Robert Novak

"I hate to see these old systems go away," Rep. Duncan Hunter, the Armed Services Committee chairman, told me. Hunter, dealing with dozens of contested provisions in the authorization bill, specifically referred to saving B-52 bombers, stealth aircraft of Gulf War renown and the carrier John F. Kennedy. He indicated he is leaving the battleships to a subcommittee chairman, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett. That is good news for the Marines, for Bartlett is an admirer of the great ships.

Bartlett considers the battleship an incomparable weapons system that could not be produced today. Its 16-inch, 50-caliber guns, capable of ranging 24 nautical miles, are the longest-range guns in the fleet. Why, then, is the Navy so insistent on dismantling the battleships to rely on the planned DD(X) destroyer that may not be ready before 2015 (costing over $23 billion)? The DD(X), slower and more vulnerable than battleships, never will satisfy the Marines' stated needs for fire-support.

"The Navy wants shiny new equipment," Bartlett told me. That desire comports with intimate ties between defense contractors and senior naval officers, who may be looking forward to retirement jobs. The Navy brass's antipathy towardbattleships dates back to destruction of the big ships by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. Over objections by the admirals, battleships have served effectively in the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf wars.

The House committee report's indictment of the Navy is unusually explicit: "The Navy has foregone the long-range fire support credibility of the battleship, has given little cause for optimism with respect to meeting near-term developmental objectives and appears unrealistic in planning to support expeditionary warfare in the mid-term. The committee views the Navy's strategy for providing naval surface fire support as 'high risk.'" That argument poses a test this week even for the mighty military-industrial complex.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

©Creators Syndicate