Let’s face it, battleships are a combination of beauty and power that appeals to all of us. Many still want to return the battleships to duty and, honestly, there’s a lot of reasons why that would be a good thing. However, that’s not what this post is about. Along with lamenting the absence of the battleship, people often wonder if we could build a modern battleship. Let’s take a look at that – a modern battleship.
The first question is what would a modern battleship (BB) be? Would it be a simple rebuild of the last BB built? It could be and that’s certainly a worthwhile thought but there is another answer. A modern BB would encompass the qualities and characteristics of the old BBs but in a modern form. Thus, a modern BB would not incorporate 16” guns, for example.
OK, so what would a modern BB look like? To answer that, we have to understand what an old BB was intended to be. Here’s a reasonable list of the characteristics of an old BB.
- Striking Power – a BB was built to apply offensive firepower in overwhelming amounts. The 16” gun was the hardest hitting, longest ranged weapon of its day (carrier aircraft not withstanding).
- Stand and Fight – a BB was intended to stay in the fight, not run. It was built to slug it out, to take damage, to give damage, and to be able to fight damaged. It was not a ship that was susceptible to mission kill from a single hit like today’s vessels.
- Defense – a BB was an awesome anti-aircraft platform with huge numbers of 5”, 40 mm, and 20 mm AA guns. A BB was the area AAW platform of the time.
- Command – BBs were often used as flagships and contained facilities for embarked Admirals and staff.
- Independence – BBs were envisioned to be capable
of independent operations as the center of a surface action group and,
indeed, did so. The
and Washington ’s action at South Dakota Guadalcanalis a notable example.
- Endurance and Speed – a BB was fast at 30+ kts and long ranged at 15,000 nm.
Those are the characteristics of a BB. Now, how do those characteristics translate to a modern ship. In other words, what kind of ship would we build, today, that embodies those qualities?
- Striking Power – Missiles have taken the place of guns but a modern BB should have the heaviest, fastest, most powerful missiles. The modern BB should have large, supersonic anti-ship/land missiles along the lines of the Soviet/Russian P-270 Moskit (also reported as SS-N-22 Sunburn) or Indian Brahmos. Further, a BB might well carry intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM) for deep strike. Secondary armament would include a long range, high subsonic anti-ship missile like the Naval Ship Missile or Swedish RB-15. Finally, a gun fit of two 6” triple mounts would provide inshore or close range gun power and four 25-30 mm guns would round out a self-defense fit.
- Stand and Fight – there’s no getting around it, a modern BB needs armor that incorporates traditional armor, meaning thick steel, and modern advances in armor along the lines of tank composite and layered armor. Double layer void and crush spaces would be included below the waterline and along the keel along with reinforced keel and bulkhead structures. Weapons and sensors need to be enclosed within armor to the extent possible consistent with their function (there’s a limit to how much armor you can place over a radar and have it work!). This might take the form of retractable weapons and sensors to some extent. Stealth shaping of the hull and superstructure would contribute to the ability to stand and fight. Stealth would include extensive IR suppression. Redundancy is key to fighting damaged and would be an important characteristic. The AMDR would be backed up by a multiple, lesser radars, for example.
- Defense – a BB would incorporate a
Ticonderoga’s AAW capabilities including AMDR and VLS fits with 120 or so VLS cells, not counting any IRBM cell requirements. Passive defenses like ECM and decoys would be far more emphasized than those on current ships.
- Command – a modern BB would have extensive communications facilities for flag staffs.
- Independence – a modern BB would be able to act as the centerpiece of surface action groups in concert with Burke escorts.
- Endurance and Speed – as with the old BBs, a modern version would have a range of 15,000 nm and be capable of 30+ kts.
Notable among missing characteristics is any ASW fit. Just as the old BBs did not have an ASW role, neither would a modern BB. We have plenty of Burkes to conduct ASW.
Also absent is a helo hangar. A small flight deck for a single helo would be incorporated but there is no need for a hangar, one of the huge consumers of volume and deck space on modern ships. With Burkes always around and no role in ASW, there is simply no need for hangars or permanently embarked helos.
Clearly, this would not be a cheap ship. For those concerned with budgets, go build frigates and wait to be destroyed. This is somewhat akin to the Zumwalt but with added guns and VLS cells plus a conventional hull. Thus, the cost would probably be comparable or a bit more, say $4B-$5B per ship.
Size would be comparable to the old Virgina class CGN or the Long Beach which would put it in the range of 600-700 ft, probably leaning to 700 ft and a displacement of around 20-25,000 tons. Hey, I’m not a naval architect so don’t bother telling my why those numbers may not be feasible. This is just moderately informed speculation. We have engineers to generate the actual numbers.
Automation would be a part of this ship but would not significantly affect crew size. This ship is expected to fight and would need plenty of crew to man combat stations, replace casualties, and conduct damage control. What automation would do is make the crew more efficient. I would guess a crew of around 500 might work.
This would be a ship built to go in harm’s way. No, this is not a ship intended to take on the entire Chinese military single-handed. It is a ship intended to fight, hit hard, take damage, and keep fighting. Consider a surface group of three modern BBs and several Burke escorts – today’s fantasy/idiocy of individual ships will quickly give way to large groups as in WWII when combat starts. Such a group would present a formidable defense against any aircraft and missile attack while simultaneously carrying out heavy strikes against land or surface targets. With strike ranges of 1000 – 1500 nm, such a group could strike key Chinese naval and air bases without need of carrier air protection. The number of anti-ship weapons that could reach such a group ought to be well within the capability of the group to handle.