NAVY SHIPS' SHORT REACH With so much focus on gee-whiz new weaponry, what's often lost is that there are some things the U.S. military did better in the Cold War than they do now.For example, Navy ships used to be able to give covering fire to Marines on the ground for miles and miles. But that capability has been lost, reports National Defense magazine. And it won't be regained for years to come.Marine "doctrine," or fighting theory, counts on blasts from Navy boats as far as 200 miles inland. But currently, the five-inch guns used by the Navy today have a range of only 13 miles.
That is not enough to satisfy the Marine Corps requests for long-range gun support, nor does it satisfy the Navy, which would rather not deploy its destroyers and cruisers too close to the shore and expose them to enemy fire.The only weapon in the fleet today that can reach long distances from a ship is the Tomahawk missile. But the Marines would prefer to have rapid-fire artillery and claim that the Tomahawk, though a powerful and precise weapon, is too expensive, each costing more than half-a-million dollars.The Navy has spent more than $100 million so far to develop a new 5-inch satellite-guided munition, called ERGM, with a promised range of 63 nautical miles. But that weapon is years behind schedule and may not be ready for fleet operations until the end of the decade.The Marinesi best hope for big guns may be the DDX next-generation destroyer, scheduled to begin construction in 2005 and be deployed by 2011.THERE'S MORE: One Defense Tech reader says that "the Navy has never had the 200 mile land attack capability. The only ships during the Cold War that had better gunnery range than (the current crop) were the 'Iowa' class battleships, and they were only intermittently in service, during part of Vietnam and during the later 1980s and early 1990s."