The Buzz

The Iowa Class: The U.S. Battleships That Were So Powerful They Were Unretired 3 Times

By the late 1980s the Soviet Union was visibly on the decline, and starting in 1989 the Navy made plans to retire the battleships yet again. On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded and occupied Kuwait, and in response a massive American sea, air and land force was sent to defend Saudi Arabia. While Iowa and New Jersey were in the process of being decommissioned, Missouri and Wisconsin were deployed to the Persian Gulf. During Operation Desert Storm, the campaign to liberate Kuwait, both battleships fired Tomahawk missiles at Iraqi targets and bombarded Iraqi ground forces. As the Missouri did during the Korean War, both battlewagons conducted naval fire missions to convince Iraqi forces an amphibious assault was imminent, tying up thousands of Iraqi Army forces that were forced to defend the coastline.

By 1992, all four battleships were again deactivated, and today they are museum ships in Hawaii, California, Virginia and New Jersey. Although there are frequent calls to return them to service, that seems unlikely: although their big guns are still useful, the ships require nearly two thousand crew each, making them expensive to operate. While theoretically possible to modernize and automate them, no serious study has been performed in how to adopt them to modern warfare. The four legendary ships Iowa, New Jersey, Missouri and Wisconsin will likely remain museums as long as they are afloat.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.

Image: USS Iowa in 1984. Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy

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