August 22, 2021

Lasers at Sea Part 3

In our previous two installments, I've taken a look at the technology behind lasers and their potential effectiveness. But now it's time to look instead at their drawbacks, and possible countermeasures against them.

A plane modified to defend against lasers

The simplest theoretical defense is to coat the target in mirrors, but this doesn't work as well as might be supposed. The highest reflectivity comes from dielectric mirrors, but these are specialized against specific wavelengths, and probably even specific geometry, so a more conventional mirror will be needed. This will definitely cut the range at which the laser starts doing damage, although the mirror is unlikely to continue to be particularly reflective after it starts to take damage. This, combined with the closer range at which damage starts, means that a target is likely to go from being fine to being dead quite quickly. Mirrors will still be helpful, although at the cost of raising visual signature, which might open up new guidance options for defensive weapons. Read more...

August 20, 2021

Open Thread 85

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

It's also time for another virtual meetup. This one is going to be next weekend, 8/28, at 1 PM US Central (GMT-5). The basic plan is that we'll watch the first episode of Victory at Sea and discuss it, along with anything else we come up with.

2018 overhauls are Ship History - Missouri Part 2, Nautical Measurements, Falklands Part 5, Underwater Protection Part 1, my review of the International Museum of WWII and The Standard Type. 2019 overhauls are The Spanish-American War parts six, seven and eight, Turret Designations, Naval Weddings and Wedding Decorations. 2020 overhauls are my review of Hanford and Powder Parts one, two and three.

August 18, 2021

Lasers at Sea Part 2

Now that we've looked at the basics of laser weapons at sea, it's time for a more detailed analysis of the capabilities of current and projected systems against a variety of targets. This is going to be considerably more math-based and technical than is normal for Naval Gazing, but I spent a bunch of time thinking about laser weapons when I was doing space warfare, and it seemed worth attempting to get a better quantitative handle on what was going on here.

The AN/SEQ-3 aboard Ponce

We'll start with the AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System, which was first deployed aboard USS Ponce, an amphibious ship-turned-afloat base in the Persian Gulf, in 2014. The SEQ-3 is built around six commercial fiber lasers, operating in the IR spectrum and providing a total of 33 kW of power.1 Based on a photograph,2 the main mirror looks to be about 16"/40 cm. Using this paper on laser propagation, I was able to build a spreadsheet that looks to give a good approximation of the performance of various lasers, including the various mechanisms that hinder propagation as discussed last time.3 Read more...

August 15, 2021

Naval Radar - Some Advanced Stuff

I've previously looked at the basics of naval radar, but there is still a lot of ground to cover. This time, our main subject will be noise. In a typical, simplified model, the radar reflects off of its target and comes back, showing up as a clean blip. In practice, it's far from that simple. Every radar return off of a target comes back mixed with other signals - reflections from the sea or other nearby objects, random electrical noise, echoes from previous pulses, signals from other radars and even intentional interference in the form of jamming. The radar designer's task is to figure out how to boost the signal and suppress the noise, and then distinguish between the signals they want and the ones they don't, and they have come up with a variety of tricks to do so.4

A scope with various forms of interference on it

But before we get to noise, it's worth taking a digression to talk about how the radio spectrum is divided up, usually into a set of "bands". There are several different systems, the two most common both using letters to designate the bands. One is normally used for most radar, while the other is the standard for electronic warfare. The latter system uses letters A-M, from long to short wavelength, while the former uses an array of letters including C, K and L, which can cause confusion. We'll primarily use the radar system, which is in wider use, and which can be found in the table below: Read more...

August 11, 2021

Weird British Anti-Ship Weapons of WWII

WWII began with the ability of aircraft to sink capital ships still an open question. It turned out that while it wasn't impossible, it was very difficult, and the British5 looked at options beyond the typical bombs and torpedoes to make the job easier. The longest-running was the buoyant bomb, or B-bomb, intended to take advantage of the vulnerability of ships to underbottom explosions. The basic idea was a bomb that would be dropped in front of a moving ship, and sink with the momentum of its fall, then rise back to the surface as the ship passed over it, detonating underneath its target. Work began in the early 20s, although the initial plan may have looked more like an air-dropped drifting mine than what the B-bomb became. The idea was to drop the 250 lb bomb, carrying 113 lb of Torpex, directly in front of an enemy ship. The bomb would plunge to 50', then slowly ascend back to the surface. If it was in the right place, it would hit somewhere in the aft half of the ship and go off, doing significant damage.6 If it missed, then after about 10 minutes, enough water would leak into the buoyancy chamber built into the body to send it to the bottom. In practical terms, this wouldn't have been easy, but it might well have worked better than conventional level bombing, particularly for aircraft which couldn't carry torpedoes. Although the B-bomb was ready when war broke out, the RAF showed no particular interest in using it, and despite development work continuing into 1943, it never saw service. Read more...

August 08, 2021

Lasers at Sea Part 1

One of the weapons currently on the horizon of naval warfare is the laser. While laser weapons have been discussed since the 60s, and the first laser weapons went to sea in the early 80s, it's only in the last decade that there's been a serious prospect of deploying lethal lasers in action. But there's a great deal of confusion around the potentials and limitations of laser weapons. How do they work, and what will they do to naval warfare?7

An Argentine aircraft attacks the British in the Falklands

Before I get to those questions, I should probably address something I'm sure many of you are asking about. Yes, the first operational laser weapons were deployed in the early 80s, aboard the ships of the Royal Navy. This device, known as Outfit DEC, was not designed to directly damage attackers. Instead, it was a blue-light optical dazzler, designed to blind the pilots of incoming aircraft. Even looking away wouldn't be enough, as the wavelength would cause the canopy to fluoresce. It is claimed that some ships deployed with Outfit DEC to the Falklands, and there are persistent rumors that several Argentine aircraft crashed while attacking the fleet as a result of their pilots being blinded. I am skeptical of this, as the air war has been extensively studied and every loss analyzed in detail. No Argentine aircraft flew into the terrain inside San Carlos water, and reports on Outfit DEC don't give the names of the pilots involved.8 Read more...

August 06, 2021

Open Thread 84

As usual, it is time for our open thread. Talk about whatever you want, even if it's not naval/military related.

The time is approaching for our next virtual meetup (July's being in-person), and I had a thought for adding some discussion fodder by watching an episode of Victory at Sea, a series of half-hour WWII documentaries. They're on YouTube, and generally have lots of interesting footage. Thoughts?

2018 overhauls are The 15" Battleships, Museum Ships - United States, LA Fleet Week 2016, Information, Communication and Naval Warfare Part 1, So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Aviation Part 3 and Anti-Submarine Warfare - WWII - The OIC. 2019 overhauls are Lion and Vanguard, Wolverine and Sable, Italian Battleships in WWII, So You Want to Build a Battleship - Trials and Commissioning, How to Build a Battleship - 1942 and The Maximum Battleship. 2020 overhauls are Nuclear Weapons at Sea ASW Parts one and two, Coastal Defenses Part 5 and Spotting.

August 04, 2021

Confederate Commerce Raiding Part 5

Reader Suvorov continues his series about Confederate commerce raiding during the American Civil War.

In our last installment, we covered the Florida, the South’s first success in overseas construction of commerce raiders. Although the crew of the Florida ended up debilitated by yellow fever, their ability to dash through the blockade and return safely to Southern soil was another mark against the Union Navy.

George Preble

In response to criticism, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells and President Lincoln cashiered Commander George Preble, the unfortunate captain of the Oneida, which had been one of the ships that had failed to capture Florida. While it’s possible that Preble was being scapegoated, there does seem to have been, in the early years of the war, a problem in the command climate of Union ships: one author recounts that a captain off the coast of New Orleans was supposed to have hailed passing ships to try to obtain permission from his admiral to pursue a Confederate vessel. Read more...

August 01, 2021

Nuclear Weapons at Sea - Nuclear SAMs

Even before surface-to-air missiles went to sea, there was interest in fitting them with nuclear warheads. Surprisingly, this had less to do with trying to take out multiple targets at once, unlikely as air combat tactics adapted to the threat of nuclear warheads, and more to do with increasing the probability of a kill, particularly in the face of heavy ECM, which could be expected to push miss distances out past the limits of conventional proximity fuzes.

Talos missiles aboard Little Rock

A secondary benefit was the ability of a nuclear warhead to damage enemy nuclear weapons beyond its normal damage radius, thanks to an effect known as preinitiation. This happens when neutrons begin a chain reaction before the fissile material is fully compressed, and can cut the yield of a megaton bomb to only a few kilotons for as much as five minutes after the first weapon goes off. Initially, plans were made to fit Talos with a warhead version of the Mk 12 nuclear bomb, although more for use in the planned land-based variant that would be used by both the Army and Air Force. In the Army's hands, it would be used both for shooting down airplanes and as a surface-to-surface missile, but both services eventually gave up on Talos, leaving it as an all-Navy show. The W12 warhead died fairly quickly as well, as it was too heavy, and a new warhead was developed for the missile, the 5 kiloton9 W30. Read more...

July 28, 2021

Pictures - Iowa Turret One

Earlier in the month, I hosted a meetup aboard Iowa and John Schilling, CatCube and Randy M came to visit. One of the highlights was a chance to visit Turret 1, which was opened up since my last visit to the ship two years ago. We got in through the hatch on the back of the turret, although I didn't think to take pictures.

The inside of Turret 1

The first thing I noticed was how spacious the inside of the turret was. This is the result of the rangefinder that was originally inside the turret being removed in the 1950s. This made it much more spacious than the previous turrets I've been in, most notably one aboard Massachusetts. Read more...