Posted: 3/17/2001 9:44:22 PM EDT
United States Naval Fire Support Association
William L. Stearman, PhD
Executive Director, U. S. Naval Fire Support Association
Member, White House National Security Council Staff, 1971-1976, 1981-1993
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 13, 2001
CALL PRESIDENT BUSH NOW AT (202) 456-1414
FAX PRESIDENT BUSH AT (202) 456-2461
The Bush administration has pledged to avoid the illegalities of its predecessor and return integrity and honesty to the government. Why, then, is the Pentagon now wasting millions of the taxpayers’ dollars to probably violate the law by needlessly towing the battleship USS Iowa, an important mobilization asset, from Rhode Island to California. The tow, which began on March 8, was initiated by the previous administration to illegally fulfill a "pork barrel" request when Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), close to midnight, unnoticed slipped $3.0 million into the FY 2000 Defense Appropriations Bill, specifically for towing of the Iowa to San Fransisco. This money was never authorized and to use it in FY2001 (which began last October) is illegal according to Title 10, U.S. Code 114. Congressman Bob Stump (R-AZ), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, strongly protested this unnecessary and costly move to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld both in a February 23 letter and in person. Stump’s protest was improperly brushed aside with the excuse that preparations were too far advanced to stop. Of course, Secretary Rumsfeld can still divert the tow to the Norfolk Navy Base which is well prepared to maintain it in accordance the law. This is best done before the Iowa reaches the Panama Canal on or about March 24. In addition to everything else, according to a knowledgeable Navy source, battleships are never towed at this time of the year because it is "too dangerous!" (Last month, retired DDG-22 USS Benjamin Stoddart was lost at sea while being towed.)
The battleships Iowa and Wisconsin are unique reserve mobilization assets protected by Public Law 104-106 that requires the Navy to preserve and maintain them ready to be returned to active service. Iowa is going to the Maritime Administration (MARAD) Reserve Fleet facility at Suisun Bay, California 35 miles from San Francisco. According to a Navy source familiar with MARAD, this facility has never cared for a mobilization asset like the Iowa and "does not have the ability to do so." There is no usable pier for the ship which is to be moored outboard of 14 other ships. Getting electrical cable to the ship to provide the 440-volt power needed to operate the nine dehumidification and cathodic systems essential to preserving the ship, will needlessly cost MARAD a small fortune. The current critical power shortage in California renders the essential source of power unreliable. What is more significant is that San Francisco no longer has an active Navy yard, and thus no capability to effectively maintain the ship. The ships maintained by MARAD consist of the Ready Reserve Force (RRF), some militarily useful commercial ships, some still serviceable former Navy ships and ships typed as Category "X", which is one step from the scrap yard. The majority of these ships receive minimum maintenance support, and have no protective systems installed. The MARAD Reserve Fleet at Suisan Bay and James River is, for the majority, the last port of call before being scrapped!
The USS Iowa is a maintenance category "B" ship, and therefore must be maintained in a state ready for reactivation. MARAD has no experience or capability for maintaining such a ship. Why is it being towed there? Moving the ship to MARAD while most likely illegal as well as totally unnecessary, is a waste of money, not only for towing costs but also for having to make major modifications in MARAD’S electrical and other facilities in order to receive the Iowa.
In addition, it must be noted that nearly all the spare parts, and other necessary infrastructure needed for reactivation are in the East, mostly near the coast. Should the Iowa be reactivated, which always remains a possibility, it should be towed back to the East Coast.
When Senator Boxer, in 1999, got money for moving the Iowa to San Francisco "as a tourist attraction", then Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jay Johnson, opposed the move on the grounds that "there was no military value in doing it." He was right, but he could have added that such donations are also against the law. Clinton’s Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig, after Admiral Johnson retired, went ahead anyway and approved the move on September 7 when few were paying any attention and minimum notice to Congress. Incredibly, after the Bush administration took office, the Navy, motivated by a deep-seated, but largely groundless, prejudice against battleships, was allowed to proceed with implementing the illegal Danzig decision.
Congressman Stump stressed to Secretary Rumsfeld that, in addition to the key legal question noted above, the move makes maintenance of the ship and its possible mobilization more expensive; moreover the move is "not in the National or the military’s best interest." He concluded by stating: "I am convinced that they [the two battleships] should be reactivated as soon as possible, since there is a well-recognized shortfall of naval surface fire support [NSFS]." The fact remains that without active battleships our Marines and soldiers will, for at least twenty years, if then, have no life-saving essential effective tactical NSFS in the coastal region conflicts we are most likely to encounter. And we saw in Kosovo how bad weather can wipe out air support. This deficiency could needlessly cost us countless casualties in future conflicts.
Stump is not alone in his assessment of the NSFS deficiency. Marine Corps Commandant General James Jones, in March 1, 2000 testimony on the Hill, stated: "We have been at considerable risk in naval surface fire support since the retirement of the Iowa-class battleships. This situation will continue until the DD-21-class destroyers join the fleet in strength." (Circa 2020) In a June 2000 interview, General Jones stated, "I regret that battleships were taken out of service… As for their warfighting capability, I regret that we took them out of service before we fixed the naval surface fire support problem." For at least the next 20 years, there are no other options, other than modernized battleships, that will remove this considerable risk. We are still a very long way from fixing this problem. So it is clear that, as to the Iowa, we are not dealing with some needless relic of the past. As Congressman Stump declared and Commandant Jones has implied, we need to get battleships back into the active fleet soon; therefore the Iowa needs to be ready, not sidelined.
The writers of this article were being kind. There is no guarentee that the DD21 "Zumwalt" class of destroyers will ever see the light of day. They are a "high risk" development project and are currently under review by the Bush administration. If produced they will cost at least $1 Billion a unit. The cost of one of them would be enough to rebuild all four battleships with modern electronics and anti-aircraft weapons and new, longer ranged ammunition for the 16" guns.
And no the battleships, despite their age, are not worn out. They all have less than 10 years actual service on them. The rest of their life they spent sitting. Their contemporary the aircraft carrier USS Midway served continuoulsy for 47 years from 1946-1993. The nuclear carrier USS Enterprise will have served 57 years by the time she will be replaced in the year 2017.
Please call or fax these numbers, and call or write your congressmen and ask them to back efforts to return the battleships to active service.
The 58-year-old battleship Iowa left Newport, R.I., March 8 for a new home in California.
The 887-foot, 45,000-ton ship, which served in World War II, the Korean War and the Cold War, likely will become a museum.
It has been docked at Naval Station Newport since 1998, classified as a mobilization asset — meaning out of service, but able to be recommissioned if the need arises.
At Suisun Bay, north of San Francisco, the ship will remain on mobilization status until at least 2004. After that, the Navy said, it probably will be put up for donation.
Towing the Iowa to California will take about two months and cost about $3 million.
The Iowa’s lowest moment came on April 19, 1989. On maneuvers in the Caribbean, an explosion ripped through a gun turret, killing 47 sailors. At the end of send-off ceremony March 3, as two trumpets played Taps, 11-year-old Holly White mourned the father she never met who was killed in the explosion, hugging her crying mother.