Navy debates need for new type warship
Remote control 'arsnal ship' able to fire missles
October 14, 1996
From Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. military planners reviewing last month's military action against Iraq say the confrontation exposed the need for a new class of warship.
But critics say what the Navy calls an "arsenal ship" -- a futuristic vessel capable of launching a punishing attack by remote control -- is both unnecessary and unwise.
The two days of missile strikes against Iraq last month were launched by four ships and a submarine in the Persian Gulf, along with two B-52 bombers flying from far-off Guam.
Some Navy experts claim, in the future, all that firepower and more could come from a single "arsenal ship"
For now it's just a concept. Artist's renderings envision a sleek, low-slung vessel, concealing 500 launch tubes, a stealthy ship capable of launching sustained salvos of cruise missiles and other precision weapons on the orders of ground commanders on distant battlefields.
"The Marine Corps lieutenant colonel on the beach, who is most in need of that firepower is not only going to be able to call for that firepower, as he does now, he will directly control that firepower," explained Surface War Director Rear Adm. Daniel Murphy.
The conventionally powered arsenal ship, essentially a remote-controled, floating missle pad, would reduce the need to move expensive aircraft carriers or other warships, with thousands of sailors, to world hot spots.
The far cheaper arsenal ship would remain permanently on station, with a skeleton crew, or possibly no crew at all.
Retired three-star Adm. John Shanahan of the Center for Defense Information is impressed by the notion of a ship that needs little or no crew. "I have three technicians around here just to keep my desktop computers going," he said.
But however cost effective, Shanahan said an arsenal ship parked in the Persian Gulf would be a sitting duck for attack, especially since Iran now has Soviet-made submarines.
"There isn't a submariner anywhere in the world that wouldn't give his right arm to have the mission of neutralizing that arsenal ship. So, how we going to defend it?" he asked.
The Navy says the ship will be protected in part by its radar-evading design, and in part by its sheer size.
"It will probably be considerably larger than a destroyer- class ship today because we are going to rely on mass, on the very size of it to allow it to be able to sustain missile hits and keep on fighting," said Murphy.
Critics say the recent attacks on Iraq show that the current fleet of U.S. ships already has adequate cruise missile capability.
And the missiles are not much good against mobile targets, which is why Air Force F- 117 stealth fighters were needed to counter Saddam Hussein's missiles
"I suspect that the enemy is in the Pentagon and the battle is going to be between the Air Force and the Navy for dollar bills," said Shanahan.
The Navy says the first arsenal ship could be in the water by 2001 at a cost of just under half a billion dollars. Expensive, but still, it argues, less than most new weapons systems.
But first the Navy must convince Congress and the administration its arsenal ship is truly more bang for the buck.
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