From a post to DAVIDWEBER.NET forums on 6/9/2011

The return of battleships as a viable class

    In response to Duckk's questions.

    I'm not going to categorically say that there's no future at all for battleships in the era of MDMs. One of the reasons I'm not going to say that is that the weapons mix and the operational and tactical doctrines of the various navies aren't as thoroughly pre-destined and fixed in my mind as some people seem to think they are. I do have a general progression in mind, and I've been working towards certain weapons systems from the very beginning of the series. On the other hand, I've also been working on the books for going on twenty years now, and one of my fundamental assumptions (dating from even before my wargame development period) has always been that "threat evokes response." That is, weapons and tactical developments respond to new threats and new opportunities in an ongoing process that sometimes means they move in unexpected directions. I try to leave room in the books for that to happen with the tech I introduce, so sometimes I find myself a bit surprised by some of the things that happen in "my" universe. Those pesky characters who live in it have a nasty habit of doing things like that.

    Having said that, let's proceed to look at the question of BB(P)s-vs-SD(P)s and consider some of the historical context I think should be borne in mind while thinking about Honorverse force mixes.

    Now, one of the things the introduction of missile pods and pod-layers has done is to move the threat environment in some ways towards the era of the aircraft carrier/missile-armed surface combatant. When US carrier doctrine was being evolved in the 1920s and 1930s, there was a reason the United States built carriers with wooden (i.e., unarmored) flight decks and the maximum possible air groups. The main reason for that -- and the reason for the United States Navy's tactical emphasis on the "full-deck strike" -- was the perception that carriers were, by their very nature, neither protectable nor survivable. The belief was that the carrier's role as a platform for fighters and strike aircraft meant it was inevitably going to be stuffed full not only of ordnance (which wasn't that big a problem; by the time carriers came along naval designers had had a lot of experience figuring out how to protect magazines) but also of gasoline. And unlike ammunition, gasoline wasn't something naval designers had a lot of experience in protecting and handling.

    Gasoline, in fact, posed the most severe challenge when it came to designing aircraft carriers. Providing fuel for up to a hundred aircraft engines at a time required a lot of gas. For example, the Dauntless SBD-5 had an internal fuel capacity of roughly 300 gallons. So, fueling 36 of them (two squadrons worth) would require 10,800 gallons of fuel. The Avenger TBF-1 had about the same standard internal fuel capacity, but both aircraft could carry additional fuel for scouting operations. In fact, the Avenger could carry over 700 gallons in internal tanks if a "Tokyo tank" was fitted inside the bomb bay. Fighters also carried around 300 gallons of internal fuel, and that got worse later in the war when the practice of carrying external dropped tanks was adopted. So a 100-aircraft "full-deck strike" was going to require somewhere in the vicinity of 30,000 gallons (or about 97.5 tons) of gasoline. (As a matter of fact, for the hopelessly OCD, Enterprise was designed to carry 4,280 tons of oil for her own engines and 178,000 gallons [580 tons] of gasoline for her aircraft. By contrast, she was designed to carry only 387.2 tons of actual aviation ordnance. The Essex carried 231,650 gallons [753 tons] of gasoline and 625 tons of aviation ordnance.)

    That's a lot of gas. Indeed, fuel was (and remains) far and away the biggest limiting factor on air operations (and also -- by far -- the largest component of a carrier's aviation stores, in both volumetric and tonnage terms), and unlike modern jet fuel, World War II era, high octane gasoline was extremely flammable. If an enemy strike got through with even one or two bombs and caught a carrier with fueled/armed aircraft, that carrier was toast. For that matter, given the size and inherent vulnerability of her gasoline tankage and distribution systems, she was probably toast even if her aircraft weren't fueled at the moment. Gasoline -- and especially gasoline vapor -- was simply too explosive and too omnipresent for there to be any other result. And until the practice of "inerting" fueling systems by filling the lines with CO2 when not actually in use came along (which, if memory serves, was a brand-new technology in the U.S. Navy at the time of Battle of the Coral Sea and may never have been adopted by the IJN at all; I'm not sure about the Taiho disaster), fuel vapors were a serious fire and explosion hazard even if the fuel distribution systems themselves had been drained, since they still contained trapped gasoline vapors. Think "involuntary fuel-air bomb."

    Under those circumstances, the reasoning went, there was no point wasting a lot of effort on armoring the carrier. A carrier's defense was to avoid being hit in the first place, not to be armored or protected in order to survive after being hit. The secondary way to avoid being hit was to provide the carrier with fighter cover to shoot down attacking bombers, but the primary way to defend the carrier was to launch the absolutely largest and most powerful strike groups (i.e., "full-deck strikes") at the earliest possible point and take out the enemy carriers before they could attack your own. In other words, the perception was that no carrier could withstand a significant number of hits from its opposite numbers and that the only real defense was the preemptive destruction of those opposite numbers. "Do unto others before others do unto you," you might say, and, indeed, the reason for the wooden flight decks on US and Japanese aircraft carriers was to permit them to maximize their air groups for that decisive, preemptive strike. Both navies had evolved similar philosophies -- in that respect, at least -- and in order to fit in additional aircraft and hangar space, they'd reduced weight by using wooden flight decks instead of the heavily armored deck British carriers featured. Of course, the reasons the Brits had armored their flight decks were that they were going to be [operating] in restricted waters (closer to land-based enemy air), that prewar shipboard antiaircraft was woefully anemic, and that the Royal Navy's aircraft -- whose design was controlled prewar by the RAF, not the Navy -- well, frankly… sucked. In short, the British Navy had little hope of defeating air attack by destroying the bases from which that attack might be launched and was forced to accept that the only way its aircraft carriers were likely to survive was to them as tough as possible. As a consequence, their air groups were much smaller, which, coupled with the inferior quality of their aircraft, would have left them at a serious disadvantage in a standup fight with their American or Japanese counterparts.

    What happened to the Japanese carriers at the Battle of Midway was, in fact, a complete and total validation of the prewar American philosophy of carrier operations. Which is ironic, because what happened to the American carrier Yorktown at the Battle of Midway (complete with CO2 in the drained gasoline lines) demonstrated that with advances in damage control and fire prevention systems what happened to the Japanese carriers was actually preventable. What happened to the Bunker Hill and the Franklin after the advent of the kamikaze further underscored that fact. Both of those carriers were effectively mission-killed, but both of them survived and both of them were repaired. (Had the war continued, both of them would have been returned to action; as it was Bunker Hill was repaired and participated in "Operation Magic Carpet," returning US military personnel home from the Pacific, while Franklin was mothballed immediately after she completed her repairs. Franklin's immediate reduction to reserve status has given rise to rumors that those repairs were… less than adequate, but that wasn't the case. (In fact, they bear about as much relation to the actual state of affairs as the persistent and ridiculous rumors that John McCain caused the disastrous flight deck fire aboard the Oriskany by "wet-starting" his aircraft. Which is to say precisely none.) The truth is that Franklin was mothballed because there was a surplus of carriers in the immediate postwar fleet. It would have made no sense to return her to operational status -- which would have required finding her crew and an air group -- when the Navy was already decommissioning other Essex-class carriers in the face of a sharp drawdown of its carrier forces. If, on the other hand, she'd been too badly damaged to be returned to service, she would have been scrapped at that point instead of being placed in controlled condition storage (especially in light of the ongoing reduction of the active-duty carrier fleet). In fact, both Franklin and Bunker Hill were being held for the "ultimate" Essex refit, but those refits were never carried out because the ships were simply too small to operate high-performance jet aircraft. But I digress… again. [G])

    The prewar view of the vulnerability of the carrier was one of the reasons there was a vocal faction within the U.S. Navy (and outside the U.S. Navy) in the late 1920s and 1930s which argued that carriers the size of, say, the USS Ranger would have been a better bet than carriers the size of the Essex-class ships which were eventually built. Ranger displaced only about 14,600 tons standard (her full load displacement was around 18,000 tons), whereas the original USS Enterprise (CV 6) displaced roughly 20,000 tons standard, or 37% more. Even Enterprise was considerably smaller than Saratoga or Lexington (36,000 tons standard), of course, but both of those were converted from battlecruisers, and their original designs had controlled their final displacement. The argument in favor of smaller ships was that since carriers were inherently vulnerable, and since air groups were "fungible," it made little sense to put all of your eggs in a small number of baskets. Better to distribute your air groups among a larger number of platforms which would preserve your basing and servicing -- and rearming -- capabilities through redundancy after the inevitable losses. In this case, the argument was also driven in part by the total limitation on carrier tonnage under the Washington disarmament treaties, of course. If you were limited by treaty to building only a fixed number of tons of displacement worth of carriers, splitting it up among smaller units would also improve your operational flexibility, since you would have more total flight decks which could therefore be in more total places simultaneously. (Some carrier where you need it is a heck of a lot better than no carrier because they're all somewhere else.)

    There was of course some validity to that argument. Unfortunately, wartime experience clearly demonstrated that the smaller carriers were much less operationally efficient than the larger carriers and that larger carriers were more survivable than smaller carriers. There were several reasons for this, especially in an era of "straight-deck" or "axial-deck" (as opposed to the more modern "angled-deck") carriers with limited numbers of relatively low-powered catapults. The prewar H Mark I hydraulic catapult of 1935 could launch a 5,500-pound aircraft at 45 miles per hour in a deck length of 34 feet; by the Enterprise's wartime refit, it had been developed into the H 2-1, which could launch an 11,000 pound aircraft at 70 miles per hour in a deck length of 73 feet. (As compared, say, to the British-developed, steam-powered C 11 catapult installed in the later Essex conversions as early as 1951, which could launch 39,000 pounds at 156 miles per hour or 70,000 pounds at 124 mph. Or the present day C 13 which can launch 60,000 pounds at better than 150 miles per hour.)

    In theory, the H Mark I and the H 2-1 catapults could be used to launch light aircraft direct from the hangar deck, but in wartime practice they were used to launch much heavier, combat-loaded aircraft from the flight deck. Earlier practice of taking off without catapult assistance into the headwind generated by steaming the carrier into the wind changed under wartime experience. With catapults to help, much heavier ordnance loads could be gotten into the air. In addition, less of the total flight deck length was needed for take off, which meant that more of the flight deck could be used as parking/holding space for other aircraft, and thus permitted larger "full-deck strikes" to be ranged on deck and launched in shorter periods of time. But Ranger was slower than larger carriers; accordingly, she could generate less wind speed across the deck, which limited the weight of the aircraft she could launch. Moreover, because her flight deck was shorter and somewhat narrower, she could range fewer aircraft on deck at once under even the best of conditions. (Saratoga's flight deck was about 92,000 square feet; Enterprise's flight deck was about 70,000 square feet; but Ranger's flight deck was only about 61,000 square feet.) That meant the "full-deck strike" she could launch was smaller than the ones her larger sisters could launch, and that whereas Enterprise was designed to carry over 90 aircraft, Ranger was designed to carry only 72. In other words, she was a less effective, less efficient vessel as an aircraft carrier than any of her consorts…. which is the main reason she spent the entire war in the Atlantic, where she wasn't going to go up against anybody else's carriers.

    The US had sufficient industrial capacity to build both smaller, more austere carriers (like the CL-hulled Independence-class CVLs, at roughly 11,000 tons standard, and merchant-hulled CVEs or "jeep" carriers, coming in between 8,000 tons and 10,000 tons standard depending on the class) and fleet carriers (the Essex-class, roughly 28,000 tons standard, evolved from experience with Enterprise… and with roughly 53% more deck area than Ranger) and did so. But if you go back and look at the memos and minutes of meetings and discussions about building priorities, it becomes pretty clear that the enormous numbers of CVEs and CVLs which were ultimately ordered were more the result of pressure from the Roosevelt administration than because they were what the Navy wanted. The administration accepted the argument (which at least some of the Navy's officer corps shared in 1941, don't get me wrong about that) that smaller, lighter ships could be completed and put into service faster and that the individual inferiority of the units could be compensated for by simply building bunches and bunches of them. [Does any of this sound similar to arguments in favor of building BB(P)s?]

    The majority opinion in the Navy's carrier community, on the other hand, was strongly in favor of restricting the number of small, slow, vulnerable, tactically limited carriers in favor of big, fast, tactically flexible (and survivable) carriers. That view was also shared by the people responsible for allocating construction priorities within the Navy, who persistently opposed the successive expansions in the number of CVEs which were being ordered under pressure from the Roosevelt administration. [For those interested in such trivia and minutia, much the same thing happened with the massive destroyer escort production programs. By 1942, the Navy figured the already authorized programs were going to give it all of those it could reasonably use and -- rightly -- foresaw bottlenecks in things like gear-cutting machinery if the programs were expanded still further. Then there was the problem (also foreseen by many in the Navy) that just about the time the stupendous DDE programs were really beginning to hit their stride, they had to be sharply curtailed because of the need to switch capacity to building the amphibious shipping and landing craft required for the invasion of Europe. In addition, the Navy would have preferred building bigger, more capable destroyers -- which could have been produced at almost the same rate, despite their somewhat greater tonnage, once the "mass production" facilities were in place -- instead of relatively slow, lightly armed, single-purpose designs. In the event, it turned out that the Navy had a point, and hundreds of destroyer escorts were canceled at the end of the war.]

    Post-World War II, although the Essex-class soldiered on nobly, especially with improvements like angled flight decks, steam-powered catapults, etc., there was never any question in the Navy's mind that a proper carrier had to be even larger, particularly in light of the steady increase in the size of combat aircraft. The war-designed Midway-class had somewhere around 105,000 square feet of flight deck -- 71% bigger than Ranger's -- and the canceled United States would have had an even bigger flight deck. The new carriers which followed those -- the Forrestal and Kitty Hawk-class conventional carriers, and the later nuclear-powered carriers -- had to be big enough to operate worthwhile groups of ever larger aircraft (not to mention the Navy's nuclear strike aircraft, like the AJ Savage, with a maximum takeoff weight of over 25 tons). And that was only going to get worse as aircraft like the even heavier A6 Intruder (max takeoff weight of 30 tons) and eventually the F-14 Tomcat (max takeoff weight 37 tons) came into service. A lot had changed from the World War II Grumman Avenger's loaded weight of less than six tons. They had to be able to carry ever larger amounts of aircraft fuel, as well (Forrestal carried 750,000 gallons, and the nuclear-powered Enterprise of 1968 carried over 2,500,000 gallons -- more than 14 times the aviation fuel of her World War II counterpart). And wartime experience in the Pacific had convinced the Navy that carriers were, in fact, among the most survivable warships ever built as long as they had properly organized, trained, and equipped damage control parties and fire fighting systems.

    But ships that size cost a lot of money, and there are constant suggestions and arguments that the "super carriers" are simply too big, too expensive, and too vulnerable, for even the United States to afford. Better that we should invest in a greater number of smaller, less capable, and (whether anyone wants to actually use the word or not) more expendable units. In other words, we're still seeing the same arguments and the same thinking as in the 1920s and 1930s dueling for supremacy when we look at the future of carrier aviation in the United States Navy today. The introduction of increasingly capable unmanned aircraft and of VTOL/STOL aircraft which may be able to match the capabilities of land-based aircraft may well add yet another dimension to the debate over the future construction and size of aircraft carriers. For the moment, however, it still seems that the only way to get an aircraft with a heavy load of ordnance into the air off of the ship requires a carrier with an enormous flight deck and a whacking great catapult.

    Now, in some ways all of that discussion about aircraft carriers is a digression. On the other hand, I'm an OCD kind of guy and this is one of my favorite topics, so they are. And for all my possible discursiveness, it does play into that "historical context" I mentioned. Honest.

    What we're looking at in the Honorverse today, of course, is actually more comparable to the proliferation of surface-based missile platforms -- the direct spiritual heirs not of carriers but of battleships. The descendents of the last-generation battleship designs like the Montana and Yamato-class ships, by way of the Soviets' Kirov-class. And, as I'm sure someone is going to point out, while the U.S. Navy has continued to concentrate on building really big aircraft carriers, it's also embraced the concept of smaller, dispersed platforms in support of the carriers.

    That point is certainly accurate enough, but one of the main reasons for that decision on the Navy's part has a lot less to do with desired operational capabilities than with cost. I'm not talking about building times as a cost factor here; I'm talking about simple affordability. Ship steel is cheap; the systems that go inside the ships tend to be very, very expensive. That equation has been in play ever since the 1950s, when we were dealing with hugely escalating costs in research and development as advances in radar and sonar were pressed in the face of the perceived air and Soviet submarine threat. Space constraints were another huge (and steadily growing) factor in the 1950s and 1960s, because of the sheer volume consumed by the electronic systems involved, especially when those were vacuum tube technology, and the need to somehow provide sufficient generating capacity to simply power all those systems put yet another squeeze on the internal volume (and expense) of the vessels. To build a surface ship with the capabilities the Navy really wanted in a dedicated anti-submarine destroyer in 1949 required the USS Norfolk, which, at 5,600 tons standard, was darned near three times the displacement of a Fletcher-class destroyer (2,100 standard), one of the most powerful destroyers in the world when she was built to a design that was less then seven years old when Norfolk was laid down. (Norfolk was also so expensive that only one of her was ever built.) The situation was just as bad when the designers started looking at dedicated anti-air escorts, and the possibility of combining the needed qualities in a single hull which would be capable of performing both the anti-air and anti-submarine missions in anything much smaller than a battlecruiser hull simply didn't exist. Faced with limited funding, the Navy was forced to build much less capable units than it wanted and then to operate them in a sort of proto-net centric fashion, if you will. Dispersed platforms, each dedicated to a particular type of mission, functioning as an integrated whole in order to provide the required capabilities it couldn't afford to buy in single units. In other words, the carrier battle group.

    Because the individual support platforms had to be smaller anyway, the Navy skimped on survivability features for quite some time. The emphasis became -- as it had been for the carrier before World War II -- to not be hit in the first place rather than to survive damage after being hit. Now, most admirals -- and almost all sailors -- would agree that the very best defense is always to avoid being hit. What might be amazed at how fervently in favor of that proposition they are. Unfortunately, it isn't always possible, and that was the entire rationale behind the development of the battleship in the first place. Naval designers traditionally assumed that sooner or later warships would be hit, whether they wanted to be or not, and that they needed to build survivability features into major units. As Arnold von Tirpitz said before World War I, the supreme requirement of a battleship was that it be able to absorb heavy damage and remain afloat with its weapons still in action (which, most people would concede, the German High Seas Fleet's battleships -- and battlecruisers -- did rather well). Over the centuries, and especially since around 1900, there's been a lot of disagreement about the best way to build in that survivability and toughness, of course. At times the disagreements have flowed together into a state of general agreement; at other times that consensus has dissolved into competing design philosophies once more. Moreover, any warship design is a compromise and one of the compromises which has to be balanced is the degree -- and nature -- of vulnerabilities the designer is prepared to accept because of the other constraints he faces.

    [One good example of how all this works would be the argument about thin armor over large areas versus thick armor over smaller areas. Once upon a time, the theory was that large units should be armored over as much of their internal volume (and floodable waterline) as possible, and that exposed guns should be protected by splinter shields. The counterargument was that all thin armor did was to activate the fuses on armor-piercing shells, and that it might be more beneficial to avoid putting armor in those shells' path at all if you couldn't make that armor thick enough to actually stop them in the first place. If you did that, then you could take the tonnage saved in the thin armor you weren't using (uselessly) spread all over the ship and concentrate it into putting the absolute thickest armor you could (which would then be able, hopefully, to actually stop the incoming shells) over the most vital areas of the vessel. One might also be able to use some of that saved tonnage for additional interior compartmentalization to enhance the ship's watertight integrity after its hull was breached by enemy fire, as well. This, of course, was the "all-or-nothing" armoring philosophy exemplified in USS Oklahoma, although if you follow the progression of U.S. Navy battleship design you'll find that it had evolved over a somewhat longer period than the rest of the world thought when Oklahoma and her sister Nevada appeared on the scene. Of course, no one ever really built a pure "all-or-nothing" design, although some ships came close. But it became the standard ideal concept, even if most navies' design philosophies introduced their own variations on the theme.]

    Experience in ship-to-ship combat since World War II has been hard to come by. As a result, there's probably a tendency to over-read the importance of the lessons from the Falklands War. Nonetheless, one of those "lessons" was that surface warships had accepted too many compromises in terms of defensive design. As a result, there was increased emphasis on the survivability of smaller units (although "smaller" is something of a relative term, what with a Flight II Arleigh Burke-class "destroyer" coming in at the next best thing to 10,000 tons standard displacement).

    I think that the question of whether or not battleships should reemerge in the Honorverse owes a lot to the same thinking that went into the provision of smaller, individually less capable (and survivable) platforms for the U.S. Navy in the period following World War II. The logic is that (1) no ship is going to be survivable if it actually gets hit with enough missiles; (2) smaller ships are going to be cheaper (and faster) to build/replace; (3) in an era of pod-based missile combat, what matters is the number of pods you can put into space, not the number (or size) of the platforms in which those pods are carried. In other words, it's an attrition-based strategy. We need to so dispose our combat power that we are in the best position to kill the other side's inherently vulnerable platforms at a faster rate than it can kill our inherently vulnerable platforms, and the way for our combat power to survive long enough to do its job is to put enough platforms out there that -- like the pre-World War II aircraft carrier -- our launch capability will survive through redundancy despite the fragility (and massacre) of the individual platforms on which it's based.

    There are a few other issues that need to be considered, however.

    First, while the financial cost for an Honorverse capital ship is high, costs are actually coming down on a per-ton basis (for the Star Empire and the Republic, at least) because of the sheer volume of their construction programs and because of the nature of pod-layer designs. They've had a lot of experience, they've learned how to maximize the productivity of their facilities and workforce, and they're in a position to produce standardized components in bulk and then simply assemble them. Think Henry Kaiser building battleships instead of escort carriers. Moreover, despite the strain on their economies, there's no immediate prospect of either the Star Empire or the Republic running out of money. Before Mission of Honor, both of them are actually quite a ways short of a hundred-percent, all-out wartime mobilization of their industrial and economic sectors. I'm not saying they aren't feeling the strain; I'm simply saying that under the circumstances which obtain as of the first few pages of Mission of Honor, there's still quite a lot of "fat" in both star nations' industrial capacity.

    Second, in an era of pod-layer combat, cost priorities -- both financial and in terms of resources and raw capacity -- are shifting. Ammunition expenditures are so enormous that in a way, we're getting back towards that situation the U.S. Navy experienced after World War II of having the systems that go into the ship (in this case, expendable systems; i.e., ammunition) become expensive enough that they begin challenging or even dominating platform costs. Accepting less capable (and survivable) platforms when the cost of the munitions are coming to dominate the cost equation, strikes me as something of a false economy.

    Third, building larger numbers of smaller ships simultaneously would actually stretch existing resources and capabilities thinner than building a smaller number of larger vessels. The absolute cost and the absolute man-hours which go into a 4 million-ton battleship will be closer to 2/3 than to 1/2 of those required for an 8 million-ton superdreadnought. That is, you'd be able to build only about 1.5 battleships per superdreadnought, not two. Worse, although it might take somewhat less time to build a single battleship (but see my fourth point, below), each ship you're working on at any given moment is going to require its own workforce, building slip, critical resources, etc.. So if you're working on three of them instead of only two superdreadnoughts, you're probably still going to need more workers and more yard space than you would to build the two superdreadnoughts.

    Fourth, once a major building program has been put in place, with new ships being laid down as soon as current construction clears the slip, the difference in building time between a 4,000,000-ton and a 7,500,000-ton superdreadnought would not be as great as some people seem to be assuming. I haven't worked out the exact numbers, but consider:

    An 8,500,000-ton SD(P) takes 23 months to build and work up, using a Manticoran-style "hard" shipyard.

    An "old-style" 6,000,000-ton DN would take 20.1 months using the same yard.

    A 1,750,000-ton BC(P) takes 16.95 months using the same yard.

    A 2,000,000-ton BC(L) takes 20.1 months using the same yard.

    So, allowing for the same sort of construction rates, I'd guesstimate an off-the-cuff "fly away" time requirement for a 4,000,000-ton BB(P) to come in somewhere around 19 months (you'd save a little time over a standard BB or a Nike-class BC(L) because of the hollow missile core), at which point you recognize a time-saving over an all-up SD(P) of perhaps four months. If you're turning them out in a production-line fashion, with new construction slotting into the queue as soon as building space becomes available, a four-month savings isn't really very significant on the scale at which these people are operating.

    Fifth, I'm sure I've posted at least once before on the relative survivability of battleships-versus-superdreadnoughts in an MDM environment (or anywhere else, for that matter). Just as small aircraft carriers are inherently less survivable simply because they are small, battleships are inherently less survivable simply because they cannot incorporate the same defensive construction as a superdreadnought. I realize one may argue that if a ship is hit by 200 or 300 laser heads, "survivable" becomes a purely relative term -- as in, the SD(P) may survive for approximately 11 minutes longer than the BB(P), but they're both a-gonna die. That's true, but warship designers (and tacticians) would prefer ships that can survive more damage to ships that can survive less damage on the theory that you aren't always going to find yourselves trapped in the heart of the holocaust even in a David Weber novel. For example, take what happened to HMS Intolerant at the Battle of Solon. It's unlikely that any BB(P) would have had the sheer toughness to survive the damage she took in the initial exchange with Giscard's SD(P)s. Admittedly, she didn't survive the entire battle, but tactical situations similar to the one in which she found herself prior to the Moriarity launch are likely to turn up quite often. Should not a navy prefer to have capital ships which can survive -- and come back from -- that kind of damage? I'm sure the crews would feel that way, at any rate.

    Sixth, about those crews… The manpower requirements of a battleship and a superdreadnought built to current Manticoran standards are going to be very close to the same. That means that if you choose to build 48 million tons of capital ships, six 8 million-ton superdreadnoughts are going to require half the trained manpower of twelve 4 million-ton battleships. It also means that when you lose 48 million tons worth of superdreadnoughts, you lose 50% as many people as when you lose 48 million tons worth of battleships. Trained people, you'll have to replace right along with their (expendable) ships. Not to mention people who are someone's husbands, wives, sons, or daughters.

    Seventh, in addition to being tougher once they get hit, superdreadnoughts are better equipped to avoid being hit in the first place. They can carry a bunch more in the way of defensive armament, not to mention having more tonnage to devote to things like electronic warfare capabilities. This consideration is likely to become increasingly important, since the Manties and the Havenites have both been working on ways to reduce the effectiveness of other people's incoming missiles ever since the MDM was introduced. Assuming comparable levels of mature technology on both sides, the bigger, tougher, better armed ship is much more likely to survive. If you're thinking about designing ships to go out and beat on people who don't have MDMs, then you don't really have to worry about your survivability. If you're thinking about designing ships to go out and mix it up with people whose technology is comparable to your own, and if both of you have been working on ways to intercept/defeat the MDM missile storm, then individual unit survivability becomes a front burner issue. If you're thinking about designing ships to go up against people who have MDM technology far superior to your own, then survivability is beyond your reach, and all the redundancy of platforms and the galaxy isn't going to save you in the long term.

    At the moment, I can't see any argument in favor of building BB(P)s. If you're forced to assume a pure attrition strategy -- assuming that your personnel's morale is going to stand for that in the long run (which I find questionable) -- then it would make more sense to build even smaller ships, since they're each only going to get a single salvo off before they die, anyway. Instead of building battleships, build BC(P)s or even CAs with tractor-equipped missile pods limpeted to their hulls. Why spend the additional resources and time on building something as big as a battleship if it's just going to be destroyed as soon as the enemy sees it anyway?

    Attrition-based naval strategy using more expendable light units to wear down heavy units has always -- always -- been the strategy of the weaker, less capable opponent. The French jeune ecole is the poster child for that sort of thinking, but so is the wolfpack strategy of the World War II German Navy. Or, for that matter, the Japanese strategy prior to World War II, which envisioned "attriting" the U.S. Navy as the Americans drove across the Pacific towards the home islands. There are, of course, degrees to an attrition-based strategy, but absent some as yet unforeseen swerve in the evolution of Honorverse war-fighting technology, investing in a fleet of BB(P)s would seem to me to buy you the worst of all possible worlds. Especially if your compensator technology is inferior to your opponent's. The one advantage that a BB(P) might have over an SD(P), all other technological capabilities being equal, would be acceleration rate, but that's not of any burning importance in an MDM exchange, and even if it were, the BB(P) (as the attrition-oriented ship of choice of the technologically inferior power) probably isn't going to have much if any acceleration advantage to begin with.

    Now, the MDM-equipped battlecruiser is a horse of an entirely different color. The Manticoran Nike-class is beginning to approach battleship dimensions (sort of), but it was never intended to fulfill the battleship's tactical role. Like the smaller, pod-laying Agamemnons (only more so), the Nikes are designed to fulfill the traditional battlecruiser roles in an era of MDMs. For that function, numbers of platforms take on a greater importance than sheer power of individual platforms, because the entire idea is to make your presence felt over a greater volume of space. By the same token, the ships are intended to avoid action with true ships-of-the-wall. It's not their job to take on that kind of opposition, although that's not something they can always avoid if the tactical situation goes completely to hell on them. However, at the moment, it would seem to me that a true battleship-sized "battlecruiser" would be more ship than the mission requires. It would also have less of an acceleration advantage over larger and heavier vessels. If the time comes that the Mark 16-armed Nikes discover that the bad guy battlecruisers (whoever the "bad guys" happen to be at the moment) have acquired technology as good as their own, it may become time to think about a further increase in hull size in order to build in genuine Apollo capability for all-up Mark 23s. That time certainly hasn't arrived yet, however.

    "Oh, bother!" Pooh said as Piglet came back from the dead.