The Navys Big Guns
Posted Oct 21st 2013 | By:
Since World War 2, the United States Navy has owned the oceans and will likely continue to do so for the near future. Although the Navy has thousands of missiles, modern jet attack aircraft, nuclear powered submarines, and advanced torpedoes, most surface combatants still carry a big gun up front as a hood ornament.
(The USS Higgins, a US Navy Burke-class destroyer with her Mk45 5-inch gun)
Why a naval gun?
Ever since 1363, when cannon fired from a ship at sea killed a Danish king on another; naval ships have carried large caliber guns. The United States only became a world power in 1898 after the proper application of the US Navy's big guns on its battleships and cruisers against Spanish fleets in the Caribbean and Pacific during the Spanish American War. The First World War started after a naval arms race over building large-gunned battleships increased tensions to a point of no return. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor at the start of World War 2, they did so to target Battleship Row, to take America's big guns out of the fight.
(Battleships, such as this massive Iowa-class beast with 9 16-inch guns shown firing, were the front line us the US Navy for generations. The last battleship was retired in 1992)
Although the number of battleships at sea has dropped to zero from then to now, the US Navy is one of the few forces in the world that still has cruisers and destroyers. Moreover, all of these ships still carry 5-inch (127mm) Mk 45 naval rifles. Moreover, these guns are far from obsolete.
(If you look closely you can see the round leaving the gun at the far right of the picture)
Designed in 1968 to help provide a replacement for the old WWII-era cruisers and battleships that were rapidly being retired, the Mark 45 lightweight gun system was created. This 'lightweight' gun weighed just 54,000-pounds (27-tons). But don't get us wrong, that weight included a four-flight hoist system under the gun to move five inch (127mmm) shells up from the magazine to the gun, a fully automatic loader with twenty rounds in it, a 22.5-foot long barrel, and a protected mount.
(These guns are still cleaned the old fashioned way)
When fired, the gun could rip off those 20 rounds in its internal loader in 60-seconds flat. Those two-foot long, 65-pound shells could reach out to targets some 13-miles away. When they hit, they could vaporize a small boat, ruin a large ship's day, strike targets ashore (imagine being in a building hit by a 127mm shell with an 8-pound warhead), and even shoot down slow moving aircraft flying under 23,000-feet. Once those rounds were expended, four gunners mates below the mount manually loaded them.
(Look complicated inside there?)
The mount itself was unmanned, with its six-person crew all working safely below decks to control and support the gun. It is guided by the ship's radar and fire control systems that automatically calculate the curvature of the earth, meteorological conditions, the movement of the hull in the ocean, and the target's movement, if any, to provide a firing solution to the stabilized turret.
Over the past 45-years, the basic gun has been upgraded to include a new mount that has a smaller radar signature (i.e. stealth technology), better fire control, and a massive 25.8-foot long barrel. The latest version, the Mk.45 Mod 4 5"/62 gun can fire the same rounds as always as well as the new and improved Mark 171 ERGM (Enhanced Range Guided Munitions). The 110-pound ERGM has a range of up to 63-nautical miles, which gives the US Navy's five-inch gun a longer range than even the vaunted Iowa-class battleships, though with a smaller shell.
Each of the 62 active Arleigh Burke class of guided missile destroyers (DDGs) carries one of these guns while the 22 remaining Ticonderoga-class of guided-missile cruisers carry a matching set, with one gun forward and one aft. With another dozen or so Burke class destroyers planned, the Navy will have something on the order of 120 of these guns on tap. The Mk45 is so good that ten of our allies, ranging from South Korea to New Zealand to Turkey, have bought them to equip large naval vessels in their service.
How the Navy stacks up
In the world of naval gunfire support options, few nations have anything comparable to the US Navy's 120 five-inchers. Most of the combat fleets of the world are classified as brown-water or green-water forces. In other words, these countries have small coastal navies set up to keep out poachers, fight pirates, and show the flag in their home waters. As such, naval guns larger than .50-caliber heavy machineguns are rare in these forces. There are only about twenty so-called 'blue-water' navies in the world.
(Each US cruiser and destroyer carries up-to 680 127mm shells in its magazines. Thats a whole lot of weight to move around)
These are countries like China, Russia, the UK, France, Italy, Brazil, Japan, etc. who have the capability to send large ships far from home, even on trips overseas around the globe. Even most of these forces only have frigates carrying much smaller 76mm (3-inch) and 57mm (2.25-inch) guns that are suitable for use against much smaller targets. Very few countries send ships to sea with guns larger than 4-inches these days.
(These shells weigh anywhere from 65-110 pounds and are crammed full of high explosive)
In fact, when you take the Mk.45 guns carried on large destroyers operated by our allies (51), the Brits own homegrown 4.5-inch Mark 8gun used by them and those who have bought British ships (40) the OTOBreda 127mm guns carried by the Italians, Germans, Dutch and others (53), and the Russians 130 mm AK-130 guns (20~), the US Navy has almost as many as the rest of the world combined.
And we aren't even counting the new 155mm (6.1-inch) Advanced Gun System-Lite (AGS-L) on the Zumwalt class destroyers that are under construction.
But then, that's another article.
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