No Bullets? Just One More Reason Why America's Battleships Are Gone For Good

James Holmes

Key Point: Let’s learn what we can from the past—but leave battleship reactivation to science fiction.

There’s a mystique to battleships. Whenever inside-the-Beltway dwellers debate how to bulk up the U.S. Navy fleet, odds are sentimentalists will clamor to return the Iowa-class dreadnoughts to service. Nor is the idea of bringing back grizzled World War II veterans as zany as it sounds. We aren’t talking equipping the 1914-vintage USS Texas with superweapons to blast the Soviet Navy, or resurrecting the sunken Imperial Japanese Navy superbattleship Yamato for duty in outer space, or keeping USS Missouri battleworthy in case aliens menace the Hawaiian Islands. Such proposals are not mere whimsy.

Built to duel Japan in World War II, in fact, battleships were recommissioned for the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War. The last returned to action in 1988. The Iowa class sat in mothballs for about three decades after Korea (except for USS New Jersey, which returned to duty briefly during the Vietnam War). That’s about how long the battlewagons have been in retirement since the Cold War. History thus seems to indicate they could stage yet another comeback. At this remove from their past lives, though, it’s doubtful in the extreme that the operational return on investment would repay the cost, effort, and human capital necessary to bring them back to life.

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