January 24, 2020

Open Thread 44

It's our usual open thread. Talk about whatever you want, even if it's not military/naval.

A recent news story of interest is the decision to name CVN-81 after Dorie Miller, the first African-American to win the Navy Cross for his actions during the Attack on Pearl Harbor. I'm of two minds on this one. On one hand, Miller is far more deserving than most recent recipients of warships, particularly the carriers. On the other, I'd really rather we used the traditional carrier names for carriers. Right now, Lexington, Yorktown, Saratoga and Ranger are all unused. Still, this is one of the better naming decisions to come out of the Navy Department in recent years.

Overhauls for 2018 are Why the Carriers aren't doomed Parts two and three, Stability, Pre-Dreadnoughts, Basics of Naval Strategy and Russian Battleships Part 2. 2019 overhauls are Commercial Aviation Part 5, Falkands Part 10, the Spanish-American War Part 1, The NOAA Commissioned Corps, Ship Structure and Strength and The Mk 23 Katie.

January 22, 2020

Cool Facilities - Bayview

The Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division is primarily known for managing the David Taylor Model Basin, but it has other facilities scattered throughout the country. The most interesting of these is the Acoustic Research Detachment located at Bayview, Idaho. The ARD is the leading facility for studying surface ship and submarine acoustics, a surprising thing to find several hundred miles inland. But Lake Pend Oreille,1 deep in the mountains of the Idaho panhandle, is the perfect place for such studies. It's over a thousand feet deep, very cold2 and very calm thanks to its isolation and the mild weather of the region, all factors that contribute to a low level of background noise.3

LSV-2 Cutthroat alongside the support tug

Bayview's most impressive systems are a trio of large-scale ship models, two submerged and one surfaced, each about a quarter of the size of the vessels they represent. The submarines, LSV-1 Kokanee and LSV-2 Cutthroat, represent the Seawolf and Virginia class submarines respectively, and are capable of autonomous operations, removing the need for noise-inducing tethers as the vessels pass the hydrophone arrays the Navy has placed in the southern end of the lake. Cutthroat, at 110' long, is the largest unmanned submarine on the planet, and her electric motor is capable of delivering 6000 horsepower. The surface ship model, formally the Advanced Electric Ship Demonstrator but more often known as the Sea Jet, is a scale version of the Zumwalt. All three vessels are primarily intended for development of quieter propulsion systems for submarines and surface ships, although they are also used for flow noise studies, handling tests, and investigations into other aspects of the signature. Read more...

January 19, 2020


The battlegroup is at the core of the modern navy. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the image of sea power has been a capital ship or group of such ships, surrounded by smaller vessels to protect against attack, first by torpedo boats and destroyers, and later by submarines, aircraft and missiles. But the battlegroup and the escort are surprisingly recent innovations, products of a major shift in the nature of naval warfare about 150 years ago.

Before the invention of the torpedo, naval warfare was fundamentally symmetrical. The gun was the only weapon of any importance from at least 1700 onward, and larger ships mounted more and heavier guns. As a result, combat power correlated directly with size,4 and it was rare for much smaller ships to overwhelm larger ones.5 Smaller ships were useful for missions that prioritized numbers over firepower, such as scouting, patrols, escorting convoys, or commerce raiding. The Line of Battle didn't need frigates to screen it against attack, because anything the frigates could handle, the Ships of the Line could handle more effectively. Frigates accompanying the battlefleet were there to scout and pass signals, not to fight. None of the 13 light ships (6 British and 7 French) present at Trafalgar suffered a single casualty. Read more...

January 17, 2020

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - February 1919


So far, the war is going very well. Despite continued trouble from Austrian submarines and raiders, our policy of pursuing big, powerful battlecruisers has been amply justified by recent victories off Syracuse and Sirte, each of which resulted in the destruction of an Austrian battlecruiser. Only three vessels of that type remain in their service now. Moreover, our recent foray into the Adriatic has gravely damaged their military resources and relieved pressure on the British in Dalmatia.

Currently, our biggest challenge is the threat to our commerce. We have recently commissioned a number of anti-submarine trawlers, and have more under construction. The raider threat is harder to handle, as we continue to need modern CLs for fleet duties as well as trade protection. Losses in that category to mines and submarines have not made the problem easier. But we remain optimistic, and hope to bring Austria to the peace table as soon as possible. Read more...

January 15, 2020

Pictures - Iowa Enlisted Quarters

It's been a while since I did a selection from my pictures of the greatest ship ever built. This time, it's pictures of the enlisted quarters aboard ship. Unfortunately, these are all of Iowa in her 80s fit, as the WWII spaces have all been renovated. Restoring one may be on the agenda, but it hasn't happened yet.

Me in one of the bunks. They can be tricky to get in and out of, particularly for first-timers. Note the "coffin rack" on the bottom, open to show one of the major storage spaces for a sailor's gear.6

A section of berths deep in the ship. Many of these compartments can be rather labyrinthine. This is a part of the ship where the deckhead is rather low, so only the bottom rack has the "coffin" storage, while the other two have extra lockers elsewhere to compensate for the lack of storage space. In areas with higher decks, all three will have coffins.


January 12, 2020

Aerial Decoys

Deception is as old as warfare. From the Trojan War and its famous horse to the operations to make Hitler think D-Day was a feint, tricking the enemy into thinking they know where you are or what you're doing when they don't is an effective tactic.

A B-52D deploys a Quail decoy

In the 1950s, planners tasked with developing methods for American bombers to penetrate Soviet air defenses came up with a new way of doing this. By building a small unmanned aircraft, basically a cruise missile sans warhead, with the same speed and altitude performance as a bomber, and fitting it with radar reflectors so that it looked like a bomber on radar, they could flood Soviet radar displays with false targets, drawing off their interceptors or at the very least diluting their efforts.7 Several decoys were developed, some designed to be launched from aircraft, others from ground bases thousands of miles away, although most of them were cancelled before they entered service. The only exception was the air-launched ADM-20 Quail, designed to replicate a B-52. Quail, which also had a 100 lb payload bay for chaff and a flare to replicate the B-52's IR signature, served from 1960 to 1977, by which point improvements in radar made it easy to distinguish from the B-52 and thus obsolete. Read more...

January 10, 2020

Open Thread 43

January 08, 2020

Billy Mitchell and the Ostfriesland Part 4

Billy Mitchell, pioneering American aviator and proponent of an independent air force, had scored a major PR victory when he sunk the former German battleship Ostfriesland, which he had convinced the public that the Navy believed was impossible. Unfortunately, his grandstanding tactics had made him enemies in Washington, and the new head of the Air Service, Mason Patrick, was appointed with a specific remit to keep Mitchell in line. Mitchell was informed that any public statements would have to be specifically approved by Patrick, and for the next two years, he mostly kept his head down.

Virginia under air attack

In September 1923, the Army Air Service received two more pre-dreadnoughts, New Jersey and Virginia, for use during bombing tests. Despite Michell's insistence that he be delivered the "sturdiest ships to be scrapped with steam up and magazines filled", they were in much the same shape Ostfriesland and Alabama had been, stripped out and with minimal watertight integrity. Both were swiftly sunk, although the Navy managed to convince Pershing to emphasize the obsolete nature of the targets during his statements to the press. Mitchell was furious, but held his tongue and avoided leaking his report to the press. Later that year, Mitchell married again, and he and his new wife headed to the Far East on an inspection tour that lasted more than 7 months. Read more...

January 05, 2020

The Range of a Carrier Wing

In 2015, the Center for a New American Security published Retreat from Range, by Jerry Hendrix, a respected naval historian and former naval flight officer.8 In it, he argued that the range of US carrier air wings had fallen precipitously since the 1950s as it abandoned its deep-strike capabilities in favor of a focus on sortie generation and low costs. With the rise of weapons like the Chinese DF-21, this is unacceptable, and new aircraft need to be developed. This report has received extensive media attention, with several outlets taking up the cry for more range out of carrier wings.

Forrestal during her shakedown cruise in early 1956

Unfortunately, a large part of the report's thesis is wrong. Leaving aside that the threat of weapons like the DF-21 is grossly overrated, his analysis of the range of US carrier wings is dangerously flawed. Simply put, the numbers Hendrix gives for his 1956 carrier aircraft are completely wrong. They seem to have been generated by googling each of the aircraft in question, and then taking the values for "max weapons load" and "max range" and slapping them together. Anyone with any serious exposure to aircraft should immediately recognize that this is not the right way to do this. Payload affects range, particularly when it's being carried on the outside of the plane and displacing drop tanks. Not accounting for this speaks of at best extreme carelessness on the part of Hendrix and CNAS. Read more...

January 03, 2020

Rule the Waves 2 Game 1 - March 1918


The last 12 months have been an interesting time. We have largely recovered from the budget doldrums, and laid down two Ocean-class battleships, near-cousins to the Saint Louis, while commissioning Nancy and Nantes. Tensions with Austria-Hungary and Germany are high, while the situation with Japan has moderated somewhat. We have developed several new pieces of technology, including that necessary for CVL conversions.

We have a reasonable budget surplus at the moment, and need to decide what to do with it. Options include more destroyers, new CLs, and the CVL conversions of the DT class CAs. A sketch has been prepared which shows 12 aircraft. Read more...