The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
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Dirty Little Secrets
The Last Cruiser
Discussion Board on this DLS topic
by James Dunnigan
September 12, 2006
It's the end of the road for the warship class
known as "cruisers." For example, the United States is sending its last
all-gun cruiser, the USS Des Moines, to be broken up for scrap. The Des
Moines was ordered during World War II, but did not enter service until
1948. It's displacement of over 17,000 tons, and armament of nine 8
inch guns, made it as powerful as some of the first modern battleships
of 40 years earlier. The Des Moines class ships were the largest
cruisers ever built.
The modern cruiser was developed in the late 19th century, as a
sort of "battleship lite." Cruisers were meant to maintain order in
out-of-the way places, where hostile battleships were not present.
Large and powerful enough to defeat any local warships, cruisers also
became escorts for battleships, and later aircraft carriers, in the
20th century. But by the 1950s, missiles began to replace guns as the
major weapons on warships. Thus the Des Moines was decommissioned in
1961, and removed from the naval reserve in 1991. Another Des Moines
class ship, the USS Newport News, was decommissioned in 1975, and
scrapped in 1994. The third ship of the class, the Salem, was
decommissioned in 1959 and is now a museum ship in Massachusetts.
The original cruisers displaced less than 10,000 tons, but by World
War II, that had increased by 50 percent. Destroyers, which a century
ago were small ships, displacing about 1,000 tons, grew to about 3,500
tons during World War II, and nearly 10,000 tons today. This weight
inflation got so out of hand that, two decades ago, the U.S. Navy
reclassified it's Ticonderoga class destroyers, which eventually
displaced 10,000 tons, as cruisers. Now the U.S. wants build a new
class of destroyers, the DD(X)(now called the DDG-1000 Zumwalt
destroyer), that displace 14,000 tons. These ships will be 600 feet
long and 79 feet wide. A crew of 150 sailors will operate a variety of
weapons, including two 155mm guns, two 40mm automatic cannon for close
in defense, 80 Vertical Launch Tubes (containing either anti-ship,
cruise or anti-aircraft missiles), six torpedo tubes, a helicopter and
three helicopter UAVs.
To put this in perspective, a century ago, a Mississippi class
battleship displaced 14,400 tons, was 382 feet long and 77 feet wide. A
crew of 800 operated a variety of weapons, including four 12 inch,
eight 8 inch, eight 7 inch twelve 3 inch, twelve 47mm and four 37mm
guns, plus four 7.62mm machine-guns. There were also four torpedo
tubes. The Mississippi had a top speed of 31 kilometers an hour, versus
54 for DD(X). But the Mississippi had one thing DD(X) lacked, armor.
Along the side there was a belt of 9 inch armor, and the main turrets
had 12 inch thick armor. The Mississippi had radio, but the DD(X) has
radio, GPS, sonar, radar and electronic warfare equipment.
The DD(X) would make quick work of the Mississippi, spotting the
slower battleship by radar or helicopter, and dispatching her with a
few missiles. The Mississippi's 12 inch guns had a maximum range of 18
kilometers, versus 130 kilometers for the Harpoon anti-ship missile.
There has always been some debate if modern anti-ship missiles could
really take down a battleship, what with all that armor and plenty of
sailors for damage control work. We'll never know, but few warships
have armor these days. The only exceptions are some large American
The designation "destroyer" has actually gone out of favor in most
nations. Part of this is political correctness. Ships that, for a
century, had been called "destroyers", are now usually called
"frigates." Most American "destroyers" for the last few decades would
be classified as "cruisers" for most of the last century. The proposed
DD(X) is a hundred feet longer and 20 feet wider than the current
Arleigh Burke class destroyers. And with 50 percent greater
displacement, weigh as much of World War II cruisers, and battleships
of a century ago.
Moreover, the DD(X) will have half the crew of the Arleigh Burkes.
This will mean a lot more comfortable living conditions for the crew.
This marks another major difference from 14,000 ton ships of a century
ago. The Mississippi had most of the sailors sleeping in hammocks,
tying them up during the day so there was room to sit down and eat. The
Mississippi also had trough type urinals and unwalled johns in the
heads, and salt water showers. Sailors spent a lot of time cleaning the
ship, including scrubbing the deck and polishing and painting. The
DD(X) accommodations will be more like what you would find in a cruise
ship, and the DD(X) will be built for low maintenance (including a
stainless steel hull.)
DD(X) has four guns, the Mississippi had 48. But the Mississippi
represented another milestone, it was the last of the "pre-Dreadnought"
battleships. Warship designers in Britain and the United States had
concluded that technology (longer range guns and better fire control)
made it obvious that the next generation of battleships should put most
of their firepower into the maximum number of the largest guns a ship
could carry. While the British put their Dreadnought battleship into
commission first (1906), the American USS Michigan, an 18,000 ton ship,
was the first to be laid down. With eight 12 inch guns and a top speed
of 33 kilometers an hour, this type of battleship was the most powerful
thing afloat until World War II, when aircraft carriers made
The DD(X) is still "pre" whatever the next dominant type of warship
will be. But it's ironic that a hundred years later, the descendent of
the 14,000 ton Mississippi is a 14,000 ton surface ship that has more
firepower, a longer reach and the ability to see targets hundreds of
kilometers away, and is called a destroyer. And what kind of destroyers
escorted the Mississippi? They were ships of under a thousand tons
displacement, with crews of about a hundred sailors. Armed with a few 3
inch guns and some torpedoes, no one at the time expected them to
evolve into a 14,000 ton warship.
There's a good chance that the DD(X) won't even be built. Many, in
the navy and in Congress, consider it too at expensive (at $2-3 billion
each) and too big. Today, the "battleship" is the aircraft carrier, and
only a half a dozen countries can afford them. In fact, most of the
worlds aircraft carriers are possessed by one navy, that of the United
States. For all other navies, their "battleship" is what the United
States calls a "guided missile ship" (of either the destroyer or
frigate variety.) The DD(X) is seen as a ship without a purpose, just
as the Des Moines was.