December 16, 2022

More Missiles!

The compromise National Defense Authorization Act has just been released, bringing with it a better idea of where Congress is sending things. And in a shocking development, they appear to have actually been paying attention to the war in Ukraine. One of the lessons (entirely predictable by anyone who has been paying attention for the last century or so) is that war goes through a lot of munitions very quickly, and nobody has enough laying around. This showed even quite early, as we saw the rate of Javelin expenditure, and has become even more apparent in recent days, as Russia has seen its stocks of cruise missiles dwindle to almost nothing. And Congress has responded by...significantly increasing munitions procurement pretty much across the board.

They're embracing multi-year buys covering the next 5 years, and doubling or tripling the planned procurement rates. LRASM goes from 3811 to 950 missiles. SM-6 is going from 744 to 1500. NSM is set to rise to 1250 weapons, and while there isn't clear planning in the FY23 budget request (the FY22 budget lists numbers in the 30s), 250 missiles/year is listed there as the cap on production. Read more...

December 11, 2022

The Norway Campaign Part 11 - The First Battle of Narvik

On April 9th, 1940, Hitler unleashed his military machine on Norway, breaking that country's neutrality and overwhelming the unprepared defenders at cities including Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavangar, Bergen and Trondheim using troops carried aboard warships. The British had their fleet in the North Sea, and Renown had fought Scharnhorst and Gneisenau off the mouth of the fjord leading into Narvik, but they had been unable to intervene and prevent the Germans from running 10 destroyers into that strategic town and securing it with minimal struggle.

German destroyers anchored in Narvik

The scale of all this was unclear to the British offshore, even as a force under Admiral William Whitworth assembled off Narvik during the 9th. While most of Home Fleet was well to the south, he had not only Renown, but also her sister Repulse, cruiser Penelope and a number of destroyers. Among them was 2nd Destroyer Flotilla under Bernard Warburton-Lee, who at noon received orders from the Admiralty indicating that the Germans had sent a ship to Narvik, and ordering him to take his ships in and see what was going on. If possible, he was to retake Narvik, or at the very least capture the mythical batteries protecting the city. Warburton-Lee complied, bringing with him destroyers Hardy, Hotspur, Hunter, Hostile and Havock, although more ships were available and probably would have been dispatched if the Admiralty had contacted Whitworth instead of going directly to Warburton-Lee. The casual tone of the order was baffling given the ongoing German invasion, and it left the men on the spot with the impression that the Admiralty knew far more than they did. This was often the case, but here it would prove tragically wrong. Read more...

December 09, 2022

Open Thread 119

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

Recently, Veritasium visited NSWC Carderock and did an interesting video on the MASK basin:

Also, I am planning one more virtual meetup next weekend, on Saturday the 17th at 1 PM Central (GMT-6). We'll use the usual Teams link. Hope to see you guys there.

Overhauls are Ironclads and Research Vessels. 2021 overhauls are The 6th Battle Squadron Part 2, my review of Ultimate Admiral - Dreadnoughts* and Eilat.

December 04, 2022

Hypersonic Weapons

"Hypersonic" is the big buzzword in defense today. Russia, China and the US are all rushing to develop weapons in this new class, which travel above Mach 5, and pundits talk breathlessly about how they'll change everything. As usual, most of the discussion misses several basic facts. Hypersonic weapons have been around for the better part of a century, and while they have already played a major role in changing warfare, the weapons under discussion today are unlikely to live up to the hype they've been given.

A ship-launched hypersonic weapon

The most basic of hypersonic weapons is of course the ballistic missile, dating back to the famous V-2. While this was an excellent weapon, at least from the perspective of the Allies, ballistic missiles didn't really come into their own until the development of small nuclear warheads, which could compensate for the inherent inaccuracy of the type. The combination of ballistic missile and nuclear warhead quickly came to dominate the strategic battle between the superpowers. Their high speed meant that warning times fell from hours to minutes, putting everyone on a hair trigger. They were also immune to conventional defenses, although the inherent difficulty of shooting them down is generally exaggerated. Read more...

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.2 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...