So, being somewhat of a geek I play computer games. One that’s been taking a bit of my interest of late is World of Warships and, like any geek worthy of the name, I’ve been doing a bit of research into the very real ships that the game is based around. This has, of course, revealed some surprising facts.

I’ll start you off with a question: What has HMS Dreadnought, the Deutschland-class cruisers and the Zumwalt class destroyers all got in common?

HMS Dreadnought (pic courtesy of Wikipedia)

HMS Dreadnought was a battleship launched in 1906 by the UK. She’s recognised as the first all big gun warship and was the first in what became to be called the Dreadnought class battleships. Later, as warships became bigger they became super-dreadnoughts. By WWII the ships had become even bigger but the dreadnought naming convention had been dropped for just battleships. The dreadnought class is still popular in fiction, such as David Weber’s Honorverse, though. At 527′ long, massing 18000 tons and with 12″ guns she was, for her time, a big and powerful warship.

Deutschland in 1936 (pic courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Deutschland-class cruisers were designed to meet the restrictions placed upon Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. Although they were somewhat more massive (~14,000 tons with deep load rather than 10,000) than the treaty allowed and their mass and 11″ main guns had the British calling them Pocket Battleships. The most famous of the three ships built was the Admiral Graf Spee which was scuttled after the Battle of the River Plate in which she was confronted by three cruisers including the light cruiser HMZNS Achilles. They, like HMS Dreadnought, incorporated many innovations in their design.

USS Zumwalt (pic courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Zumwalt-class destroyer is a new ship commissioned by the US Navy. At ~15,000 tons and 600′ they’re almost the same size and mass as the Deutschland-class cruisers. They incorporate several innovations including radar stealth and the way that their missiles are spread about the ship to prevent all the missile pods from being taken out with a single strike and the missile pods being armoured to prevent damage from weapon impacts. In, which seems rather typical of such innovative designs, the cost over-runs have been enormous and the planned 32 ships have been reduced to just three.

What do these three ships, with more than a century between the first and the last built, have in common?

All three have been designed around their guns.

In fact, although classed as a guided missile destroyer, the Zumwalt class was specifically designed as a replacement for the battleships that had been recently decommissioned by the US Navy. Those large guns that they’ve got on their foredecks have been developed to attack targets upon the land – well, the munitions had been. I’m sure that the guns could have been used to attack ships as well if the developers had bothered to develop the munitions for them to do so.

Financially it makes sense. The Tomahawk cruise-missile, at nearly US$2m, is rather expensive compared to the thirty five thousand estimated in 2004 for the Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP). The LRLAP, with a range of slightly less than 200km, doesn’t have the range of the Tomahawk but then the range isn’t always 1500km and shooting thousands of dollars worth is better than tens or hundreds of millions. Unfortunately, with the cancellation of the last 29 ships, the cost of the LRLAP munitions has ballooned out to US$800,000+ each. Even the US is no longer willing to shoot them.

But all this gives rise to a last question: Are we seeing the return of gun based warships?

The guns will have to do more than attack land targets. They’ll have to include the ability to attack ships and probably even aircraft but if that happens then it makes financial sense. The Zumwalt class has 80 Vertical Launch System (VLS) missile pods each of which can carry one or possibly two missiles (1 Tomahawk or 2 anti-aircraft) which isn’t a lot of sustained firepower really. Meanwhile there’s 700 rounds in each gun magazine with each round being a lot cheaper than a missile and modern technology can make them just as accurate.