And it could have happenned.
Today all four Iowa-class battleships are scattered across the United States serving as floating museum ships. New technologies such as lasers and railguns will almost certainly spark a new wave of calls for reintroducing the ships with 21st Century technologies. While unlikely in the current fiscal environment, such a possibility shouldn’t be completely ruled out. The Iowa class keeps coming back, and still may yet again.
In the early 1980s, the Reagan Administration was looking to fund high visibility defense programs. Reagan had been elected on a platform of rebuilding the armed services after the “hollowing out” of the early 1970s.
One example was the reactivation of four World War II-era Iowa-class battleships, which started in 1982. Each of the four ships, Iowa, Missouri, New Jersey and Wisconsin was refurbished, their sixteen and five-inch guns brought back online. Each battleship was also equipped with sixteen Harpoon anti-ship missiles, thirtytwo Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles and four Phalanx close-in weapon systems (CIWS) for defense.
The four battlewagons were swiftly retired after the end of the Cold War because the manpower-intensive vessels each required a crew of nearly two thousand. That made them early victims of the post-Cold War drawdown as the defense budget was sharply reduced. Today, all four serve as memorials or floating museums. Retirement put an end to future upgrades, which might have included the boldest of them all.
In the November, 1980 issue of the United States Naval Institute Proceedings, Captain Charles Myers, USN (retired) proposed reactivating the battleships with significant modifications to the aft section.The proposal envisioned deleting the number three turret near the stern and the three sixteen-inch guns housed in it.
In place of the number three turret would be an extraordinary set of armaments. A V-shaped, ramped flight deck would be installed, with the base of the V on the ship’s stern. Each leg of the V would extend forward, so that planes taking off would fly past the stacks and ship’s bridge. Two elevators would bring Boeing AV-8B Harrier II jump-jets up from a new hangar to the flight deck. It was envisioned such a conversion could support up to twelve Harriers.