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BB-61 Iowa-class Aviation Conversion

Hybrid warships were first designed before the First World War, and continued with modern designs combining missiles and VTOL aircraft. All these attempts encountered the intractable difficulty of making a ship capable of carrying and launching a sufficient number of aircraft while at the same time possessing adequate protection and surface firepower.

HMS Furious was originally to have been a large light cruiser, armed with two single 18-inch guns fore and aft. But she was completed in 1917 with a single 18inch gun aft and a flying deck forward. After a few months the aft gun was replaced with another flying off deck but still retained the superstructure between the decks. In the 1920s the ships was further converted to have a full length flight deck. HMS Vindictive was laid down as a light cruiser, and converted while building into a small sister to HMS Furious. She was not a success.

The Japanese built several classes of cruiser and converted battleships which proved somewhat useful, though the floatplanes they carried were outperformed by carrier aircraft. The Ise and Hyuga battleships were converted into a pair of hybrid battleship/carriers after the debacle at Midway. But they were practically useless in their new role, due to a lack of aircraft. The two Tone class heavy seaplane cruisers were completed with 8" guns and extensive seaplane facilities. The Mogami heavy seaplane cruiser was rebuilt with a seaplane flight deck over the aft one-third of the ship following damage at Midway.

The French, British and Italians also had designs for hybrids. The Russians were going to contract the US to build huge battleship-carriers for them but Congress refused to allow this. The Germans designed a huge ship of over 70,000 tons which carried only 42 aircraft with 6-11/54.5 cal. guns. They were immensely protected but were completely unrealistic as weapons of naval warfare.

World War II Aviation Conversion Proposals

Even though the Iowa design was very remarkable, even as they were being laid down some policy analysts were not sold on that the United States needed more the idea that the United States needed more battleships. Instead, they advocated converting the hulls into aircraft carriers a la Saratoga (CV-2) and Lexington (CV-3). This opinion gain more momentum because of the vulnerability of battleships as shown by the attack on Pearl Harbor. Their plan called for the battleships to be converted into a similar size carrier as the Essex-class. But, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Ernest King vetoed the carrier idea and instead pushed for accelerated construction of the Iowa-class due to their well-balanced design. "I cannot acquiesce in a complete cessation of BB construction," he commented to President Franklin Roosevelt.

Post-War Aviation Conversion Proposals

In late 1961 it was proposed to convert these ships by removing the aft 16-inch turret and adding a hanger for 30 helicopters (20 in the hanger and 10 on deck), 14 LCM-6 landing craft and accommodations for 1,800 marines. A study was conducted and it was determined to be a feasible conversion but the expense involved ended this proposal.

In 1979 the Navy proposed reactivating the Iowa Class under a two-phase program. Under Phase I the battleships would be brought back into service quickly with a minimum of new modifications. This was doen, and all four ships rejoined the fleet. The initial plan also envisioned a Phase II, under which the aft turrent was to be deleted and a hanger and flight deck added in its place. The hanger would accomodate 12 AV-8B Harrier STOVL jumpjets. The Martin Marietta version for Phase II had a V-shaped flight deck with two ski jumps on the forward edges, on either side of the main superstructure. The flight decks would measure 330 feet by 150 feet. However, by 1984 the plans for these "Battlecarriers" had been dropped.



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