Is the USS IOWA Still Battle Ready?

Is the USS IOWA Still Battle Ready?

Battleships

A bow view of the battleship USS IOWA (BB-61) firing its Mark 7 16-inch/50-caliber guns off the starboard side during a fire power demonstration.

Iowa was decommissioned for the last time in October 1990, nearly 50 years after its launch date of August 27th, 1942.

A round is fired from the No. 2 Mark 7 16-inch/50 caliber gun turret during gunnery exercises aboard the battleship USS IOWA (BB 61). A projectile is visible at the edge of the burst.

However, this question or comment comes up frequently to our staff.  

The US flag is painted on top of the No. 1 16-inch gun turret aboard the battleship USS IOWA (BB 61).

Firstly, there are several issues that come into play. 

330-CFD-DN-ST-86-02476: A Mk 28 5 in. gun is fired to starboard aboard the battleship USS Iowa (BB 61), 8/1/1985. PH1 Jeff Hilton, USN. (OPA-NARA II-2016/01/07).

In summary I have said that the battleships bring many great capabilities. But are expensive to operate and hard to justify during peacetime.

330-CFD-DN-ST-86-02493: The battleship USS Iowa (BB 61) fires one of its Mk 28 5 in. guns to starboard, 9/1/1984. PH3 J. Elliott, USN. (OPA-NARA II-2016/01/07).

Operating warships today is expensive with not only fuel expenses, maintenance, plus there are crew salaries and benefits.  

Today’s backbone of the US Navy’s surface navy is the Burke Class destroyer with a crew of around 320.  Operating an Iowa class battleship was five times more expensive with a 1980s crew of around 1,450.  

Designed in the late 30’s, the Iowas are not very automated. This requires a large crew for manual tasks. 

Bottom line is your navy is getting the best “bang for its buck”.

The four Iowa class battleships are now approaching 80 years old.  

Yes, they received upgrades in the 80’s. And that is now 40 years ago.  

The battleship program stood down during the late 1990’s.

As a result, the US Navy scrapped all of the main battery 16-inch gun powder and projectiles. Spare parts probably no longer exist for other machinery. In addition, crew knowledge on operating the guns systems as well as oil fired steam boilers is fading away rapidly.  

Most of the USN ships’ propulsion plants today are diesel, gas turbines, or nuclear, etc.  

The battleship’s boilers did take a great deal of fuel for underway steaming.  The Navy has looked a few times if it made any sense to bring back one of the Iowas that had some hull life left with the installation of a more modern, economical propulsion plant.  

However, to remove and replace these ship’s propulsion plants means removing and replacing her armor belt which would be too costly.  

Each of the Iowas’ armor plates around her hull are bolted into place.  

Again, if the Navy could justify bringing one of the Iowas back into service I believe they would be removing the 16-inch guns and replacing them with missile tubes inside the protection of the thick armored guns’ barbettes.  

Today’s surface naval warfare focuses on long range missiles and most recently hypersonic missiles. 

80-G-13567: USS Iowa (BB 61) leaves the New York Navy Yard for completion at the specially built Naval Supply Base, Bayonne, New Jersey, October 20, 1942. Taking up the slack as the ship is pulled into dry dock. Photograph released by Public Relations, Third Naval District. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2016/08/09).…

So how many multi-mission missiles, (anti – air, submarine, ship and land), can your surface ship carry and what is its construction and operational costs compared to others?  

80-G-13569: USS Iowa (BB 61) leaves the New York Navy Yard for completion at the specially built Naval Supply Base, Bayonne, New Jersey, October 20, 1942. Early morning, leaving the New York Navy Yard. Photograph released by Public Relations, Third Naval District. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2016/08/09).…

Plus, most recently, how much power can your ship generate to fire lasers and new sensors that are beginning to deploy out into the fleet?  The latest warships either in service or under design are coming out with much greater power generation capabilities to cover existing requirements and have the capability of future ones.

USS Iowa’s History

Iowa’s 16-inch guns are the largest ever on any American warship. Today’s warships only mount less capable 5-inch gun mounts.  

The normal extreme range of the 16-inch guns is around 24 miles.  

While there is the capability of developing longer range 16-inch projectiles. These distances are unlikely to support a surface engagement role which would only leave the shore bombardment mission.  

In conclusion, bringing back into service a battleship to support only a possibly shore bombardment role would be hard to justify.  

Lastly, the likelihood of having time to build up to a traditional amphibious assault during an armed conflict today is unlikely or debatable.

Written by USS Iowa Curator Dave Way

Is the USS IOWA Still Battle Ready?

Battleships