One annual tradition of the West conference in San Diego is an evening of dinner and drinks aboard the USS Midway (CV-41), now a floating museum on the downtown waterfront. I’m no naval historian – certainly not by the standards of this blog. So I look forward to historical clarifications and insights. But the long history of the Midway makes for a rather marked counterpoint to many discussions here ranging from a still-heated debate about the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program to shipbuilding in general.

The Midway class was designed and built in the wake of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Designed to carry prop-driven combat aircraft, she had a straight deck and was so heavily armed (including eighteen five inch guns and almost 30 40mm Bofors quad mounts) and armored that she was originally designated a CVB – a battle carrier. By the time she was decommissioned in 1992, Midway had an angled flight deck and had launched fighter jets in support of Operation Desert Storm. When built, she displaced 45,000 tons. By the time she was decommissioned, 75,000 tons. The spectrum of aircraft that have flown from her deck is truly impressive, and she maintained operational relevance across multiple and very different eras of naval aviation.

The one thing that seems certain is that the ships we conceive of and build today will be employed in ways and both employ and face weapons that we have yet to conceive of. We are already in the process of bringing directed energy weapons and electromagnetic rail guns into operational relevance and can keep things such as future power requirements in mind in ship design and configuration. But when the Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7) class was designed, the idea that an autonomous, unmanned helicopter would one day fly from the decks of a ship of that class probably never even crossed anyone’s mind – and even if it had, architects and engineers would almost certainly have had so little idea of how they might modify the design to better accommodate it that there would have been zero justification for taking that possibility into consideration for the final design. Hard-kill defensive systems have come a long way, but the problem of an anti-ship ballistic missile was neither an existing threat nor one technology was capable of defending against at the time many of the defensive weapons currently aboard U.S. Navy ships were originally being designed.

One point Under Secretary of the Navy Bob Work made yesterday was simply to point at the differences between an early Flight I and a recent Flight IIA Arleigh Burke. Indeed, at the pier at Naval Base San Diego yesterday, on one Perry-class frigate, a crude metal superstructure had been welded over the long-ago sealed off Mk 13 launcher in order to mount a 25mm cannon.

There is, of course, a broad – if abstract – understanding that there will be change over time in any shipbuilding program. But the physical changes alone made to the Midway over the course of her service life are a reminder of the sheer magnitude of how dramatic that change can be. Obviously, the Midway is an extreme example. But it is worth keeping her in the back of our minds when we discuss what we will need in a warship in the future.

Posted by nhughes in History, Navy

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  • Wharf Rat

    I visited the Midway the day after attending commissioning of USS Makin Island LHD 8. In the airport later that night, I ran into the sister of the captain of USS Ronald Reagan (back from a Tiger Cruise), both from White Bear Lake, MN. The sister stated that her brother told her USS Midway was in fact wider than USS Ronald Reagan.

    When we stood out on the farthest part of the angle deck, we were shocked at how far we were from the actual hull of the ship. At that point there was a seam in the angle deck where you could look down at the water. It’s clear that the designers in the 1960’s used some sort of locking design to get the width they needed for the angle, and probably the length as well. Amazing engineering. What a warship.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    Worth noting, from a technological point of view, is that while built as nearly an identical class, by the time they decommissioned no two were alike; both flight-deck and hull designs turned out differently on all three. Just ask anyone who flew off (and onto) the “Midway-Maru” before and after the now infamous bulges were added to her hull in the early-mid 1980’s.

  • Never knew about the stretched and widened USS MIdway although operated with her in early 1960’s in WestPac…..thank you for the info….Later on the Navy turned the old USS John S. McCain DL-3, was on her from 1961 to 1963, into a guided missile destroyer…..The old gal had a second life……BZ

  • John L. Pedrick, Jr.

    My late father was an Apprentice School trained machine designer at Newport News Shipbuilding. He worked on equipment designs on the Midway. I’m an old Naval Aviator who flew off of 5 carriers, but unfortunately not the Midway. I have visited her a number of times, including a squadron reunion, and each time with great pride in both my father and the beautiful job that’s been done restoring her. Bravo Zulu.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Not really so extreme an example. Ponder the Gearing class destroyers, Guppy III submarines, the AD/A1 aircraft, Chicago class cruisers, jumboized AO’s, Fulton class AS’s (USS Proteus tended S boats to Lafayette class boomers; Fulton, O boats to Los Angeles class SSN’s).

    If the twentieth century taught us anything, it is that future is unforseeable, and weirder than your wildest guess. You just never know, so make room for the worst case you can imagine. You will get what you never imagined.

    Improvise, adapt, overcome. Or die. It’s the nature of the business.


    The tonnage growth of the Midway was not quiet so extreme. the 45,000LT as built was the standard tonnage of the ship while the 75,000LT at the end was full load tonnage. Full load displacement was probably closer to 60,000LT as built. For example the Iowa class was 45,000LT standard and around 56,000LT full load. Still a significant difference though.

  • Byron

    I’m confused about how this relates to the LCS? Was Midway undermanned in such a manner that the crew could not both fight the ship and save the ship? Did it completely lack offensive armament other than one popgun? Was it a fuel hog with short legs? Did it have expensive propulsion plants that were prone to breaking down? Did it lack a landing area capable of handling robust sea states?.

    All warships go through an evolutionary life. No one is challenging that statement. The question is, can LCS become something that by design she will never be able to be?

  • M. Ittleschmerz

    Frankly, this whole post was confusing for me. FFGs and their new 25mms compared to Flight I and Flight IIA DDGs…with Midway and LCS thrown in…I’m just plain lost here.

    Oh, and look up the “DASH Program”…

    Anyone who didn’t think that FFGs might operate unmanned systems someday…well…anyway. As to modifying the ship’s design to accomodate unmanned aircraft…huh? Navy tends to modify things because it can, not because it needs to. Case in point the “anti-urinal” crowd some years back.

  • My apologies for what was admittedly a bit of a stream-of-consciousness post. What I was trying to convey was how struck I had been by the rather stark contrast the Midway presented to discussions about the future of the navy — the counterpoint that a ship that had a robust and and highly varied service life made to discussions of shipbuilding programs only recently conceived.

    What I’d hoped to do with the Midway (though Grandpa Bluewater makes a great point about how this is not so exceptional an example) was bring back to the discussion what a warship at the end of a long and successful career looks like compared to how it was originally conceived.

    I actually wanted to use both minor and extreme examples in this post. The Midway was radically modified but continued to be dedicated to naval aviation. The lack of hanger facilities on the DDG Flight I and II did not have to be a terminal design flaw or stand in the way of an ultimately quite successful shipbuilding program. And the FFG-7 example struck me because a more advanced air defense weapon, the SM-1 was removed only to be replaced with much less sophisticated technology: a 25mm. I didn’t know about the DASH program, M. Ittleschmerz and I’ll concede that point. I was specifically referring to the autonomy of the MQ-8 Fire Scout, as opposed to remotely-piloted nature of the DASH, but since both were designed to be accommodated within existing designs with little modification, it really wasn’t a good example. Thanks for keeping me honest.

    I’m not familiar with the anti-urinal crowd, though I can guess.

    Byron is right. I’m not making a fresh point here. I only intended to remark on the extent of that change over the course of nearly 50 years of service. Since we can’t conceive of all of these changes ahead of time, you’ve got to ask questions like are we building a good hull? Is there room for growth? And when it comes to LCS, Byron raises some valid questions in that regard — though I’ll leave that for Gahlran, CDR Salamander and others to argue.

  • RedneckJamesinTN


    Ide say no for the LCS. I dont think the hulls will survive 20 year let alone 30 to 50