October 22, 2018

Open Thread 11

It's time for our regular biweekly open thread. Talk about anything you want, even non-naval-related things.

I usually use these threads to highlight a link or something of interest, and I'm going to call out the Battleship Iowa app. This is how we do audio tours and the like, but almost all of the functionality is available anywhere. There's a lot of interesting detail, including some videos of the engineering spaces that you can't see except on the Full Steam Ahead tour.


  1. October 22, 2018Johan Larson said...

    Nothing is very likely to wipe out humanity any time soon. There are a lot of us, and the species was hardy enough to survive a major ice age, so we're likely to stay around for a while. But even among unlikely things, some are likelier than others. With that in mind, what is the most likely way for humanity to go extinct before 2100? Is an out-of-control nuclear war still the biggest of the small risks?

  2. October 22, 2018bean said...

    Biological warfare, most likely. There aren't enough nukes around to be an existential threat to humanity. Would we be able to nuke ourselves back into the iron age? Yes, but that's a different thing from wiping ourselves out.

  3. October 22, 2018redRover said...


    I think Bean is right that total extinction is unlikely, and if it were to happen then a biological agent is the only really viable option. However, if you restrict it to something like a 90% depopulation event, then I think you can look at all manner of things, from nuclear war to more esoteric things. For my money, the most underrated risk is how tightly tied a lot of our supply and communications systems are. Each component is vastly more productive than what it replaced, but because we are now running on thinner margins and with fewer backups, a high level disruption would be more catastrophic.

    GPS loss seems like an underrated risk, because it breaks down a lot of time synchronization on communications systems, and with that you have a lot more friction in your supply chain. Maybe you can fix it, or maybe you can revert back to older methods, but maybe not.

  4. October 22, 2018Lambert said...

    Have any weapons been designed specifically to mission kill a ship rather than actually killing it?
    (since the days of firing chainshot at rigging, that is.)

  5. October 22, 2018Lambert said...

    Oops. meant to post in the mission-kill thread. Plus the Captcha is working intermittently.

  6. October 22, 2018bean said...


    A fair number, actually, although it's rarely phrased in that way. One example would be the QF batteries of the pre-dreadnoughts. They were designed to destroy the lightly-armored structure of the ship, not to kill it outright. That probably would have meant piercing the belt, which they couldn't do. Another would be most modern anti-ship missiles. Things like Harpoon hit well above the waterline and don't have big enough warheads to sink even a frigate directly. But they'll hurt one pretty badly, and that's often enough.

    Not sure what to say about the captcha. When I'm not logged in, I see a blank box occasionally, but a refresh brings the image up. (Or maybe I just log in. I'll pay more attention next time.)

  7. October 22, 2018Neal said...

    Apart from all the normal reasons that the Uited States has a Navy, what purpose does it play in the next ten, twenty, and fifty years and how specifically is that influencing training, preparation, and doctrine? (and organizing, training, and equipping OTE?)

    Of course I do not mean that question to appear as silly as it might on first blush as one, naturally, says that the Navy (and other services) are governed by the top-level security strategies, tasks, and duties. Historically the security strategies usually did not name foes, current or potential, but rather seek to shape a responsive force that could/can be plugged and played as needed. Concentrating on a potential foe might prove limiting and reduce overall flexbility in both the OTE process and strategic thinking.

    But....reality intrudes as it always does so what is the Navy fielding to meet the possible threats in the timeframe I mentioned? And what are the Navy's senior officers studying and discussing? Certainly they do not always wear the straitjacket of the "generic force" and must venture into thinking specifics. They do read the news after all and realize that it probaby is not going to be Chile or Senegal that challenges our fleet.


  8. October 23, 2018bean said...

    On a broad level, the USN's mission is going to be the same as it has been since the 1880s. To secure use of the sea for us and deny it to our enemies.

    On a more specific level, there's a pivot going on right now away from the littoral/land attack missions of the past 25 years and towards a renewed version of the blue-water threat that dominated the Cold War. This means that we're talking about better air defenses instead of guns, and that the LCS is going away.

    In terms of equipment, well, you can see that right now. Ford-class carriers, later versions of the Burke, and towards the end of your time horizon whatever comes out of the current CG replacement program.

  9. October 23, 2018ADifferentAnonymous said...

    @Lambert IIRC High-Capacity (as opposed to armor-piercing) shells for main guns were intended to work as mission-kill weapons, though rarely-if-ever actually used this way.

    @bean Minor housekeeping issue, but the site search seems to turn up some blank pages with meaningful names, e.g. https://www.navalgazing.net/?n=Main.Naval-Gazing-Topical-Index&action=search&q=%22armor-piercing%22 brings up, among others, https://www.navalgazing.net/Samar. I'd guess the search is looking at your drafts, which you probably don't want.

  10. October 23, 2018bean said...


    That's actually something I've known about for some time. Samar is in the publication queue for two days from now, but I checked and it also returns things still in draft. I'm not that bothered. I don't make a particular secret of stuff I'm working on, and if anyone wants to spend a bunch of time trying to work out the contents of the queue, they're welcome to it.

  11. October 23, 2018doctorpat said...

    Total human extinction is still on the table from astronomical events. A huge asteroid impact (bigger than the dinosaur killer) or a giant solar flare could just wipe us out completely and we wouldn't be able to do much about it.

    Well, there is a possibility of trying to deflect an incoming asteroid given enough warning. A solar event? We could try sacrificing virgins...

  12. October 25, 2018Chuck said...

    I think it's a two step process to actually kill off the human race, and any disaster is going to have to fulfill both steps. The first step is destroying civilization, so that humankind once again completely at the mercy of environmental conditions. (I can imagine that some would object that humans are still completely at the mercy of environmental conditions, but I would say that hasn't been accurate since the Pleistocene. ) The second step is to change those conditions enough that the humans are outcompeted by something else or otherwise die out.

    To fulfill step one is going to involve taking us down to a stone-age level of technology. Step two is just as difficult, because as you may recall the climate wasn't all that stable in the Pleistocene and humans still managed to pretty much cover the planet.

    I suspect it would require two separate events, one for each part. The events don't necessarily have to happen in quick succession, if humanity was knocked back into the stone age it might stay there for quite some time. I think there's more than a few reasons to suspect that rebuilding civilization would be at least as difficult as building it the first time. They don't even need to be in order, since though technology our civilization could allow us to live in a world that had become otherwise inhospitable.

  13. October 26, 2018Johan Larson said...

    The naval action movie "Hunter Killer" is in theaters now. Gerald Butler is the captain of the US hunter-killer sub who is caught in the middle of a Russian military coup, and tasked with rescuing the Russian president.

    The film isn't great, somewhere in the C+/B- range, depending on how much credit you give for visuals and deduct for some really awful dialog.

    If you're in the mood for a sub movie, let me recommend you stay home and watch the 1978 film "Gray Lady Down" about an accident on a US nuclear submarine. It features among others a very young Christopher Reeve. Available on iTunes.

  14. October 29, 2018redRover said...

    Somewhat random question:

    Napoleon and Hitler seem to have made the same fundamental strategic mistake(s) with regard to Russia, namely underestimating the logistical and practical difficulties of fighting in the Russian winter, yet Hitler is regarded as a bumbling military leader, and Napoleon as one of the leading lights of military leadership. Is this because Napoleon's record elsewhere was sufficiently impressive to overshadow that mistake*, or is Napoleon overrated relative to his actual record, or something else?

    *Though I would argue that as popular as Napoleon was, his actual record as leader wasn't that impressive. He lost to the British lead Allies twice, and his overall record with regard to the territory of France was negative. Maybe he was a tactical genius but strategically indifferent?

  15. October 29, 2018bean said...

    A couple of things spring to mind. First, Napoleon's reputation is based on winning battles, and he has many very impressive battlefield victories to his credit. Strategically, he was weaker, and got into a couple of campaigns (Spain and Russia) that cost him dearly. Hitler never commanded in the field, although he should probably get credit for the fall of France. (Which was due to an incredible amount of luck, but his decision to override his generals made it possible.)

    Also, note the timescales. Hitler was clearly stalemated two years after the Fall of France, with the tide turning against him. Napoleon had been Europe's leading general for 15 years when he went into Russia.

  16. October 29, 2018Chevalier Mal Fet said...

    Also, I've seen some revisionist accounts that Napoleon's Russian campaign was not at all what he intended, and he was caught off-guard by the Russian strategy.

    The argument is roughly as follows: Napoleon did NOT intend to defeat Russia in a single campaign, and he did not intend to reach as far as Moscow. Rather, Napoleon conceived a multi-year war with Russia to bring them to heel. In 1812, his initial objective was (I struggle to recall) either Vilnius or Minsk. However, he reached it far sooner than he thought, because the main Russian armies continued to withdraw and avoid battle. He was left in late July with significant campaigning left, so he pressed on to Smolensk.

    Here's where things start to go off the rails for Napoleon - he fights and wins at Smolensk and at Borodino, and apparently overestimated how much damage he had inflicted on the Russians at Borodino. He pushed on to Moscow and arrived in mid-September, but still had six weeks or so of decent weather to safely withdraw to his winter quarters near Minsk. But he thought Russia was on its last legs, and the double-blow of the fall of the second city of the empire (the capital, of course, was St. Petersburg) and the "shattering" of the main army at Borodino should have brought the Tsar to a negotiated peace. He hung around too long. Then, of course, his campaigns in 1813 in Germany and 1814 in Paris were as brilliant as anything that came before.

    To sum up: Napoleon never made a glaringly obvious strategic mistake, except in hindsight. He had much more modest aims, made a few (ultimately catastrophic, but understandable) errors, and did his damndest to recover from those errors. So he maintains his brilliant reputation.

    By contrast, Hitler didn't have the same record as Napoleon backing him up, although you could make arguments about how much Hitler positively influenced German arms in France, Kiev, Moscow in 1941, and Kharkov. Then, Hitler had a much more ambitious campaign to bring down the whole Soviet Union in a few weeks, misjudging the Russian campaign to a far greater degree than Bonaparte did, which is another knock against him. Furthermore, he perpetuated his error with repeated operational, tactical, and strategic mistakes on all fronts of the war, while Napoleon continued his record of brilliancies. Finally, Hitler was genocidal maniac, while Napoleon's legal reforms are still quite well-thought of in France, and the Halo Effect is a thing.

    I'll try to dig up my Napoleonic sources to give more specifics about why 1812 didn't seem obviously stupid at the time.

  17. November 03, 2018bean said...

    Things I did not know: HMS Dreadnought had a lime store.

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