By Dave Werner
U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs
On Saturday, Jan. 26, the Navy will commission its newest Zumwalt-class destroyer, USS Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001), at 1 p.m. (EST) / 10 a.m. (PST) at Naval Air Station North Island. A little further west in the Pacific, organizers are commemorating the 75th anniversary of the January 1944 launch of USS Missouri (BB 63) in the waters of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Although separated by 75 years, there is little distance between what the two ships and their crews represent to a free and open Indo-Pacific today. Here are five reasons why it matters:
1. America is a maritime nation, committed to generating and sustaining combat-ready naval forces.
It’s no secret that the Navy has turned its focus again to restoring readiness, increasing lethality and building capacity. Before WWII, planning for the Iowa-class battleships, including USS Missouri, began as early as 1938 and the ships were ordered a year or two later. As Germany and Japan became increasingly belligerent, American leaders recognized that its Navy and nation needed faster ships with greater armament to keep pace with competitors.
USS Missouri, the last battleship commissioned, joined the Pacific Fleet in 1944, where it screened U.S. aircraft carriers and conducted shore bombardment. Most famously, it became the symbol of the Allies’ victory as host to the signing of Japan’s unconditional surrender in September 1945. Missouri went on to serve off Korea before being decommissioned in 1956. Reactivated in 1984, it supported Operation Earnest Will in 1988, and then Operation Desert Storm by firing 28 Tomahawk missiles and hundreds of its feared 16-inch shells to soften Iraqi defenses. Missouri was decommissioned for good in 1992. Ultimately, it was donated to the USS Missouri Memorial Association in Pearl Harbor in 1999, where it serves proudly today.
Even following the dawn of the aircraft carrier in WWII, the forethought and investment placed in the later battleships allowed for their reincarnations with advancing weaponry to kinetically and psychologically influence global affairs some 50 years later.
USS Michael Monsoor, too, has a weapons suite and configuration that hasn’t been fully tapped. Outfitted with a 21st century electrical plant, it can operate all of its systems and still produce enough electricity to power a small town. Its design provides extra capacity to accommodate future computing demands, weapons systems, radars and sensors. In its case, such inevitable installations should be without extensive redesign or impeding performance.
Not unlike USS Missouri, USS Michael Monsoor is a flagship for adaptive force packages – a combination of amphibious ships, littoral combat ships and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers used to promote sea control and project power ashore that extend maritime security across a range of threat environments. It can accommodate future operations with planning space and communications equipment, which allows for mission tailoring and targeting across and broad array of tasks from special operations to humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, the Zumwalt-class destroyer is capable of performing the critical maritime missions of deterrence and power projection and creating battlespace complexity for adversaries with its abilities to operate both near to shore and in the open sea.
The time-tested advantage of such investments ensures the nation is ready should it be challenged – but sustaining such forces has an even greater benefit for nations beyond the U.S.
2. A stable, prosperous Pacific favors peace without war.
As the bloody war in the Pacific wound down quickly in 1945, the question before the U.S. Navy was what ship would host the signing of unconditional surrender. USS South Dakota (BB 57), as Adm. Nimitz’ flagship, was considered deserving given its length and success of service in the Pacific. USS West Virginia (BB 48) would have been the romantic favorite. It was sunk in Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, but was repaired and returned to service, and was present in Tokyo Harbor Sept. 2, 1945. President Truman ultimately made the selection, USS Missouri.
USS Missouri was the flagship for Adm. Halsey and his Third Fleet, who served Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander, Allied Forces, Southwest Pacific Area. There was also the practical consideration that its deck provided the greatest square-footage available to accommodate the witnesses of the signature. It didn’t hurt it was the namesake ship of “Show Me” state, from which President Truman hailed. In fact, his daughter was the ship’s sponsor. There was a more compelling consideration that’s often lost in the debate.
Missouri was about the next fight. It bristled with power and capabilities, and embodied American innovation and determination. The course was set for what would become known as the American Century, and it was its ship-of-state.
The nation – and the world – had learned the price of a hot war. Led by the United States, most countries wanted a return to normalcy. A Soviet superpower, however, was rising to coerce and threaten free-minded nations, and a Cold War was underway. Peace-through-strength became foundational thinking for decades. The American investment in its military was not insignificant, but it was cheap compared to the price paid in WWII.
USS Michael Monsoor typifies the naval investment the nation needs, and employs the same proven calculus. Zumwalt-class destroyers are among the most lethal and sophisticated destroyers ever built. They provide deterrence and forward presence by bridging today’s innovation with future technology. They maximize stealth, size, power and computing capacity – providing an array of weapons systems and cutting-edge technologies to fight forces in the air, on and under the sea, and on land.
Fielding credible, ready and present capability discourages competitor nations from miscalculating.
Maintaining peace benefits prosperity and stability, and is far superior to the alternative. But…
3. If called upon, the U.S. Navy will fight and win.
If peace were to fail, at 610 feet long and 80.7 feet wide, USS Michael Monsoor provides space to execute a wider array of surface, submarine and aviation missions and integrate emerging technologies. A core crew of 148 officers and enlisted personnel, the nearly 16,000-ton ship is powered by two Rolls-Royce main turbine generators capable of speeds exceeding 30 knots.
The Zumwalt-class destroyer is capable of performing a range of deterrence, power projection, sea control, and command and control missions while allowing the Navy to evolve with new systems and missions. It does all of this while maintaining its stealth – making this visually imposing ship difficult to find whether close to the shore or far out to sea. These warships possess stealth, size, power, survivability systems and computing capacity that provide the Navy with the ability to meet maritime missions at sea now, as well as incorporate new technologies to meet emerging security environments.
That can also improve lethality through increased range, deception, systems integration and data analysis from the various platforms, and unmanned aerial, surface and subsurface systems. The blending of such capabilities – offensive and defensive, and multi-domain – will provide the Navy with the sea power to fight decisively.
The ship is able to operate in shallow, coastal waters, providing land-attack support to ground forces. Ability to seamlessly exchange data with other fleet assets, computing capability, customizable mission sets and rapid integration of maturing technologies, provides the force with a strategic advantage. It has ability to dominate at sea and ashore, now and – importantly – in the future.
In war, the WWII Pacific Fleet is legendary. Small units like USS Johnston (DD 557) and USS Wahoo (SS 238) punched well above their weight. Capital ships with names like Enterprise (CV 6), Hornet (CV 8) and Lexington (CV 2) demonstrated the might, creativity and commitment of a determined nation. And USS Missouri was among them.
The world’s largest fleet command encompassed 100 million square miles, from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle and from the West Coast of the United States into the Indian Ocean. The U.S. Pacific Fleet consists of approximately 200 ships/submarines, nearly 1,200 aircraft and more than 130,000 Sailors and civilians. USS Michael Monsoor is the latest in a long line of warships, and will join today’s aircraft carriers, surface combatants and attack submarines in San Diego.
The industrial base and whole-of-government effort that produced these marvels is an advantage that enemies correctly feared before attacking the United States in WWII. There is another uniquely American advantage that revealed itself in WWII, born from a national consciousness that, in its core, fosters free thinking and self-determination.
4. Toughness: Then and now.
After nearly 75 years of relative peace and prosperity in the Pacific, toughness and battle-mindedness are re-emerging. Visitors are reminded why that matters gazing at the Ford Island waterfront in Pearl Harbor. There, the USS Missouri stands watch over the USS Arizona Memorial. The memorial serves as the eternal tomb for 1,177 Sailors who lost their lives in the opening salvo of the nation’s WWII experience.
The two ships serve as the American bookends of WWII. The attack on Dec. 7 was a demoralizing gut-punch for the Pacific Fleet, and it serves as perpetual reminder of the commitment required. Sailors then proved they could take a hit, and tap all sources of strength and resilience to fight and win – even when things looked darkest. It required an innate courage.
The namesake crew of America’s newest ship embodies a more contemporary example. The ship is named for Master-at-Arms 2nd Class (SEAL) Petty Officer Michael Monsoor who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Ramadi, Iraq, Sept. 29, 2006. He was positioned on a rooftop with his automatic heavy machine gun in the direction of the enemy’s most likely avenue of approach. Monsoor was located closest to the egress route out of the sniper hide-sight watching for enemy activity through a tactical periscope over the parapet wall.
While vigilantly watching for enemy activity, an enemy fighter hurled a hand grenade onto the roof from an unseen location. The grenade hit him in the chest and bounced onto the deck. Monsoor immediately leapt to his feet and yelled “grenade” to alert his teammates of impending danger, but they could not evacuate the sniper hide-sight in time to escape harm. Without hesitation, and showing no regard for his own life, he threw himself onto the grenade, smothering it to protect his teammates who were lying in close proximity. The grenade detonated as he came down on top of it, mortally wounding him.
The highly professional men and women serving aboard USS Michael Monsoor are typical of the Sailors on duty around the world today. The U.S. Navy is the world’s premier naval force in no small part because of the American Sailor.
5. For 75 years, America has demonstrated a credible and enduring commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
As a Pacific nation, America’s Navy has sailed and remains committed to sail wherever international law allows to preserve longstanding ideals of fairness and stability. Once the fiercest of enemies, together the U.S. Navy and Japan have been and remain the strongest of allies, and work closely today.
As discussed in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, and reinforced in the Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0, China and Russia are deploying all elements of their national power to achieve their global ambitions. There are competing visions for the future of the Pacific, and naval leadership is working to mitigate the risks of miscalculations.
Since the end of WWII, nations have benefited by the open and free approach that allows each to thrive. The proverbial rising tide of prosperity necessitates safeguarding and sustaining the approach. The Pacific Fleet is determined to ensure it – peacefully or otherwise.
Editor’s notes: The commissioning ceremony can be watched on the Navy Live blog. The Jan. 26 ceremony is scheduled to begin 1 p.m. (EST) / 10 a.m. (PST).
This blog was originally published Jan. 23 on the Naval History and Heritage Command’s The Sextant.