June 04, 2018

Open Thread 1

We're going to follow Scott Alexander's lead and do an Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want, although I do request that you avoid culture war. (Talking about regular war is encouraged.)

A couple of things:

1. I've booked a ticket to visit LA. I'll be arriving on September 6th and flying out on the 10th. On Saturday the 8th, I plan to hold a meetup for blog readers and who want to tour Iowa. This should be in the afternoon, which will give anyone who wants to a chance to do the Full Steam Ahead tour of the engines in the morning. Anyone interested?

2. I recently watched the TV series "Britain's Biggest Warship". It's a documentary about the process of taking HMS Queen Elizabeth to sea, and it's really good. It does an excellent job of looking at the technical side of the ship in a TV-accessible way, and of seeing the people that make a warship work, without falling into pointless drama. I'd highly recommend tracking down a copy and watching it.

Comments

  1. June 04, 2018bean said...

    I'm writing a post on Jackie Fisher, and the more I read, the more he looks like a Martian. He was involved with every major naval development from the mid-1800s through about 1910, and looks to have only barely missed the aircraft carrier, although even that owes him a debt, as it was some of his weirder ships that gave the British their first big carriers.

  2. June 04, 2018ADifferentAnonymous said...

    Though properly a naval blog, I've found this a good place for clearing up those cases where the pop-history version of a military matter doesn't quite add up.

    In that spirit, I've always heard WW1 warfare described in terms of defense defeating offense, to the point that attaching a trench was suicide. Yet wikiing the big-name Western front land battles--Marne, Somme, Verdun, Paaschendale, Western Spring Offensives--shows basically comparable casualty counts for attacker and defender, with exceptions in opposite directions at the Somme and the Western Spring Offensives. What gives?

  3. June 04, 2018bean said...

    That's a good question, and one I don't know the full answer to. One aspect is that the supremacy of the defense has been somewhat overstated. It was always possible to break a trench line with sufficient concentration of forces. The problem was that the defender could usually reinforce faster than the attacker, so follow-on attacks bogged down. Another is that all of those battles ground on for months, which presumably includes counterattacks by the other side. A third is the definition of "casualty". That's not dead, that's dead and wounded, and it's possible that different national definitions are clouding the issue. Or maybe it's just that the majority of casualties come from artillery being flung around everywhere, and those fall on defenders almost as heavily as attackers.

  4. June 04, 2018Chris Silvia said...

    I recently read Neptune's Inferno, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The book is about the entire naval Guadacanal campaign, and focuses on the Navy learning how to conduct surface operations, as well as successfully use radar.

    It's a great book and I would recommend it to any readers of this blog, and if anyone has read it, I would love to read more books like it.

  5. June 04, 2018cassander said...

    @2018ADifferentAnonymous

    On WW1, Bean makes a very important, and generally under appreciated point about the ability of reinforcement, but I think he understates the case.

    WW1 occurs at an awkward moment in history where war materiel can be produced at industrial scales and transported a hundred miles a day strategically because of railroads, but where tactical movement of that materiel is by horse cart and foot, which means it's limited to tens of miles a day tactically.

    What does this mean? Imagine you launch your great offensive, you break through, and advance dozens of miles. It looks like a huge victory, but what you won? You have a small (relative to the size of the front) bulge in the enemy line held by some exhausted troops running low on supplies with little artillery support. Any reinforcements you want to send them have to march dozens of miles across broken terrain. Dragging guns, which weigh thousands of pounds and are pulled by horses, is harder, and transporting enough ammunition to keep the guns firing is harder still.

    Meanwhile, what's the shape of your opponent? He's using his railway network to ship in guns and men. They're getting rest and hot food on the train there, so they're arriving fresh and ready to go. Their guns have plenty of ammunition because it's supplied by train, not horse, and so on. Even when he leaves the rail network, he's going to be advancing over fresh ground.

    You can see this dynamic at play in the spring offensive. Big gains at first, but soon the troops get tired and strung out and past their limit of effective supply and things start to get ugly fast once the counter attacks start up. Even if you can fix the defensive is tactically stronger problem, the defensive remained strategically stronger in a way that meant that unless the defender had a front-wide collapse, advance was always going to be a slog.

    @Chris Silvia

    John B. Lundstrom first team books are about the air war (largely carrier aviation) and are quite excellent. The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway and The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign: Naval Fighter Combat from August to November 1942. The same author also has another book, The First South Pacific Campaign: Pacific Fleet Strategy December 1941 - June 1942 which I have not read but assume is excellent.

  6. June 04, 2018bean said...

    @Chris Silvia

    James Hornfischer, who wrote Neptune's Inferno, has written several other naval history books, most notably Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, about the action off Samar, and The Fleet at Flood Tide, about the later Pacific war. I gave up on Last Stand partway through because Hornfischer's style rubs me the wrong way, but I'm very much in the minority on that.

    I'd recommend Samuel Elliot Morison's 14-volume history of US naval operations in WWII. It's an amazing work, well-written and with lots of coverage in breadth and depth. That said, it's very different from Hornfischer.

    @cassander

    Another big problem with the offensive was communications. Portable radios didn't exist yet, so the only way to communicate was via field telephone. Which is great when you're in a prepared position and have communications trenches to protect the wires. It's less great when you're advancing and the wires are out in the open, vulnerable to enemy artillery, which is deliberately trying to cut them. So there's no real way for advancing units to report status, request reinforcements, or call artillery. A few prepared signals can be made with flares and the like, but they're at a massive disadvantage relative to the defenders, who still have comms.

  7. June 04, 2018Directrix Gazer said...

    @ADifferentAnonymous

    When discussing WWI people tend to focus on the tactical reasons for the trench stalemate, while truthfully it was more a product of operational issues. Those operational issues had their roots in logistics, and the possibilities of logistics were determined, as always, by the state of technology.

    The inescapable reality of the Western Front was that defenders could move reinforcements by rail faster than attackers could march exploitation troops through a successful rupture in the lines. The result was that an attacker could breach the enemy defense as thoroughly as he liked but, cruelly, was doomed to watch his victorious forces run headlong into a wall of fresh troops rushed in by train to plug the hole.

    Note that "Western Front" bit above. The operational situation I described could only really occur in Western Europe, which had the prosperity to produce nations with armies of millions, a transportation web developed enough to move and feed them, a geographical scale small enough, and warring nations in the right configuration to produce a continuous solidly manned front with both flanks anchored on practically insurmountable obstacles.

    In the absence of that un-flankable, over-manned front you get the operational pattern that had increasingly dominated large-scale wars since near the end of the US Civil War (and maybe earlier, I'm not as familiar with the Crimean War as I'd like to be): multiple large armies deployed and supplied by rail meeting each other on relatively broad, hastily entrenched fronts and trying to progressively work around one or the other flank to threaten each other's lines of communications, occasionally spiced with a frontal assault on a particularly important objective or against a fortified position. The only way to achieve an annihilatory field battle was through a successful envelopment in which one or both flanks were turned and the enemy force was substantially cut off from its lines of communication and retreat. This war of limited maneuver, on a grander scale than ever before, was a major part of what we see on the WWI Eastern Front especially in the first years of the war.

    Casualties in these sorts of battles could be very lopsided in cases of technological mismatch or stupidity, but it became increasingly difficult to arrange a battle of annihilation. It has always been the case that an army suffers its worst casualties when beaten and fleeing, and that during the battle proper both sides typically lose comparable numbers of men. Previously there’d been a window in which to inflict those post-collapse casualties before the defeated force started to pull itself back together and become capable of resistance.

    Industrial-era armies became so big, though, that it was impossible to rout more than a portion of them at a time. Even worse, if sufficient railroads and rolling stock were available it became possible for a corps or army in the process of defeat (for now it was almost never a single calamitous event but a slow process of disintegration) to extricate itself from behind screening forces before the marching offensive forces of the enemy could envelop it. The window to inflict catastrophic casualties disappeared, mostly.

    The size of armies had a second effect. In the days of Napoleon, it had been possible for a single man to command the entire fight of one or more corps at the decisive point of a battle. The general could see and react to fleeting tactical opportunities and command the whole of the force like a single body, albeit with a slow and unreliable nervous system. This is known as “command by presence.” Later, with gigantic armies spread across hundreds of square miles in relatively more diffuse formations, it became nigh impossible for the general to see more than a tiny wedge of the area of operations for his force. Command by presence was impossible, especially at the grand tactical scale, and commanders fell back on its counterpart: command by plan. The general and his staff would try to foresee as many eventualities as possible and bake them into written orders for the coming battle.

    Obviously, if things don’t go according to plan it’s very hard to respond effectively. Information has to travel by runners from the units affected by the unexpected turn of events to the nearest telegraph/telephone and then percolate its way up the chain of command without getting garbled, then new orders have to be hastily cut for how to reorient the force and get pushed back down and out to all the appropriate units who will now hopefully carry them out correctly and on time. You can no doubt see the potential for chaos should several unexpected things come up in the course of a single decision cycle. Command by plan makes it almost impossible to take decisive advantage of an emergent enemy vulnerability to inflict a decisive defeat on them.

    There’s also another offensive-defensive asymmetry here in that the defender’s units are likely to have easier and quicker access to their wired communications, though generally in WWI the offensives rolled forward slowly enough and the defender’s wires were cut by artillery often enough that it wasn’t as bad as it might seem.

    Now, I don't want to diminish the tactical side of things. The bloodiness of the first offensives of the war was certainly a shock and it took the belligerents a while to develop the right responses. In theory, none of the effects of the new weapons should have come as a surprise to the militaries involved. The professional military journals published in the decade before WWI are full of discussions of the deadliness of magazine rifles and machine guns and modern quick-firing artillery, of how best to use barbed wire and lay out entrenchments. Much of that discussion was informed by observations made during the Russo-Japanese War. That said, no one had ever put all of these things together and it seems like their synergistic effects were not as well or widely grasped as they should have been. There was also an element of peacetime military slowness to spend vast sums of money on reorganization and training on the basis of reform ideas that had never been tested in combat. By 1917, though, I’d say that for the most part everyone was accommodated to the new tactical realities and you no longer had men going like sheep to the slaughter as at, for example, First Champagne, where the attackers suffered twice as many casualties as the defenders. From that point on attacker and defender casualties were generally pretty even.

    From the above I hope it’s apparent that, while the tank and the airplane helped, they were not the technologies mainly responsible for the return to maneuver warfare as is often alleged. It was the truck and the portable radio that were the critical tools. The first allowed movement and supply of troops far from the nearest friendly railhead, while the radio allowed the supple coordination of large armies over great distances.

  8. June 04, 2018Directrix Gazer said...

    I see that in the time I took to write my monster of a reply in between meetings my points were preempted by more quickly responsive commenters. There's probably a topic-relevant conclusion to be drawn from that...

  9. June 04, 2018sfoil said...

    I don't have anything substantial to add to the comments about WWI, except to say that there is a very accurate (and well-shot, in the cinematic sense) portrayal of a failed French attack on a German trench in the 1930 film All Quiet on the Western Front, about 45 minutes in. You see prep fire, assault, evacuation, protective fire, then counterattack from the second-line trench.

  10. June 04, 2018sfoil said...

    Why hasn't installing anti-aircraft weapons on submarines been more/at all common? Maritime patrol planes and helicopters seem like a pretty serious threat to subs, and they also seem to operate from an assumption of impunity that would be nice to challenge. Yet the only effort in that direction I've found is a [possibly-vaporware German product] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IDAS_(missile)).

    I guess:

    Subs would have to surface in order to operate search radars or otherwise make positive identification.

    I think this is the most likely reason.

    Subs have no hope of fighting it out once detected, they should just run, and installing defensive weapons encourages sub commanders to risk their valuable boats to kill cheap aircraft and waste time they could be evading.

    I've heard this as a rationale for not installing weapons on transport aircraft. I'm not sure this makes as much sense; it seems like a better idea for a spotted sub to kill a tracking aircraft and then run than to try to run from an aircraft that's much faster than it is. I think I'm overestimating the likelihood of a sub captain knowing he's been spotted or not here, though.

    The engagement envelope of a practical sub-launched SAM is too small/low to provide any actual protection/deterrence compared to the detection range of these aircraft, especially since SAM payload comes at the cost of other payload items and that cost increases with the expansion of the AA envelope.

    I have no idea. Maybe?

  11. June 04, 2018bean said...

    I’ve heard this as a rationale for not installing weapons on transport aircraft. I’m not sure this makes as much sense; it seems like a better idea for a spotted sub to kill a tracking aircraft and then run than to try to run from an aircraft that’s much faster than it is.

    Both cases are true. People tend to use systems they're given, even when they shouldn't. It's a proven fact that arming reconnaissance aircraft results in less information and more lost aircraft. They're slower and they get into fights instead of running away.

    With submarines, the problem is that submarines are a lot harder to hunt from the air than you might think, and the sub can't really know that they're well and truly caught until the torpedo hits the water. If they fight back before that, they're officially announcing their presence, and significantly increasing the risk to the boat for a relatively cheap aircraft. After the torpedo is in the water, they need to be focusing on evading it instead of trying to shoot back. In either case, fighting the aircraft is a distraction they need to ignore.

  12. June 04, 2018Andrew Hunter said...

    So, I visited the Iowa today! https://photos.app.goo.gl/ZebFAQ7YPF42wwuWA Was a fun experience, though I was sad that they only do the engine room tour on weekends.

    (Bean, Gunny says hi.)

  13. June 05, 2018bean said...

    Cool. I'm glad you liked it. Sorry about the tour, but such is life. I'm pretty sure Massachusetts has open engine rooms.

  14. June 05, 2018Andrew Hunter said...

    Few more photos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/bS2BYkkxF3peq1K42

    and some thoughts in no particular order:

    • The forecastle is surprisingly empty. Nothing but anchor chains. (presumably at least a few of the removed WW2 small AA guns were removed?) Is this just because gun blast keeps anything valuable off there?

    • Related: drawn on the stern deck is what sure looks like a helicopter landing spot, presumably 80s era, but I am not sure I'm interpreting that right (and certainly there's no hangar, etc.)

    • What's the deal with the white cases on deck marked as ammo storage? Got a slightly confusing answer from a guide as to the purpose. Some of the safety info strongly implies they're carrying small arms ammo, which seems odd to need on-deck ready storage for.

    • Man, ammo loading for a 5incher must have been a workout.

    • I assume it's too cramped for tourists to not damage anything, but damn if I didn't want to get to go inside a main gun turret and inspect the shell delivery system myself.

    • Gunny claimed two Harpoon hits would probably sink a Nimitz. I doubt this, but didn't dispute him, because duh. Curious what you think.

    Overall a great afternoon, even if we had to move quickly (only got there at like 3:50.)

  15. June 05, 2018Andrew Hunter said...

    oh, @Bean: re Hornfischer, I know what you told me when I recommended him to you a while back. If you're willing to try again I have two suggestions:

    a) Neptune's Inferno is considerably better than Tin Can Sailors, though I like both very well.

    b) Since these books are so much about the narrative and the drama of the battle, they are very well suited to audiobooks, which is how I consumed them. The narrator really keeps you engaged.

    Off to Arizona! (though not USS Arizona...)

  16. June 05, 2018AlphaGamma said...

    @Andrew Hunter

    I assume it’s too cramped for tourists to not damage anything, but damn if I didn’t want to get to go inside a main gun turret and inspect the shell delivery system myself.

    Never visited the Iowa, but you can go inside a main gun turret on the New Jersey.

  17. June 05, 2018Gareth said...

    I have a somewhat embarrassingly naive question related to aircraft carrier tactics.

    So my (perhaps mistaken) belief was that pre-WWII the military establishment as a whole really didn't foresee the danger that aircraft posed to battleships. Perhaps there was some recognition that battleships in port would be in danger a la Taranto or Pearl Harbor, but a Force Z scenario where a moving combat-ready battleship was sunk by air attack was not seen as very credible (I know Force Z was sunk by land-based aircraft, but presumably a carrier-based force could have done something similar).

    So, with that in mind, what was the foreseen tactical role of big fleet carriers in a hypothesized major fleet battle, according to prewar naval strategists? Presumably you don't need that many aircraft for scouting (and loaded bombers seem like pretty poor scouts anyway). Were they intended for ASW and killing smaller ships seen as more vulnerable to air attack? Was it thought that bombing attacks on battleships might be really impactful/damaging even if they didn't actually succeed in sinking one of them?

  18. June 05, 2018Inky said...

    To turn the question of using technologies you shouldn't on it's head, why do SSBN have torpedoes still? It seems that the chances of SSBN outrunning/outmaneuvering a SSN hunter are pretty slim, and no sensible SSBN commander would use those torpedoes for anything but self-defense. So why not ditch a heavy, complex and demanding subsystem to make a boat smaller, lighter, faster...? Obvious down would be that the boat would trade a small to moderate increase in stealth/speed/space for the complete inability to defend itself. Another reason might be that the torpedoes are there for the same reasons the modern fighters still sport cannons despite never using them — because the pilots oppose vehemently the attempts to remove them. On a correlated note — it was already discussed that building a small-scale carrier is a bad idea. How bad of an idea is building a smaller-scale SSBN? I mostly base on two assumptions: First: the space needs a carrier has are dictated not so much by the size of a aviation group it carries, but the facilities to perform maintenance and supply the aircraft. For missiles, however, the space demand scales linearly. Second: while for a carrier's smaller profile doesn't really contribute much to its survivability, the smaller and stealthier the sub, the greater probability that it will live to perform its mission. Doubly so for SSBN who are the hunted by definition.

  19. June 05, 2018bean said...

    @Andrew

    The forecastle is surprisingly empty. Nothing but anchor chains. (presumably at least a few of the removed WW2 small AA guns were removed?) Is this just because gun blast keeps anything valuable off there?

    Pretty much. That, and the sea. The Iowas were pretty wet forward because of the fine bow necessary for high speed, so you just can't use that space much. There were AA guns forward during WWII, but they were really vulnerable to both blast and seas, and so went away quickly.

    Related: drawn on the stern deck is what sure looks like a helicopter landing spot, presumably 80s era, but I am not sure I’m interpreting that right (and certainly there’s no hangar, etc.)

    Yes. They had a helo detachment for Korea, mostly for spotting, although I don't think any were permanently assigned in the 80s. Battleship aviation has been on my list forever, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

    What’s the deal with the white cases on deck marked as ammo storage? Got a slightly confusing answer from a guide as to the purpose. Some of the safety info strongly implies they’re carrying small arms ammo, which seems odd to need on-deck ready storage for.

    Most of those are for the CIWS or the SRBOC. There's a few I'm not sure about. (Small arms can mean anything up through about 20 mm in military parlance.)

    I assume it’s too cramped for tourists to not damage anything, but damn if I didn’t want to get to go inside a main gun turret and inspect the shell delivery system myself.

    Actually, no. The turrets are filled with chemicals that will probably cause cancer not only in California, but in most other states as well. You need a full Hazmat suit to go inside. I've never actually been in Iowa's, although I did get to go inside the turrets on Alabama. I believe Massachusetts has a lot of that stuff open, and the turrets are quite similar.

    Gunny claimed two Harpoon hits would probably sink a Nimitz. I doubt this, but didn’t dispute him, because duh. Curious what you think.

    Iowa has a wonderful, hardworking crew. Gunny in particular is a great guy and a good friend. But not everyone is as crazy as I am, and there's a lot of ship to know about. No, two Harpoons would not sink a Nimitz. I'd say that's 50/50 on sinking a Burke, which is a lot smaller and not as tough.

    I may try Hornfischer again at some point. My reading list is long, though.

  20. June 05, 2018bean said...

    @Gareth

    That's a complicated question, because there were lots of different answers from different powers at different times. Working offhand, here's some of the concepts for carrier operations:

    1. Establishing air superiority over a battle. At the time, air spot was considered very important, and it worked best if you could use your fighters to clear off their spotters and protect your own. This could also be done by finding the enemy's carriers first and sinking them.

    2. Operating scouting aircraft. Carriers can operate much worse weather than floatplanes, and put a lot more planes in the air at once. Particularly before radar, you needed a lot of planes to search a big area.

    3. Strike to aid fleet operations. This could be trying to sink cruisers/destroyers, or it could be trying to damage and cripple enemy ships so that your surface fleet can finish them off. (Bismarck was a textbook example of this.) There may even have been a bit of land strike work done.

    I'm probably missing a couple of things, but that should be a place to start.

  21. June 05, 2018bean said...

    @Inky

    That's a very good question. I believe the new SSBNs under development in the UK and US are both intended to have no torpedo tubes. I'm not entirely sure why the Ohios got them. The first US SSBNs were SSNs cut in half and with a missile compartment shoved into the middle, and it's probable that tradition kept the tubes aboard through the Ohios.

    On a correlated note — it was already discussed that building a small-scale carrier is a bad idea. How bad of an idea is building a smaller-scale SSBN?

    The problem with a small-scale SSBN is cost, both to build and to run. You still need the same combat system, a nuclear reactor (and I suspect that cost there is only very loosely correlated with size) and a bunch of other support facilities. Likewise, crew doesn't scale linearly with missile tubes. I'd guess that two 12-missile boats would cost at least 50% more than a 24-missile Ohio.

  22. June 05, 2018Suvorov said...

    @Inky

    I'm not a submarine expert, so Bean may have a better answer than me. That being said, I am under the impression that SSBNs rely much more on stealth than they do on speed. An Ohio isn't going to outrun an Akula regardless of whether or not it is carrying torpedos. But the Ohio is very stealthy. This means (and we've got historical cases where this sort of thing happens!) there is a non-zero chance an SSN could blunder right into a SSBN, or that the SSBN could detect the SSN that was hunting it before the SSN did. In those sorts of situations, the SSBN would want to be able to sink the SSN before it got located and sunk itself.

    Modern fighters do still use their cannons, BTW; US fighter aircraft in Afghanistan put 20mm to good use strafing enemy positions. They found that the strafing runs could be more frightening to the enemy than bombing runs, since the aircraft could repeat the operation multiple times instead of dropping a few bombs and going home. But modern air wars (against Iraq) have seen use of gun kills against helicopters and maneuvering kills (i.e. persuaded the other guy to fly into the ground) against enemy aircraft as well, demonstrating that the days of dogfighting are hardly behind us.

    Since Inky brought up SSBNs, here's a wacky SSBN idea I've heard: put one in the Great Lakes. It'd be sort of like the American version of the Russian train ICBMs. I sort of think, though, that it would be more vulnerable than silo'd missiles, given that the underwater shockwave produced by a nuclear weapon dropped in the near vicinity would probably disintegrate it. But I'd be curious to hear Bean's thoughts on that.

  23. June 05, 2018bean said...

    Modern fighters do still use their cannons, BTW; US fighter aircraft in Afghanistan put 20mm to good use strafing enemy positions. They found that the strafing runs could be more frightening to the enemy than bombing runs, since the aircraft could repeat the operation multiple times instead of dropping a few bombs and going home.

    That's easy to deal with. It's called a gun pod. Put it on for frightening insurgents, and take it off when you need to do real work.

    But modern air wars (against Iraq) have seen use of gun kills against helicopters and maneuvering kills (i.e. persuaded the other guy to fly into the ground) against enemy aircraft as well, demonstrating that the days of dogfighting are hardly behind us.

    The last US gun kill I'm aware of was in 1991, and it was an A-10 shooting down a helicopter. More importantly, that was a war fought with Sparrows and earlier Sidewinders. The Slammer and the AIM-9X have made a huge difference in the nature of AA combat. As for maneuvering kills, the only one I know of was on the first day of the air campaign, when an EF-111 snuck on on the sidelobe of the radar altimeter of the plane chasing them and sucked them into the ground. But that wasn't counted as a kill because it would have been the first and the Air Force couldn't bear it. Also not a dogfight.

    Since Inky brought up SSBNs, here’s a wacky SSBN idea I’ve heard: put one in the Great Lakes.

    A couple of problems. First, that would violate all sorts of treaties with Canada. Even building the LCSs in Wisconsin took negotiations, and you want to park nuclear weapons there? Second, the lakes are relatively small, and I wouldn't rule out the possibility of a trailer being able to stay with them there and cue an ICBM. Third, you're a long ways from Russia. Far enough that it certainly wasn't plausible in the Polaris days, so there's no infrastructure in place to support it. That's going to be expensive to build. I also suspect you'd have a restricted target set even with D5. I think a mobile ICBM would be a better choice, cheaper and with fewer diplomatic problems.

  24. June 05, 2018Suvorov said...

    There were a couple other maneuvering kills in Desert Storm (I looked it up before I wrote the previous comment, I don't have magnetic tapes for brains, I promise!) One of them was a MiG-29 that hit the floor trying to get away from a couple of F-15s; as I understand it, AWACS didn't give the F-15s the typical situational awareness and they ended up fighting closer than expected. But one might fairly question whether "the other guy wasn't paying attention" counts as a kill.

    Sure, the Sidewinder is good. I'm skeptical the Slammer is as good against modern threats as one would like (IIRC, the Navy has been looking at getting an extended-range version of the AIM-9X, perhaps because of the Slammer's weaknesses.) But unlike the missiles, there's nothing you can mount on a plane that can stop a 20mm, and I think those missiles would be depleted mighty fast in a shooting war with, say, China.

    Regarding the SSBNs: I agree that trains or road-mobile weapons are absolutely easier. It was just a random idea I heard. Would you even need to track one in the Great Lakes? What if you just sprinkled a few MIRVS to detonate on impact in the region and called it good? Do you think the SSBN could survive?

  25. June 05, 2018bean said...

    My bad on the maneuvering kills. I'm not a specialist in the Gulf War air campaign.

    I’m skeptical the Slammer is as good against modern threats as one would like (IIRC, the Navy has been looking at getting an extended-range version of the AIM-9X, perhaps because of the Slammer’s weaknesses.)

    Interesting. This is something I’ve never heard. I can see some reason for an extended-range AIM-9X, as a matter of getting better performance out of a smaller, lighter missile, but I’ve rarely heard bad things about the Slammer since the mid-90s.

    But unlike the missiles, there’s nothing you can mount on a plane that can stop a 20mm, and I think those missiles would be depleted mighty fast in a shooting war with, say, China.

    Granted. But the gun is extra weight and cost, and it pretty much requires that the enemy cooperate with your using it. Overall, I think it’s kept on fighters because of the “but they needed guns over Vietnam” thing. (Which is also mostly untrue, but that’s another issue.)

    My basic issue is one of opportunity costs. It may be good in certain situations to have a gun on your fighter, but it's easy to point to those and ignore the cost of the gun and the performance hit you take from it. Until I see a good, balanced analysis that hopefully doesn't invoke Vietnam, I'm not particularly likely to update on this.

  26. June 05, 2018bean said...

    What if you just sprinkled a few MIRVS to detonate on impact in the region and called it good? Do you think the SSBN could survive?

    Sorry, missed this in my first reply.

    No, I don't think that would be enough. Lake Superior has a surface area of 31,700 square miles. A 100 kt warhead has a lethal radius of approximately 6 km (source), which means you'd need 685 to cover the lake. That's over a third of the current Russian arsenal. If we assume half the lake is unsuitable and that we're using 1 MT warheads, then it's down to 39. Probably somewhat higher, as I'm assuming perfect packing. That's a lot of firepower, and I suspect a surface burst is a lot less effective than the subsurface burst that I think the table assumes.

  27. June 05, 2018Suvorov said...

    Interesting. This is something I’ve never heard. I can see some reason for an extended-range AIM-9X, as a matter of getting better performance out of a smaller, lighter missile, but I’ve rarely heard bad things about the Slammer since the mid-90s.

    IIRC, its success rate since the mid-90s is about 60%, which is pretty good, but I don't think it faced an enemy more potent than Yugoslavian MiG-29s. A modern enemy could, in theory: - Jam your radar - Jam your AMRAAMs radar - Deploy with anti-radiation missiles, forcing you to be careful about how you use your radar - Deploy with any equivalent/superior missile/platform combination that forces you to use the AMRAAM at maximum range and/or stop painting the target before the AMRAAM's radar goes active, making kills less likely. - Deploy chaff and towed decoys - Deploy stealth aircraft

    I don't think any of this makes the AMRAAM worthless, it just means that a peer-foe could defeat a lot of your AMRAAM launches and make you very happy you brought an IR weapon and maybe even a gun to the fight. The F-22 has a lot of features that give it an edge here, of course, but I think that conventional v. conventional AMRAAM use would see a lot of missed AMRAAM shots. I suspect that IR weapons will tend to be more reliable, even if fewer of them are fired.

    But who knows, I could be all wrong.

  28. June 05, 2018Inky said...

    @Suvorov

    This means (and we’ve got historical cases where this sort of thing happens!) there is a non-zero chance an SSN could blunder right into a SSBN, or that the SSBN could detect the SSN that was hunting it before the SSN did. In those sorts of situations, the SSBN would want to be able to sink the SSN before it got located and sunk itself.

    No expert on the submarine warfare either, but it seems to me that in former case, SSBN is cooked one way or another. In the latter, the wisest thing to do would be figure the bearing of the enemy SSN and use that knowledge to get as much distance between it and herself as possible. The reason for that is twofold: first, firing a torpedo is a very noisy act, detonation even more so, thus even if the attack would be successful, it would alert every SSN in a sizable radius that something fishy is happening in this area and they will flock there at top speed. Which is exactly what an SSBN must evade at all costs.
    And second, trying to do such things puts the primary mission of the boat at risk, which should be avoided at all costs. It's exactly the kind of thing Bean was talking about: putting a weapon on a vessel whose mission does not require it can jeopardize the mission of the vessel due to possibility of wrong decisions being made in certain situations.
    Actually, one thing a SSBN would benefit from would be increased submersion depth. Being able to cruise at ~ kilometer depth would make it virtually undetectable. The cost of building a titanium (none other could withstand such pressure) hull of the SSBN size would be absolutely ludicrous though. It doesn't make sense to build one super-duper sub in place of 3 which are merely super.

    @Bean

    As for maneuvering kills, the only one I know of was on the first day of the air campaign, when an EF-111 snuck on on the sidelobe of the radar altimeter of the plane chasing them and sucked them into the ground. But that wasn’t counted as a kill because it would have been the first and the Air Force couldn’t bear it. Also not a dogfight.

    It seems this didn't happen after all.

  29. June 05, 2018Suvorov said...

    No, I don’t think that would be enough. Lake Superior has a surface area of 31,700 square miles. A 100 kt warhead has a lethal radius of approximately 6 km (source), which means you’d need 685 to cover the lake. That’s over a third of the current Russian arsenal. If we assume half the lake is unsuitable and that we’re using 1 MT warheads, then it’s down to 39. Probably somewhat higher, as I’m assuming perfect packing. That’s a lot of firepower, and I suspect a surface burst is a lot less effective than the subsurface burst that I think the table assumes.

    Oh, fascinating. So still a bad idea, but not so much for the reasons I thought. Thanks!

  30. June 05, 2018bean said...

    Interesting on the EF-111. I'm not quite willing to accept that article without a bit more research, as someone who cannot tell the difference between chaff and flares should probably not be writing on military aviation. And aviation safety writeup on the loss of that EF-111 reads a lot like the War is Boring report, including the name of the Mirage pilot. I'm going to guess that someone got their wires crossed.

    No expert on the submarine warfare either, but it seems to me that in former case, SSBN is cooked one way or another. In the latter, the wisest thing to do would be figure the bearing of the enemy SSN and use that knowledge to get as much distance between it and herself as possible. The reason for that is twofold: first, firing a torpedo is a very noisy act, detonation even more so, thus even if the attack would be successful, it would alert every SSN in a sizable radius that something fishy is happening in this area and they will flock there at top speed. Which is exactly what an SSBN must evade at all costs.

    Not necessarily. Keep in mind that SSNs can’t talk, either. Unless a second SSN is pretty close, odds are that all they’ll hear is a torpedo and some breaking-up noises. They don’t know who just killed what. It could have been one of their fellows killing a boomer, or another SSN. Or one of their fellows could have been killed by a boomer or an SSN. They don’t know, and rushing over to take a look is likely as not to trigger a blue-on-blue.

    Actually, one thing a SSBN would benefit from would be increased submersion depth. Being able to cruise at ~ kilometer depth would make it virtually undetectable. The cost of building a titanium (none other could withstand such pressure) hull of the SSBN size would be absolutely ludicrous though. It doesn’t make sense to build one super-duper sub in place of 3 which are merely super.

    Keep in mind that they can’t launch below 100-150 m. Various bits of the missile don't like higher pressure. And yeah, titanium hulls are really expensive. I believe a Russian joke is that it would have been cheaper to build them out of gold.

  31. June 05, 2018Suvorov said...

    I’m a bit suspicious of “Oh, all the advanced technology will cancel out in a way that will just happen to make the fighter pilots happy”. I’m not suggesting that you personally are a fighter pilot, or someone who is trying to flatter them, but it is rather odd that all of these countermeasures just happen to give fighter pilots that old-time excitement, instead of cruising around lobbing missiles at each other.

    Haha, no, it's good to be suspicious. I'm not above flattering fighter pilots.

    But don't misunderstand me: I don't think that the technology will cancel out in a way that will lead to a bunch of dogfighting. (I think the next war may be work better suited for Air Tractors, not fighter jets, but we can set that aside.) The gun's greatest value may very well be psychological. If there is a major air war, I would expect that most kills were by radar-guided weapons, in part because forces on both sides will deploy with large numbers of them. I just think that the risk that a pilot will end up in a situation where a gun is his best option is non-zero. And I do think that short-ranged modern IR weapons will be more reliable than long-ranged RF-guided ones. So I think the motivation for carrying guns (and short-ranged missiles) is pretty reasonable, even if they are only useful in the margins.

    Your list of potential issues is a decent one, but there are workarounds. The Air Force is working on stuff like sharing radar pictures in hostile environments, and it seems to be coming along pretty well. I’m not sure I agree that an extended-range AIM-9X is intended to be a substitute Slammer. Everyone wants more range out of their weapons. If anything, I’d guess it’s meant to replace the Slammer on self-defense-armed strike aircraft, because it’s lighter, and fits better on the wingtip rails, not because they’re expecting the AMRAAM to be ineffective.

    The article I read on Aviation Week (it was from 2013, it turns out, so it may be outdated) indicated that the AIM-9X extended-range idea was designed to defeat an enemy that was not (as) vulnerable to weapons operating in the RF spectrum. It sounded to me like the Navy felt vulnerable to a specific threat, maybe jamming, possibly they were trying to get ahead of the stealth aircraft curve.

    You can read the article/my attempt at Markdown here

    I do think, though, that the threat from RF jamming is extremely high, and I think the armed forces understand this. Our experience with EW (primarily American and Israeli) tells us that it is extremely effective at denying enemy surface-to-air weapons the ability to engage. In a peer-vs-peer air war, I expect it will acquit itself fairly well. I do not think that means it will make radar-guided missiles obsolete any more than stealth aircraft do! It just reduces situational awareness and the range at which we can acquire and engage targets. Hence the need for IR missiles and sensors.

    If I had it my way, the US would be rolling with an AIM-54 follow-on that had dual IR/radar guidance and could out-range AMRAAM analogues. Being able to keep your radar painting the target until the missile reaches the terminal phase would give you an edge in long-range fights. But that would be a very, very expensive weapons program.

  32. June 05, 2018RedRover said...

    Re SSBNs and torpedoes, I would think that so long as they can avoid detection by another party for a half hour or so, they can effectively clear the datum fairly easily? The undetected speed of a sub is smaller than a surface ship, but so is detection, so I would think the same targeting problems you identified in the carrier writeup would apply similarly to subs.

    Also, how critical is wire guidance for torpedoes? As I understand it most modern torpedoes can use wires for guidance from the launching sub in order to maintain a firing solution and use the more sensitive sonar data of the launching sub, as well as avoiding some degree of emissions (maybe?). If the SSBN makes a defensive launch at the attacker, and gets them to cut their wires and run, as well as running away itself, how much does that change the situation?

  33. June 05, 2018Gareth said...

    @Bean Interesting, thanks. The scouting and air superiority for spotters (plus shooting down the enemy scouts and spotters) make a lot of sense, although I guess that still leaves all the bombers.

    It does seem at first glance, to my untrained eye, a bit odd to have unified fleets with battleships and aircraft carriers stocked with dozens of dive and torpedo bombers. If the bombers of the latter are worth having to kill/cripple surface ships, then that seems to suggest (given their vastly superior combat range) that battleships are in for a rough time. Even if you're just assuming that cruisers and destroyers are going to be the primary targets, are battleships that categorically different? And are they viable combat ships if their support fleet is going to be really vulnerable to air attack in the event of a fleet action?

    It seems plausible to assume the alternative in the absence of operational experience, namely that bombers are not going to be effective because surface ships with half-decent air cover that are expecting combat are too difficult to sink/cripple from the air. But in that case you're wasting a lot of money on carriers and bombers with questionable utility.

    I guess I'm struggling to square the circle where carrier-based bombers can be seen as a viable weapon in fleet actions but battleships fighting at gun ranges are still expected to be decisive. Seems like one of those two things is likely to be true, but not both. But I guess a lot of this is 20/20 hindsight.

  34. June 05, 2018Inky said...

    Keep in mind that they can’t launch below 100-150 m

    Hmm. Is it standard operating procedure for SSBNs to cruise on depths from which they can launch immediately? I would have thought they only rise to such depth immediately before launch. Deeper != safer?
    Also, 100-150 m is a lot. I thought 50 m was a lot for a missile to travel and still have enough of impetus to clear water enough to light rocket motor.

  35. June 05, 2018bean said...

    @Suvorov

    First, separate guns and short range missiles. I have no problem with carrying short-range missiles. They're why we don't need guns. AIM-9X is high off-bore and we're working on HMDs, which means you've got insanely large engagement arcs. On the morale front, it may be useful occasionally, but probably not as useful as doing something else with the weight.

    I think the next war may be work better suited for Air Tractors, not fighter jets, but we can set that aside.

    You're also an AT-802U fan? Excellent.

    I certainly have nothing against IR missiles or sensors. But I tend to believe that the tendency of militaries to fight the last war is counterbalanced by the tendency of pundits to change too much about the next one.

    And it looks like AIM-9X Block III was cancelled. They apparently wanted it to fit 6 BVR AAMs in the bay of an F-35C, and when they cut the buy, decided they could do without it.

  36. June 05, 2018bean said...

    @RedRover

    Re SSBNs and torpedoes, I would think that so long as they can avoid detection by another party for a half hour or so, they can effectively clear the datum fairly easily? The undetected speed of a sub is smaller than a surface ship, but so is detection, so I would think the same targeting problems you identified in the carrier writeup would apply similarly to subs.

    Pretty much. The gap between sub-launched SAMs and torpedoes on boomers is one of reacquisition time. The boomer is presumably in an area where the airplanes and surface ships are yours, and that makes any hunting SSNs cautious.

    Also, how critical is wire guidance for torpedoes?

    Moderately. Modern homing torpedoes are pretty good, but they still don't have the acquisition range to be totally autonomous. Getting the launcher to cut the wires significantly increases the chances of being able to evade.

    @Gareth

    It does seem at first glance, to my untrained eye, a bit odd to have unified fleets with battleships and aircraft carriers stocked with dozens of dive and torpedo bombers. If the bombers of the latter are worth having to kill/cripple surface ships, then that seems to suggest (given their vastly superior combat range) that battleships are in for a rough time. Even if you’re just assuming that cruisers and destroyers are going to be the primary targets, are battleships that categorically different? And are they viable combat ships if their support fleet is going to be really vulnerable to air attack in the event of a fleet action?

    It's not that battleships were expected to be immune by virtue of being battleships. It was that they were expected to have enough AAA and escorts to be able to hold off bombers, or take a torpedo and still be combat-effective.

    It also bears pointing out the size of the relative forces. In 1939, Britain had 15 capital ships in commission, and only 6 carriers, two of which were old and very small. The numbers for the USN were fairly similar. So your average force of 3 battleships has a single carrier with 24-36 bombers. It took 85 aircraft to sink Repulse and Prince of Wales, and they were larger and had bigger payloads than the standard carrier bombers of the day. Throw in some optimistic estimates of AA effectiveness, and it's not at all obvious that the battleships won't be able to fight their way through the carrier strike with some damage. This remained true through the end of the war, actually. Yamato took an awful lot of killing, and it was only the fact that we had an awful lot of carriers stuffed with planes that made it possible. And you can see in both the US and UK building programs a recognition of the shift from battleship to carrier as the main striking force. Some time around 1940-1942, you went from carriers helping the battleships to vice versa.

  37. June 05, 2018bean said...

    @Inky

    Is it standard operating procedure for SSBNs to cruise on depths from which they can launch immediately? I would have thought they only rise to such depth immediately before launch. Deeper != safer?

    That's something that I don't know, and couldn't tell you if I did.

    Also, 100-150 m is a lot. I thought 50 m was a lot for a missile to travel and still have enough of impetus to clear water enough to light rocket motor.

    Oh, they light the motor in the water, although I think after it's cleared the tube. It's sealed so there's no water in the motor itself, and it provides enough thrust to get the rocket going up despite the water.

  38. June 05, 2018Gareth said...

    @Bean

    OK, seems sensible. So in a hypothesized neo-Jutland (just meaning full fleet vs full fleet) type engagement in early WWII, or even a smaller squadron vs squadron fight, between say the RN and the IJN, it would be reasonable to expect the small numbers of available carrier-borne bombers to get badly chewed up by AAA fire and not have much of an impact on the battleships? And nobody is realistically putting together a carrier force large enough to potentially change that until the Japanese finish the Shōkaku-class carriers in 1941 to assemble the Kidō Butai?

    I'm now trying to imagine some alt-Midway where Pearl Harbor goes wrong for the Japanese and the U.S. has a sizable battleship force, and if that changes anything. Presumably both side's tactics now emphasize trying to engage at gun range, and perhaps the carrier bombers available are unable to contribute too much? Or maybe at that point each side has enough critical mass of carrier aircraft available that the battleships are now going to be vulnerable. Although from what you say about Force Z and Yamato, maybe not. Or perhaps it's completely unrealistic to imagine the Japanese electing to seek a battle under such circumstances, if Pearl Harbor had failed to cripple the battleship fleet.

    Thanks for your willingness to answer questions!

  39. June 05, 2018ADifferentAnonymous said...

    I'd like to belatedly thank Bean, Cassander, and most especially Directrix Gazer for answering my WW1 question way up at the top of the thread. Rarely is so broad a question resolved so satisfyingly!

  40. June 05, 2018bean said...

    @Gareth

    So in a hypothesized neo-Jutland (just meaning full fleet vs full fleet) type engagement in early WWII, or even a smaller squadron vs squadron fight, between say the RN and the IJN, it would be reasonable to expect the small numbers of available carrier-borne bombers to get badly chewed up by AAA fire and not have much of an impact on the battleships? And nobody is realistically putting together a carrier force large enough to potentially change that until the Japanese finish the Shōkaku-class carriers in 1941 to assemble the Kidō Butai?

    Not necessarily. AAA early in WWII was pretty poor, and there were some successful strikes in the face of it. That said, it wasn't well-understood until just before the war how ineffective AAA was. The problem would have been simply not having enough aircraft to be able to sink multiple battleships. A bunch of carriers came into service between 1938 and 1941, so if the US and Japan had gone to war in the mid-30s, the carrier probably wouldn't have been decisive simply because there weren't enough of them to sink the battleships before the battleships sunk them.

    I don't think Midway would have been in the cards in the absence of Pearl Harbor. You'd be seeing the classic Japanese Decisive Battle strategy, probably. I'm not an expert on their thinking (what there was of it) so I don't want to venture more.

    Thanks for your willingness to answer questions!

    You are most welcome.

    @Suvorov

    While I can accept that an AIM-9X and a cannon are both philosophically backups to the AIM-120, I think that that massive difference in range and capability means that they should be evaluated separately. An AIM-9X is ~20 nm, while a cannon is like .5 nm, if that.

    Yes, a cannon could be really helpful if something goes wrong, but I suspect that every pilot saved by the gun is bought at the price of three lost because we didn't fill the space with EW gear.

    You know, I really like the OV-10 Broncos, to be honest. But that’s just because they look cool. I hear good things about the Air Tractor, from a technical standpoint.

    The Bronco is indeed a cool airplane. Although I have to admit that my fondness for Air Tractor has more to do with the fact that I find converting a cropduster into an attack aircraft hilarious than anything else.

    I just believe a fundamental element of war is that whatever can fail will, and the more resources you have at your disposal, the better. I’m pro-variety when it comes to weapons-systems!

    The reducto ad absurdium of that is that we should fit our warships with muzzle-loading broadside batteries. I know you wouldn't actually suggest that, but I think that there's more than a bit of that in keeping the cannons around.

  41. June 05, 2018RedRover said...

    In the next war, our situational awareness might be radically curtailed.

    @Suvorov

    What do you think the shape of the next war will be? One of the things I struggle with is how long a major power war would stay conventional. It seems to me that if a major power really thinks they're existentially threatened, then they go nuclear, and if they're not a major power then the fight will be fairly one sided, at least as far as the US is concerned.

    I suppose you could have a situation like Korea,* where the major powers are fighting on third party territory, or maybe they just keep trading subs and carriers in mid-ocean while studiously avoiding going near land or the enemy bases, but that also seems like poor strategy.

    *Where the Russians provided pilots to the North Koreans, while at the same time having at least a nominal fission bomb capability, and the Chinese provided lots of troops and material, and both fought the US without escalating out of country.

  42. June 05, 2018Suvorov said...

    While I can accept that an AIM-9X and a cannon are both philosophically backups to the AIM-120, I think that that massive difference in range and capability means that they should be evaluated separately. An AIM-9X is ~20 nm, while a cannon is like .5 nm, if that.

    Again, though, that's something that happens really, really fast at even high subsonic speeds. A simple, stupid mistake like having your selector toggled onto the wrong weapons system means the difference between a midrange Sidewinder shot and a turning fight. And if you get into that turning fight and find that the Russians or Chinese countermeasures work better than advertised...

    Yes, a cannon could be really helpful if something goes wrong, but I suspect that every pilot saved by the gun is bought at the price of three lost because we didn’t fill the space with EW gear.

    I think this is a good argument, but I'm not sure if that's necessarily the case. The Vulcan is ~200 pounds minus ammo if you choose the light version. If you are concerned about saving weight, the Russian's 30mm weighs half that. I realize you can do a lot with 100 pounds on an aircraft, but it's hardly a full-sized jamming pod. Even the AN/ALQ-135, which is the F-15's self-defense system, weighs about 400 pounds, I believe. It seems like a pretty modest concession. (I'm also not sure that the forward fuselage, near the radar, is a good place for a jammer.)

    The Bronco is indeed a cool airplane. Although I have to admit that my fondness for Air Tractor has more to do with the fact that I find converting a cropduster into an attack aircraft hilarious than anything else.

    Haha! But I'm glad I'm not the only one to find the Bronco cool. The large cargo area really appeals to me as well. Seems like they are a bit underpowered, but maybe modern technology could change that. I heard some of them were actually deployed to fight ISIS, which I thought was pretty awesome.

    The reducto ad absurdium of that is that we should fit our warships with muzzle-loading broadside batteries. I know you wouldn’t actually suggest that, but I think that there’s more than a bit of that in keeping the cannons around.

    I think a good analogy is keeping around fighting knives: they fill the same niche, at about the same cost.

  43. June 05, 2018RedRover said...

    In thinking about it some more, the only example I can think of in terms of post-WWII fighting in a really contested environment would be the US over North Vietnam, or possibly the Soviets in Afghanistan. Otherwise, examples of prolonged high order conventional combat between competent enemies seem sparse. Korea was obviously also a "real" war, but I think the technology, both nuclear and otherwise, was primitive enough that it was essentially fought more along the lines of WWII than "modern" warfare, not least because most of the equipment was warmed over WWII equipment.

  44. June 05, 2018Suvorov said...

    @RedRover

    What do you think the shape of the next war will be? One of the things I struggle with is how long a major power war would stay conventional. It seems to me that if a major power really thinks they’re existentially threatened, then they go nuclear, and if they’re not a major power then the fight will be fairly one sided, at least as far as the US is concerned.

    I think the most likely next conflict is drone strikes over [Middle Eastern country] :P But, I think there are other scenarios that are possible even if unlikely, and it seems like a good idea to assume the next foe will be competent AND well-armed.

    I could definitely see a major war between China/US/India/Taiwan/Japan/Vietnam. You could have a massive conflict between Vietnam and China without a likely resort to nuclear weapons. Probably not a war the West would be involved in. But I think it's possible the US gets involved in a shooting war with China that plays out entirely at sea and nukes don't get thrown either.

    I think Russia would threaten to go nuclear for sure if they felt existentially threatened, but they might resort to conventional means in some scenarios. In which case I think you would see Russia pushing to get territory as a negotiation position: "We have Warsaw, so lay off about Ukraine," or something like that. In that situation, the West would have to stop their push. If the line stabilized but the West did not invade Russia, the conventional war might end with no nukes exchanged. It's a fringe scenario, but it's why we haven't grounded our F-15s for Air Tractors.

    I don't think it's out of the question to have conflict of a more surprising nature, like Germany vs. France: Round XXXI, or something.

    I suppose you could have a situation like Korea,* where the major powers are fighting on third party territory, or maybe they just keep trading subs and carriers in mid-ocean while studiously avoiding going near land or the enemy bases, but that also seems like poor strategy.

    Why do you think this would be a poor strategy? Both China and the US, in this sort of situation, know that striking Beijing or San Francisco is going to take the strategy to a whole new level. If we think we can, say, sink all of China's ships before they invade Taiwan, and they think we can't, a limited shooting war seems like a good idea, and there's no real reason to escalate it that I can see. But maybe I am missing something?

    In thinking about it some more, the only example I can think of in terms of post-WWII fighting in a really contested environment would be the US over North Vietnam, or possibly the Soviets in Afghanistan. Otherwise, examples of prolonged high order conventional combat between competent enemies seem sparse. Korea was obviously also a “real” war, but I think the technology, both nuclear and otherwise, was primitive enough that it was essentially fought more along the lines of WWII than “modern” warfare, not least because most of the equipment was warmed over WWII equipment.

    What about Israel's various wars, and the various African conflicts? (Ethiopia, South Africa, etc.) I'm not too familiar with them--maybe they aren't exactly what you're looking for. But the South Africans seemed pretty competent, and the Ethiopia-Eritean War featured MiG-29s vs. Su-27s flown by Russian mercs. (I think they mostly shot at each other and missed, which might be interpreted as evidence that post-Vietnam BVR missiles suck, or evidence that Russian exports suck, I'm not sure which is right.)

  45. June 05, 2018RedRover said...

    @Suvorov

    What about Israel’s various wars, and the various African conflicts?

    I had another comment that appears to have been lost, but I think some of the Israeli conflicts count, though I would emphasize how short most of those wars were. Africa I'm less sure on, as while some of the combatants may have been individually competent, on the whole it seems very ragtag, being a sort of glorified guerrilla campaign than traditional tanks and jets type war. To be sure, there was the occasional jet or tank, even in Angola, but on the whole they don't seem to have fought in a very modern way. (Or perhaps it's the most modern?)

    Both China and the US, in this sort of situation, know that striking Beijing or San Francisco is going to take the strategy to a whole new level. If we think we can, say, sink all of China’s ships before they invade Taiwan, and they think we can’t, a limited shooting war seems like a good idea, and there’s no real reason to escalate it that I can see.

    China without a navy seems like they would be fighting scared. Perhaps they would just accept that, and call it a day, but I think if you put the PLAN on the ocean bottom they would be rather concerned. Also, if you were the American/Taiwanese commander, would you really let their subs sit unmolested at base? I suppose the Falklands is precedent for that kind of limited war, and it's not impossible by any means, but I'm skeptical that it would be contained that easily. Similarly, if China sunk two or three carriers, I think it would be hard politically to stomach those losses without hitting the Chinese mainland.

    I think Russia would threaten to go nuclear for sure if they felt existentially threatened, but they might resort to conventional means in some scenarios.

    I can see that, and also the US, etc, would probably be unlikely to nuke occupied Latvia or whatever, even if that made the most tactical sense.

    Germany vs. France: Round XXXI

    They're too old, and at this point I would only say there is a 60% chance that they would even fight a Russian invasion.

  46. June 05, 2018Suvorov said...

    @RedRover

    To be sure, there was the occasional jet or tank, even in Angola, but on the whole they don’t seem to have fought in a very modern way. (Or perhaps it’s the most modern?)

    That's an interesting take, but you could be right: maybe low-intensity conflict is the new modern! Conflict using really modern weapons and technology is enormously expensive and tech-intensive, but it's not hard to crank out a steady stream of AK-47s, and creates almost as much trouble.

    China without a navy seems like they would be fighting scared. Perhaps they would just accept that, and call it a day, but I think if you put the PLAN on the ocean bottom they would be rather concerned. Also, if you were the American/Taiwanese commander, would you really let their subs sit unmolested at base? I suppose the Falklands is precedent for that kind of limited war, and it’s not impossible by any means, but I’m skeptical that it would be contained that easily. Similarly, if China sunk two or three carriers, I think it would be hard politically to stomach those losses without hitting the Chinese mainland.

    I mean, I suppose it all depends. If we sunk all their transports, and they had a few conventional ships left, they would sort of have to call it a day; they would have a hard time invading Taiwan with fishing boats. (I guess they could try...) I can see a situation where we, say, put 50% of the PLAN on the ocean floor and they see that discretion is the better part of valor.

    And if they sunk three of our carriers, but we sunk their entire navy, I think America would be OK calling it even. Still, though, definitely a scary thing to think about. I think we could (maybe? I hope?) hit air-bases, ports and whatnot in China in a limited fashion with cruise missiles without them getting nuke-happy, but I do think they would strike Hawaii or Japan if we did that.

    I guess part of it depends on the situation. If China decides to invade Taiwan, and we stop them, we might know in about 2 days when all their transports are on the ocean floor, before the situation escalates. Things might go differently, though, if they actually invaded Taiwan and the fight was over whether or not their beachhead would be reinforced. I could see that being a slog.

    They’re too old, and at this point I would only say there is a 60% chance that they would even fight a Russian invasion.

    I can't really disagree, although they could remilitarize if they really wanted to. Maybe I should have said California and the Cascadian Republic vs. the USA, or, more likely, Turkey v. Greece.

  47. June 05, 2018Tony Zbaraschuk said...

    Another thing about battleship/carrier things before World War II: it's very important to realize the rate of technology advancement that was going on. Planes in 1930 couldn't realistically carry heavy enough bombs to get through battleship deck armor, nor heavy enough torpedoes to penetrate battleship torpedo defense systems. In 1940 they could just barely manage it (and the Japanese were light-years ahead of everybody in torpedo development) -- the AP bombs the Japanese used at Pearl Harbor were shaved-down battleship shells, one per plane (as opposed to a BB capable of firing salvoes of 4 or 12 every couple of minutes). By 1945 the handwriting was clear, and radar-guided bombs made it effectively impossible to armor the deck heavily enough over enough space.

    Battleship design progressed as well -- note that late WW I battleships might have 8 15" guns and displace 25000 tons. WW II battleships had main batteries that were not much heavier (8 15", 10 14", 9 16") and they displaced 45000 tons. Some of that was more armor; a lot of it was simply five-layer torpedo defense systems. (Note that the BBs which were sunk by low numbers of torpedo shots were WW I types -- Royal Oak, Barham, or caught in harbor; modern battleships needed to be beaten to death with LOTS of torpedo hits. Unless you were Prince of Wales and there was something wrong with your torpedo defense system and one torpedo hit and warped a propellor shaft, flooding lots of the interior...)

    Also, plane speed was going up dramatically between the wars, too -- an AA suite that could easily target 1933 biplanes would have trouble against a monoprop going twice the speed. Since it was easier and faster to upgrade a carrier with new planes than to replace an AA suite, this led to problems that were variously solved by "lots more AA guns" hence the late-war Iowas with 20mm sets anywhere they could fit them, or proximity fuses on 5" shells.

    Eventually people realized that battleships weren't going to be able to operate under hostile air umbrellas, but this didn't really strike everyone (particularly people who were not naval aviators) until late 1941.

    The 1930s planned to use aircraft primarily as scouts and as strike units against lighter-armed ships (cruisers, destroyers, other carriers), with scouting as the first mission.

  48. June 05, 2018dndnrsn said...

    @ADifferentAnonymous, bean, cassander, Directrix Gazer

    I've read (in Keegan, I believe) that a major limiting factor on radios was the weight/bulk of batteries.

    Regarding casualty ratios, pay attention to the total troops and not just the casualties. For example, at the Somme, the British and colonies plus French together had considerably more troops than the Germans - they were devoting more men (and presumably resources) to the fighting, so it isn't surprising they did equivalent damage while attacking. But, was the damage they took worth it? A lot of the winning powers in the war (Italians especially) came out not exactly feeling as though they'd won.

    Related to that: anyone interested in war art? I have this pet hypothesis that better art comes out of a war you lost than a war you won. Nobody really won WWI, which is why a disproportionate amount of good war art came out of it. This is also why the best American war movies are usually about Vietnam.

    Final question: what wins, Bismarck taped to Yamato or a carrier, but with pterodactyls instead of planes? Only WWII carriers, though, let's not get silly.

  49. June 05, 2018bean said...

    Wow. I hop off for a few hours for gaming, and come back to this! (Not disappointed, but seriously surprised.)

    @Suvorov

    Again, though, that’s something that happens really, really fast at even high subsonic speeds. A simple, stupid mistake like having your selector toggled onto the wrong weapons system means the difference between a midrange Sidewinder shot and a turning fight. And if you get into that turning fight and find that the Russians or Chinese countermeasures work better than advertised...

    I guess. But I think that if you're in the turning fight, something has gone horribly wrong.

    I think this is a good argument, but I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the case. The Vulcan is ~200 pounds minus ammo if you choose the light version. If you are concerned about saving weight, the Russian’s 30mm weighs half that. I realize you can do a lot with 100 pounds on an aircraft, but it’s hardly a full-sized jamming pod. Even the AN/ALQ-135, which is the F-15′s self-defense system, weighs about 400 pounds, I believe. It seems like a pretty modest concession. (I’m also not sure that the forward fuselage, near the radar, is a good place for a jammer.)

    First, the EW gear was an example, not a specific recommendation. Second, how much does it weigh with ammunition and feed mechanism? The M61 pods with 1,200 rounds were about 1,600 lb. I'd guess that the total impact of the gun is at least half that, or twice the weight of the ALQ-135. And there's the pilot you lose because he decides he wants to use his gun, instead of going home when he should have.

    I think a good analogy is keeping around fighting knives: they fill the same niche, at about the same cost.

    I think you underrate the cost and overrate the effectiveness, but I also don't think either of us has the data to convince the others.

    I think they mostly shot at each other and missed, which might be interpreted as evidence that post-Vietnam BVR missiles suck, or evidence that Russian exports suck, I’m not sure which is right.

    I'm going with the later, given the success of first-line BVR missiles used by competent people, and the history of Russian exports.

    @Tony Z

    the Japanese were light-years ahead of everybody in torpedo development

    Not their aerial torpedoes as much. They'd done proper tests, yes, but those used air, not pure oxygen. Probably too much of a hazard on a carrier deck.

    Also, plane speed was going up dramatically between the wars, too -- an AA suite that could easily target 1933 biplanes would have trouble against a monoprop going twice the speed. Since it was easier and faster to upgrade a carrier with new planes than to replace an AA suite, this led to problems that were variously solved by “lots more AA guns” hence the late-war Iowas with 20mm sets anywhere they could fit them, or proximity fuses on 5″ shells.

    It was more than that. By the end of the war, it had become obvious that AA as they knew it wasn't really going to be viable, and missiles had to take over. Even with proximity fuses and lots of 40mm, there just wasn't enough time, and wouldn't be enough time to get good solutions. (The 20mm battery was said to be most useful to alert the crew to an incipient Kamikaze hit.)

    Eventually people realized that battleships weren’t going to be able to operate under hostile air umbrellas, but this didn’t really strike everyone (particularly people who were not naval aviators) until late 1941.

    I think it was becoming more obvious, although it wasn't hammered home until Force Z got hit.

    The 1930s planned to use aircraft primarily as scouts and as strike units against lighter-armed ships (cruisers, destroyers, other carriers), with scouting as the first mission.

    It's somewhat more complicated than that. The British in particular changed mission every few years.

  50. June 06, 2018Gareth said...

    @Bean If you have the time/if it's convenient, could you briefly list some of the other proposed British missions for carrier-based aircraft (or just point me towards a useful source?) I'm assuming ASW is on the list somewhere?

  51. June 06, 2018bean said...

    @Gareth

    They were heavily into spotting and scouting at various points in the interwar years, and even at some points were looking at air defense, although that had withered by the start of the war. British air thought in that era is really confusing, and I need to digest it fully at some point.

  52. June 06, 2018Gbdub said...
    I guess. But I think that if you’re in the turning fight, something has gone horribly wrong.

    If there’s one universal lesson to every “last war”, I’d say it’s “don’t assume you’re going to get to dictate the terms of the engagement”.

    If our planes are superior or at least at parity at medium/long range, but are deficient at short range due to lack of a gun, the enemy will probably try to force short range engagements. They aren’t going to sit back and let us blow them away at BVR if they can help it. Can we be 100% confident we can avoid those scenarios against a determined enemy?

    Besides, there are a couple scenarios where a gun is obviously useful: 1) CAS, where a few passes with a gun can be effective suppressing fire while you wait for the next wave of fast movers.

    2) Hitting multiple soft targets of opportunity (helicopters, drones, subsonic cruise missiles) without expending your main armament.

    So really, as has been noted, it’s down to what you can realistically do with the extra space. In Vietnam and probably at least through the 90s, I think a Vulcan was much more useful than the equivalent mass and volume of incremental fuel or electronics.

    Maybe it’s a wash now, or slightly favors “no gun”, but that swap probably happened pretty recently and I think “keep the gun” is the reasonable conservative take for now.

  53. June 06, 2018Suvorov said...

    @dndnrsn

    Final question: what wins, Bismarck taped to Yamato or a carrier, but with pterodactyls instead of planes?

    If the pterodactyls attack at night, I think they win. Otherwise, my money is on the Bismato.

    @bean

    I guess. But I think that if you’re in the turning fight, something has gone horribly wrong.

    Sure! But isn't war itself a string of things going horribly wrong?

    First, the EW gear was an example, not a specific recommendation. Second, how much does it weigh with ammunition and feed mechanism?

    Fair enough. It's my understanding that each 30mm round weighs ~2 pounds (rounding up) and Flankers carry 150 rounds. So 400 pounds total, in an aircraft that weighs about 40,000 pounds dry, or ~1% of the total dry weight; their total weight balloons by another 30,000 pounds plus if you fuel them up and arm them.

    Now, you are likely right that the heavy, multi-barrel 20mm Vulcan with almost thousand rounds is excessive, but the best-case scenario that the Russians seem to have worked up seems hardly objectionable (and on an aircraft as large and powerful as the Flanker, barely noticeable, either.)

    I think you underrate the cost and overrate the effectiveness, but I also don’t think either of us has the data to convince the others.

    It's not that I think guns are especially effective, it's that they are reliable in a way other weapons aren't. I think we both understand how relatively effective they are, but we come to different conclusions. I'm not a pessimist, but I am a "when it rains, it may pour" kinda guy. Hopefully, of course, neither of us will ever get that data : )

  54. June 06, 2018bean said...

    If there’s one universal lesson to every “last war”, I’d say it’s “don’t assume you’re going to get to dictate the terms of the engagement”.

    But how much effort is it worth putting in to make sure that you can fight any engagement the enemy can possibly put you in? Turning engagements are rarely worth it in air-to-air combat. They're the really sexy bit, but even in WWI, the majority of kills were from ambush. During WWII, the Zero was by far the best fighter in the turning fight, but once the allies figured out not to engage it in that fight, they realized that it was good in a turning fight because it was made out of tissue paper, and couldn't keep up with them they flew boom and zoom.

    If our planes are superior or at least at parity at medium/long range, but are deficient at short range due to lack of a gun, the enemy will probably try to force short range engagements. They aren’t going to sit back and let us blow them away at BVR if they can help it. Can we be 100% confident we can avoid those scenarios against a determined enemy?

    100%? No. But we have finite amounts of weight, space, money, and training time. Every bit we put into the turning battle is something we can't put to winning either the BVR fight, or the short-range missile fight.

    Besides, there are a couple scenarios where a gun is obviously useful: 1) CAS, where a few passes with a gun can be effective suppressing fire while you wait for the next wave of fast movers.

    This is easy. Put the gun in a pod. Hang it on the plane when you need to strafe someone. Take it off when you don't. You can even make it big enough to carry more ammo than the internal gun could.

    2) Hitting multiple soft targets of opportunity (helicopters, drones, subsonic cruise missiles) without expending your main armament.

    How often does this happen? I agree that it's a theoretically useful capability to have, but it's the sort of thing which isn't necessarily very often, and you have to balance that against the cost of setting it up and carrying it around.

    Maybe it’s a wash now, or slightly favors “no gun”, but that swap probably happened pretty recently and I think “keep the gun” is the reasonable conservative take for now.

    I'm not necessarily saying we should take the guns off all existing airplanes right now. But I'm irritated by the gun on the F-35A, and I'm glad the other services managed to avoid the problem.

  55. June 06, 2018bean said...

    Sure! But isn’t war itself a string of things going horribly wrong?

    It is. The question is how much it costs to protect against a given horribly wrong.

    Fair enough. It’s my understanding that each 30mm round weighs ~2 pounds (rounding up) and Flankers carry 150 rounds. So 400 pounds total, in an aircraft that weighs about 40,000 pounds dry, or ~1% of the total dry weight; their total weight balloons by another 30,000 pounds plus if you fuel them up and arm them.

    You're still forgetting the feed mechanism. I ran numbers for the GAU-8 (because I correctly suspected it would be easy to find numbers for) and the 4,029 lb breaks down as 1,725 lb of ammo, 620 lb of gun, and 1,684 lb of everything else. In broad strokes, the feed mechanism weighs as much as the ammo (this was my suspicion, due to looking at this kind of stuff in the past), which takes the gun on the Flanker from ~400 lb to ~700 lb.

  56. June 06, 2018gbdub said...
    This is easy. Put the gun in a pod.

    Pods ruin the stealth (and to a lesser degree the aerodynamics), so as soon as you've added the gun pod you've substantially degraded the air to air and penetrative capabilities of the aircraft. Works fine for undefended air space, but we're talking about potential near-peer adversaries here.

    Besides, anything you want to put in the place vacated by the gun could itself go in a pod!

    How often does this happen? I agree that it’s a theoretically useful capability to have, but it’s the sort of thing which isn’t necessarily very often

    Not very often now because we aren't fighting near peers. But if we were, intercepting drones, choppers, and cruise missiles would likely be a very common task for your CAP fighters, and it would be nice if they had a cheap 'n' easy way to knock several of these down without expending their primary missiles.

    But how much effort is it worth putting in to make sure that you can fight any engagement the enemy can possibly put you in? Turning engagements are rarely worth it in air-to-air combat. They’re the really sexy bit, but even in WWI, the majority of kills were from ambush. During WWII, the Zero was by far the best fighter in the turning fight, but once the allies figured out not to engage it in that fight, they realized that it was good in a turning fight because it was made out of tissue paper, and couldn’t keep up with them they flew boom and zoom.

    And yet we still built fighters like the Hellcat and Corsair that could at least hold their own in lower-energy battles (even if boom and zoom remained the much preferred tactic). You probably can't be the master of every regime, but you definitely want to minimize the scenarios where you're completely doomed. Should our soldiers stop carrying knives and sidearms and quit all hand-to-hand training in favor of extra range time and a couple extra AR mags on patrol? Should we take all the CIWS off our ships to squeeze in a couple extra Tomahawks?

    I can see the value of a specialized interceptor or a missile truck (either of which would probably be gunless), but for your "fighter" aircraft I think significant ACM capability and weapons to suit a fight that degrades to slow and close are still a valuable capability.

    And that's really what we're talking about here: adding an extra capability vs. incrementally improving some other capability, which is why I think even today the math leans "gun".

    The alternative is telling our pilots, welp, sorry, if you get ambushed or your BVR missiles don't hit before the range closes, you're dead, but our stats say that won't happen very often and we saved so much on gas not hauling those Vulcans around! Trivialize psychology all you want but I don't think you can ignore it.

  57. June 06, 2018Suvorov said...

    @bean

    You’re still forgetting the feed mechanism. I ran numbers for the GAU-8 (because I correctly suspected it would be easy to find numbers for) and the 4,029 lb breaks down as 1,725 lb of ammo, 620 lb of gun, and 1,684 lb of everything else. In broad strokes, the feed mechanism weighs as much as the ammo (this was my suspicion, due to looking at this kind of stuff in the past), which takes the gun on the Flanker from ~400 lb to ~700 lb.

    The Russian GSh-301 is recoil operated, not hydraulically driven, so the gun should be self-loading. (I assume that 1,684 lbs of everything else in the GAU-8 also includes the motor(!) that isn't present in the GSh-301.) Probably I'm missing something here, but I don't think that (and as far as I can tell from poking around, this seems to be the case) the GSh-301 would need a separate feed mechanism to load the rounds, just a magazine to store the ammo and the spent casings. That's going to be fairly lightweight compared to the ammo, I would think.

    The Russians really seem to be trying to create a Bean-approved anti-air cannon; even ~700 pounds is a small cost on the Flanker. If you can shave it down to be this light and you find that you don't need the internal gun, leaving out the ammunition is a heck of a lot easier than hanging on an internal pod (which will weigh more and create a lot of drag) if you DO find that you need an internal gun.

    But how much effort is it worth putting in to make sure that you can fight any engagement the enemy can possibly put you in? [...] But we have finite amounts of weight, space, money, and training time. Every bit we put into the turning battle is something we can’t put to winning either the BVR fight, or the short-range missile fight.

    I mean, taking this logic to the extreme, we should focus ONLY on the BVR fight. But we don't, because we realize that we need layers of protection and fail-safes in case of failures.

    In the past, after getting our hands on enemy hardware, we found that it negated our capabilities much, much better than anticipated. We know, for instance, that past variants of the Aim-9 were easily decoyed away by Russian flares.

    As it happens, an Aim-9X that was fired at a Syrian Fitter the other day, in one of its first real-world uses, missed. It was fired against a non-threat at close range in a permissive environment, and it either was lured away by exported Russian flares, or it failed for some other reason (missiles have pretty hard lives, I wouldn't be surprised if a transistor got jarred loose on a carrier landing or something.) Either way, the pilot got the kill with a follow-up AMRAAM shot. That's why I think it's important to have layers of redundancy to weapons systems. The Aim-9X is a back-up for the AMRAAM; the gun is the weapon of last resort if your ammo is expended, or you find, like that Navy pilot, that your Aim-9 isn't cutting it.

    I'm not knocking the Aim-9X, or the AMRAAM, or pretending that guns are the be-all end-all. But I think they're there for a reason, which is why dedicated fighters keep including them, no matter where they're being manufactured. I expect viable airborne DEW will probably replace them, but until then...

    Any other takers on the pterodactyls vs. Bismato?

  58. June 06, 2018gbdub said...

    On the question of carrier aviation's role in the interwar fleet, I think it's important that carrier planes could deliver a powerful strike, but you'd probably only get one or two "salvos" per battle out of them. So in some sense it could be tactically analogous to an extreme version of the destroyer mounted torpedo: a one-off hit-and-run attack designed to soften up and scatter the opposing fleet, putting the battlewagons in a more advantageous position to close range and finish them off.

  59. June 06, 2018bean said...

    @gbdub

    Pods ruin the stealth (and to a lesser degree the aerodynamics), so as soon as you’ve added the gun pod you’ve substantially degraded the air to air and penetrative capabilities of the aircraft. Works fine for undefended air space, but we’re talking about potential near-peer adversaries here.

    I specifically suggested using the pod for CAS, which is the place where air-to-air and penetration matter the least. If you care about either of those, the troops will have to be content with SDBs from medium altitude.

    Not very often now because we aren’t fighting near peers. But if we were, intercepting drones, choppers, and cruise missiles would likely be a very common task for your CAP fighters, and it would be nice if they had a cheap ‘n’ easy way to knock several of these down without expending their primary missiles.

    I think you overestimate how easy the gun is to use, which means that it's not a trivial replacement for AAMs in that role. The reason for the first AAMs wasn't range. It was because you couldn't fire enough rounds to be reasonably sure of a kill at high closing speeds. Modern computer gunsights might help some, but I doubt you could guarantee a helicopter kill in a single pass. So now we're trading a single AAM with spending 10 minutes chasing a helicoopter down in the weeds. The same is definitely true of cruise missiles and low-altitude drones. Note that the weeds are potentially full of MANPADS and fun terrain to fly into.

    And yet we still built fighters like the Hellcat and Corsair that could at least hold their own in lower-energy battles (even if boom and zoom remained the much preferred tactic). You probably can’t be the master of every regime, but you definitely want to minimize the scenarios where you’re completely doomed. Should our soldiers stop carrying knives and sidearms and quit all hand-to-hand training in favor of extra range time and a couple extra AR mags on patrol? Should we take all the CIWS off our ships to squeeze in a couple extra Tomahawks?

    There's a reason that typical infantrymen don't carry pistols and never have. I'm not advocating completely ignoring defense, just that at some point, we'll have good enough short-range AAMs that the gun isn't useful any more.

    I can see the value of a specialized interceptor or a missile truck (either of which would probably be gunless), but for your “fighter” aircraft I think significant ACM capability and weapons to suit a fight that degrades to slow and close are still a valuable capability.

    Then give them a 20mm Hispano with a 60-round drum. Total weight is somewhere under 100 lb. Or just tell them to suck it up. The crews over Vietnam did pretty well, despite having aircraft unsuited to dogfighting, stupid command decisions, and no gun. The Navy never put a gun back on the F-4, even in the post-Vietnam versions.

  60. June 06, 2018bean said...

    The Russian GSh-301 is recoil operated, not hydraulically driven, so the gun should be self-loading. (I assume that 1,684 lbs of everything else in the GAU-8 also includes the motor(!) that isn’t present in the GSh-301.) Probably I’m missing something here, but I don’t think that (and as far as I can tell from poking around, this seems to be the case) the GSh-301 would need a separate feed mechanism to load the rounds, just a magazine to store the ammo and the spent casings. That’s going to be fairly lightweight compared to the ammo, I would think.

    Keeping a couple hundred rounds secure and feeding smoothly while the airplane is squirming around the sky at 5+ Gs is not an easy task. You may well be right that some of the "everything else" on the GAU-8 is the hydraulic motors, but I do think that the weight is very nontrivial.

    The Russians really seem to be trying to create a Bean-approved anti-air cannon; even ~700 pounds is a small cost on the Flanker. If you can shave it down to be this light and you find that you don’t need the internal gun, leaving out the ammunition is a heck of a lot easier than hanging on an internal pod (which will weigh more and create a lot of drag) if you DO find that you need an internal gun.

    700 lbs is a small bomb in terms of weight, even if it isn't aerodynamically the same. Again, my ideal AA cannon is an old Hispano with a 60-round drum, to give it "a gun" at the minimum possible cost.

    I mean, taking this logic to the extreme, we should focus ONLY on the BVR fight. But we don’t, because we realize that we need layers of protection and fail-safes in case of failures.

    That's why we have AIM-9X. Why do we need a second backup weapon, and one that doesn't work very well?

    In the past, after getting our hands on enemy hardware, we found that it negated our capabilities much, much better than anticipated. We know, for instance, that past variants of the Aim-9 were easily decoyed away by Russian flares.

    All early IR missiles are very vulnerable to countermeasures. That wasn't really a surprise. It's mostly solved now, because the missiles are a lot smarter. On the broader point, that works both ways. The Russians aren't magic.

    the gun is the weapon of last resort if your ammo is expended, or you find, like that Navy pilot, that your Aim-9 isn’t cutting it.

    This is my other big problem with the gun. The only correct thing to do when you're Winchester except for the gun is to go home and reload, not think "yes, but I can get one more of them if I go after them with the gun". Because the chance of you eating an AAM is a lot higher than the chance of you killing a MiG. And protecting against a common-mode failure on AIM-9X by installing a gun seems to be missing the point entirely. Test the AIM-9 better.

    Any other takers on the pterodactyls vs. Bismato?

    Bismato. The pterodactyls would probably make pretty good targets for the sankaidan (incendiary shrapnel) rounds. Probably the only thing they'd ever be good for, but such is life.

  61. June 06, 2018bean said...

    On the question of carrier aviation’s role in the interwar fleet, I think it’s important that carrier planes could deliver a powerful strike, but you’d probably only get one or two “salvos” per battle out of them. So in some sense it could be tactically analogous to an extreme version of the destroyer mounted torpedo: a one-off hit-and-run attack designed to soften up and scatter the opposing fleet, putting the battlewagons in a more advantageous position to close range and finish them off.

    This is something I should have brought up earlier. It's not just aircraft attrition that limits strikes (although that is a factor), but also the way carriers were operated. You can't really dispatch a strike until you know where the target is. Due to lack of radar, you can't begin your search until it's daylight. That will probably take 2-3 hours after daybreak. (There's some basis for this estimate, but I'm not going to go into the math on it.) An SBD cruises at 160 kts, so you've got say 2 hours to the target, and two back. The total of combat, landing and launch is at least another hour, maybe an hour and a half. So it's 7 hours after dawn, minimum, when the last plane traps.

    Then each plane needs to be serviced, refueled and rearmed. That's probably another 3-4 hours. The enemy fleet is probably closer now, maybe the total combat mission is 4 hours instead of 5 now. But taking my lower bound on everything puts us at 14 hours after dawn. There's no possible way that you can get a third strike off today, and if the fleets are closing at even 20 kts, they'll be on top of each other by morning. If the morning search doesn't go well, or something else causes trouble, it would be easy to only get one strike off on a given day. And then the two fleets get close enough to fight it out gun-to-gun.

  62. June 06, 2018RedRover said...

    fun terrain to fly into.

    Cumulus granitus is hard to fly through.

  63. June 06, 2018dndnrsn said...

    @bean

    In the alternate reality where the intelligent pterodactyls invaded, excessively large battleships not looking so dumb, eh?

  64. June 06, 2018bean said...

    In the alternate reality where the intelligent pterodactyls invaded, excessively large battleships not looking so dumb, eh?

    You'd probably do better with proximity fuses modified to work on targets with that little metal. The size of Yamato is less relevant than the weird AA shells she was armed with.

  65. June 06, 2018Suvorov said...

    @bean

    Again, my ideal AA cannon is an old Hispano with a 60-round drum, to give it “a gun” at the minimum possible cost.

    I'm not opposed to this necessarily; I think with modern technology (laser rangefinders and radar/IR guidance etc. etc.) and maybe some tweaking that would be pretty effective.

    The only correct thing to do when you’re Winchester except for the gun is to go home and reload, not think “yes, but I can get one more of them if I go after them with the gun”.

    If you can egress without consequence, definitely, but I don't think pilots anticipate actively seeking out targets to use with a gun unless they already at the ranges where that makes sense. If you are at knife-fight range, then you should be aggressive; showing your six instead of prosecuting the fight may get you a missile up the tailpipe.

    And there may be certain situations where egress, even if possible, is undesirable for whatever unusual reason. The RAND think-piece on F-22s protecting an AWACS aircraft or the real-life instance of a Russian pilot (whose gun jammed and missiles missed) ramming an intruding RF-4 come to mind.

    And protecting against a common-mode failure on AIM-9X by installing a gun seems to be missing the point entirely. Test the AIM-9 better.

    Sure, as best you can.

    @gbdub

    I can see the value of a specialized interceptor or a missile truck (either of which would probably be gunless), but for your “fighter” aircraft I think significant ACM capability and weapons to suit a fight that degrades to slow and close are still a valuable capability.

    I've always been surprised that nobody really fielded missile trucks. I guess the MiG-31 gets pretty close...

    @ dndnrsn

    In the alternate reality where the intelligent pterodactyls invaded, excessively large battleships not looking so dumb, eh?

    Have you ever considered a career in animation or alternate history novels? ;)

  66. June 06, 2018RedRover said...

    @Suvorov

    I’ve always been surprised that nobody really fielded missile trucks. I guess the MiG-31 gets pretty close...

    One idea that some friends and I kicked around was a 747 conversion as a bomb/missile truck. Off the shelf, low cost, big payload, and decent performance for something of that size. Originally we had just thought of it as a bomb truck to sit over Afghanistan and then drop bombs/missiles when called upon from 35k feet or whatever. In principle however, you could use it for similar missions to a B-52 or something where it launches a bunch of missiles well beyond visual range, then turns tail and makes a run for it, while dropping a lot of countermeasures/jamming.

  67. June 06, 2018bean said...

    I’ve always been surprised that nobody really fielded missile trucks. I guess the MiG-31 gets pretty close...

    I suspect we may get one before too long (in defense terms, at least). There's talk of something called Penetrating Counter-Air, which is supposed to be an LRS-B escort, with the same range and stealth capabilities. The obvious candidate is an LRS-B airframe with jammer and missile capabilities.

    One idea that some friends and I kicked around was a 747 conversion as a bomb/missile truck. Off the shelf, low cost, big payload, and decent performance for something of that size. Originally we had just thought of it as a bomb truck to sit over Afghanistan and then drop bombs/missiles when called upon from 35k feet or whatever. In principle however, you could use it for similar missions to a B-52 or something where it launches a bunch of missiles well beyond visual range, then turns tail and makes a run for it, while dropping a lot of countermeasures/jamming.

    A 747 is a bit big for the job, and it's going to take a lot of modification for it. If you're going to build a bomb truck replacement (and the current B-52 replacement is the B-52 with lots of shiny new toys), then the best candidate is the 767. It's about the same size, the line is hot, and the Air Force is buying a bunch of KC-46s anyways.

    And the B-52 has a bunch of toys you'd struggle to integrate with this. But I think a 767 with an onboard response center and a bunch of SDBs would be very good in Afghanistan.

  68. June 06, 2018doctorpat said...

    Germany vs. France: Round XXXI

    I've been sitting here thinking this one through. I can't even tell a story where it happens starting from where they are today. A German CIVIL war on the other hand...

    Not saying that it is at all likely. But I can tell a story where it is at least a coherent narrative.

    Though once you've got a German civil war, France is always likely to support one side. And Poland the other.

  69. June 06, 2018RedRover said...

    @Bean

    A 747 is a bit big for the job, and it’s going to take a lot of modification for it. If you’re going to build a bomb truck replacement (and the current B-52 replacement is the B-52 with lots of shiny new toys), then the best candidate is the 767. It’s about the same size, the line is hot, and the Air Force is buying a bunch of KC-46s anyways.

    Agree that the 747 is a bit on the large side, but I think that works in its favor, as it makes packaging less of a consideration.

    I think the amount of rework depends on how capable the bomb truck would be of other missions. Our vision was that you have the bombs on internal racks, with an arm that comes out of the bottom to clear the bombs from the fuselage, rather than placing anything on the wings or fuselage exterior. With suitably designed racks and handling, I think you could get away with minimal external modifications to the fuselage and still have decent throughput. It obviously wouldn't be as good as a properly designed bomber, but I think you would get close enough, especially if it's mostly dropping a few bombs here and there, rather than carpet bombing 70k pounds of bombs in one pass.

    Also, by virtue of having more space, it's easier to incorporate a sort of aerial command post/comms center, but I would argue that they should just leave it as a BC-747, and leave the command/control part of it to an E-8 or similar, rather than have it do both. (Though a BEC-46 would be kind of cool)

    I agree that a 767 derivative probably makes more sense, given how many KC-46s they're buying, but I think that has to be weighed against the larger internal volume of the 747. I also wonder how the spares market is? I know a lot of old 747s are headed for the graveyard, so spare parts are pretty cheap. That shouldn't be the deciding factor, but given how much of the 707 fleet ended up being cannibalized for C-135 spares it seems at least worth considering.

  70. June 06, 2018bean said...

    Agree that the 747 is a bit on the large side, but I think that works in its favor, as it makes packaging less of a consideration.

    The big downside is operating costs. If you're investing in one of these, it has to be cheaper to fly than whatever you were using to do the job before, and the 747 has always been on the expensive side. The first result on Google suggests $9.3 k/hr for a 767 and $24 k/hr for a 747. A 747 freighter would be the easiest to convert, but I suspect that's going to lose to improved efficiency.

    I think the amount of rework depends on how capable the bomb truck would be of other missions. Our vision was that you have the bombs on internal racks, with an arm that comes out of the bottom to clear the bombs from the fuselage, rather than placing anything on the wings or fuselage exterior. With suitably designed racks and handling, I think you could get away with minimal external modifications to the fuselage and still have decent throughput.

    I know more than I'd like to about airliner structure, and I don't think it would be quite that simple. You're probably doing some fairly major surgery, although it might be possible to just remove the floor and go out through the opening for the lower lobe doors. Or if you're feeling ambitious and have a cargo model, the main cargo door.

    It obviously wouldn’t be as good as a properly designed bomber, but I think you would get close enough, especially if it’s mostly dropping a few bombs here and there, rather than carpet bombing 70k pounds of bombs in one pass.

    If you're dropping a few bombs, even over several hours, why do you need the capacity of a 747? What you can squeeze into a 767, even fairly easily, should be more than enough. If you want to go even smaller, a BP-8 would be really cheap to develop.

    I also wonder how the spares market is? I know a lot of old 747s are headed for the graveyard, so spare parts are pretty cheap. That shouldn’t be the deciding factor, but given how much of the 707 fleet ended up being cannibalized for C-135 spares it seems at least worth considering.

    The 767 fleet is headed that way, too. Boeing hasn't sold a passenger 767 in years, and there's about 300 out of service today. Also, if this is for the USAF or anyone else who flies 767-derived airplanes (Italy and Japan are the ones I know of), there's a significant savings from commonality.

  71. June 06, 2018RedRover said...

    @bean

    I know more than I’d like to about airliner structure, and I don’t think it would be quite that simple. You’re probably doing some fairly major surgery, although it might be possible to just remove the floor and go out through the opening for the lower lobe doors. Or if you’re feeling ambitious and have a cargo model, the main cargo door.

    I'm not so sure. Evergreen's supertanker conversion is about 150k lbs of water and they reportedly spent $40M on the STC. To be sure, water is easier to handle than weapons, but it's also a concentrated load that can't be distributed throughout the airframe the way discrete bombs can be. I think for $300M in development costs, and maybe $20M per conversion you could make a decent bomb delivery retrofit to either a 767 or a 747.

    I think the hardest part would be the bomb door. From what I can find, the largest weapon that the USAF currently uses is about 20' long and maybe 5' in diameter. To drop is straight down would thus require a 100 sq ft opening, which would be hard but not impossible (See for instance SOFIA, with a 13.5' x 18' door, though that's in a less stressed area of the structure.) However, if your weapons transfer path were to be at an angle, you could probably get by with a significantly smaller opening. Without looking too deeply into it, I think you could have one cruise missile/AMRAAM door aft of the wing box/landing gear, and another smaller AIM-9/SDB door forward.

    If you’re dropping a few bombs, even over several hours, why do you need the capacity of a 747? What you can squeeze into a 767, even fairly easily, should be more than enough. If you want to go even smaller, a BP-8 would be really cheap to develop.

    This is a good point. I think a BP-8 might be a bit squeezed for space, particularly if you want to use the larger bombs with full guidance, but a 767 would certainly work.

  72. June 06, 2018Test_Vanity_Fair_Contributor said...

    What were the rules about men on deck while a battleship's main guns were in operation? I know the hastily-added AA mounts of WWII often had very poor protection, but presumably Workplace Safety Standards had improved from the days of HMS Dreadnought's unshielded turret-top pom-pom mounts.

    Tangentially, were all the pictures of main guns firing seen from the ship's deck taken remotely?

  73. June 06, 2018bean said...

    I’m not so sure. Evergreen’s supertanker conversion is about 150k lbs of water and they reportedly spent $40M on the STC. To be sure, water is easier to handle than weapons, but it’s also a concentrated load that can’t be distributed throughout the airframe the way discrete bombs can be. I think for $300M in development costs, and maybe $20M per conversion you could make a decent bomb delivery retrofit to either a 767 or a 747.

    I'm not sure that's a good example. AIUI, Evergreen made a nasty hash of that one. But I'm in agreement that the differences in cost are pretty minor.

    I think the hardest part would be the bomb door. From what I can find, the largest weapon that the USAF currently uses is about 20′ long and maybe 5′ in diameter. To drop is straight down would thus require a 100 sq ft opening, which would be hard but not impossible (See for instance SOFIA, with a 13.5′ x 18′ door, though that’s in a less stressed area of the structure.) However, if your weapons transfer path were to be at an angle, you could probably get by with a significantly smaller opening. Without looking too deeply into it, I think you could have one cruise missile/AMRAAM door aft of the wing box/landing gear, and another smaller AIM-9/SDB door forward.

    I wouldn't worry about fitting in the biggest weapon in the inventory. I probably wouldn't worry about anything bigger than a JASSM-ER or a Mk 84 JDAM, actually. There will be enough real bombers about to dispense any heavy bombs that are necessary. That's only 14' long, which means maybe a 16' door, and it should cut diameter, too. I'd think it'd be easier to do a multi-SDB rack and just have 1 or 2 doors aft than anything else. This does not need AAM capability.

    This is a good point. I think a BP-8 might be a bit squeezed for space, particularly if you want to use the larger bombs with full guidance, but a 767 would certainly work.

    You'd probably put a rotary launcher in the fuselage behind a pressure bulkhead, over the existing bomb bay. It wouldn't be huge, but you could carry enough munitions for a lot of CAS.

  74. June 06, 2018bean said...

    What were the rules about men on deck while a battleship’s main guns were in operation? I know the hastily-added AA mounts of WWII often had very poor protection, but presumably Workplace Safety Standards had improved from the days of HMS Dreadnought’s unshielded turret-top pom-pom mounts.

    I've never run across a formal document on this. The one set of blast pressure curves I've seen suggest that you're pretty safe so long as you're behind the muzzle. But those are for old 12" guns.

    Tangentially, were all the pictures of main guns firing seen from the ship’s deck taken remotely?

    Almost certainly not. Those are all broadside salvos, so the cameraman should be pretty safe.

  75. June 07, 2018bean said...

    First, is there seriously no interest in the meetup at Iowa in September? I'm pretty sure I have a few readers in that area.

    Second, what is with British copyright law? In the US, if it's a government photo, you're free to use it. My biggest problem on modern USN images is sorting through the massive quantity available. (Except the David Taylor Model Basin, where they only have pictures of the human-powered submarines for some reason.) The British don't work that way, which means that I often have basically no choice. The Falklands series has been particularly bad on this, although I did just find a good source through the Imperial War Museum. I may have to go back and re-do old work because they're actually relevant.

  76. June 07, 2018Directrix Gazer said...

    @ Bean

    DTMB is seriously impressive in person, but obviously the security folks at Carderock look askance at anyone snapping pictures of the insides of the facilities. Most buildings there, even administrative ones, operate under a strict devices-in-the-locked-cubby policy.

    While you shouldn't get your hopes up, I'll ask around the office and see if anyone has some approved photos I can scan for you.

    Also, have you been to the DC Navy Yard museum(s) recently? They're pretty fantastic and have been heavily renovated recently. The Cold War section (in the old tow-tank building, which is why it came to mind) has a Trident C4 hanging in the entryway, and has displays including a nuclear depth charge and the entire sail of a 637/Sturgeon-class SSN. The main section has DSV Trieste hanging from the ceiling in the back, a recreation of a section of USS Constitution's gun deck, and much more. The only downside is that the Navy Yard is an active base, so unless you've got a CAC you'll need to stop by the security office on your way in and submit to a brief background check.

  77. June 07, 2018bean said...

    DTMB is seriously impressive in person, but obviously the security folks at Carderock look askance at anyone snapping pictures of the insides of the facilities. Most buildings there, even administrative ones, operate under a strict devices-in-the-locked-cubby policy.

    All I want is some general pictures of the apparatus, but all defense images has is the human-powered submarine race in the main towing tank. There's not even many available photos from the old days.

    I do want to visit some day, because it's one of the coolest niche engineering facilities I know of.

    While you shouldn’t get your hopes up, I’ll ask around the office and see if anyone has some approved photos I can scan for you.

    Cool. Greatly appreciated.

    Also, have you been to the DC Navy Yard museum(s) recently? They’re pretty fantastic and have been heavily renovated recently. The Cold War section (in the old tow-tank building, which is why it came to mind) has a Trident C4 hanging in the entryway, and has displays including a nuclear depth charge and the entire sail of a 637/Sturgeon-class SSN. The main section has DSV Trieste hanging from the ceiling in the back, a recreation of a section of USS Constitution’s gun deck, and much more. The only downside is that the Navy Yard is an active base, so unless you’ve got a CAC you’ll need to stop by the security office on your way in and submit to a brief background check.

    I've never been. Except for a flying visit a few years ago, the last time I was in DC was 2003, and I wasn't really into naval stuff at the time. Also, I was with the family. I don't currently have a CAC card, but I might get one soon.

  78. June 07, 2018Directrix Gazer said...

    Where I work, we do monthly "brown bag" lunch seminars to familiarize the whole office with what our various work groups are doing. For instance, last year I gave one on ASW engagements since 1945, focusing on tactical lessons derived from the sinkings of INS Khukri, ARA General Belgrano, and ROKS Cheonan. Today's brown bag was from Bill Garzke (you may know him from his battleship books), who is a major authority in the part of the marine forensics community that studies shipwrecks. The talk was fascinating, and relevant enough that I thought I'd transcribe my notes on some of the high points:

    • I did not know this, but the act of a ship striking a non-moving obstacle (excluding the sea bottom) is called an "allision." "Collision" is used only in cases where the ship strikes a movable object like an iceberg or another ship.

    • The current theory on Titanic is that the hull failure started from the bottom (keel) up rather than the top down, and at a much shallower angle than depicted, for example, in Cameron's movie. This is supported by the fact that the exposed ends of the keel have an S-bend indicative of compression overload. However, even after the break occurred and the rear half leveled out it remained connected to the forward half of the ship by the upper strakes of the hull plating. As the bow sank it dragged down the fore end of the floating rear half, causing the stern to rise far out of the water to the sharp angle described by survivors.

    • HMS Prince of Wales, as is well known, was lost to a single aerial torpedo hit on her port outboard propeller shaft, just slightly aft of where it left the hull. The shaft broke loose of its support bracket (incidentally disabling the inboard shaft on that side) and the wildly whipping 17.5"-diameter shaft proceeded to thoroughly gut the ship. This (of course) caused uncontrollable flooding and her loss. What I didn't know is that one of the divers investigating the wreck was able to swim up the resultant corridor of twisted metal all the way to the engine room.

    -Structural discontinuities represent one of the most potentially deadly failures of ship design. This is especially true for warships that may receive battle damage. The example given was the battleship Bismarck, in which the 12 mm plating of the stern was mated directly to the (IIRC) 145 mm plating of the armored part of the hull forward of the screws. This created a stress concentration that contributed to internal structural failure following the impact of the same aerial torpedo that disabled one of her rudders. The structural failure was very likely what caused the other rudder to fail, as well as causing great damage control and flooding difficulties. The right practice is to incrementally step down the material thickness.

    If anyone has questions I can't answer, I can easily pass them on to Mr. Garzke. By the way, he has a new and very comprehensive book coming out on Bismarck which will be available via Amazon and B&N.

  79. June 07, 2018RedRover said...

    In the event of a future war where GPS is denied (they shot down the satellite constellation, or more prosaically just jammed the bejeezus out of it) how does that impact our warfighting capability, and what are the workarounds? It seems like some of the terminal guidance things can be dealt with via video/laser designators and the like, but how do you know if you’re in the right grid square, and how do you coordinate with the rest of your team?

    I assume the bigger units (ships/bombers/fighters??) have decent enough INS that they can handle some degree of degraded positional awareness, but how does it impact smaller units, and also targeting? What’s the fallback? Also, how long does the INS give them a decent position before drift requires an external reset?

  80. June 07, 2018bean said...

    @Directrix Gazer

    You have no idea how jealous I am right now. Where do you work, and are they hiring?

    More seriously, that’s really cool. Thank you for typing those up.

    @RedRover

    First, I should probably point out that shooting down the GPS satellites is a lot harder than taking out a LEO constellation. They’re in 12-hour orbits, IIRC, and that means you’re looking at an ICBM-class booster each.

    That said, it’s a big question of late. For the troops on the ground, they’re back to map and compass, which is kind of frightening.

    Typical accuracy in aircraft INUs is about 1 nm/hr of drift. They can update the INU by getting a lock on a point of known location with their radar. A bit of math gives a more accurate current location.

  81. June 07, 2018rjmason said...

    Sometime blog reader; first time commenter; Los Angeles resident. I'd be interested in the meetup on September 8.

  82. June 07, 2018Directrix Gazer said...

    @Bean

    Feel free to send your general qualifications / what kind of work you're looking for to my email address. I'll take a look at our open postings. Most of what we do is naval architecture, marine engineering, hydrodynamics, and all the other naval-related things you'd expect. We also have the usual overhead positions in IT, graphic design, and such. I and another more senior person are the only people here who do historical research and operations analysis (the latter is pretty much me only), and unfortunately I'm not doing much of either at the moment because of the federal budget shenanigans. I hope to be getting back to it soon, now that things seem to finally be getting unstuck in that department.

    We're probably not going to be doing a lot of hiring in the near future because we're going through a bit of a... uh... corporate transition, shall we say. The future looks pretty bright once that's taken care of, though.

    And yes, my coworkers thought it was funny how starstruck I was when they told me I worked in the same office as Bill Garzke. Now that he knows I have an interest in historical naval matters he drops by my desk pretty regularly to talk about what he's working on, share anecdotes, and joke about how clueless publishers are (the original cover they selected for the new Bismarck book had a very nice photograph... of Prinz Eugen). He's a font of knowledge, and I'm dedicated to learning everything I can from him before he retires.

    @RedRover There's no cheat: if GPS goes down it's back to INS, radio navigation, and sextants. If we had to fight a war tomorrow and that happened it would be... bad. On the upside it seems that recognition of that fact is growing. All we peons can do is hope enough gets done about it in time.

    That said, as Bean points out the GPS sats are not easy to reach. They advantages they provide are incredible, and I don't think we're ever going to eschew the technology because of the inherent vulnerabilities. As an analogy, using muskets instead of pikes means you're vulnerable to the ammunition supply being cut off, but the advantage is so great that any rational decision maker would happily accept the dependence (disclaimer: the supply of lead was never a problem in real life early modern warfare but I'm tired and can't come up with a better analogy right now). It's more likely that a major conventional war in the future will involve quite a bit of orbital combat. There's a good reason why DARPA is lately asking for ideas on how to, say, develop a geosynchronous manufacturing capability, among other things. It's also partly why everyone who can afford to is trying to launch their own satnav constellation.

  83. June 08, 2018cassander said...

    @Directrix Gazer

    I'm equally jealous. I'm surrounded by aerospace geeks all day and while that's fun, naval affairs are my first love. You guys aren't in DC, are you? I'd be delighted just to come by for lunch!

  84. June 08, 2018Directrix Gazer said...

    @Cassander

    We're in the DC Navy Yard area (I knew about the museum because I was spending a lot of time at the archives and decided to check it out after work). If you want to have lunch some time we have an okay-ish little deli on site, or we could go somewhere else nearby.

    Be forewarned, I'm also a massive aerospace geek. Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets site is about 60% of the reason I got my degree in physics.

  85. June 08, 2018rjmason said...

    Some military communications networks (e.g., EPLRS, Link-16) allow the participants to do relative navigation (i.e., know their position with respect to one another) in the absence of GPS.

    There have been many, many studies (and there continue to be more) on the topic of backups to GPS. In my review of the literature, I was amused to find a study on backups to GPS from 1973, five years before the first GPS satellite was launched.

  86. June 08, 2018bean said...

    @Directrix Gazer, cassander

    I need to get back to DC some day, and when I do, we should meet up.

    I’ll gladly admit that Atomic Rockets is like 90% responsible for me doing Aerospace in school, and it’s really cool to see my stuff there now, even if it’s been a couple years since I did much in that field. (A combination of exhausting what I could do at the level I wanted to play at and discovering battleships.) And I rather wish I had geeks of either kind around where I work. I have to settle for the normal kind. But I guess that’s what the internet is for.

    @rjmason

    Those are there for a slightly different reason. One of the big problems with early systems like Link 11 was gridlock, making sure that contacts didn’t get double-reported due to navigation errors. Link 16 was designed to deal with it via the relative navigation you mention. But the big advantage of GPS is that it allows people down to the level of individual men navigate with the sort of precision that previously required a large and expensive INU. Most Link-16 platforms also have those INUs, so the benefits are limited. Of course, I don’t know how small we could make a LORAN receiver these days.

    And I look forward to seeing you in September.

  87. June 08, 2018Directrix Gazer said...

    @Bean

    Stuff you were involved with is on Atomic Rockets now? That's pretty cool! What did you work on, if I may ask?

    In undergrad, I worked with Dr. Liek Myrabo's laser lightcraft team at RPI, helping do the experiments needed to develop a better flight dynamics model (mainly focusing on whether lightcraft were self-stabilizing in the beam). There's plenty about lightcraft on Atomic Rockets but nothing specific to what I was working on.

  88. June 08, 2018bean said...

    While in college, I wrote a very long paper on various aspects of space warfare, and sent it to Nyrath, who posted a bunch of extracts. The majority of it is in the warfare section, but some of it is elsewhere. This was before I figured out how to write well, so I'm sort of embarrassed by it.

  89. June 08, 2018Directrix Gazer said...

    This was before I figured out how to write well

    You may have noticed, but I'm awkward as heck in print. Were there any particular resources that helped you or was it just practice?

  90. June 08, 2018bean said...

    You may have noticed, but I’m awkward as heck in print. Were there any particular resources that helped you or was it just practice?

    Some of it was that I started it as a freshman and chose a tone I thought sounded scholarly, but that just sounds arrogant and weird on re-reading. A lot of it is the same reason I got really good at public speaking, which is practice as a tour guide. I write as if I'm doing tour guiding (that's pretty much how this started) and it carries over. I'd honestly suggest it as something you should look into. You've got lots of good museums in the DC area, and it's a lot of fun. You talk about these things to the general public, and people listen! And the instant feedback loop is nice.

  91. June 11, 2018cassander said...

    @Directrix Gazer & Bean

    That's great. I'll get your contact info from bean if you don't mind. I work over on K street so I won't be able to bother you too often but I'd definitely like to come by someday.

  92. June 15, 2018ADifferentAnonymous said...

    Given the success of the Taranto and Pearl Harbor attacks, why weren't there more harbor bombings in WWII? I get it in the Pacific, where the distances were such that you'd have to put your own carriers at risk. But how did Britain and Germany keep their fleets safe from each other's land-based air forces?

  93. June 15, 2018bean said...

    Given the success of the Taranto and Pearl Harbor attacks, why weren’t there more harbor bombings in WWII? I get it in the Pacific, where the distances were such that you’d have to put your own carriers at risk. But how did Britain and Germany keep their fleets safe from each other’s land-based air forces?

    Because neither was done in the face of heavy opposition. Taranto was a surprise, as nobody expected the British to be able to pull off a night attack. And the crews who made it possible were probably the best naval aviators in the world, but there just weren't that many of them, and a lot had died by the time the British got the aircraft to be able to hit the Germans. The Germans never had a particularly good anti-ship arm, and it's a long way to Scapa. The British did try repeatedly to sink Tirpitz from the air, coming up with some really interesting weapons to do so. I should talk about them some time. But it was really hard, because the German gunners were alert, which makes hitting the target hard.

    Pearl was much the same. The US wasn't expecting them, and the crews were really good.

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