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The Iowa class was a class of six fast battleships ordered by the United States Navy in 1939 and 1940. They were initially intended to intercept fast capital ships such as the Japanese Kongo class while also being capable of serving in a traditional battle line alongside slower battleships and act as its "fast wing". The Iowa class was designed to meet the Second London Naval Treaty's "escalator clause" limit of 45,000-long-ton (45,700 t) standard displacement. Four vessels, Iowa, New Jersey, Missouri, Wisconsin,were completed; two more, Illinois and Kentucky were laid down but canceled in 1945 and 1958, respectively, before completion, and both hulls were scrapped in 1958Ð Ð†Ð â€šÐ²Ð‚Ñš1959.
The four Iowa-class ships were the last battleships commissioned in the US Navy. All older US battleships were decommissioned by 1947 and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register (NVR) by 1963. Between the mid-1940s and the early 1990s, the Iowa-class battleships fought in four major US wars. In the Pacific Theater of World War II, they served primarily as fast escorts for Essex-class aircraft carriers of the Fast Carrier Task Force and also shelled Japanese positions. During the Korean War, the battleships provided naval gunfire support (NGFS) for United Nations forces, and in 1968, New Jersey shelled Viet Cong and Vietnam People's Army forces in the Vietnam War. All four were reactivated and modernized at the direction of the United States Congress in 1981, and armed with missiles during the 1980s, as part of the 600-ship Navy initiative. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Missouri and Wisconsin fired missiles and 16-inch (406 mm) guns at Iraqi targets.
Costly to maintain, the battleships were decommissioned during the post-Cold War draw down in the early 1990s. All four were initially removed from the Naval Vessel Register, but the United States Congress compelled the Navy to reinstate two of them on the grounds that existing NGFS would be inadequate for amphibious operations. This resulted in a lengthy debate over whether battleships should have a role in the modern navy. Ultimately, all four ships were stricken from the Naval Vessel Register and released for donation to non-profit organizations. With the transfer of Iowa in 2012, all four are part of non-profit maritime museums across the US.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president on a promise to build up the U.S. military as a response to the increasing military power of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Navy was commissioning the Kirov class of missile cruisers, the largest type of surface warship built since World War II (other than aircraft carriers or amphibious assault vessels). As part of Reagan's 600-ship Navy policy and as a counter to the Kirov class, the U.S. Navy began reactivating the four Iowa-class units and modernizing them for service.
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