But the Phalanx was never meant to handle swarms of low-tech attackers. That's not the clean, temperate-zone war the computer dweebs in the Pentagon planned for. See, the original Phalanx only had 1000 rounds in its magazine. The newer models have 1.550, meaning even the USN realized that it was too easy to saturate the target with decoy attacks and deplete the magazine. But 1550 rounds isn't much at that rate of fire--and the Achilles heel of the system is reloading. It's not that easy to hoist 1550 20mm rounds into position, and I don't think either van Riper or the Iranians would be likely to agree to a 15-minute reloading break.
If it was me, and maybe I'm too "cynical" or something, I'd send all my empty missile tubes and expendable suicide squads in the first wave, all at once like van Riper did. I'd count to 90, because 90 seconds would be enough to empty every Phalanx magazine--and you can bet that those scared Navy computer nerds down in the Operations Room would be holding the red buttons down till the barrels were melting when they realized they were under a real attack. Then, while the grunts below deck were hauling the ammo into position, I'd send the second wave with the real stuff. And that, as they say, would be that. A trillion dollars of US Navy hardware becomes an artificial reef.
If I'm wrong, US Navy bosses, why don't you show the taxpayers how invulnerable your battle groups are? Bring van Riper out of retirement and give him the Iranian weapons mix, including speedboats, small planes and soviet-clone antiship missiles. Set up an automated frigate somewhere where we can watch, and let us see that Phalanx knock down every single bee in that sting-swarm.
Of course the Navy won't ever stage a test like that. It'd be like asking Benny Hinn to walk on water. You're not supposed to put your god to the test, and Navy brass really do think they're God. Something about all that "tradition" and bullshit etiquette on "the bridge" goes to their heads. You're supposed to trust them. And give them all your money so they can pretend it's still 1880 and the dreadnought rules the waves. Besides, Navy officers were always "gentlemen," and there's nothing as totally useless as a gentleman.
While the Navy was shaking its gentlemanly fists at a bunch of Iranians in Islamic jet-skis, Cheney's propaganda corps was filming the whole ridiculous encounter to try to convince us on the home front that this proved we gotta invade now, right now. This is where they showed that their real talent is for comedy, even though they don't realize it.
To show how dangerous Iran was, the Navy released a tape of a heavily-accented voice on the radio who supposedly threatened the fleet in the Gulf. If you heard this tape, you have to laugh: "I am comink to blow you up, America!" Oooooh, really scary stuff! That's supposed to scare the most expensive naval force in the history of the world?
Some hairy CB retro nut out there in the Gulf whiling away the time sweating in his radio shack hoping to get an answer 30 years after everybody else gave up CB: "Uh, Breaker, Breaker, this is Greaseball Slacker One-Niner givin' y'all the big Islamic word that y'all is about to get blowed up real good, Good buddies!"
To add to the shame, it turns out the voice wasn't even coming from those scary Iranian Bayliners. Turns out the Navy got punked by a dude (or group of dudes) known and hated by every vessel transiting the Gulf under the name "Filipino Monkey." And before you Flips up in San Jose get your butterfly knives out and drive town to Fresno in your 1971 Cudas, remember it wasn't me that coined that name, it was a bunch of merchant sailors and squids. So go wait at the gate of Mare Island and slice up a chief petty officer on shore leave, don' take it out on Brecher.
You know, in some way this whole episode in military history is like one of those samples rappers make. You'd start out with some video of the fleet zooming around the Gulf with the Iranians zipping in their wake in small outboards. You'd run that backwards and forwards a few times while that video-game voice repeated, "The terrorists win!" Then you'd sample the Filipino Monkey's voice that scared the admirals so much, going, "I am comeenk to keeell you America!" a few times, then the apologetic network correspondents saying over and over, "...now appears to be a radio prankster known as 'Filipino Monkey.'" Run that a few dozen times: "Filipino monkey! The terrorists win! I am comeenk to kill you!" Put it on random, switch the order around, zip the video of the fleet at keystone kops speed, and you've got the big picture: the Gulf of Tonkin incident replayed as comedy. That's the world from 1962 to 2008, kids: history repeating, first time tragic, second time comedy. Not good comedy--Cheney's no Henny Youngman--but definitely slapstick.