The Burke class DDGs have a single 5” gun.
Ticonderoga class CGs have two 5” guns.
The Spruance class DDs had two 5” guns.
A WWII Fletcher class DD had five 5” guns.
For better or worse, the 5” gun is the mainstay of naval gun armament for the modern U.S. Navy. As such, our ships are woefully underarmed. The Navy believes that gunnery engagements are a relic of the past much like the supposed demise of the dogfight after the Korean War. The only problem was that the
war proved that dogfights are eternal, planes need guns, and the Navy’s all-missile F-4 Phantom was ill-equipped for aerial combat. The Phantom’s follow on, the F-14 Tomcat, reverted to guns and every Navy fighter since has retained that valuable lesson. Viet Nam
Now, though, the Navy believes that ship’s guns have no place in the modern age of anti-ship missile combat. The single 5” gun on the Burke is a token placement intended more to placate Congressmen who want to see obvious weapons on ships than it is a serious weapon. When conflict comes, the Navy will find that its ships, much like the Phantom, will have to fight up close and personal and will be ill-prepared. We can make all the solemn pronouncements we want about the end of naval gun battles but that won’t change the inevitability of their need and use. And, of course, there’s always the need for guns to provide fire support for troops on the ground.
|Fletcher - Lesson for the Future?|
Moving on and accepting the need for guns for the sake of further discussion, let’s look at the Navy’s application of guns.
As noted, most ships in today’s Navy have only a single gun. Similar to the rule of thumb for the helo (if you have one, you have none) which recognizes their susceptibility to failure, a single gun represents a single point of failure. If anything goes mechanically wrong, you have no guns. The Navy doesn’t accept single points of failure in other areas. For instance, there’s a reason why Navy planes all have two engines (although, the Navy is about to break that common sense rule with the JSF); it’s to accommodate Murphy’s Law and the single point of failure. The Navy got rid the versatile Mk13 single arm missile launcher, in part, because it represented a single point of failure. Why, then, does the Navy accept a single point of failure regarding guns on major warships?
If you only have a single gun, wouldn’t you want to protect it to the maximum extent possible? WWII 5” gun mounts were protected by 1-2 inches of steel armor. While this was not proof against a direct hit by a major caliber gun, it did ensure that it would take a direct hit to incapacitate the gun. In other words, simple shrapnel couldn’t put the gun out of action. Contrast this to today’s 5” gun mounts which are totally unprotected. The mount covers are simply for protection from the weather and elements. Shrapnel or even small arms fire can put a modern 5” gun out of action. How long will today’s guns survive in battle? Not long.
The Navy needs to recognize the continued combat utility of the naval gun by,
- upsizing guns on major combatants to the 8” Mk71
- armoring all 5” or larger gun mounts
- providing multiple mounts on destroyer or larger sized ships
The Navy needs to get serious about combat and start designing ships that can fight up close as well as over the horizon.