Via Galrahn, here's a story out of the UK about the evolving NATO response to the Libya crisis, which has drooped out of sight yet again amid all the reports about the death of Osama bin Laden. Royal Navy commanders plan to order the destroyer HMS Liverpool to shell targets ashore in Libya with its main gun, according to The Sun. It's not quite the same as when a British battleship could stand offshore and pound the enemy with 15-inch shells, but the principle is the same: The Liverpool will be able to keep station at all hours, unlike the attack jets that flit in and out, and the cost per round for its shells is much, much lower than the cost per precision-guided bomb and the airplanes to deliver it.
Although the Brits and the French have denied reports that they're running out of precision-guided weapons, the Liverpool's pending fire missions could be read as much as an economizing measure as one picked for its military utility. The French have already begun doing this with their concrete bombs, which are effective against tanks but don't cost as much as the latest, newest GPS-guided ordnance.
The Liverpool's main gun is like a Nerf toy compared to the weapons the U.S. Navy wants to field on its future warships, which planners want to deploy in situations just like Libya. The Advanced Gun System, to sail with the futuristic Zumwalt-class destroyers, would give commanders a longer reach and a harder punch for fire support missions. And then there's the famous rail gun, which -- if it works -- will be the ultimate weapon for naval shore bombardment. The problem with both, however, is they're years away from being ready for use in an operation like Libya.
So in the meantime, ships like the Liverpool will have to do things the old-fashioned way, demonstrating that there's still a role for near-shore fire support even in this day and age.