s not enough, simply borrow a page from the army and use reactive armor.

Make a modern battleship nuclear-powered, and it would be able to either out-fight or out-run everything else afloat.

Battleships are still obsolete, because militaries (at least of the sort that the US has) are obsolete. Just what realistic modern threats are a battleship supposed to protect against? They won’t stop a nuclear missile, they won’t stop a nuke smuggled into a harbor, they won’t stop a hijacked airline flying into a building, they won’t stop a car bomb in a parking garage. They can make an amphibious landing of troops on a hostile shore much easier, but those landing troops can’t do anything about any of those threats, either.

I disagree. Battleships were outmoded back in the thirties and the gap has just kept becoming wider.

The key factor is that offensive weapons have become more destructive. There’s no such thing as an unsinkable ship. Which is why concentrating your forces into a handful of large ships is a terrible idea. You’re just concentrating the number of targets your opponent needs to hit. You’re much better off dispersing your forces into multiple small ships. A dozen destroyers are better than one battleship.

Modern naval warfare is chiefly about missiles and electronic warfare. Having a ship the size of a battleship does shitall with that and hinders stealth.

I’m just curious here, and I really don’t know the answer - but when was the last time there was a major bunch-of-ships-against-other-bunch-of-ships battle?

Thankfully the mission of the BBs can soon be done by Destroyer size ships with small crews and rail guns. This is reality. BBs are good for only one thing now, flag waving and it is not worth it.

When Reagan & Lehmanbrought them back they served 3 purposes,

  1. At the time they were cheaper than a brand new Missile Cruiser to reach the goal of a 600 ship Navy. Though they were not cheaper to operate by a long shot.
  2. Flag waving, awesome impressive flag waving. I was in a joint fleet with the Jersey and it was amazing to see her firing her guns. Nothing like it in the world.
  3. Beach Bombardment. At the time we had nothing that could compare, firing 16" shells was far cheaper than using Tomahawks and other Missiles. It helped defer the operational cost of the BBs.

Now we have rail guns beginning to deploy.

They are getting close and should be available in less time then it would take to design and build a new BB.

Falklands war, maybe. Although with today’s weapon systems, naval warfare isn’t just ships against ships; the ranges involved can be so great that land-based aircraft, missiles and EW systems come into play. If a US-based B-52 launches cruise missiles against ships in the middle of the Pacific, it’s still naval warfare.
ETA: Sorry, I missed the word “major”.

Towards the end of WWII. Battle of Leyte Gulf during Oct 23-26, 1944.

Not really, they did not engaged that I recall with ship’s guns.

Again–“concentrating your forces into a handful of large ships is a terrible idea”–applies every bit as much to aircraft carriers as it does to battleships. The Gerald R. Ford (currently under construction) is projected to cost $12.9 billion! It will carry 4,660 personnel.

Do you REALLY think that those facts will not be a consideration in deciding when and where to send the ship? Do you REALLY think that the President or Joint Chiefs would not wonder about the wisdom of risking such an expensive investment?

Maybe. But we are talking about a modern battleship here, not bringing back one of the existing battleships and simply retrofitting modern systems into the hull. So, what would a modern battleships role be? What would it have on board to fill that role? That’s the question you’d really have to answer before dismissing such a ship.

I could envision a modern battleship as being bigger than a modern cruiser. It would have modern composite armor of course and modern propulsion system. If it’s intended to be a gun ship it would probably have several rapid firing and auto-loading large caliber guns or perhaps rail guns (or a mix) and most likely be heavily armed with anti-air and anti-sub marine weapons and probably helicopters…basically an up-sized Ticonderoga-class. Or it could be a missile platform instead of a gun ship, perhaps (in either case I would assume a large mix of guns and missiles, just what the mix would be would depend on the role). I could certainly see a role for a ship like this in a modern (US) battle group depending on how you designed it and what role you were trying to fill with it, especially with some of the new (energy intensive) weapons and other systems the Navy is currently developing, having at least one large capital ship in this new class could be an advantage coupled with the carrier, which is the heart of the BG.

I think everyone is dismissing this without thinking through what the OP is really saying, and is in fact doing just what the OP warned about which is thinking in terms of tech that is 70 years old instead of thinking in terms of a new class of ship and what a new battleship would be and do and what role it would fill.

The CVs have a very different mission though. Carriers give us force projection almost anywhere in the world. BBs have very little use today. The biggest threat to the future of super carriers is not their size, vulnerabilities or operational cost but rather drones. I see a day when much smaller ships will be launching a hundred drones instead of flight wings.

In the meantime carriers are still one of the biggest parts of our overall military strategy of the US.

I think I’d reverse that and say you’d need to have a reason for a modern Battleship before you can say they’re a good idea.

As others have said, navies these days are more or less about force projection. They aren’t used in big fleet battles anymore, and shelling coast lines and port cities has been replaced with more accurate (and ideally, more targeted and humane) use of airpower and missiles (which amongst other advantages, aren’t limited to coastal regions). So we have guided-missile destroyers and aircraft carriers instead of battleships.

So putting aside how sinkable they’d be, I don’t think there’s much point in bringing them back.

My earlier thread on this topic: Bring back the battleships? - Great Debates - Straight Dope Message Board

And my favorite battleship pic - look at the water!:

Again, depends on the role you are looking to slot this theoretical new class into. I could see the need for a large gun/missile platform with the newer more energy intensive systems. Such a platform could fill several roles of ships today, or perhaps augment the current hulls with more capabilities. To me, it seems like everyone who is dismissing this idea is still thinking in terms of how battleships were used in the past and not really considering how they could be used TODAY.

Personally, I think the biggest hurdle and one that is probably going to be insurmountable is not the utility of such a ship, but the cost. As you say, we use a combination of carrier and support ships today to make up a carrier battle group. I think that a new battleship would augment that battle group by providing enhanced capabilities for anti-air and anti-sub as well as giving such a group more punch with missiles and modern guns, but I doubt you could justify the cost especially in today’s downsizing environment.

Here is the modern Battle Ship as the Zumwalt-class destroyers. It is small compared to the Iowa class but the size of the ancient Virginia-class battleship. They currently have the “Advanced Gun System (AGS), a 155-millimeter cannon that is designed to hurl special shells as far as 83 nautical miles at a rate of 10 rounds per minute.” They will probably get the rail guns when they are operational. These are fast stealthy low profile ships that are designed for shore bombardment. However the lack of armor means it does not fits the Ops specs.

Love the fact the crew size is only 140.

Submarines and drone aircraft make all surface ships vulnerable. While an aircraft carrier may be necessary for force projection, it needs a whole task force to protect it, and that is probably inadequate. One submarine with a modern mother of all torpedoes sinks that carrier.

We already have several types of ships that are used as missile platforms. They aren’t battleships because they don’t have heavy guns. So I think the question isn’t “what else could you stick on a heavily armored ship with large guns to make it useful?”, as “why bother with the large guns at all?”. You could just stick the useful things on a ship without them, and call it a guided missile destroyer, or whatever.

Well, at least I’m consistent…I made the same argument in that thread as this one. :stuck_out_tongue: (I had totally forgotten about this prior discussion)

Obviously the Navy disagrees, which is why they have been developing rail guns for their larger ships. But you wouldn’t necessarily have to put big 16 or 18 inch guns on the thing (certainly not in 3 gun turrets like in the old days). I think this cuts to the heart of the discussion though, as you and others are using old definitions of what a BB has to be and then dismissing that, instead of considering what it could be. Personally, I envision basically a scaled up version of the Ticonderoga-class cruiser, perhaps as more missile oriented or perhaps as more gun oriented depending on how you plan to use them. I’m not envisioning basically just building an updated Iowa.

I was counting ship-borne aircraft as part of the ships although I can see why one would exclude those.

OP’s specs are really about the Rule of Cool. Big ship, big guns, BOOM BOOM BOOM
Same reason some will insist a Dirty Harry .44 revolver is a better choice than a “faggoty” 9mm/.40 high capacity synthetic stock pistol.