June 10, 2022

Open Thread 106

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

Apologies for how quiet it's been around here. I have several reviews coming up from the DSL meetup.

2018 overhauls are Jutland Parts two, three, four, five, six and seven, SYWTBAMN - Coast Guard Part 1, Ship History - New Jersey, my review of Alabama and Falklands Part 3. 2019 overhauls are Shells at Jutland, The Battle of Jutland, Battleship Aviation Part 3, A Brief History of the Submarine, Inky's Review of the Haifa Naval Museum and Falklands Part 15. 2020 overhauls are Jutland - The Blockade, Tomahawk Part 4, Coastal Defenses Part 3 and Soviet Battleships Part 2. 2021 overhauls are my review of Greyhound, Aviation at Jutland, Soviet SLBMs parts two and three and Coastal Defenses Part 7.


  1. June 12, 2022muddywaters said...

    How do you practice when your ammunition costs ~2 years' wages each?

    Before sufficiently accurate gyros (1917?), dealing with the ship's roll relied entirely on human skill. (Dreyers, etc. only told you what sight-to-gun angles would hit if the sight was pointing at the target; you still had to actually point it at the target, which was non-trivial from a ship rolling by many times the target's apparent size.) This made it important to practice that skill, but this has the obvious problem that large-caliber ammunition is expensive: ~£100 per 12" shot, in a time when sailors earned ~£50 per year.

    One method was simply to use a smaller gun (sometimes a ~1" made specifically for this purpose, sometimes an off-the-shelf infantry rifle) mounted on or in the main gun, and hence aimed with the same controls. The c.1900 RN used ~400 1" rounds per heavy (>= 4") gun per year, whose practice value was possibly limited by poor intrinsic accuracy.

    Another method was a card target placed in front of the sights and (manually) moved to simulate roll, and a pencil attached to the gun that marked it when the trigger was pressed, known as the dotter. This could simulate sea states the ship wasn't actually in, and was presumably even more convenient/cheap. Percy Scott claimed to have invented this in 1898, but somewhat similar devices existed (though possibly not in general use) around 1830.

    It was considered worth actually firing the main guns for a few exercises a year, of which there seem to have been two common kinds. One (RN "Gunlayers' Test") used small targets at short range (short enough that the hole made by a hit was visible from the firing ship; the RN 1892-1903 standard was the firing ship moving past a stationary 20'x16'9" target at closest approach 1400 yards). Each gun crew had a run, with only their gun firing (as many shots as they could fit in the time limit, so loading skill also counted), and was scored separately. Participants knew in advance exactly what to expect (including the range, speed, etc).

    The other (RN "Battle Practice", though the USN called both kinds that) used roughly full-height targets at realistic battle range, with multiple (often all) guns in use together. The setup for this could be more complex, including e.g. turns, smoke screens, simulated damage, and/or multiple firing ships, and was not fully known to the firing ship. In particular, the targets were towed at an unspecified range and speed, making this a test of the full fire control system and not just laying accuracy.

    To increase motivation, these were often made competitions, with cash prizes and/or public praise for good scores. (The RN's scores were public to allow the latter.) This apparently led to some rules-lawyering and/or risky behaviour. Not doing them in rough weather was apparently normal, though I don't know if that was about getting a better score or just being more pleasant/less work. One RN ship, having noticed that the rules of Gunlayers' Test didn't actually require each run to use a different gun, won by concentrating their maintenance resources on one gun and using that one for multiple runs.

    Practice was somewhat dangerous. There were powder fires/explosions, people crushed to death by loading machinery or dropped shells, and target-towing ships being accidentally hit. During wartime, practice also exposed one to the risk of actual enemy submarines or mines.

    The Gunlayers' Test scores suggest that accuracy nearly quadrupled, and rate of fire increased by ~50%, between 1900 and 1908, then levelled off. The increased practice enabled by the dotter and encouraged by Scott may well have been a large part of this, though continuous aim (~1.5x assuming the 12" is worse because it lacks it), telescope sights, and the move from a single layer to a layer/trainer/sight-setter team probably also contributed.

  2. June 15, 2022muddywaters said...

    Scott's account of this, where he invents enough of this method to reach ~3x accuracy over a single cruise in 1898, then goes on to do more, while others are too busy prettifying their ships to care about whether they can fight and/or don't believe him, and it hence takes several years to come into general use, kind of feels like genius inventor fiction, and I'm not sure how much of his version is actually accepted as true.

    (If he'd been from somewhere other than the already-strongest naval power, would it have been enough to seriously shift the balance of power? Though even if it did, it would only have done so for as long as they could keep the method secret, which I have the (uncertain) impression that the actual British didn't for long if at all, and which might be effectively impossible with information that short and simple that ~1000+ gunlayers need to know.)

  3. June 15, 2022bean said...

    First, thanks for this. It's interesting to see an account like this from a different perspective.

    For the historical view on Scott, the books to look at are In Defense of Naval Supremacy, Friedman's Naval Firepower and Dreadnought Gunnery and the Battle of Jutland. I agree that the conventional account is a bit like genius inventor fiction, and it is oversimplified. (I may have been guilty of contributing to that a bit, but in my defense, I'm working with something like 1500 words on each topic.)

    Re effect on the balance of power if the technique is developed elsewhere, it could have been significant, although I'm not sure how well it would have worked in action vs how much of it was getting people thinking about gunnery seriously. As for hiding the technique, probably easier than you'd think. There's no real international forum for others to notice the technique, and publishing the scores could easily be dismissed as "oh, their test is easy", at which point Not Invented Here kicks in.

  4. June 16, 2022Forty-Bot said...

    You RSS feed is still broken.

  5. June 16, 2022bean said...

    Yeah. Said Achmiz is looking into it. He's gotten a bunch of stuff cleaned up recently.

  6. June 16, 2022quanticle said...

    You know how we make fun of the Russians for constantly renumbering the Su-27 in order to pretend that they're selling brand new designs to foreign military customers? Well, it looks like Lockheed is getting in on the game. They're selling what they're claiming is a brand new fighter aircraft, the F-21, to India. But a quick glance at a photo reveals it to be an F-16 with Israeli characteristics.

  7. June 16, 2022bean said...

    That's a slightly odd choice of designation. F-21 is already in use in US service, although for the IAI Kfir, which we used for adversary training. But India isn't the US. Trying to inherit the mantle of the MiG-21? (Only about 50% bonkers, which is lower than almost anyone else could do with that.) Trying to play the "let's number everything 21 so it sounds futuristic" game? Less effective with each passing year. Or maybe it's something to do with India and culture that I have no idea about. Or it could be the obvious, trying to make it seem like India isn't getting the fighter we're in the middle of replacing, although in fairness the F-16 is still quite good.

  8. June 16, 2022ike said...

    From the previous thread:

    USMC’s new “Force Design 2030”, which involves the Marine Corps dispersing across the Pacific to launch missile attacks from small islands

    Isn't this the Japanese strategy all over again? If I remember correctly the big problems were:

    -Pacific airbase couldn't support each other well enough to avoid being picked off in detail. -They couldn't protect their supply lines.

    How have the last 80 years changed this?

  9. June 16, 2022bean said...

    I don't think it's quite the same. The plan is intended to be offensive rather than defensive, thanks to geography and modern networks and missiles. The defeat in detail aspect should be helped by not garrisoning each and every island, but on the whole I'm skeptical.

  10. June 16, 2022ike said...


    So something more like the Seaplane Strike Force? Two guys and a truck-mounted ASM for every Rockall in the Far East?

    'Imposing attrition on enemy fleets attempting to break out into the high seas' sounds like a surprisingly sensible mission that might be done successfully on a modest budget.

    How one Earth would use them offensively? Especially since you could just forward base those men and trucks to the RoC.

  11. June 16, 2022muddywaters said...

    @quanticle: for naming weirdness generally, see here.

    I do like it as a story - it feels like it would work as one, both Scott as inventor and the actual layers as fighter-pilot-style elite warriors (director layers particularly are arguably the closest to single heroes that naval combat, or almost any combat on that scale, gets), though the ending has the problem that accepting a mild-but-spectacular loss because that's better than maybe a win but maybe a much worse loss feels dramatically unsatisfying even when you agree that it was the right choice in reality.

  12. June 16, 2022quanticle said...


    Another hypothesis: Pakistan flies the F-16, so we have to give India something "better".

  13. June 16, 2022bean said...


    Yeah, something like the SSF. As for using them offensively, the idea is that they're going forward during a conflict, and using their missiles to dominate the seas around China, rather than sitting back and waiting for the Chinese to come to them. As for why we don't base them in the ROC, there are some fairly strong international implications of doing that. But yeah, in retrospect, it does look rather like they're talking about building themselves to deploy there in time of war.


    Actually, that's almost certainly it. Not so much better than what Pakistan has as different from what Pakistan has.

  14. June 17, 2022quanticle said...

    China has just launched its first CATOBAR aircraft carrier, the Type 003, now christened the Fujian. It has an electromagnetic catapult, just like the new US Ford-class. Displacement is reported to be in the 100,000 ton range, which would put it in approximately the same weight class as a Ford-class. However, unlike a Ford-class, the Fujian appears to be conventionally powered, which would limit its range.

  15. June 17, 2022FXBDM said...

    I am having a friendly argument with someone about the Straits of Dardanelles and the Bosphorus.

    What kind of force would one need to force passage from the Med into the Black Sea against determined Turkish opposition?

    Would one CBG or two be able to swing it? Would the US be able to do it?

    Would anything in Istanbul be left standing after that? Has anyone seriously wargamed that?

  16. June 17, 2022John Schilling said...

    I don't think it's practical to force the Bosporous against determined opposition in the modern era - it's too easy to bring an overwhelming amount of land-based artillery to bear against ships that won't be able to maneuver effectively. And that's assuming the Turks don't just mine the whole thing, or fill it with blockships, and just use the artillery against any minesweepers anyone is foolish enough to send in.

    It basically comes down to "first, conquer Turkey". Well, Marmara at least, but that's going to be defended with everything Turkey has got, and if you don't have complete control then it's pretty much suicide to try and send ships through from one end to the other.

  17. June 17, 2022laverya said...

    For those of you looking for an RSS feed (Forty-Bot), I have https://laverya.com/rss-proxy/naval-gazing.rss - it only updates once every 24 hours though.

    Not much else on the site, but it works for caching slow RSS feeds that NewsBlur won't otherwise read!

  18. June 17, 2022bean said...

    I'm with John on this. No way you'd be able to pull it off with Turkey actively opposed and resisting. But the genius of modern naval power is that it can project force without having to send ships through.

  19. June 17, 2022muddywaters said...

    @FXBDM: previous discussion. The bridge over the Dardanelles is named for the 1915 battle.

  20. June 17, 2022ike said...

    Yeah, the impossibility for forcing them is the whole reason that conquering them has been foreign policy objective for hundreds of years. Nobody being able to send a fleet into the Black Sea without your say-so is a huge improvement in security.

  21. June 18, 2022Anonymous said...

    Have China managed to make working jet engines? Because they seem to be equipping their aircraft with their own jets now.


    What kind of force would one need to force passage from the Med into the Black Sea against determined Turkish opposition?

    Convince Georgia and Azerbaijan to build a canal from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea then convince Iran to build a canal from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf.


    Would anything in Istanbul be left standing after that?

    Not if you manage to get a ship through.


    Yeah, the impossibility for forcing them is the whole reason that conquering them has been foreign policy objective for hundreds of years. Nobody being able to send a fleet into the Black Sea without your say-so is a huge improvement in security.

    But not for Turkey which finds that it has by its very existence given Russia reason to want to conquer them.

  22. June 18, 2022Forty-Bot said...

    RSS feed appears working, thanks!

  23. June 19, 2022ike said...

    Convince Georgia and Azerbaijan to build a canal[...]

    The Neva-Volga and Volga-Don Canals already exist.

  24. June 20, 2022Anonymous said...


    The Neva-Volga and Volga-Don Canals already exist.

    Both of which are in Russia.

  25. June 20, 2022Eric Rall said...

    The Neva-Volga and Volga-Don Canals already exist.

    If you want to come from the other side, there's also the Rhine-Danube canal. But that's way too small for an Arleigh Burke, let alone a CVN, although you might be able to squeeze a litoral combat ship through it.

    Not sure rebuilding the canal with bigger locks would help significantly, since that would likely just move the bottleneck to the upper regions of the rivers themselves.

    The nuclear option, so to speak, would be to build a canal through Greece and Bulgaria either directly to the Black Sea or to the lower reaches of the Danube. The problem is that the best route for such a canal looks like it'd be hard against the Turkish-Greek border, so you'd probably want to blast your way through some inconveniently situated mountains a bit further west. At that point, it might be cheaper to pay Romania or Bulgaria to build a fleet on the Black Sea.

  26. June 22, 2022quanticle said...


    It looks like China has indeed started installing domestically produced engines on their J-20 fighters. They're about 6 years late (I remember articles promising that the J-20 would be fitted with the WS-15 as far back as 2015). That said, I'll admit that it's taken them less time than I anticipated to build and install engines that are at least plausibly comparable to modern engines produced by the US and Russia.

  27. June 22, 2022Rolf Andreassen said...

    The "recent comments" widget in the sidebar seems to be listing some spam that doesn't appear in the actual threads, presumably because you deleted it. Maybe it requires a separate cleanup?

  28. June 22, 2022bean said...

    If there's a way to clean that up, I'm not aware of it. Comments have been a bit slow around here, so it hasn't been pushed out like it usually is.

  29. June 23, 2022Philistine said...

    It appears that USAF leadership may be in hot water (again) for trying to shut down the A-10 (again). As far as I can tell, what little information the article contains (and it is very little) is in the first paragraph, the rest of it seems to be just bog-standard pro-A-10 propaganda:


    I can see how - faced with Congresscritters' abject refusal to come to grips with reality - somebody might get the idea to just do what's necessary and lie about it to Congress, but that way lies the death of civilian control over the armed forces.

  30. June 23, 2022ike said...

    It is a great injustice that the Army is the only service not allowed to operate aircraft.

  31. June 24, 2022quanticle said...

    Here's an interesting article in War on the Rocks that argues for greater levels of specialization among F/A-18 squadrons. The argument is that the increasing complexity of threats combined with the demands of an ever-increasing operational tempo means that F/A-18 squadrons do not have the training time to remain proficient at both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. Therefore, the article proposes that F/A-18E squadrons should specialize in countering air-to-air threats (while maintaining a secondary specialization in suppression of enemy air defenses), and F/A-18F squadrons should specialize in striking ground targets, knowing enough about air-to-air combat to defend themselves, but not necessarily being able to counter aerial threats. While specialization would reduce the high sortie rates that characterized fighter operations during the Global War on Terror, high sortie rates are less relevant when facing near-peer adversaries which have the ability to contest the airspace over the battlefield. In that environment, commanders are likely to be ordering a smaller number of attacks against higher value targets, and having the ability to carry out those attacks, even in the face of opposition, is more valuable than having the ability to launch more sorties into uncontested skies.

  32. June 24, 2022quanticle said...


    It's probably futile, but I'm really hoping that the losses of Russian Su-25s (which are roughly analogous to the A-10 in a lot of ways) in the current Ukraine conflict would show people that the A-10 is not a viable platform in a battlespace where the adversary is armed with even 15-year-old air-defense systems.

  33. June 24, 2022muddywaters said...

    Continuous aim is actually one of the few pieces Percy Scott doesn't claim as his own idea: he finds his best rough-weather layer already doing it well. (This scene is ambiguous between "that layer invented continuous aim" and "continuous aim was already a known idea, that layer was just unusually good at it". There are earlier mentions of holding similar guns continuously on target, but they plausibly refer to continuous train rather than continuous elevation.)

    I'm not sure how well it would have worked in action

    One potential problem is that better laying accuracy (= being better at aiming where you intended to aim) might not be very useful without better control (= knowing where you should be aiming). Scott notes this problem, and proposes moving from local (per-gun/turret) to central (whole-ship) spotting, but that might or might not have been enough.

    Manual laying in general also has the problem that human skill is likely to be impaired when the humans in question are afraid for their lives, i.e. in actual battle as opposed to exercises. Jutland was ~3% hits at a range where the practice scores would suggest ~20%, though poor visibility and enemy turns would also contribute to that.

    how much of it was getting people thinking about gunnery seriously.

    It would make sense to put more resources into it because progress suddenly looks possible, and that might allow one inventor's initial success to relatively quickly lead to the whole system without them having to personally invent the rest. However, that also implies that if you want a lasting advantage, you'd need to keep secret that you'd done it and not just how, which the British didn't.

  34. June 24, 2022Doctorpat said...

    Re: A-10s. If the USAF wants political support for getting rid of their A-10s, they should donate them to the Ukraine.

    Yes, against modern (well, 1990 spec) AA the A-10s might not last the war, but they'll go down in a blaze of glory doing what they were always intended to do: busting Russian armour.

  35. June 24, 2022bean said...


    Ick. On one hand, I completely sympathize with USAF leadership here. On the other hand, they really shouldn't be lying to Congress.


    They're allowed to operate aircraft, so long as they aren't both armed and fixed-wing. Necessary political compromise in the wake of their divorce from the Air Force, and frankly, they'd just want to build super-A-10s, which would be a complete waste of money.


    However, that also implies that if you want a lasting advantage, you’d need to keep secret that you’d done it and not just how, which the British didn’t.

    Yes, although I think the general obscurity of the issue makes this surprisingly possible.

  36. June 24, 2022ike said...


    Is the fear that the Army, the moment it gets it CAS aircraft back, will say, "Well, the Airforce couldn't be trusted to provide CAS for us. They probably cannot be trusted to provide air superiority either. Let's go shopping for fighters."?

    On the other hand, the USMC has its own airforce and the sky hasn't fallen.

  37. June 25, 2022bean said...


    More or less. The Marine Corps is a weird anomaly, and while it hasn't been worth getting rid of, the pattern of "fixed-wing planes are for the Air Force, the Army can have helicopters" is nearly universal, and seems to work well enough.

  38. June 25, 2022bean said...

    I should probably add that I don't think the Army actually wants to fly fixed-wing airplanes. It's much easier to make the Air Force pay for it, and they know that no transfer of the responsibility is going to come with enough money to make it a good idea.

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