OK, it’s happened. You’ve committed the unpardonable sin of disagreeing with ComNavOps and for that you will be shot with a .50 cal bullet. ComNavOps is not without compassion, though. You will be given the option of standing behind a wall of ½” armor plate when the shot is fired. Every one of you, without exception, will opt to stand behind the ½” armor wall. Why? Because even those of you who have been arguing against armor and claiming it does no good, understand in your gut what your brain has failed to grasp: that armor is better than no armor. Will the ½” armor save you from the wrath of ComNavOps and a 0.50 cal round? Maybe not – but it offers a better chance than no armor. And that, right there, is the value of armor - it offers a better chance to survive hits than not having armor.
The preceeding hypothetical example should be sufficient to resolve the armor question, however, this is the Armor for Dummies (I mean this only as a light-hearted take on the whole XXXX for Dummies book series; it’s not an insult) lesson so I will now spell it out for everyone.
Armor is meant to mitigate (lesson the effects of) damage. While it would be nice if the armor out and out stopped whatever the incoming weapon is, absolute stoppage is not the only purpose. Simply reducing the amount of damage from a hit is worth the cost and weight of the armor. If that 20 ft hole in the ship can be reduced to 10 ft that’s a “win”. If the spray of shrapnel from a hit can be confined to one compartment rather than several, that’s a win.
One of the main arguments against armor and the one most often cited by the armor-is-pointless crowd is that a given thickness of armor can’t totally and completely stop a given weapon. For instance, recent commentators have stated that ½” armor can’t even stop a 0.50 cal round so what’s the point of having armor. Let’s look at this concept a bit closer. I don’t know if ½” armor will or won’t stop a 0.50 cal but let’s accept that it won’t for sake of discussion. Let’s stipulate that ½” armor will not stop a 0.50 cal round fired at optimum range and right angles to the armor. OK, but what about a round that hits the armor at a 45 deg angle? I’m betting that it will stop it and the round will ricochet off. In combat, rounds will be impacting at all angles. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could stop some portion of those rounds rather than having every round tear through the ship? Well sure that would be nice but what if the round does impact under perfect conditions and penetrates the armor? Think about that for a moment. What would happen if we had no armor? The round would not only pass through the skin of the ship but through multiple compartments, equipment, electronics, and people until it eventually ran out of kinetic energy and stopped in something. In short, it would do a great deal of damage beyond the initial penetration. So, what happens if the round passes through our notional ½” armor? Well, the amount of kinetic energy expended by the round in passing through the armor will be such that the round will have little left for further penetration deeper into the ship – damage will be greatly limited compared to not having armor.
|He's No Dummy!|
Remember, in combat a ship is far more likely to encounter near-misses, shrapnel, and off-angle hits than perfect hits. The ability to shrug off, or greatly mitigate, the sub-optimal hits is what armor grants. Will perfect hits by weapons whose explosive power exceeds the armor’s resistance cause damage? Of course! Even then, the damage will be less with armor than without.
There seems to be a belief that armor is totally incapable of stopping modern weapons and that’s completely false. It’s simply a question of thickness (I’m simplifying a bit, here) versus the specific weapon. I recall reading about tests the Navy conducted many years ago in which they launched missiles (Harpoons or Tomahawks – I can’t recall which) at battleship plate armor (I don’t recall the thickness) and all the missiles did was ruin the paint. Armor will stop weapons if the thickness is sufficient.
That brings us to the other main objection that is commonly voiced: armor is too heavy to carry enough to make a difference. Well, we’ve just discussed how any amount of armor is better than none. Setting that aside, there’s a school of thought that seems to believe that modern ships just can’t carry the weight of armor. Nonsense! WWII Fletcher class destroyers carried ½” – ¾” armor on a 376 ft hull of 2500 tons. If a Fletcher can carry that, surely a 500 ft, 10,000 ton Burke class destroyer can carry at least the same.
A recent comment suggested that adding ½” to 1.5” of armor would add 180 tons to 540 tons (I have not verified those numbers) to a Burke and that that additional weight was unacceptable. Bilgewater! If designed in from the start, that amount of armor would have no deleterious effect on the ship’s performance, as WWII ship design proved, and would greatly enhance damage resistance. We’re risking multi-billion dollar ships for want of an inch or two of armor. Steel is cheap. Armor is steel. Therefore, armor is cheap.
We examine a lot of issues that are debatable. This isn’t one of them.