President Donald Trump promised to increase the size of the U.S. Navy to 350 ships, which could prove to be a pricey task. But what if some of those ships could include World War II-era Iowa-class battleships? It's not impossible.
The four Iowa-class battleships—USS Iowa, USS New Jersey, USS Wisconsin, and USS Missouri—were built early in the Second World War to be fast fleet battleships, capable of keeping up with aircraft carriers and duking it out with Japan's famous Yamato-class battleships. Although the Iowas never engaged another battleship, they provided naval gunfire support for U.S. ground forces during World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and off the coast of Lebanon in 1983. Each time, the ships were reintroduced to service and then quickly retired.
The Iowa's main armament consisted of three massive gun turrets, each housing three. Each gun could heave a 1,900 pound armor-piercing shell to a range of 20 miles. The Iowa ships were heavily armored, as battleships should be, with just over a foot of steel protection at the waterline. The ships were powered by four steam turbines, giving them a top speed of 32.5 knots.
In the early 1980s the Navy reactivated all four battleships, this time upgrading them with modern weapons. Four of the ten dual five-inch gun mounts were removed, replaced with 16 anti-ship missiles. In addition to the Harpoons the Iowa class were fitted with 32 Tomahawk cruise missiles and four Phalanx CIWS close-in weapons systems. The ships were put back into mothballs after the end of the Cold War, with some becoming floating museums.
Could the Iowa-class ships return to service yet again? It's a popular idea that pops up again every few years and is debated by naval enthusiasts. Dr. Robert Farley, a senior lecturer at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky and author of believes that, although the concept still holds some appeal, refurbished battleships would still be vulnerable to modern weapons. In particular, he believes battleships could not be outfitted with passive systems designed to protect ships on a cost-effective basis.
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