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The Iowa's

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Iowa1.0mOne of the largest battleships built, the Iowa (BB-61) and sisters New Jersey (BB-62), Missouri (BB-63) and Wisconsin (BB-64) saw action in all wars in which the US had participated since WWII. Six ships of this class were ordered and built between 1938 and 1942 after negotiations for limitation of size and number of the world’s navies broke down.

Armed with nine 16-Inch guns in three main battery turrets, ten 5-Inch, 38-caliber dual-purpose twin mounts and heavily armoured, the Iowa's were during WWII, outranked only by the Japanese 72,800-ton giants Yamato and Musashi, mounting nine 18.1-Inch main battery guns.

As noted, Iowa's saw action in almost every naval engagement they could get to. In at least two battles the Japanese dreadnoughts were pitted against Iowa's; neither were sunk. Naval Aviation torpedo - and dive bombers caught them.

The major role of battleships during WWII and afterward was naval gunfire support during amphibious operations and as FLAK-ships for the carriers. They participated in battles in the Pacific, in Europe, e.g, the Pacific Islands, Salerno and Normandy. Due to their high speed (33.1 knots.) and firepower Iowa's fulfilled this role mostly efficiently.

When the North Korean forces struck into the South, the Missouri was there to help. Earlier in the conflict, withdrawing the 1st. Marines Division from the beaches of Qhungnam, this same BB and several others held North Korean troops outside a defensive perimeter until the withdrawal was completed. On both spots, the ship used her mighty 16-Inch guns, firing 2700 lb. AP or 1900 lb. HC- rounds on targets 21 nautical miles away. The hits left no place for doubt- in fact they almost left no place at all…

Deployment of the Iowa's during WWII, Korea and Vietnam had a tremendous effect on morale of enemy troops. The physical effects could be seen clearly. Armour-Piercing (AP) projectiles can penetrate 30 feet reinforced concrete and has been known to reconfigure the Pacific landscape. In Vietnam, when the battleships were called back to serve their flag, North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops and Viet Cong (VC) guerrillas experienced the New Jersey's anger! As the US involvement in Vietnam in 1965 became deeper and as the Administration finally became aware that airpower only could not stop the NVA transfer of supplies to the VC in the south, the Navy envisaged that a constant naval presence patrolling the Vietnamese shoreline could react more quickly and accurately than air power.

It took two more years to reactivate a ship and on September 30, 1968, New Jersey began operations on the "gun line" off the "Demilitarized"Zone.(DMZ). The ship served in the Gulf of Tonkin, and before returning home, the Sea of Japan, for some eight months, returning to Long Beach on 5 May 69, and being finally decommissioned on 17 December 1969. Units in the field that received her support, praised the New Jersey's firepower as "greater ability to penetrate hard targets than any other naval gun, artillery piece or air-dropped weapon". (according to Maj. Gen. R.G. Davis, commander, 3rd Marines). Over 90% of the ammunition used in Vietnam was HC, an effective support weapon, a single round being capable of clearing a landing zone 200 yards in diameter from a dense, triple canopy jungle, defoliating trees and undergrowth for another 300-400 yards beyond and forming craters 50 ft. across and over 20 ft. deep. A full broadside from an Iowa would level almost anything standing within an area of one square mile!

Ignoring this and similar comments by the forces in the field, the US public and Administration based their decisions on less favourable journalistic reports and sent the battleships back to the mothballs.

On November 1st, 1981, New Jersey again entered dry dock at Long Beach, Ca., for her return to active duty. Tested in various sea trials during 1982 and early 1983, she sailed for a three month shakedown period. This first cruise by the reactivated New Jersey provided an example of battlegroup deployment as the Navy anticipated. She departed San Diego for Honolulu in June, 1983. A few weeks after, while on her way home, the New Jersey diverted to a station off the Central American west coast to maintain a naval presence during an especially heated period in the El Salvador and Nicaragua conflicts. Right afterwards, the dreadnought was ordered to sail for the Mediterranean to support US Marines in Beirut. She took part in the bombardment of Syrian, Druse and Moslim positions which had been harassing the Marines based at Beirut’s international airport. Although the big guns did not solve the crisis, they bought the Marines time…

What benefits did the US Navy expect from such old battleships? The US Marine Corps had been asking for a long time for an increase in naval gunfire support in amphibious operations. The deployment of such a punch together with a marine force could doubtless change the outcome. The performance of the Iowa class (BB-61 / 66) despite their age, was adequate for carrier task forces in both speed and manoeuvrability. Their modernized conventional firepower in both ASW, anti-ship and shore attack with guns and cruise missiles could enhance the Navy’s conventional operational capability.

The reactivation of the Iowa's did not go down well with the American public or Congress. The funds authorized for each vessel (though much less than what would be required for the building of a new frigate with much less firepower and survivability) amounted to 422 million in 1985 dollars, the sum requested in 1984 for de-mothballing of the last ship of this class, Missouri. Both New Jersey and Iowa were delivered before schedule with a considerable saving in the total reactivation program.

Most of the procurement funds were spent on modernization of vital weapon systems. Among the major improvements in the Iowa's firepower was the extended standoff engagement capability by Tomahawks missiles in eight quadruple armoured box launchers, 32 in all. The anti-ship version, BGM 109B, was a modified Tomahawk ALCM.(Air-Launched Cruise Missile). It could hit targets at ranges of 250 n.m. using a modified Harpoon guidance system with longer radar search capability, extended memory for the internal computer and a passive target acquisition system, all available due to the higher payload capacity of the larger missile. Launched in the general direction of the target, the missile flew on a pre-programmed path, including an area search pattern (if required). When the target was detected, the missile initiated the attack manoeuvre.

Another on-board land attack version was the BGM 109A. The missile was operated like the land launched version, guided by an autonomous navigation system based on a terrain correlation system for navigational updating. Following the launch location and target determination made prior to the launch, all the missile handling was autonomous, made according to the projected flight path planform, generated and fed into the system by the mission planning system. While airborn, a down-looking radar was used to construct terrain altitude and profile, continuously compared to the computerized on-board digital map. The missile used the radar for terrain avoidance and was therefore capable of very low flight. Using its turbofan engine, the missile was boosted on takeoff by a rocket motor which was disposed of after launch, capable of high subsonic speeds at such altitudes. It could be armed with either nuclear or conventional warheads (including Anti-Tank (AT) sub-munitions, airfield attack weapons and mines. The missile in this configuration had a range of 700 n.m., while a range of 1,500 n.m. was achieved with a nuclear warhead.

An anti-ship missile system on board was the BGM 84 Harpoon. This medium range anti-ship sea skimmer was mounted in four 4-cannister launchers, making a total of 16 ready to fire missiles. The Harpoon could hit targets in a 60 n.m. range. It cruised at 100 ft. altitude for most of its flight, searching for the target by its on-board radar. In the terminal phase it executed a "pop-up" manoeuvre, to evade close-in anti-missile weapons and enhance the effectiveness of its warhead.

The main battery and secondary battery were to be used mainly for shore bombardment. The main guns were supplied with enough ammunition to last a few decades. In fact, more than 40,000 projectiles were available at the time in 1985, most of them ready for use. Though it came off the production lines in the 1930’s, ammunition used in Vietnam proved to be in good shape (for comparison, the total ammunition consumption of 16-Inch rounds in 1968-9 deployments was 5,688). There were also the 5-Inch guns, six twins (four of the original ten were removed to make space for the Tomahawks). Original 5-Inch ammunition could hit targets at ranges up to 18,000 yards, at a rate of 15-22 rounds per minute. A future development for these guns was to come from Martin Marietta: a terminal laser-guided unit built into the projectile that could direct the warhead to hit tanks and other small targets with unprecedented precision. The designation of the targets could be achieved by helicopters or other aircraft as well as by Marines equipped with target designators.

The large calibre of the battleship’s 16-Inch guns allowed for heavy payload and long range and some considerations for new rounds included mine scattering or independent self-targeting sub-munitions to get the maximum armoured target kill potential. Other suggestions for the rearmament of the Iowa class (BB-61 / 66) vessels called for the installation of rocket launchers on the hull sides.

Defensive equipment included the four MK.15 CIWS (Close-In Weapon System).MK 15 Phalanx Gatling gun-type CIWS nicknamed R2D2 on Top of Pilot House Level at her #1 MK 37 5-Inch director with a MK 25 radar antenna atop. Operating in automatic mode, the CIWS constantly searched for hostile targets, completely independent of other weapons onboard. On detection of threat, generally a Sea-Skimmer popping up at its terminal phase, the six-barrel 20mm Gatling type gun opened up fire at 3,000 r.p.m., deadly enough to defeat the missile. The four locations on an Iowa gave good peripheral defence of the tower from all directions.

In addition, an AN/SLQ 32 electronic warfare suite was also installed. The system provided the ship with the capability to counter most of the multiple threat situations. It was an integrated, computerized ESM (Electronic Support Measures) and ECM system and one of the most advanced in the US Navy. The system included wide band detection, early warning identification and direction finding of radar guided missiles. The modular system, whose most sophisticated version was designed for the battleships, had extended frequency surveillance, high power active counter measures (jammers) and MK 137 SRBOC (Super Rapid Blooming Offboard Chaff) and decoy launchers against quickly appearing targets, to port and starboard. The heart of the system was a compact installation of multi-beam phased array antennas used for both transmission and reception. This design allowed for fast response and immediate concentration of large jamming power in the direction from which the hostile signal was detected, while capable of operating on the same (or different) mode in other directions by the same antenna. As the system (V3) was easily programmable, it could also cope with later threats with software changes only.

Anti-submarine defence included the SLQ-25 Nixie, a towed device designed to replace the ship as the target for a torpedo and an onboard landing pad capable of accommodating up to three SH-60B Seahawk ASW helicopters. The pad could also be used for replenishment and as a landing site for VTOL’s.

Late in 1986 Iowa received the Pioneer RPV (Remotely-Piloted Vehicle) system consisting of a ground control station, two portable control stations and eight RPV’s in blast-proof hangars just aft of Turret #3, for reconnaissance, surveillance, search and rescue, weapons targeting and battle assessment. Pioneer could operate out to a range of 110 miles and had an endurance of eight hours.

The search radars installed in these ships on a heavy new tripod foremast, were the AN/SPS- 49, equipped for long-range surveillance, ECCM (Electronic Counter-Counter Measures) and ADT Automatic Detection and Tracking) and SPS-10, an older but reliable surface search set which could effectively range to the horizon. A data link with other naval and airborne radars (NTDS) and OE-8 satellite navigation receiver systems and (LAMPS) uplinks were also fitted.

These ships could have operated well into the 21st century. In peacetime these giants could have shown the flag in friendly ports and clearly could have underlined US intentions in world tensions and crises without firing even a single round. In wartime, battleships would have been most widely used as fire bases supporting amphibious operations as part of a Rapid Deployment Force or as part of the carrier battlegroup’s defence umbrella, using their long-range anti-ship capability and fast speed.

In order to increase their autonomous capability in support of amphibious forces, two of the Iowa's, the Missouri and the Wisconsin were to have been modified with ski jump pads in place of the aft 16-Inch turret for helicopter and V/STOL operations.

That concept was shelved since the battleship’s essential firepower was preferred by the Marines over possible air support capabilities. Limited V/STOL deployment was available anyway aboard amphibious assault ships.

The installation of Vertical Launch Systems for cruise and conventional missiles was also considered. Since a later phase of modifications was no longer planned for the battleships, that option was also ruled out.

Without any kind of ASW countermeasures, the battleship would have been easy prey for enemy submarines. The installation of torpedoes and more ASW sensors and weapons as modification options would have been considered if the battleships had remained in service much longer. VLS systems could have offered a solution with their capacity for ASROC antisubmarine munitions in addition to (projected) weapons like Assault Breaker, Harpoon, Tomahawk, Standard SAM, etc. Such designs would also have improved the ship’s long-range antiaircraft defences.
Partial text courtesy of Wayne K. Greenleaf, 4th Division Officer, New Jersey - Vietnam, CAPT (Ret),USN.
Photographs & text courtesy of Pieter Bakels.

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