November 27, 2022

The Defense Information Pipeline

A couple months ago, I wrote up a critique of an EA organization's take on the risks of nuclear war, focusing mostly on their analysis of how much of America's and Russia's arsenals would survive a first strike by the other side. There were a lot of issues, most of which boiled down to the author not having a good grasp of the broader defense world, and thus not knowing what questions to ask.

This ship's pipeline distributes oil, not information, but illustrations are hard.

But I can't really blame the author for doing a bad job. How would someone whose background is in evaluating the cost-effectiveness of various charitable interventions know to ask how much time an SSBN spends deployed? More broadly, there's a major gap in public communications about the defense world. There's a lot of stuff talking about things like systems and capabilities, but there's very little, particularly online, that systematically equips people to think about it well. Books are somewhat better, but even there, there seems to be surprisingly little focus on deliberately bridging the information gap.1 But in general, the people who are interested for whatever reason just pick it up by reading a bunch of books, while the people who aren't continue to be confused by the articles they read, most of which are not written by people who have crossed the gap. Read more...

November 25, 2022

Open Thread 118

Hope all of my American readers had a good Thanksgiving. It's time once again for our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't culture war.

This is still in the very early planning stages, and I ask to gauge interest. I am considering doing something more like the DSL meetups for the next Naval Gazing meetup in LA to make it more friendly to people from out of town. The idea is to rent an AirBnB or something and have that as a meetup space when not at the ship. Schedule would probably be Friday morning through some time Sunday. I certainly can't promise to match the food at the recent DC meetup, but it should still be fun. Anyone interested?

Overhauls this time are Mine Warfare Part 1, Glide Bombs and Naval Bases from Space - San Diego. 2021 overhauls are Museum Review - The Smithsonian and the 6th Battle Squadron Part 1.

November 20, 2022

The Case for the F-35

Over the past decade, a great deal of ink has been spilled about the F-35. It's often lambasted as overpriced and useless in the face of modern threats. We should cancel the whole thing and either buy improved versions of existing fighters or replace it with the drones which will soon dominate the sky.

As you can probably guess from the title of this post, I don't think any of this is true. While I will certainly not defend the F-35 program as a paragon of good management, it has produced an aircraft that is already very capable, and will become more so with each passing year. It may not be exactly what I would have wanted if I was given a time machine and command of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program in the early 90s, but the fighters being built today are fairly reasonably priced, and more effective than any other fighter in the world with the possible exception of the F-22 Raptor. Read more...

November 13, 2022

Museum Review - Udvar-Hazy

Continuing the tradition of the DC DSL meetups, we headed for the Air and Space Museum, but this time for the Udvar-Hazy Annex near Dulles Airport in Virginia. This was the completion of a 10-year dream for me, as I spent about 4 hours in early 2013 being very bored in Dulles Airport, only to discover about a week later that Udvar-Hazy was reachable by shuttle, and not, as I'd somehow assumed, in Maryland. The downside is that Dulles is about a 30-minute drive outside of DC proper, although hopefully at some point before the heat death of the universe, the Silver Line of the DC metro will be extended to reach Dulles. Either way, getting there is likely to be something of a mess given the need for a car and DC traffic, or the risk that the metro will be on fire.

Type: Air and Space Museum
Location: Chantilly, VA
Rating: 4.6/5, A delightfully mixed collection of aircraft, both important and obscure
Price: Free


November 11, 2022

Open Thread 117

It is time once again for our regular Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't Culture War.

The USNI Christmas Sale is on, and it's a great option for anyone who wants to bulk up their naval library. Most everything is half off, and shipping is free. Particularly tempting among recent releases are the Revised Edition of Friedman's US Aircraft Carriers, the 2023 Seaforth World Naval Review, What Happened to the Battleship?, Friedman's new US Navy Attack Aircraft (although it's somewhat less substantial than his usual works) and reprints of Atlantic Escorts and The Battleship Builders. Other good options include Friedman's other Illustrated Design Histories, the 14-volume Morison set, the excellent Russian and Soviet Battleships, and most of the stuff on Drachinifel's reading list. I don't have half a dozen, and a few more aren't great (Learning War and The Battleship Holiday are the most prominent here) but it's a pretty good place to start. Other good choices are Freidman's World Naval Weapon Systems and Network-Centric Warfare, DK Brown's Before the Ironclad, Warship Builders, about the USN's construction program in WWII, and Brian Lavery's superb Nelson's Navy.

As the archive has grown, the work of doing overhauls has expanded, and I'm going to end the practice of doing a full read on all older posts. I'm doing a lot less revision than I did in the first few years, because my writing style has gotten more consistent and I'm writing less, particularly on topics related to those I did 4-5 years ago. I'll check any that look likely to need link updates, and note any where actual updates take place, as well as doing normal checks on the year-old posts. If there's interest, I might continue to list all of the older posts in the relevant time period.

Minor updates were made to Early Guided Weapons Parts one and two and Coastal Defenses Part 6. 2021 overhauls are A Visit to NSWC Carderock and my review of the US Navy Museum and Navy Memorial.

November 06, 2022

Museum Review - DC Redux 2022

During the DSL meetup in DC this year, I was able to get back to several of the museums I visited last year, to update my impressions and see some stuff I hadn't gotten to. (I also finally got to Udvar-Hazy, review coming next week.)

There's a truly massive and very pretty model of Forrestal

First was the US Navy Museum, this time with Cassander and Evan, to go through the Cold War Gallery in Building 70 (the former home of the David Taylor Model Basin), missed last year because of time. It was a pretty straightforward continuation of the main museum, focusing mostly on submarines, Korea and Vietnam. The Korea and Vietnam sections were kind of sparse and lacking in narrative, while there were some weird empty spaces on the submarine side. But there were lots of pretty ship models, and a number of full-scale submarine sections prepared for display, in a lot of cases showing stuff better than most museum submarines. Read more...

October 30, 2022


In the Autumn of 1940, the British Mediterranean fleet faced a serious problem. They had been dealing with the Italians since the collapse of France in June, and while they had managed to get the better of their enemies at Calabria back in July, the Italians had since managed to keep the RN from interfering too much with the convoys supporting the fighting in Libya.

HMS Illustrious

Something needed to be done to resolve the stalemate, and the British decided to finally put into practice an idea they'd been kicking around for a quarter-century. During WWI, British frustration over the reluctance of the High Seas Fleet to come out and fight had prompted studies of attacking the fleet in port using ship-launched aircraft. That war had ended before the plan had been carried out, but the concept had been remembered, and the development of shipboard aviation in the interwar years had made it genuinely practical. The Italian battleships were based at Taranto, on the instep of the Italian boot, and a strike by torpedo bombers flying from the carriers Illustrious and Eagle should be enough to shift the balance of power decisively in favor of the British. Read more...

October 28, 2022

Open Thread 116

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

The USNI Christmas Sale has started! This is the time of year when my book budget gets much smaller than it used to be, and it's a great time if you want to stock up on naval books, too. I will do my usual list of recommendations next time, but there's a lot of good stuff.

2017 overhauls are A Brief History of the Battleship and Iowa Part 1. 2018 overhauls are Survivability Fire and Mission Kills, Underbottom Explosions, The Last Days of the High Seas Fleet, Samar, Turret and Barbette and The Space Force and the FAA. 2019 overhauls are JDAM, Riverine Warfare - Europe, Cluster Bombs and Leyte Gulf 75. 2020 overhauls are Esper's 500-ship Navy, The Battleship and the Carrier, The World Wonders and Where the Blog Begins. 2021 overhauls are Submarines in the Falklands Parts one, two and three.

October 27, 2022

Navy Day 2022

It is once again time for our commemoration of the day traditionally picked for the celebration of the US Navy, and for the fifth anniversary of this blog.

First, it's hard to believe it's been five years. I've had a lot of fun over that time, researching, writing and interacting with you guys, both online and in the comments. It's been a quieter year in terms of content here, as I've been down to one a week, with most of my effort during that time going to the book. I was hoping to be done by now, which hasn't happened, but it's gone from a few pages to 130,000 words. My plan going forward is to keep writing here on Sundays and finish up the book. After that, who knows.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed this year, including Suvorov and Evan, who contributed posts, obormot for hosting, John Schilling for reviewing posts and being willing to go on Russell Hogg's podcast with me (thanks to Russell too), and to Lord Nelson for putting up with me through all of this. And thanks to everyone who has been willing to join me at one or another naval/aviation museum/event, be it in the Bay Area, Miramar or DC. Getting to meet more people was definitely one of the highlights of the year. And thanks to everyone who keeps reading my stuff for some reason.

I'm also going to designate this as the place to provide suggestions for what I should write about in the next year. More WWII? More battles? More discussions of modern warships? More basics of how modern defense stuff is set up? Something different? As usual, I make no promises to actually follow through with anything, but I'll take it into consideration.

Lastly, the Open Thread scheduled for tomorrow is likely to be delayed. I unfortunately came down sick during/after the recent DC trip, which rather interrupted the updates.

October 23, 2022

In Defense of Missile Defense

Probably the most curious gap in the current debate around defense issues is the subject of missile defense. Despite the possibility to meaningfully reduce the danger from nuclear war, it is largely ignored, and when it does come up it is widely misunderstood. I've referenced this before, but figured it was time to lay out the argument in more detail.

USS Shiloh fires an SM-3

The basic case for missile defense is quite simple: nuclear weapons aren't something you want detonating in your country, and shooting them down seems like a good idea. But as appealing as this is, it is usually countered by a pair of counterarguments, that it's far too hard to shoot down all incoming missiles, and that it would be destabilizing if it was possible. But this relies on the basic premise that any missile defense system which can't shoot down all missiles is useless, and there's no reason that would be true unless someone was smuggling it in to defeat missile defense for other reasons. (We'll come back to that in a bit.) A system which stops 50% of incoming missiles means that only half as many people will die in a nuclear war,2 obviously a desirable result. Read more...