February 23, 2020

The Range of a Carrier Wing - An Experiment

As a follow-up to my earlier look at the issues with an article critiquing modern carrier operating range, I decided to do some experimental work with the planes they actually fly today. Obviously, "experimental" isn't quite the right term, as I don't actually have a Super Hornet of my very own. Instead, I used Command: Modern Operations, which is a simulation package used by a number of professional organizations as well as by amateurs.

An A-6E lands on USS America

I started with a fairly simple test. I took pairs of F/A-18C+s, F/A-18Es, and A-6E Intruders, and loaded each of them with Mk 83 iron bombs. All three were the latest type in the database, and each of the Hornets carried a quartet of the bombs, while each Intruder carried 10. All aircraft were launched from a field in Hawaii, and set to fly to an island far to the south. Weather conditions were entirely calm. One of each pair was assigned an altitude of 1,000', the other an altitude of 36,000'. For the low-flyers, the Hornet ran out at 223.1 nm, the Super Hornet at 285.4 nm, and the Intruder at 290.8 nm. The high-flying Hornet hit bingo at 327.2 nm, the Super Hornet at 420.2 nm, and the Intruder at 418.5 nm. Read more...

February 22, 2020

Happy 77th, Iowa!

Today is the 77th anniversary of Iowa's first commissioning, at New York Navy Yard.

February 21, 2020

Open Thread 46

It's time, once again, for our regular Open Thread. Talk about anything you want, even if it's not naval/military related.

I recently finished reading The Sea and Civilization, by Lincoln Paine. It's billed as a Maritime History of the World, although it's probably more accurately described as a history of the maritime world. Paine is comprehensive, looking at maritime activity across the globe and from the earliest days we have any evidence for to the present. Overall, I really enjoyed it, although my enjoyment was generally inversely proportional to how well I understood the era. My biggest beef was the coverage of WWI, particularly given his supposed emphasis on how the maritime world influences wider history. The effects of the blockade on Germany were essentially ignored, as was the importance of the naval mutinies in the fall of the Kaiser. But even then, the issue is more one of emphasis than fact, and I'd recommend the book as a whole.

Overhauled posts for 2018 are Why Military Acquisition is So Hard, Amphibious Warfare Parts three and four, Classes, Dreadnought, and Propulsion Part 1. For 2019, overhauls are Commercial Aviation Part 7, Falklands Part 11, So You Want to Build a Battleship - Construction Part 1, Pictures - Iowa Boiler Room, German Guided Bombs Part 2, and my reviews of military/maritime museums in Singapore.

February 19, 2020

The Proximity Fuze Part 2

By the end of 1942, Section T of the American National Defense Research Council had solved one of the great problems in anti-aircraft gunnery. They had created the proximity or VT fuze, which would go off when it sensed it was near a target instead of being set to go off at a specific time after it was fired. The formidable problems of building a mechanism that could survive being fired out of a gun had been solved, and reliability during tests was good enough that the first batch of 5,000 shells was ordered to the Pacific under the care of Deak Parsons, a naval ordnance officer who had been instrumental in the VT fuze project and would later become famous for arming Little Boy on the way to Hiroshima.1

USS Helena in 1943

Parsons consulted Admiral Halsey, who informed him that the cruiser Helena and the carriers Enterprise and Saratoga were the most likely to come under air attack, and thus the fuzes were loaded aboard those vessels. Parsons himself joined Helena, and was present during the first combat use of VT fuzes on January 5th, 1943. Helena was part of a cruiser-destroyer group that came under air attack while returning from bombarding Munda on the island of New Georgia in the Solomons. The bombers arrived overhead before they could be spotted, but Helena's 5"/38 guns managed to down a retreating Val dive-bomber with their third salvo, an incredible performance. The surface ship had gained a major weapon against the aircraft. Read more...

February 16, 2020

The Proximity Fuze Part 1

WWII was full of startling technical feats. Some of these are well-known, such as the Manhattan Project and the various code-breaking initiatives. Others are more obscure, things like the various guided weapon programs. But one project managed to revolutionize a facet of warfare, literally doubling effectiveness, but has languished in obscurity: the proximity fuze.

Any attempt to shoot down aircraft with unguided weapons runs into a simple problem. The sky is big and airplanes are relatively small. At low altitude, this can be countered by a high rate of fire, but small bullets quickly lose velocity, so another solution is needed for targets at high altitude. The traditional solution is to fit the shells fired by heavier guns with time fuzes, set to go off at the point the shell should be nearest to the target. This raises another problem, though. Now, instead of just trying to get a shell to meet the airplane in three dimensions, you have to match it in four or it will either detonate short of the target or go sailing harmlessly by. Even a perfect match wasn't a guarantee of success, as the time fuzes are not perfect and can only be counted on to detonate within 100 yards of the desired point, a variance significantly greater than the lethal radius of the shell. As a result, the US 5"/38 gun required an average of 654 time fuzed shells for each enemy plane shot down in the Pacific. The question on the lips of every gunnery officer was simple. "Why can't they make a fuze that knows when to go off?" Read more...

February 15, 2020

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - April 1921


We have had a fairly quiet year. We renewed our security arrangement with Great Britain instead of allying ourselves to Germany, and have laid down a pair of new battleships, a new armored cruiser, and a pair of light cruisers. We have also developed several pieces of improved technology, most notably improved directors and better training gear for small turrets.

Our upcoming year looks to be relatively quiet. Our CLs will complete late in the year, but otherwise, we are unlikely to be able to do new construction. Our refit program will continue, as all of our vessels will need the new directors. Read more...

February 12, 2020

Southern Commerce Raiding Part 1 - Naval Leadership and Resources at the Beginning of the Civil War

Reader Suvorov has graciously agreed to provide extracts from a paper he wrote on Southern commerce raiding during the Civil War.

When it comes to Civil War naval history, the conflict between the Virginia and the Monitor, or the trials of the South’s submarine Hunley, or David Farragut’s sprint through a field of “torpedoes” at Mobile Bay—all of which happened just off the coastline of the United States—often overshadow the conflict on the high seas, and the South’s deployment of a much more archaic technique: commerce raiding and privateering.

USS Congress and USS Susquehanna, pre-war frigates of the USN

Yet commerce raiders were an important part of the Southern strategy to defeat the Northern blockade of their ports and weaken the Union’s will to fight. While they were ultimately unsuccessful at that task, they were remarkably effective, as we’ll see throughout this series. In this first post, we’ll examine the “starting positions” on both sides. Read more...

February 09, 2020

Aircraft Weapons - Cruise Missiles

A modern aircraft has a wide variety of weapons for destroying ground targets. Everything from simple iron bombs and JDAMs for lightly-defended targets to ARMs and decoys to let them defeat heavy air defenses. But for a few very important targets, the defenses are too heavy for manned aircraft for the aircraft to even attempt to penetrate them. These are dealt with by standoff cruise missiles, weapons with ranges in the hundreds of miles, the most effective but also most expensive of aerial weapons.

A V-1 in cutaway

The idea of a cruise missile dates back to 1916, when the first practical autopilots were developed and quickly mated to an unmanned airframe loaded with explosives. Inadequate accuracy doomed many early attempts, all of which were launched from the ground. This was also the launching platform for the first operational cruise missile, the German V-1 flying bomb. The V-1 was only moderately effective, as its simple autopilot meant that it was lucky to get within 5 miles of the target point. In an attempt to rectify this, a piloted, air-launched version was developed,2 but never saw operational service. The Germans did develop a method to air-launch a standard V-1 from an He 111 bomber, and although it was not particularly effective, over 10% of V-1s fired at London were launched in this manner. Read more...

February 07, 2020

Open Thread 45

It's time once again for our open thread. Talk about anything you want, even if it's not military/naval related.

I just discovered that Iowa has opened up the turret officer's booth on Turret I for weekend tours. It's a $45 extra charge, and I'm really looking forward to the next time I get to go and pay it a visit.

Overhauls since last time include the last part of Why the Carriers are not Doomed, So You Want to Build a Battleship - Strategic Background, Early US Battleships, Aegis, and Amphibious Warfare parts one and two for 2018 and Commercial Aviation Part 6, The King George V class*, German Guided Bombs Part 1, The PHS Corps, Ship History - Wisconsin, and Rangekeeping Part 1 for 2019.

February 05, 2020

Battleship Torpedoes Part 3

In the aftermath of World War I, the torpedo, carried aboard battleships almost since its invention, was removed from the ships of most nations. It was seen as obsolete as improvements in fire control drove up battle ranges, and due to the danger posed by the underwater torpedo flats.

Rodney's torpedo room in 1940

The one exception to this trend was Britain. The last battleships built with torpedoes were Nelson and Rodney, and they had several unique features that deserve close scrutiny. First, their torpedoes were a new design, 24.5" in diameter, the largest ever fitted aboard a battleship. The British, still believing that torpedoes could form an important part of a fleet action, thought that the 21" torpedo had been pushed as far as it could go, and wanted a new design with more room to grow. This growth in size was to be coupled to another technology which offered potentially revolutionary performance. Torpedo propulsion was based around burning fuel and compressed air together, with the compressed air taking up the lion's share of the space and weight due to the need for the air flask. But only 20% of the air was the oxygen needed to support combustion, while the other 80% was inert gasses. The British built specialized plants capable of enriching the air pumped into the torpedoes with extra oxygen,3 offering a significant improvement in performance. During the war, this plant was disabled to keep maintenance burden down, reducing range by about 50%. Read more...