The Navy no longer builds warships. The Navy builds fragile weapon delivery platforms but not warships. A warship is a vessel that can stand and fight; one that can take damage and continue to fight; a ship that is designed to mitigate the damage it receives.
In WWII the Navy built superb warships that could deliver immense amounts of damage, were built to resist damage, and were designed to continue fighting when damaged. Consider the destroyers on the Pacific picket lines towards the end of the war. There were numerous examples of these small ships absorbing multiple bombs and kamikaze hits and yet continuing to fight. Or, what about the cruisers and destroyers involved in the battle for
Guadalcanal? They absorbed tremendous amounts of damage from torpedoes and shellfire while continuing to fight. Yes, many eventually sank but only after extensive damage and while continuing to fight to the end.
Current Navy ships have almost none of the characteristics of their WWII predecessors. Armor, other than small amounts of shrapnel protection around key areas, has been abandoned. Manual/local fire control is largely absent though, to be fair, trying to shoot down missiles in manual control is probably a pointless exercise. Torpedo protection in the form of blisters is non-existent. Manning, the most important damage control factor there is, has been “optimized” to the point where damage control has been seriously compromised. And so on …
Having just touched on some of the features that make for a good warship design, what are the characteristics that would make for a good modern warship design? Here’s a good starter list.
Separation. Key pieces of equipment should be physically separated to the extent possible. The modern Burke, for instance, has all of its Aegis arrays mounted within about a 30 ft diameter or so. A single hit there would likely take out every array. The arrays should be separated as on the Ticonderogas which have two arrays on the forward superstructure and two on the aft. Similarly, two of the three target illuminators are within ten feet of each other on the aft superstructure. The Harpoon Mk141 rack launchers are always installed in side by side pairs. A single hit would cost a ship its entire Harpoon loadout.
|Note the Aegis Arrays Clustered on the Forward Superstructure|
Redundancy. Redundancy is almost non-existent. Consider the modern destroyer as typified by the Burke class. It has a single 5” gun versus the WWII Fletcher’s five 5” guns. The modern Burke has no redundancy in gunfire. The main radars of modern ships tend to be single installations with no significant backup.
Armor. Modern armor, such as it is, is limited to shrapnel suppression around a few key electronics areas. There is no general hull or deck armor. The modern gun mounts consist of fiberglass/composite shells which provide no protection whatsoever as opposed to their WWII counterparts which were largely proof against shrapnel and ranged from a couple inches for 5” guns to the massive armor of the battleship turrets which could shrug off almost any hit.
Single Point of Failure. Closely related to redundancy, single points of failure can incapacitate a system or multiple systems. The example of the single 5” gun illustrates the single point of failure concept wherein an entire magazine of ammo is useless if the gun fails. More commonly, single points of failure relate to ship’s utilities. For example, electrical power for multiple systems routed through a common cable run represents a single point of failure.
|Damage Control Requires Lots of Manpower|
Steel. WWII ships were built tough. All ships were armored commensurate with their size. Today’s ships have only isolated armor segments for protecting electronics from shrapnel. Modern gun mounts are protected only by fiberglass type enclosures that offer no protection for the gun, whatsoever. Even setting aside the issue of armor, per se, today’s ships are built with aluminum, composites, plywood cores, and very thin steel skins. They are built to hold out the elements but that’s about it. Simply using thicker and stronger steel would be a vast improvement as shown in the earlier post about the Cole.
In summary, if the Navy were serious about building WARships, we would not have the LCS, the Burkes, or for that matter, any of our current ships. Given the enormous cost of modern ships, it’s puzzling why much greater survivability and toughness aren’t built in. Ships represent far too big an investment not to make every attempt to ensure that they can fight hard and, if need be, fight hurt.