USS Missouri Struts Stuff Before Budget Axe Hits
SUSANNE M. SCHAFER
Feb. 04, 1991
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The venerable battleship USS Missouri, destined for the scrap heap due to Pentagon budget cuts, has destroyed an Iraqi command bunker used to direct forces near the Khafji battlefields, a Pentagon source said Monday.
On Sunday, the 47-year-old warship lobbed seven 2,000-pound shells into concrete command post bunkers located ''just north of the Kuwait-Saudi border,'' said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Iraqi army had used the command center to direct troops during last week's bitter fighting with allied forces near the Saudi coastal town of Khafji, the source said.
The action marked the first time the huge ship fired its 16-inch guns in combat since the Korean War.
The 58,000-ton Missouri and its sister ship USS Wisconsin are the only battleships remaining in active duty. Both are deployed to Operation Desert Storm.
Each of the battleships' 16-inch guns is capable of lofting a shell the weight of a Volkswagen about 25 miles. As well, the two ships have been sending Tomahawk cruise missiles into Iraq from the start of the war.
In a high-tech twist, the Missouri put an unmanned drone aloft to help direct its fire against the command bunker, the Pentagon source said.
''It's a lot like a model plane with a camera,'' said the source. The drone, known as an UAV for unmanned aerial vehicle, was launched from the battleship, hovered near the target to help direct the fire and then took pictures of the damage. The drone returns to the battleship ''and is recovered with a net,'' the source added.
The battleship won fame as the scene of Japan's formal surrender in September 1945, and served later during the 1950-53 war in Korea. It was brought out of mothballs in 1984.
The Missouri arrived in the gulf two months ago to take part in the action against Iraq, but its long-term future was disclosed Monday when Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said the ship would be decommissioned under his newest budget proposal.
In the meantime, ''We'd like to keep it in the Gulf for when the Iraqis surrender,'' quipped a Navy officer.
The aging battleships have been targets for budget cutters for some time, given that they must be manned by so many men - some 120 officers and more than 1,600 sailors - and that parts are nearly impossible to replace.
Criticism was heaped on the Navy and its ships following the 1989 tragedy aboard the battleship USS Iowa, when the No. 2 gun turret exploded during a gunnery practice and claimed the lives of 47 sailors.
After conducting its own investigation, the Navy contended that the explosion was ''most likely'' caused by a detonating device placed amid the battleship's gunpowder and that one of the gunner's mates, Clayton Hartwig, was the one suspected of having done so.
But further investigation found irregularities in some of the gunpowder bags, so the study of the cause of the explosion was reopened.
In the meantime, the Navy removed from the battleships' inventories any bags that could contain the irregular pattern of gunpowder pellets and allowed the battleships to resume firing their guns.
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney lauded the battleships' 16-inch guns, saying they play a ''significant'' role in Operation Desert Storm. But budget restraints were fierce.
''I'd like to keep the battleships, but I can't afford it,'' Cheney said.