Naval Gunfire Support Through The 21st Century
SUBJECT AREA - Artillery
Title: NAVAL GUNFIRE SUPPORT THROUGH THE 21ST CENTURY.
Author: Major Robert E. Hellar CG #2
Thesis: There remains a need for naval gunfire, and the Iowa
class battleships are ready and able to fill the need through the
Background: As the soviet threat disappears, the United States
Navy has adopted a strategy called "FROM THE SEA. This strategy
calls for a shift in priorities from blue water to littoral
operations and amphibious support. However, the recent
decommissioning of the battleship fleet has left the navy without
adequate naval gunfire support. While air-power has proven to be
a formidable supporting arm, there still exist a need for naval
gunfire. Technological developements have greatly improved the
effectiveness of the battleships. Naval plans are to develope a
naval gunfire alternative to the battleship. The cost of these
programs is estimated at 1 billion dollars or more, and may not
be available until the turn of the century. World events may not
wait until the year 2000. The Iowa class battleships are ready
and able to to fill the naval gunfire support role through the
Recommendation: Recommision the Iowa class battleships, to
provide naval gunfire support until a suitable replacement is
Naval Gunfire Support Through The 21st Century
Thesis: Todays naval gunfire capability is inadequate to
effectively support amphibious assaults. There remains a need for
naval gunfire, and the Iowa class battleship is ready and able to
fill this need through the 21st century.
I. Effect of "From the Sea" on navy strategy.
A. Shifted emphasis from blue water to litorals.
B. Mothballed entire battleship fleet.
II. Historical role of naval gunfire.
B. Iwo Jima.
D. Desert Storm.
III. Future role of naval gunfire.
A. Low intensity conflict.
B. Rapid response forces.
IV. Airpower versus naval gunfire.
A. Capabilities of air power.
B. Limitations of air power.
C. Advantages of naval gunfire.
V. Naval gunfire today.
A. View of Admiral La Plante.
B. Capabilities of the Iowa class battleships.
C. Technological Advancements.
D. Replacement systems.
2. Time to field system.
NAVAL GUNFIRE SUPPORT THROUGH THE 21ST CENTURY
The downfall of the Soviet Union, and the demise of its
formidable naval capabilities, has rendered the United States
blue water navy obsolete.(2:16) The United States Navy has
adopted a strategy called "from the sea." This strategy calls for
a shift in priorities from blue water operations to brown water
or littoral operations and amphibious support.
However, while the emphasis has shifted toward amphibious
support, the entire battleship fleet has been mothballed. Today's
naval gunfire capability is inadequate to effectively support
amphibious assaults. Without the battleship, we are left with
naval gunfire support that can offer no more than a five-inch gun
to support amphibious operations. There remains a need for naval
gunfire, and the Iowa class battleship is ready and able to fill
this need through the 21st century.
General Boomer, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps,
addressed the Command and Staff College in November of 1992. He
stated that he was deeply concerned that our naval gunfire
capability has become almost nonexistent. He recommends
maintaining the battleship fleet, or replacing that capability
with a suitable alternative to naval gunfire such as ATACM
ship-to-shore missile systems.(1)
During World War II, one of the lessons learned was the need
for long term, sustained, preassault bombardments, prior to
conducting amphibious assaults. At the battle for Tarawa, the
Navy shelled the island for 4 hours, using carrier aircraft and
seventeen fire support ships.(6) When the Marines began the
assault, they found that the four hours of bombardment had
little effect upon the enemy defences. In preparation for the
attack on Iwo Jima. Naval gunfire shelled the island for 3 days.
These fires were able to destroy numerous gun positions, but
three days of fire was insufficient to adequately soften enemy
By the time the war in the pacific had reached Okinawa, the
need for long-term, preassault bombardment had been realized. The
united States Navy began sending aircraft carriers to attack
Okinawa, almost six months prior to beginning the amphibious
assault. By the time the battle for Okinawa was complete, the
navy had fired in excess of 700,000 rounds of 5-inch or larger
munitions. On d-day alone, in the heaviest concentration of naval
gunfire ever delivered in support of landing troops, 3,800 tons
of naval gunfire shells from battleships, cruisers, and
destroyers, exploded ashore. During the battle "at least one call
fire ship...was assigned to each front line regiment during most
of the campaign, and on occasion...each assault battalion had a
destroyer on call." Naval gunfire was critical to successfully
conducting amphibious assaults in the Pacific.(4)
Naval gunfire recently played a critical role again in our
defense. During Desert Storm, the first shots of the war were sea
launched Tomahawk cruise missiles. Joint Pub 1 titled "Joint
Warfare of the Armed forces, states that in Desert Storm
"USCENTCOM launched sustained operations on land...Supporting
these attacks were naval gunfire and an extraordinary focused
application of air power."(7:66) Even in a large scale land
campaign such as Desert Storm, naval gunfire played a significant
role. With low intensity conflict and threats from third world
nations on the rise, the need for naval gunfire will increase.
According to reliable sources, there were 32 bona fide wars in
progress throughout the world during 1990. With the further
erosion of Soviet leadership and the absence of their stabilizing
influence, we can expect these low intensity conflicts to
persist. Traditionally, the United States' response to low
intensity conflict has been to send in rapid response forces such
as either the Marine Amphibious forces or army airborne forces.
Rapid response forces are organized and equipped to be light and
mobile, relying on supporting arms to provide the needed
firepower. Without naval gunfire, the only supporting arm
available is airpower.
The Gulf war proved that todays aircraft are more accurate
and more lethal, at delivering close air support, than aircraft
of the past. Todays guided munitions, or smart bombs, have made
battlefield air interdiction and close air support both accurate
and cost effective. If we are able to maintain air superiority,
the use of close air support will be able to fill the gap created
by retiring the battleships.
As Anti-air and Anti-missile defense systems continue to
improve, and as they become more widely distributed, they make
air interdiction more difficult. While no one advocates replacing
air power with naval gunfire, there are times when naval gunfire
provides capabilities that air power alone cannot. The advantages
of naval gunfire are that it is self-deployable and does not
require host nation support or permission. Naval gunfire is not
weather-dependent and can operate effectively in fog, snow.
freezing rain, and thunderstorms. While anti-air defenses
continue to become more lethal, there is still no defense against
naval gunfire once it has been fired.
Admiral La Plante served as commander task force
156/amphibious group two, during desert shield/desert storm. In
a recent interview with Naval proceedings. He was asked, How
important will Naval gunfire be in the future, and what is the
alternative to the battleship for naval gunfire support? He said
"It's immensely important when we're talking about a world of
littoral vice blue water naval warfare....The solution is
long-term. We wouldn't field anything until very late in the
decade, if not early next century. In the meantime, I think the
marines should embrace a technique used in Desert Storm, and
that is the fire base concept. They lifted 155 howitzers ashore
externally, flew in, dropped the crews....and in a very short
time had rounds going down range.
It was an artillery raid. That's not as reactive or as
agile, certainly, as naval gunfire. But it is an interim solution
that makes sense." (5:2)
The reason, the Marine Corps depends so heavily upon our air
power, is that we travel light with limited tank and artillery
support. To take what limited artillery we have, and use it as
land based naval gunfire makes no sense at all. Furthermore,
artillery is the largest consumer of supplies ashore. Nothing
requires more logistics support, than an artillery battalion
which is engaged in battle. To attempt to supply them by
helicopter, severely degrades the amphibious task forces ability
to move assault waves ashore and sustain them. An artillery raid
may have been the solution in Desert Storm, but this is not the
answer to our naval gunfire shortages.
While we wait until the next century to constitute a
realistic alternative to the Battleship, the world political
situation becomes increasingly more dangerous. Fighting continues
to escalate throughout the former Yugoslavia. Tension in the
mideast continues to rise, particularly between the Isreali's and
palestinians. Economic conditions in Russia are strained, causing
political turmoil which threatens not only Boris Yeltsin but
russian democratic rule itself. North Korea continues to threaten
South Korea. Combine this with North Koreans economic problems,
and many experts believe the possibility for war in the Korean
peninsula is imminent. Some believe that korea will not wait
until the 21st century, but will more likely go to war in 1995 or
The Iowa class battleship is unequal led in its ability to
provide naval gunfire support. Their 16-inch guns are the world's
biggest and can provide tremendous fire power. The battleships
are constructed like no other ship in todays navy. With extensive
armor plating along their sides and waterline, and thick layers
of high tensile steel along their entire deck, they are almost
invulnerable to conventional munitions.(8:3) This armor allows
the battleship to remain close to amphibious assaults, or to move
in close to hostile shores as a show of force.
Technological developments have added to the effectiveness
of the battleship. Remotely piloted vehicles now allow unmanned
over-the-horizon observation of the target. This, combined with
improved guidance techniques, allow for greater accuracies at
greater distances and real-time bomb damage assessments. The
developements of SABOT rounds and rocket-assisted rounds have
increased ranges significantly.(9:2)
The battleship is a versatile platform that with minor
modifications could become an even more formidable ship. The
elimination of the six secondary batteries consisting of 5-inch
38 caliber gun mounts, could reduce the ships crew by about 330
men. This space could then be filled with approximately 25
missiles per gun mount. These could be additional Tomahawk cruise
missiles, or they could be a patriot style missile to provide
anti-tactical ballistic missile protection to amphibious
assaults.(9:3) These missiles could be linked directly to weapons
control systems aboard other ships in an assault force.
The reason the battleships have been mothballed is the
shrinking defense budget. The navy is presently seeking a weapon
system, or combination of weapons systems, to replace the
capability lost with the retirement of the battleship. These
systems include electrothermal guns. ATACM missiles systems, and
a new five-inch gun. Initial estimates run from between $800
million to $1 billion dollars. With precision guided munitions
the cost increases. Few experts believe that any of these weapons
will be available to the fleet before the year two thousand.
The shift from blue water operations to littoral operations
is sound. The ability to support amphibious assaults has been
seriously weakened by the loss of adequate naval gun fire. Air
power has proven to be a lethal supporting arm, but the need for
naval gunfire still exists. While several programs are under
developement, the worlds conflicts may not wait until the year
two thousand. The recently mothballed Iowa class battleships are
still the world's most versatile, and the world's most powerful,
naval-gunfire support ships. The battleships are ready and able
to fill the naval gunfire role through the 21st century.
1. Boomer, General. Briefing. Command and Staff College.
2. Cheney, Dick. Annual report to the President and Congress.
January 1992: 16
3. Cheney, Dick. Annual report to the President and Congress.
4. Isely, J.A. and Crowl P.A_."The U. S. Marines and Amphibious
War." Princeton University press, 1951.
5. La Plante, Rear Admiral J.B. "The Path Ahead for 'Gators and
Marines." Interview with Proceedings. November 1992.
6. Millet, Allen. Semper Fidelis, "The History of the United
States Marine Corps," MacMillian Publishing, 1981.
7. Powell, General Colin L. Joint Warfare of the U.S. Armed
Forces. 11 November 1991.
8. Selle, Cmdr. R.W. "Out with the Bath Water, Out With the
Baby? Save All Four Battleships. Marine Corps Gazzette
9. Selle, Cmdr. Robert W. "The Best kept Secret in Pentagon Room
4E-686." Naval Institute proceedings. November 1992.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list