February 11, 2019

Open Thread 19

It's time once again for our open thread, where you are allowed to talk about anything you want.

If you want to play around with modern air and naval warfare, look no further than Command: Modern Air and Naval Operations (CMANO). CMANO is the sort of thing I would make if I could program and had unlimited time. The systems database alone is worth the price, particularly if you get it on sale, and it can be a lot of fun, at least for the right person. But it's definitely closer to a simulation than a game, so be warned.

Overhauled posts since last time are Early US Battleships, Aegis, the first three parts of my series on amphibious warfare, and my tale of military software development.


  1. February 11, 2019bean said...

    Yesterday, I was thinking about the SEALs, and why they’ve gotten so much media attention relative to other special forces. As someone who has spent a lot of time in library military book sections over the past two decades, this was somewhat obvious by the mid-2000s, although it’s obviously gotten substantially worse since the Bin Ladin raid. I came up with a couple theories.

    First, it could be a vicious cycle. Some SEAL book hit the bestseller lists, and publishers started jumping on the bandwagon, such that it’s a lot easier to get a SEAL memoir published than a non-SEAL one. The most obvious candidate is Dick Couch’s The Warrior Elite, which is a very good book, published in 2003. But there are too many books in the Wiki “further reading” list from that era for it to be a coincidence. Maybe they achieved prominence for something in ~2001, and that started everything.

    Another option is that they’re somehow more photogenic. This has some merit. Most US Special Operations units have primary missions that are not kicking down doors and shooting bad guys. The Green Berets are specialists in guerilla and counter-guerilla warfare. Marine Recon is a recon unit. (MARSOC didn’t exist until about 10 years ago, and the SEALs are now locked in as the public ones.) The Air Force Special Tactics people have jobs that sound possibly fictional to outsiders. Delta is another good candidate, but they’re small and don’t seem to publish much. The Rangers are the only one who might be able to compete in terms of “running around and shooting bad guys”, and they’re a bit too much infantry and not enough special forces to make that stick.

    But part of me wonders if it’s a deliberate ploy on the USN’s part for recruiting purposes. The prominence of the SEALs is going to draw a bunch of people into the Navy, but there are 4.8 sailors who graduate boot camp intending to be a SEAL for every one who actually earns their Trident. The other 3.8 are stuck in the Navy for the next few years (most wash out within the first ~four months) and can be reassigned to other ratings. Hopefully, they like the USN enough to stay in. And this number might well understate the case, because of people who contact the recruiter about being a SEAL, and then are steered into other career paths before they actually sign.

    This wouldn’t be hard to arrange, either. I don’t know exactly what the restrictions on publication and talking about your experiences are, but if the Navy is more willing to approve books and welcome documentary crews than, say, Delta is, then it wouldn’t be hard to create the situation we see today. The existence of the movie Act of Valor is strong evidence in favor of this theory. I suspect they were attempting to replicate the same effect they got from Top Gun, which suggests a long-term understanding of things at odds with their somewhat hit-and-miss recruiting ads.

    (In fairness, the SEALs push for publicity may have started as a means to get people into the SEALs, not the wider Navy. Before they became so prominent, it wasn't at all obvious that joining the Navy was a good choice for someone who wanted to fight on land, whereas the Army SOF components could draw from the pool who wanted infantry.)

  2. February 11, 2019dndnrsn said...

    I think you're bang on with the "photogenic" bit. I've pitched my semi-tongue-in-cheek "theory of military cool" to you before - painstakingly planned commando raids where doors are kicked in and bad guys are shot are just cooler than living in the bush training locals how to fight the bad guys, or tramping through the bush for weeks trying to figure out where the bad guys are. The golden question is "who gets to go home and shower first, so they don't smell bad?" It is possible to be cool while smelling bad, but it makes it harder. It doesn't even really matter what reality is, so much as what people think it is.

  3. February 11, 2019bean said...

    If I was feeling really cynical, I'd suggest that as important as how cool the missions sound is how easy it is for documentary crews to go in and observe them during training. The SEALs are easy. You drive from your nice hotel in San Diego over to Coronado, and stand around while the trainees get cold and wet in the Pacific, at least for Hell Week. During phase 2, men bobbing in the pool is also good TV. But nobody talks about Phase 3, because it involves going to San Clemente, where you might have to live in a tent. Rangers do a lot of their training in mountains and swamps, which are nasty, and the school itself is more focused on leadership than killing people. Delta would rather die than let a camera onto their training course, and people hiking through the woods is not as photogenic as people doing flutter kicks on the beach anyway. And the Q course is in the woods of North Carolina, where you have to worry about banjo-playing hicks.

  4. February 11, 2019Neal said...

    A drift over from the thread on airline safety...What is the Navy's mindset and procedural/structural approach to sleep/work cycles when at sea?

    A good chance that I misread the reporting on the accidents/incidents in the Western Pacific over the past couple years (McCain for example), but I had to ask if there is an intelligent approach to the duty/rest scheduling. Is it really as bad as it looks?

    I know, many are probably chuckling at this and thinking I am a bit naive. It is the military after all, with high ops tempos and lean-forward-in-the-saddle officers who would never dream of telling the command to either supply more personnel or back off on the mission requirements (we are nominally, at peace are we not?)

    Tradition, hard work, and all that however, eventually hit reality and science has demonstrably shown that shift work is tough enough. Rotating shift work is a recipe for problems of the first order.

    Sure, fatigue is not usually the primary causal factor in an accident or incident, but it is often underlying it.

    It will never be the Disney cruise, but are our forces afloat being set up for incidents by poor duty/rest rosters?

  5. February 11, 2019bean said...

    Naval aviation has absorbed the lessons we've learned over the last 50-60 years about fatigue, and basically follows the same rules that terrestrial aviation does. The rest of the navy doesn't. It's said that junior pilots brag about how much they sleep, and Surface Warfare Officers brag about how little they sleep. For instance, Chiefs don't hesitate to wake sailors up when they need them for working parties, or for an unscheduled 2 AM drill. A helicopter crew chief once told me that this caused some friction because they were immune to such things.

    Things are particularly bad out in the Seventh Fleet, because there you don't have the same deployment schedule you do in the main fleets, which ensure things like downtime, so they get worked super-hard. I think the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions were something of a wakeup call (no pun intended) but we'll have to see what actually comes out of it.

  6. February 11, 2019John Schilling said...

    Still more on the Fitzgerald collision. An awful lot of fatigue and sleep deprivation there, along with inadequate training and broken equipment. All of it driven by the focus on Operational Tempo Uber Alles, we need the Fitzgerald on station no matter the cost because we might have to fight the North Korean commie menace tomorrow.

    Now we know the cost.

    And it looks like what we got for that cost was pretty much nothing. Reading between the lines, it sounds like the Aegis integrated combat system had been at least partially nonfunctional on Fitzgerald since 2012, with the crew reduced to manually copying tracks over for engagement and illumination. Supporting evidence is that the Fitz’s reconstruction includes a complete replacement of the SPY-1D radar, which doesn’t seem necessary from the coillison damage alone. Without a working Aegis, a Burke contributes nothing worth mentioning to any war with North Korea; it just looks good in pictures.

  7. February 11, 2019bean said...

    Thanks for finding that. Rather scary stuff, with a crew that was undermanned, overstretched, and just not working that well together. I'm particularly unimpressed by the OOD, who failed on a lot of levels. And the material condition of the ship was appalling.

    I'm not sure that the software glitch since 2012 would necessitate replacing the SPY-1 radar, or that they were copying tracks manually. My guess is that they might not have had enough spares for repairing the array, and so decided to upgrade it, which also let them have more spares for the array Fitzgerald had.

    Benson commanded Guardian before Fitzgerald? I'm pretty sure he wasn't CO when she ran onto the reef, but it's certainly interesting.

    Also, there's an alternate way to do hyperlinks. If you enclose the link text in brackets, followed by the link itself in parenthesis, it does the same as the HTML tags, without the risk of losing a quotation mark somewhere.

  8. February 11, 2019bean said...

    The second part of the series is in many ways even more scary. While the problems were definitely worst with 7th Fleet, it looks like the USN as a whole has had problems for a long time. Some of the stories I'm seeing remind me of what I've heard of the 70s, although without the catastrophic morale problems. Mabus gets much of the blame, as he was apparently more interested in building ships than running them, probably because he could name more of them after Democrats. (Not that Spencer has been much better.) But in a lot of ways, the rot goes back to the Clinton years.

    All that said, we're hearing one side of the story from various people, and without a chance to review all the documentation, we don't know how strident they were being.

    Also, it says that Mabus's office (he's now a lobbyist) is decorated with "Navy honors". What on Earth is the Navy going to give him? I suspect that most sailors want only to give him their turds, particularly after the utter nonsense that was the elimination of ratings just before he left office.

  9. February 12, 2019Chuck said...


    I kind of thought the connection between SEAL publicity and Navy recruiting was just a known fact. As modern military recruiting has more to do with adventure than duty, clandestine insertions and high adrenaline sells better than watching your panels and sharing a bunk. Hell, you don't even have the romance of the big guns anymore, now the missiles leave almost on their own and do their business far over the horizon.

    I definitely also agree that the SEALs are an easy sell operationally since their missions are short and to the point, where other special forces have more nebulous objectives. (I'm reminded of my dad telling stories of dropping off special forces guys in Vietnam: sometimes your would go back out and get them weeks later, sometimes they would just walk back. What they were actually doing most of the time in the field was kind of up to them.) I am curious about these fictional sounding duties Air Force Special Tactics guys, the only ones I know offhand are combat air control and target illumination.


    As a former shiftworker, rotating shifts are fine if you stick to the schedule. The primary problem is somebody not on a shift says, "Well why can't this guy fill in?" and sets in motion a chain of events that screws you a week later.

  10. February 12, 2019bean said...

    I guess my bigger thesis is that the current image of the SEALs was deliberate created/supported by the Navy, not just to benefit that community but the Navy as a whole.

    I am curious about these fictional sounding duties Air Force Special Tactics guys, the only ones I know offhand are combat air control and target illumination.

    Well, you have the Combat Controllers, whose job is to basically be ATC in places where you might get shot. (They also do FAC work, but that's not really that remarkable.) You have the PJs, whose job is to go after wounded people. My hat is off to them, but it's not the most photogenic job. And then you have the special operations weather guys, whose job sounds fictional even to me.

  11. February 12, 2019Johan Larson said...

    I seem to remember reading something about SOCOM getting a lot more use than they had before. Something changed under the Obama administration, perhaps? Maybe the Special Forces were particularly suited to the sort of pin-point clandestine warfare that was needed to beat Al Qaeda. That could explain why the SEALs have more visibility than they used to.

  12. February 12, 2019Chuck said...

    I did not know about the Special Operations Weather teams. Of the ridiculous ideas that come to mind I am not sure which I like more, that "special weather reconnaissance" involves being landed on clouds to gather their secrets, or the mental picture of the SWOT guys humping a bluescreen out into the field so they can give a weather report behind enemy lines.

  13. February 12, 2019CatCube said...

    As funny as the concept of "Special Operations Weather Teams" is, that's really, really, really important stuff.

    I had an instructor at the US Army Engineer School back in 2005 who was SF during the 1991 Gulf War, and he told us that the job of his team was to infiltrate Iraq ahead of the main forces...and take soil samples. He said it seemed kind of lame at the time, but you seriously do not want to find the wrong soil type in front of your advance.

  14. February 12, 2019Johan Larson said...

    Some interesting stuff here about improved passenger safety in the US after after the 2009 Colgan Air crash led to changes in airline regs.

  15. February 12, 2019Chuck said...


    To clarify, I don't want to imply that Special Operations Weather is actually ridiculous, as I am sure it is vitally important. I think it's just that meteorology seems like such a benign occupation that one experiences a bit of incongruity to hear it combined with Special Forces operations.

  16. February 12, 2019cassander said...

    @Johan Larson said...

    The big change happened earlier. Rumsfeld changed JSOC from a supporting command to a supported command, which gave them a lot more opportunity to run their own show, and then they got a ton of money poured in during Iraq and Afghanistan to do manhunting missions. SOCOM expanded a lot in size during the war, which also helped, and they they got to go shoot bin laden, which cemented them as #1 Aeam: America, fuck yeah. There's a good book about the change, Naylor's Relentless Strike. He also has a US army heritage center lecture here that gets the main points.


  17. February 12, 2019Jade Nekotenshi said...

    Everything I'm reading about the condition of 7th Fleet surprises me not one iota. That's more or less how it was when I was still in, though not quite so bad. There was always money for shiny new gee-whiz tools that nobody used (and that didn't integrate with anything else), but never anything to maintain or upgrade anything we had - even such simple things as the LAN switches that were moldy oldies for which new spares were no longer available, and what replacements we got were being pulled off decommissioned Spru-cans or the Tarawas. On Ramage, one of our ATM LANE units carked it on deployment and I was forced to MacGyver a replacement until they could scare up one that had come off another ship that just upgraded. Most DDGs would not have had an IT1 who knew their way around that sort of thing - it was a stroke of blind luck that I did (I only knew it from non-Navy training).

    We had a number of other problems too. In fact, FC1 Rehm (who died on the Fitzgerald) was on Ramage with me at the time, and he was one of the folks who tried his level best to get them fixed, occasionally with some success. (Helped by having a very good FCCS and weapons officer, as well.) That's a fairly bitter irony, IMHO.

    Equipment wasn't the only issue. Manning on Ramage was terrible, and I was told it wasn't much better elsewhere. We were down to 249 sailors at one point. The Commo (a mustang who had been an IT) was standing day watch in radio while the chief was doing far more than his expected share of hands-on work. Ask anyone who was there about the fiasco that was Joint Warrior 2009. Meanwhile, they continued to pull personnel for individual augmentee assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    On shore, in the contracts world, there's no money to upgrade something as straightforward as a time and attendance program except in accordance with the cap-feathering-and-bling-bling-adding program (which does SFA to address the things that actually need addressing).

    And yet, somehow, in all this, we manage to build two 15000-ton white elephants and a bunch of oversized light corvettes that do precisely nothing squared, for how many billions with nothing to show for it? Ei perkele!

  18. February 13, 2019dndnrsn said...


    For some reason, the public pays an inordinate amount of attention to basic training. Despite "Full Metal Jacket" and the sources it's based on being, at a minimum, not incredibly positive about war, I'd be willing to bet that the training scenes helped recruiting. The idea that Marine training is uniquely hellish undoubtedly attracts the sort of people who want to be the baddest asses around.

    For a while, during UFC events they ran footage for some online course where UFC fighters would go to one or another sort of USMC training and do some kind of running around in the woods and hitting each other with those padded staves and so forth. Catchline was "when elite cagefighters meet elite warfighters." At least it's easier to sell this as badass than the period where Corn Nuts was a UFC sponsor, and had to be presented in such a way that the audience would think a brand of toasted corn snack was masculine and in some way connected to fighting. ("Corn Nuts: Corn to the Core")

  19. February 13, 2019bean said...


    I very much enjoy both of those images.


    I know that kind of stuff is important, but it's also very amusing to think about. Although that is a pretty impressive image of the M88 buried like that.


    And yet, somehow, in all this, we manage to build two 15000-ton white elephants and a bunch of oversized light corvettes that do precisely nothing squared, for how many billions with nothing to show for it?

    You mean three 15000-ton white elephants, don't you? I blame the Maine congressional delegation and Ray Mabus.

  20. February 15, 2019CatCube said...


    I was trying to find the image found in a video here, because it's a way better illustration, but I misremembered the mired vehicle as an M113 so the few minutes I was willing to devote to finding an image ran out and I just grabbed the first good picture of a mired vehicle that I could find.

  21. February 16, 2019gbdub said...

    I mean, the Navy is the branch that gave us Top Gun (and The Few, the Proud, the Marines). Plus a ton of documentaries where they give lots of access to carriers. For whatever reason they seem to be the best at marketing themselves, so using the SEALs to bolster recruiting is no surprise.

    I think part of it is that the basic training (BUDS) is so photogenic. Nobody can really show their classified missions or their "real" training, but Hell Week has nothing sensitive, just a bunch of Type A dudes being utterly broke in the sand and surf. BUDS has gotten a ton of coverage in both documentaries and fiction (Remember G.I. Jane?).

    Delta and the 82nd got a lot of coverage around Black Hawk Down, and of course the Green Berets were the O.G. public face of Spec Ops.

  22. February 20, 2019Johan Larson said...

    In 1986, Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager flew around the world on one tank of gas. But what if you could do it on zero tanks of gas? It may just be possible.

    It looks like it would be possible to fly around the world in a glider, a heaver-than-air aircraft without an engine. The idea is to follow the jetstream, a band of fast-moving air that goes around the world. This difference in air speeds makes it possible to use a technique called dynamic soaring to stay up indefinitely in a glider.

  23. February 20, 2019bean said...

    That would be kind of a neat trick, although I have questions about the practical utility that they trot out in the article. The jet streams only cover a limited area, and they move, so using this to put up the equivalent of a satellite won't really work. I was also going to question if this would count as a circumnavigation, but it appears that aviation records don't have the provision nautical ones do for passing through both hemispheres.

  24. February 20, 2019bean said...

    I just realized that Monday was the 2-year anniversary of the first post in what became Naval Gazing. Wow. Has it really been that long?

  25. February 20, 2019redRover said...

    This was an interesting though well trodden piece on the decline and fall of the modern German military.


    Of note, they seem to be down to 12 or 13 operational attack helicopters, and perhaps 40 Eurofighters.

    Besides the obvious operational and power projection problems that this poses for Germany, it causes me to re-up a question from a while ago: how large a piece of US force would you need to conquer Germany today? A single MEF?

  26. February 20, 2019bean said...

    That's more than a little sickening. Germany should have every appreciation of the benefits of keeping the bad guys away from your borders, and everyone over the age of 40, who remembers when WWIII was supposed to break out in their back yard, should be ashamed of what they've let their military become.

    At this point, I think you could do it with the staff from Parris Island.

  27. February 21, 2019Chuck said...

    I was not aware of how dysfunctional the German military was. The most telling part to me seems to be that in terms of spending, Germany is on par with France and the United Kingdom, both of whom seem to be fielding functional and effective forces and are actively engaged in operations abroad. (To compare, the Bundeswehr has about 3400 soldiers in active foreign deployments, the UK 11,000, and in keeping with tradition the French have 36,000.) So I guess the question is why aren't the Germans getting any bang for their buck?

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