September 17, 2023

Museum Review - West Australia Shipwrecks Museum

G’day, it’s Megasilverfist again. I was recently in Freo1 on a business trip and had time to stop by the place’s main attraction, Cicerello’s “the home of fish ‘n’ chips” the West Australia Shipwrecks Museum.2

The main building, originally a commissary and one of the first British building in Australia
Type: Shipwreck museum
Location: Fremantle, Western Australia3
Rating: 5/5, A great trip through the history of Australia, the development of naval technology, and the techniques of underwater archeology disguised as an already impressive collection of salvaged artifacts and period accounts of shipwrecks.
Price: Free with a recommended donation of 5 AUD (~3 USD)

During the age of sail, vessels frequently crashed against the many shores and reefs off the west of Australia. And in the modern day diving is a popular hobby in WA with many divers donating time the museum-associated Maritime Archaeological Association of Western Australia. As a result the museum has a massive collection of salvage which it uses to illustrate the story of (European) exploration and settlement of WA as well as various advances in naval technology. Read more...

September 15, 2023

Open Thread 139

"The best evidence against UFOs is that no one has leaked their specs on war thunder" - Cassander

It's time for our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't culture war.

The blog's sixth anniversary is a little over a month away, and I am planning to put it on some sort of hiatus for at least a few months. I'll keep the OTs going and maybe post occasionally if I feel like it, but if anyone wants to write on appropriate topics, I would be happy to take guest contributions.

Overhauls are Nimrod, Riverine Warfare - South America, ICNW Part 5, Missile Defense Through the Decades, Liberty Ships Part 3, Standard parts one and two, and for 2022, NWAS Trident Part 2 and The DP Gun Problem.

September 08, 2023

Honda Point Part 1

On the coast of California, where ships heading south for LA turn into the Santa Barbra Channel, there is a place called Honda.4 Even on this desolate and treacherous stretch of coast, it stands out for danger to mariners. The Spanish who first sailed past it called it the Devil's Jaw, and it has eaten many ships over the years.

Honda Point in 1989

On September 8th, 1923, Destroyer Squadron 11, under the command of Captain Edward Watson, left San Francisco following the successful conclusion of Fleet Week, bound for San Diego and home. A new fiscal year had just started, and the Navy's fuel budget was slightly more generous, so Admiral Sumner Kittle, Commander of the fleet's destroyers, ordered the run made at 20 kts. This was as fast as a destroyer could go on her cruising turbines if her plant was working well. If a crew had to fire up the main turbines, it would take significantly more fuel. In an interwar Navy where inter-ship competitions were taken very seriously, that would damage their standing in the engineering efficiency ratings. Read more...

September 03, 2023

Landlocked Navies

Weirdly, the possession of navies is not the exclusive providence of countries with coastlines. At least five landlocked states maintain navies, usually with thousands of personnel. The first-level reasons for this shouldn't surprise long-time readers. All of them exist because of our old friend riverine warfare, operating on lakes and rivers that border these countries. But there are lots of landlocked countries with important rivers and lakes, and most of them sensibly make them part of the Army instead of giving them institutional independence as a separate branch.5

Ships of the Kazakh navy

So what makes these 5 countries - Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Kazakhstan, Paraguay and Turkmenistan - different? Two factors spring to mind: first, most of them have very significant riverine commitments for landlocked states. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan all border the Caspian Sea, which is large enough to operate substantial ships on, while Paraguay has a very significant and eponymous river. Second, in most cases they have an institutional connection to a proper, oceangoing navy. The connection for the Caspian powers is obvious. The Caspian flotilla was managed by the Soviet Navy, and when the Soviet Union dissolved, the new countries received some of the naval units. If you need to operate reasonably large ships (the biggest warships on the Caspian are over 1,000 tons) and you already have a separate Navy with institutional power and expertise, folding it into the Army is probably more trouble than it is worth. Read more...

September 01, 2023

Open Thread 138

It's time once again for our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't culture war.

Overhauls are Underwater Protection Part 2, A Brief Overview of the United States Fleet and for 2022, The American Secrecy System and Submarine Espionage.

August 27, 2023

Military Spaceflight Part 6 - Navigation

Both recon satellites and communications satellites provide useful capabilities on their own, but when combined with a third type of satellite, they are truly revolutionary. The last 25 years have seen warfare changed by the advent of cheap smart weapons that can be guided to positions supplied by platforms far away from the shooter, a capability that fundamentally rests on satellite navigation. More than that, satellite navigation has become a vital public utility, the greatest direct service the military provides the civilian world.

A sailor shoots the sun aboard USS America

The use of space for navigation goes back thousands of years, thanks to the use of stars as fixed points. The Polynesians were the first to use this for oceanic voyages of astonishing scale, while improved techniques were vital to European exploration in the Age of Discovery. Latitude is easy enough to find from the height of Polaris above the horizon, or the height of the Sun at noon. Longitude is more difficult, lacking as it does a straightforward physical reference, and has to be determined by the difference in time between a known location and the location of the navigator. This can be done by precisely calculating the time of an event in the sky, such as the Moon eclipsing a specific star, but this is difficult to observe, particularly on a ship at sea. A better solution came in the form of the chronometer, a clock designed to keep regular time despite the motion of the ship. These methods were standard up until the 1940s, and are still taught today as backups in case everything else fails. Read more...

August 20, 2023

Military Spaceflight Part 5 - Communication

Modern warfare runs on information. Forces in the field produce increasing amounts of data, and rely on data from other sources to find and engage the enemy. Bandwidth is the second most precious commodity on the modern battlefield, behind only time. And the vast majority of that bandwidth is supplied by satellites.6

The first communications satellite

The initial impetus for military satellite communications came out of the problems of the nuclear age. High-frequency radio had long been the best way to send messages to mobile recipients over long distances, but it relied on bouncing off the fickle ionosphere. This was unacceptable when the credibility of the US deterrent rested on the ability to reliably order forward-deployed bombers7 and carriers to attack. The obvious solution to all of this was to replace the ionosphere with a more reliable reflector, and a number of options were investigated, including the Moon (a spinoff of plans to use the Moon for SIGINT), the ionization trails left by meteors, a giant orbital balloon and a reflective layer of orbital needles. Of these, only the meteor trail method ever saw wide operational use,8 although bandwidth is limited and the most prominent user today is the SNOTEL system for reporting snow depth in remote areas. Read more...

August 18, 2023

Open Thread 137

It's time for our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you want so long as it isn't culture war.

I will again remind people that Naval Gazing has a discord, and that we do things besides naval stuff there. General is often active with random stuff, and we have a dedicated Bulbasaur channel if anyone wants to talk about Pokemon.

Overhauls for 2022 are Speed and Range in Battleships and Southern Commerce Raiding Part 7.

August 13, 2023

Nuclear Weapons at Sea - Trident Part 3

The introduction of the Trident C4 still left the overall Trident program with an unresolved issue. The new Ohio class submarines were being built with much larger missile tubes than were required for the Poseidon/Trident I, and a new missile had been promised to fill them. What that missile would look like was an open question. Initially, the plan had been to increase range from the 4000 nm of the Trident I to as much as 6000 nm, allowing the missile to reach Moscow from a submarine off the coast of South Africa. But this seemed unnecessary, and a number of factions within the defense establishment instead began to push for better accuracy, giving the new missile a true hard-target capability that previous SLBMs, focused on retaliatory attacks on enemy cities, had lacked.

A Trident II is launched from Nebraska

Much of this drive came from a shift in US nuclear strategy, which began to turn away from the all-out nuclear war in the early 70s. Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger wanted more options to attack Soviet nuclear forces, and pushed the SPO to improve the accuracy of their missiles, starting a program to better understand the sources of error in the existing missiles, with the hopes of improving not just the Trident I but also the Trident II. Several options came out of the program to reduce CEP,9 including fitting a receiver to use the new GPS satellites, a radar sensor that would look at the terrain as the warhead came in, and improvements to the stellar-inertia guidance system used on Trident C4. Eventually, the last option won out, due to concerns about the reliability of GPS during a nuclear war and a lack of confidence in the radar seeker, particularly due to issues with testing against inland targets. Read more...

August 06, 2023

Military Spaceflight Part 4 - Sea Surveillance

In previous parts, we've discussed the basics of spaceflight, optical recon satellites and other types of recon satellites, but there has been one glaring omission. So far, all of these systems have been directed against land targets, but satellites could also help solve the problems of finding ships far out at sea.

A Soviet Tu-16 recon aircraft flies past a US destroyer

The Soviets were the first to take a serious look at this problem, needing as they did some way to find the American carriers, armed with nuclear weapons, for their missile-armed bombers and submarines. Initially, they planned to get a rough fix using shore-based direction-finding apparatus, supplemented with long-range scout bombers. But as the Americans switched away from the use of HF radio, the DF system became less useful, and satellites were the obvious solution. Optical detection was clearly out, given its inability to see through weather and the problems of scanning the entire ocean, then processing and downlinking the data. A radar system would work much better, as it could penetrate clouds and automatically detect targets, greatly reducing the amount of data that needed to be sent to the ground station. Read more...