US Navy BattleCruiser: Service Wants to Merge Carriers & Battleships

The Navy came to the conclusion that if the country was going to get its money’s worth from the four battleships, the vessels had to concentrate on their unique abilities: firing massive artillery shells at the enemy.

How amazing, or crazy, would that be? But that was just the start of their ideas to save the battleships.

The firepower of the battleships—and their destructive range—would have increased substantially. Trading one turret for 20 Harrier jets was a pretty good deal. Add the Tomahawks and their ability to strike with precision at a thousand miles and the improvements looked even better. The resulting warship would have equaled the firepower of a Nimitz-class supercarrier.

But as before, the Iowas’ inherent inefficiencies worked against them. With a crew of nearly 2,000 each, the ships’ high personnel costs made them prohibitively expensive to run in an all-volunteer navy. Harrier jets could already be carried by the Tarawa-class landing ships [3], and missile silos were proliferating across the fleet.

The Navy came to the conclusion that if the country was going to get its money’s worth from the four battleships, the vessels had to concentrate on their unique abilities: firing massive artillery shells at the enemy.

That meant keeping all three main gun turrets. The cool conversion schemes would have to stay just that, schemes.

In the early 1980s, four Iowa-class fast battleships [4] originally built during World War II—Iowa, Missouri, New Jersey and Wisconsin—were taken out of mothballs and returned to active duty.

Nearly 900 feet long and displacing close to 60,000 tons, the battlewagons could fire a nine-gun broadside sending 18 tons of steel and explosives hurtling towards their targets.

The battleships were modernized to include cruise missiles, ship-killing missiles and Phalanx point-defense guns. Returned to the fleet, the ships saw action off the coasts of Lebanon and Iraq. At the end of the Cold War the battleships were retired again. All were slated to become museums.

Few knew, however, that returning the battleships to service in the ’80s had been only part of the plan. The second, more ambitious phase was a radical redesign of the massive warships that would have combined the attributes of battleships and aircraft carriers.

The resulting ship, a “battlecarrier,” was merely one of many schemes over the span of 30 years to modernize the most powerful American battleships ever built. The various proposals—all of them nixed—had the World War II-era ships carrying hundreds of U.S. Marines or launching Harrier jump jets or even firing atomic projectiles.

A hole in the Navy

Before World War II, planners had assumed that the big-gun ships would win wars by duking it out with enemy vessels of the same kind. Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway [5] dispelled that notion, as the flexibility and long-range striking power of aircraft carriers proved superior to battleships’ broadsides.The battlewagons were relegated to a secondary role in the fleet, shelling shore defenses ahead of landings by the Army and Marines. And after the war, the Navy shed most of its heavy cruisers and […]