Despite the explosion on the USS Iowa that killed 47 sailors, battleships remain essential to the modern U.S. Navy, Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, said after a weekend trip to watch Navy maneuvers off Puerto Rico where the accident occurred.
Hansen, a member of the House Armed Service Committee, said that view was shared by other Navy officers he talked with, including Adm. Jerry Johnson, who was on the bridge of the Iowa to umpire war games when a gun turret exploded last Wednesday."The big battlewagons allow us to sit 30 miles offshore and fire projectiles as large as a Volkswagen beetle with incredible accuracy," Hansen said, adding that sea-to-land missiles with similar range and accuracy are not available.
"If a battlewagon were sitting in the Chesapeake Bay, it could take out my desk here (in Washington) in one shot - along with the rest of the office and building," he said.
"If we didn't have the battlewagons, then we would have to send in F-111s or A-6s (airplanes) and endanger the pilots. But with the ships, we can soften up a beach or hit other targets without endangering anybody. A hundred rounds from a battleship could level a city and do more damage than an air strike."
Hansen also said criticism by some, such as retired Adm. Gene LaRocque, director of the private Center for Defense Information, that battleships use outmoded World War II era technology is unfair.
"We completely redid those ships, all the wiring, everything. The turrets, for example, are turned and controlled by computer," Hansen said.
The mechanism used to fire shells from the big guns - loading six bags of highly explosive powder behind a projectile - is of World War II vintage, however.
"It may be old technology, but it is still good technology. It has had a good safety record," Hansen said.
He added that the Iowa and three other World War II era battleships that have been recommissioned the past decade have such heavy armor - built in days of fear from Kamikaze attacks - that they would be too expensive to build new today.
Hansen said Johnson reported that he was amazed at how well that design allowed the Iowa to handle the explosion. "He said it would have put other ships on the bottom."
Hansen visited Puerto Rico with four other congressmen from Thursday to Sunday to view war games and visit an aircraft carrier under consideration for replacement and visit new missile cruisers. The trip was planned before the explosion on the Iowa.