May 12, 2023

Open Thread 130

It is time once again for our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you want, including culture war.

Reminder that we're a month out from the LA meetup. Feel free to come, even if you have never commented before and don't know that much about battleships. I know enough for both of us. There will be excellent company and delicious food. There are currently two spots one spot left in the AirBnB, so sign up quickly if you want to stay there.

Also exciting is the imminent release of RTW3, on May 18th. Lord Nelson isn't going to see me for at least the entire weekend.

Overhauls are my first review of Midway, LCS Part 1, LCS Part 3 and for 2022, Nuclear Strategy and The Germans Strike Back.


  1. May 12, 2023John Schilling said...

    The Ukraine war seems to be getting dynamic again. Russian and Ukrainian sources both indicate that the Russians have been pushed back ~3 kilometers in a key part of the northern flank of Bakhmut in the last day or two, and ~1 km in the south. I think that's enough to secure Ukrainian supply lines into the city proper, so it's not clear whether they will say "Bakhmut stabilized, on to the next thing" or reinforce success and try to push further.

    Meanwhile, a strike on logistics targets in the city of Luhansk seems to have involved British Storm Shadow missiles (unconfirmed) and American ADM-160 air-launch decoys (confirmed by wreckage). This was a limited strike, only two targets, so it may have been an operational test of those weapons' integration on Ukrainian Su-24 or Su-27 strike aircraft.

    No reports of Leopards on the hunt yet, so this isn't the main event of Ukraine's promised spring offensive. But an interesting opening act.

    Also, if Ukraine has Storm Shadows and ADM-160s, I think they can shut down the Kerch Strait bridge again, and the Russians only managed to reopen it from the last attack a week ago.

  2. May 13, 2023Alex said...

    How much trouble would the Laird Rams have been for the Union Navy if they had made it out of the shipyard in Confederate control?

  3. May 14, 2023bean said...

    Scorpion and Wyvern were far from the finest ironclads ever built, although they would have been fairly formidable against unarmored enemies. The Union did have a reasonable number of Monitors in service by the time they could have commissioned, but I think it was under a dozen, and they would have been badly diluted if they'd had to be used for trade protection. (Also, Monitors are bad at that.) Overall, bad but probably not catastrophic.

  4. May 15, 2023Lambert said...

    When did the Rasputitsia end? Is there some open EOS data we can use as a proxy for how moist the soil is?

  5. May 15, 2023Alexander said...

    @Lambert Twitter has you covered:

  6. May 16, 2023bean said...

    And it looks like Patriot went 6 for 6 against Kinzhal last night, as well as going 3 for 3 against ballistic missiles. What's that? Hypersonics are overrated and missile defense works? Who would have thought?

  7. May 16, 2023FXBDM1832 said...

    Long time no see, @John!

    Question right up your alley: The recent gigantic explosion in Pavlohrad was revealed by the Ukrainians to be old ICBM boosters going up. A similar explosion in Khmelnytskyi was also said to be old missiles going up, but I can't find mention in the literature of them being stored there. The Russians of course claim that those were ammunition depots for the upcoming offensive.

    From my cursory research, those would be motors for 160 SS-24 Scalpel (RT-23 Molodets) solid fuel rockets that were dismantled in the early 2010s and were being processed into Civilian explosives at this facility starting around 2013-2014.

    Cursory research again suggests that those SS-24 had three stages, with the first one twice as powerful as 2 and 3. I found a mention that the 2-3 stage weighed something around 25 000 KGs so BOTE the total weight of the motors would be around 100 metric tons (?). I don't know how much of that is fuel.

    So, can we deduce from the size of the explosion we saw just how many of those detonated, and by that how many are left around?

    One theory I saw was that Russia was targeting those storage sites on purpose for propaganda purposes (Big Boomsky!). A competing theory is that those sites are designed to hold high explosives and are conveniently placed to be ammunition depots for the planned offensive so of course the Ukrainians were storing ammunition there.

    Is there any other information from open sources that would help us understand more about these competing claims?

  8. May 16, 2023John Schilling said...

    The SS-24/RT-23 weighs about a hundred metric tons all up, and probably ~85% of that is propellant. And it is possible to at least roughly estimate explosive yield from fireball size. But there are two complications. First, you need a "yardstick" in your camera FOV to get the fireball size in the first place. Second, you need to know whether the material in question detonated or deflagrated (i.e. burned real good). Munitions are obviously packed with stuff that will detonate, but solid rocket fuel can go either way and I don't think there's enough publicly-known detail to assess old Soviet ICBM motors in that respect.

    At Pavlohrad, there was a visible crater of ~60 meters diameter and 10+ meters depth. That strongly implies a detonation, and of about two kilotons yield. So, a couple dozen old RT-23s might fit. Khmelnytskyi, I wouldn't want to try to put a number on without better data than I've seen so far.

    But to get these sort of big explosions, either the Russians need very good intelligence on where Ukraine is stashing their modern munitions, or they need to know where they left their own surplus ICBMs and they need to be willing to waste scarce cruise missile on propaganda stunts. Either is plausible, but if they knew where the real munitions depots were I would have expected them to have exploded some time last year.

  9. May 16, 2023FXBDM said...

    Thank you sir! You are a gentleman and a scholar!

  10. May 17, 2023Emilio said...

    From what I have read in Khmelnytskyi they were holding the hypergolic fuel of SS-19s, waiting to be sent to the chemical plant in Pavlohrad for disposal.

    So, yes, kaboom, Rico.

    The Muscovites hit places where they knew there was something that could go kaboom, and decided the they were depot of NATO munitions.

  11. May 18, 2023John Schilling said...

    We're now getting reports from multiple reliable sources that the multi-Kinzhal intercept was also accompanied by damage to the Patriot battery, not clear whether from a near miss or falling debris. One source says a generator was knocked out and an unspecified piece of electronics was damaged. Probably not a big deal, unless "electronics was damaged" is someone understating "the main radar is wrecked".

    So, not perfect. But it does imply that this wasn't just a generic missile strike, but a deliberate SEAD attack on the Patriot battery itself, with half a dozen hypersonic missiles and a dozen or so cruise missiles fired on multiple trajectories. And Patriot still came in with a not-perfect win.

    In probably-unrelated news, we're now hearing that Russia arrested four of their top hypersonics researchers for alleged treason last year. This has not been good for morale in that community, and suggests we won't be seeing a Kinzhal 2.0 any time soon.

  12. May 22, 2023Tarpitz said...

    It now looks like the damage to the Patriot system was minor enough to be repaired in the field without any interruption of operations, and caused either by debris from an intercepted missile or by a misfiring interceptor. There do not appear to have been any Kinzhal impacts in the attack at all, hit, near miss or complete miss.

    Current theory seems to be that the other Patriot battery was responsible for the shootdown of a four-aircraft Russian strike mission (Su-34, Su-35, two Mi-8 EW variants) over Bryansk on the 13th, prompting Russian attempts to target the system.

  13. May 23, 2023Anonymous said...

    Combining fixed wing strike with helicopter EW on the same mission seems like a great way to get a serious performance mismatch which if true does not imply anything good about Russia's military (except for those of us who want to see the Orcs lose).

  14. May 23, 2023bean said...

    Depends on what you want to do. If you're going for a target near the border, you can keep the helicopters safely over your territory and just turn them on to cover the strike. Not as good as fast EW, but not horrible, provided that the enemy doesn't have a good SAM waiting for you.

  15. May 26, 2023Tarpitz said...

    Fog of war still very much in effect, but it now seems almost certain that the Russian intelligence ship Ivan Khurs was successfully attacked while at sea by Ukrainian USVs. Initial Russian claims talked about an attack by three USVs being defeated, with video footage of one being destroyed, but subsequent footage appears to show a hit close to the stern on the port side, and Russian Telegram channels are now reporting an attack by 5 USVs with two hits, and claiming the Khurs is under tow and expected to be out of action for 6 months. Personally, I would always assume any Russian estimate of repair time is unrealistically low.

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