March 25, 2019

Open Thread 22

It's time once again for our biweekly open thread. Talk about whatever you wish.

I recently was pointed to a pair of NYT articles from 1982 about the reactivation of the Iowas. While both parts are pretty long, they're worth reading for an understanding of contemporary public thought on the reactivation, particularly the political side. They're not much good for naval history or practice, and I feel a strong compulsion to cover them in annotations, but I'm glad I found them.

Overhauled posts since last time include both parts of my ride on the America, Thoughts on Tour Guiding, The Early Battlecruisers, Why do we need so many ships? and Anti-Submarine Warfare in WWI.


  1. March 25, 2019Cayzle said...

    First time posting, hope this is the right place ... I'm looking for recommendations for books or websites that have information about ships and navigation in antiquity, specifically Phoenician, Carthaginian, Greek, and Roman exploration and trade, especially in the Atlantic. I'm especially interested in developments possibly allowing travel out of sight of land -- for example, what does the Antikythera mechanism imply about the likelihood of sophisticated navigational instrumentation that was perhaps lost until rediscovery 2,000 years later? Many thanks in advance.

  2. March 25, 2019ADifferentAnonymous said...

    @Cayzle I'd try on slatestarcodex (latest open thread here. This blog started as a series of long comments on those threads, and usually someone there will have an opinion on a topic like that.

  3. March 25, 2019bean said...


    Welcome, and I'm glad you're here. The SSC open thread is indeed somewhat more likely to have someone who has more direct knowledge of the issue. My knowledge of ships before the development of gunpowder is fairly limited. Someone (I think it was cassander) recommended a book called Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World, but I haven't picked up a copy yet.

    That said, I'm willing to speculate based on what I do know. While it's theoretically possible to navigate oceans without the benefit of compass, as the Polynesians and Vikings did, it's hard to do, and the seafaring community of the Mediterranean would have had to make a big psychological jump to try open-ocean sailing. The Med has lots of good features for primitive sailors. The weather is generally good, the winds are predictable (they were used as a sort of primitive compass, because the wind from a given direction had specific characteristics) and you're never going to need to go too far before you see a piece of coastline you recognize, making errors easy to correct. None of these are true in the North Atlantic. As for the Antikythera mechanism, navigation instruments are, while not unrelated to the calendar, not that closely linked, either. Even the most primitive celestial navigation instruments weren't developed for another millennia, partially because there was no need in the Med.

  4. March 25, 2019cassander said...

    So at long last we're getting frickin destroyer with frickin laser beams on it. We should celebrate. And Bean should write something about the history of direct energy weapons on warships, or maybe that plus railguns and other next gen ship weapons.

  5. March 25, 2019bean said...

    Interesting. I haven't been following the laser weaponry stuff that closely over the past few years, and I'm glad it's working out. I do find it interesting that the crew of Ponce found out that laser also made a great tool for surveillance. The space warfare community knew that 10 years ago.

  6. March 25, 2019Kyzentun said...

    HELIOS builds on equally contrived acronyms, ATHENA and ALADIN, that Lockheed built at its own expense to develop the technology.

    Is there going to be a post in the SYWTBAMN series about designing appropriate acronym technology for your navy?

    typo: German Guided Bombs 4 has "Keh-Strasbourg" in one place. Footnote 3 has "superhetrodyne" instead of "superheterodyne".

  7. March 25, 2019Andrew Hunter said...

    So let me propose a ship, and you tell me why this would go badly. I sort of brought this up a while ago on SSC in a discussion of the current missile defense environment but I didn't get a clear answer. As I say I'm pretty sure this is a bad idea (because someone would build it!) but I'm not clear why.

    Lay down a hull of, I don't know, 25,000 tons? 30,000? Not full Iowa size, but capital. Stick a carrier reactor or two in there for range and power; target something like 33 knots. For armament, give it one triple 16'' turret (with about as much ammo as an Iowa carries, total), and a Arleigh Burke's VLS (and radar, of course.) The VLS carries nothing but Standards; don't bother with Harpoons or Tomahawks. Armor it like a decent sized battleship, though maybe a little light/imbalanced.

    This ship is expensive, and of course would require tooling up capabilities we've lost entirely, but it's totally possible, I think. Certainly no more expensive (modulo remembering how to make armor and turrets?) than a carrier, probably less. Now take this ship, owned by, say, the breakaway California Republic, and point it at a US carrier battle group. What happens?

    Given your description of the effective countermissile environment enabled by a Aegis-level system, could anything the battle group has sink her? Even if they land a lucky hit with a Harpoon, wouldn't the armor just shrug it off? (Though I suppose the radar is vulnerable, but John's discussed various plans to harden radar or at least move the important components to defensible positions.) Now, the offensive armament has pitiful range compared to the battle group...but so what? Wouldn't we be able to sail straight at the carrier, ignoring any missile attack, until we made it to 20 miles out and ripped her to shreds with five rounds rapid? It's certainly not like the carrier can possibly defend or survive heavy gunfire once we get in range.

    This seems obviously wrong, since no one's built it, but I'm not clear what the hole is. (Submarine attack, presumably, but it's no more vulnerable than the carrier is, right?) Very heavy supersonic missiles, maybe, though you've seemed dismissive of the Russian heavy missile threats against carriers, and I'm not clear how we're any more vulnerable.

    Anyway why does this not work?

  8. March 26, 2019bean said...

    Is there going to be a post in the SYWTBAMN series about designing appropriate acronym technology for your navy?

    Probably not. The Muse has not been asking me to do work on that series for quite a while, and unless she asks for it again, I'm unlikely to return. Also, I hate contrived acronyms.

    typo: German Guided Bombs 4 has “Keh-Strasbourg” in one place. Footnote 3 has “superhetrodyne” instead of “superheterodyne”.

    Ack. I will have to chastise the proofreading staff.


    That's not entirely unlike a Kirov, but the basic reason we don't see more ships of that kind is that they often lie in a bad place on the cost/capability curve. This example in particular appears to be relying entirely on the 16" guns for anti-surface firepower, which is a bad decision on several levels. 33 kts doesn't give you enough speed advantage over the targets to be able to run them down effectively. I'd guess that the correct answer is running away until you can get enough missiles or a submarine to deal with this ship. And that assumes you can find the targets in the first place, without your helicopter getting shot down. And if you do run the ships down, they're likely to start throwing ESSMs and Standards at you, which are well-adapted to doing damage to even reasonably robust radar systems.

    The situation gets worse when we consider peacetime roles. Again, no Tomahawks means no deep strike capability, which means that in a lot of roles, this is less useful than a destroyer which costs a lot less. You'd have some shore-bombardment ability, but that requires bringing a very expensive vessel in close. It'll be good at presence, but there are a lot cheaper ways to get that, and they often bring more actual capability, too.

  9. March 26, 2019Suvorov said...

    Anyway why does this not work?

    I am going to stick my neck out and guess that it wouldn't be useless. (In fact, it sounds like the hybrid offspring of a Kirov-class battlecruiser and an Iowa-class battleship...) As part of a fleet, I think it could be a formidable anti-surface combatant, and even if you don't use the guns against ships, they would be good for fire support.

    But, if you were the California Republic, and you pointed that ship at me (and I was the commander of the U.S. Navy carrier battle fleet) I would run away and launch all my fighters at you with repeat Harpoon runs until your VLS cells were exhausted and then overwhelm your point-defense. If you have 200 Standards, I should be able to run you out of missiles (x4 Harpoons a Super Hornet) with 50 fighters, no sweat. And even if your CIWS is amazing, or I run out of Harpoons, I could probably drop dumb iron bombs on your once your Standards are exhausted until I smash everything important.

    The main problem with this plan, I think, is that my carrier probably doesn't typically carry that many Harpoons! In that case, though, I could substitute ship-launched Harpoons and Standards from my escorts, then finish you off with bombs once your magazines ran dry.

    One note on submarine attack: as I understand it, it's hard to attack carriers in part because they can steam around at pretty high speeds, and it's hard for a submarine to get close to them and set up an attack run. But if you're charging at my carrier battle group at 30+ knots and I have a submarine in my battle group, I'm just going to lure your noisy battleship into a firing solution for my sub. Since carriers don't have to close within 20 miles to launch their attacks, they're not nearly as vulnerable to this sort of a trap.

    So, it seems to me that the ship is really scary, of the sort that I have to focus a lot of my fire on, but also of the sort that probably isn't being built because anyone wanting to deter a carrier battle group can buy a lot of cheaper investments (submarines, anti-ship missiles) that are harder to find and kill. (I admit that it could be hard to find a ship as fast as your battleship, but if it's running from the carrier battlegroup it's not engaging and destroying it.)

    If you put the investment into escorting this ship to proof it against concentrated air and submarine attack, you've probably built something equivalently expensive to a small carrier battle group of your own (and much more expensive than 6 Swedish submarines, which seems to be the starter kit for sea-denial...)

    That's my .02, but I'll be interested to hear what others think.

  10. March 26, 2019AlphaGamma said...

    @Bean- It did also remind me of a Kirov, and there are reasons why the Russians armed those with missiles rather than guns.

  11. March 26, 2019ADifferentAnonymous said...

    Assuming your adversary notices you building this ship, they could avoid the hassle of coordinating with a submarine and just rig some antiship torpedoes on destroyers, right? The mk48 torpedo appears to outrange the mk7 16" gun by a bit even before you take the closing target into account, which would nearly double effective torpedo range.

  12. March 26, 2019DampOctopus said...

    Could an Aegis vessel defend itself against 16" shells? The 820 m/s muzzle velocity of an Iowa's main guns is actually slower than some anti-ship missiles. On the other hand, a shell is more robust. On the gripping hand, shells are cheaper than either offensive or defensive missiles.

    A lot depends on whether Aegis is smart enough to identify which shells are likely to hit, and only target those. Probably not something it's been designed to do.

  13. March 26, 2019bean said...


    Keep in mind that torpedoes are slow relative to their targets. So if the ship gets warning of your torpedo being inbound, it’s going to maneuver to evade, and that rather messes up your firing solution. I’d give good odds that a ship with even a mediocre sonar could probably evade heavy torpedoes to within 20 nm or so.


    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that capability existed today (because they do missile defense, which requires very much the same sort of calculation) and if they don’t have it, it’s certainly something they could add to the software. I’d give very good odds that it could be developed and fielded based on the knowledge that this ship is coming well before the ship in question actually enters service. I believe the British tested the Sea Wolf point-defense SAM against shells, and it worked reasonably well, so I see no reason Aegis couldn't be very effective against similar targets.

  14. March 26, 2019quanticle said...

    I'm not sure if it's already been discussed here, but allegedly, China is close to arming a ship with a electromagnetic railgun. No word yet on performance, or barrel wear, or energy requirements.

    As I understand it, the US Navy tested railguns as a proposed armament type for the Zumwalt-class destroyer, but decided not to go ahead with those because of cost concerns.

  15. March 26, 2019quanticle said...

    As a follow-up, how does the viability of the proposed super-Kirov above change if we replace the 16" guns with electromagnetic railguns? After all, one of the advantages of being nuclear powered is that you can easily generate the electricity required to power an array of railguns, something that diesel-powered destroyers have trouble doing.

  16. March 26, 2019bean said...

    I wouldn't expect an LST to be the operational platform for a rail gun, so if that's true (that article is a year old, and I haven't heard anything since then) then it's a testbed for a version that is more like the one that will eventually go to sea. This might put them slightly ahead of the USN, but it's not likely to be in wide use tomorrow. The USN does similar stuff all the time, with the Self-Defense Test Ship. (On a related note, I'd give good odds that the SDTS gets the laser, not an operational destroyer.)

    Electricity generation, particularly on that scale, isn't really a function of propulsion type so much as of engineering plant layout. Nuclear is good if you want to power something like radar, which needs to be operational for days or weeks, but in this case, you might well be better off with gas turbines, which are a lot cheaper. But these days, integrated electric propulsion is the way of the future, and that means lots of juice for such things.

    The railgun helps. Longer range is good, because it gives a lot more options for getting close enough to the target, but I still think finding the target is going to be a serious challenge.

  17. March 26, 2019quanticle said...

    Finding the target is going to be a problem if you're engaging the carrier in open ocean, where the carrier has nearly free maneuver, and this ship has zero support.

    But what if we relax those assumptions? The Russians had a policy of using long range patrol and reconnaissance aircraft (converted Bear bombers) to hunt for carriers, which would then be targeted by high-speed/low-endurance strike assets (Backfires slinging cruise missiles).

    Would something similar work here? Set up a picket line of railgun equipped ships, with (possibly expendable) land-based reconnaissance assets providing targeting data. Even if you can't use this tactic to hard-kill the carrier, you might still make it difficult enough for the carrier to maneuver that you get a mission-kill.

    It's somewhat similar to what China is doing with its A2/AD strategy with ballistic missiles, but moving railgun equipped ship could potentially be a lot harder to find and kill with a B-2 than a land-based ballistic missile launch site.

  18. March 26, 2019cassander said...

    @andrew hunter

    I don't have to sink your proposed ship. I can blast apart the superstructure, which you can't armor, destroy the sensors, and transform it into a very expensive yacht. A yacht that's probably on fire. A modern ship, with a modern sensor suite, is much more vulnerable to this sort of attack than battleships were.

  19. March 26, 2019Suvorov said...

    In theory, couldn't you use RORSAT to cue an optical spy satellite (for target confirmation) and take the railgun shots based on the location data? Once you know where the carrier is, firing the spread is just math, and I'm not convinced that everyone shoots each other's satellites down first thing in a hot war.

    I don't know what the Chinese or Russians have, but I wouldn't be surprised if the U.S. had the capability to locate a carrier and track it from space within a reasonable amount of time.

    (Obvious complications include the weather, and possibly satellite coverage.)

  20. March 26, 2019John Schilling said...

    I'm not seeing what the Super-Kirov gets from the 16" gun turret. For the size and weight of that turret I could put in 150 P-270 "Moskit" anti-ship missiles with vastly greater range and accuracy, same terminal velocity, twice the explosive payload, and the ability to saturate enemy defenses with a salvo size >>3. Or if we're imagining Americans doing this, at least 300 LRASMs, slower but stealthy and with a heavier warhead and swappable with Tomahawks for land attack.

    And at that point, the question is why are you insisting on putting all those offensive eggs in one basket, that can be mission-killed by as little as one missile slipping through and taking down the main radar? Or a 65cm torpedo exploding under the keel.

    For EMI reasons, you can't use more than a single Aegis-equivalent combat suite on a single ship at the same time, with maybe four big illuminator dishes or a high-frequency phased array with maybe eight electronically-steerable beams. That's a useful capability, so you do that. Then you do it again, on a separate ship, and again and again and again, until you run out of money for building major surface combatants. Then you take whatever offensive missiles you think you need, and you divide them across that fleet. There's no reason for this to ever result in a ship of much over 10,000 tons(*). If you find yourself with a 20,000 ton ship, you probably should have built two of half that size.

    To justify a ship of more than 10,000 tons, you need something extremely useful that you can't put even one implementation of on a smaller ship. And large naval guns are no longer useful.

    • 10,000 tons is enough for an Aegis suite on a hull with good speed, endurance, and seakeeping and ~2 of everything else on your wish list of things a surface combatant should have.
  21. March 26, 2019quanticle said...

    In theory, couldn’t you use RORSAT to cue an optical spy satellite (for target confirmation) and take the railgun shots based on the location data? Once you know where the carrier is, firing the spread is just math, and I’m not convinced that everyone shoots each other’s satellites down first thing in a hot war.

    That's been one of the chief arguments of the "carriers are obsolete" crowd. The argument is that long-range high-precision ballistic weapons combined with satellite surveillance make it infeasible for carriers to operate anywhere near an enemy coastline.

    I'm not so sure, personally. The trouble with satellites is that they can't loiter and track continuously. What you get from a satellite is a "snapshot" that shows you the current position of the carrier battle group, plus a very rough estimate of its bearing. And given that satellites are fairly easy to track, it's not difficult for ships to maneuver deceptively to throw off satellite estimates of their speed and direction of travel.

    In my view, what a satellite pass gives you is a snapshot of the carrier's location, but you still have to follow up with other assets to nail down the carrier's speed and heading. Without that information, all you'll end up doing is punching holes in the surface of the ocean.

    In theory a ballistic missile or railgun-launched projectile could be "smart" enough to do its own target acquisition and terminal guidance, given a very general location. In practice, I'm not sure how feasible it is to do precision course corrections when you're coming down at hypersonic speeds. (And that's leaving aside any and all ABM capabilities possessed by Aegis cruisers.)

  22. March 26, 2019quanticle said...

    As a follow-up, I think China understands this. My interpretation of their continued militarization of the sandbars and atolls in the South China sea is that they're creating a network of bases to allow patrol aircraft (and, in the future, patrol UAVs) to establish near total surveillance of waters that China considers vital to its national interests, thus making it much more of a risk for the US to repeat what it did in 1996, where two carrier battle groups sailed right down the Taiwan straits in a show of force intended to deter Chinese hostilities against Taiwan.

  23. March 26, 2019bean said...

    The problems of finding ships at sea have been discussed here before. Basically, the problem on that front is that the super-Kirov has a major disadvantage relative to a carrier. A slightly late picture is fine when you're an airborne platform looking for ships. You have a long radar horizon and are much faster. But when you're a ship up against ships with an organic airborne platform, things are rather different. They're always going to have the advantage over you in terms of visibility.

  24. March 26, 2019Wiggles said...


    If i remember correctly the US-A RORSATs would orbit in pairs, so that the second satellite would follow the groundtrack of the first after a short delay. This let the system estimate speed heading as well as location by comparing the position of the targets across two measurements.

    There was also the US-P series of ELINT satellites that tracked vessels by tracking radio emissions, these also operated in pairs, but at a higher altitude than the US-A series.

  25. March 26, 2019redRover said...


    , it’s not difficult for ships to maneuver deceptively to throw off satellite estimates of their speed and direction of travel

    For immediate targeting purposes yes, for general drift and direction, less so, especially if you can get a series of quick images. Like, if you find a carrier group off of Chile pointed south, and the next day you find them off Peru pointed south and so on, you can kind of guess where they're going on a time scale of days and roughly where you should be putting your sensors and aircraft tomorrow.

    I also think that the increasing number of low cost mini-sats will start to change this as persistent surveillance becomes more feasible. This article suggests that a startup can image the a decent portion of the earth every day at 3 meter resolutions. For a better funded nation-state, 3 hour surveillance windows, or less, seems feasible, especially if you're targeting a small(ish) area of ocean. (i.e. China is probably sort of interested in the Med, but for this sort of thing they would probably put most of their surveillance capability over the South China Sea.)

  26. March 26, 2019bean said...

    China is probably sort of interested in the Med, but for this sort of thing they would probably put most of their surveillance capability over the South China Sea

    Unfortunately, satellites don't really work that way. If you want good resolution, you have to be low, and that in turn means your satellite is going to wander all over the globe. Getting 3-hour coverage in the South China Sea is going to mean you'll pretty much have to build a constellation capable of 3-hour coverage everywhere at the relevant latitudes. And there are things like weather to consider. And that 3-meter resolution is impressive, but probably not impressive enough to counter a military that wants to play games with you.

  27. March 26, 2019redRover said...


    Point taken re orbits.

    And that 3-meter resolution is impressive, but probably not impressive enough to counter a military that wants to play games with you.

    I think it depends what you're using the data for. It makes counting planes on the ramp difficult, because you can probably mock up tin models or inflatables or whatever easily enough, but a 1000' ship in the middle of the ocean is either a carrier, or perhaps some very large freighter/tanker. Even if you try to jam the optical sensors with a smoke screen or whatever, you're still creating a datum that something was there, be it a destroyer or a plane or what have you, and I'm skeptical that you can create a smokescreen big enough to reliably hide a carrier from a plane.

  28. March 26, 2019bean said...

    There are plenty of container ships approximately the size of an aircraft carrier these days. The wiki article on largest container ships lists 71, and the shortest is ~100' longer than the Ford. With some careful positioning of the ship and a special paint job, I don’t think it’s a stretch to be mistaken for one when going up against a 3-meter resolution satellite and an AI. And this assumes that the satellite isn’t blinded by the laser on one of the escorting Burkes.

  29. March 26, 2019redRover said...

    Re the Super-Kirov, aren't you basically re-creating the arsenal ship/original DDG-1000 concept, but with a gun instead of VLS?

    I think the SSGNs are a better implementation of that idea, though they suffer from the same coordination/sensor problems that any sub does.

  30. March 26, 2019redRover said...


    this assumes that the satellite isn’t blinded by the laser on one of the escorting Burkes.

    I'm not exactly sure how the sensors work, but I think the laser has the same problem with the smoke screen. Unless you permanently disable/mission kill the satellite, you're still creating a datum that says "something that can shoot a laser is here". It may not be the carrier, but it's not a cruise ship either. If you can permanently mission kill the satellite, rather than dazzle or blind it, that's of course a different story, but then you're not really hiding from the satellites so much as shooting them down.

    With some careful positioning of the ship and a special paint job, I don’t think it’s a stretch to be mistaken for one when going up against a 3-meter resolution satellite.

    Are you saying a carrier pretending to be a merchant ship to avoid scrutiny, or a merchant ship pretending to be a carrier to draw resources from the real carrier?

  31. March 26, 2019bean said...

    It’s been a while since I did much with laser weaponry, but I’ve done some poking around, and even using very conservative estimates, you’re going to get substantial heating on the satellite, which means that if the beam is in the visible range, you’re not going to be seeing much. I can’t quantify it more than that without doing a lot more work. John Schilling might know.

    And I think that a carrier could probably at least raise enough questions about its identity to make manual classification necessary, and that's going to introduce a big delay in the kill chain, which is very good for the carrier.

  32. March 26, 2019redRover said...


    If you're trying to mission kill them, then why do it over the threat area? Why not put a set of lasers in Mongolia or Arizona or whatever and then just nuke them as they come over that horizon? It seems like that would be faster/easier and not require the Burke to disclose their capabilities.

    And I think that a carrier could probably at least raise enough questions about its identity to make manual classification necessary, and that’s going to introduce a big delay in the kill chain, which is very good for the carrier.

    I think it depends how you're trying to use the satellites. If you want an automated end to end targeting system, I agree. However, per your earlier post about why carriers aren't dead, and some of the other things, I don't think satellites would be used or useful for weapon targeting data because of the latency issues, unless a launch platform has unexpectedly snuck into range of the carrier group. As such, the satellite data is more cueing data to establish a datum for real time platforms like an E-2 or a Bear to start their search from. Given the delay in getting an E-2 to the area that the satellite identified, I think that putting a man in the loop for three minutes doesn't really change the math that much. (i.e. even if you set the parameters pretty loose, say everything >800' in your area of interest, that's still not that many targets for a team of five or ten people to run through in as long as it takes to taxi to the far end of the runway.)

    Also, I think width/beam is going to be the easiest thing for the satellites to cue on. The largest container ships are all about 190' wide, versus 250'-260' for a carrier, and while you might be able to hide that in one frame, I think that spoofing the width/overhead outline is going to be hard for a carrier. A container ship decoy could probably have something dinky welded up to look like the carrier from overhead pretty easily, but shrinking the width of the carrier to look like a container ship seems non-trivial. (Again assuming that the satellites are functional.)

  33. March 26, 2019bean said...

    First, what I'm proposing is the equivalent of shining a really bright light into your eyes in a darkened room to keep you from seeing what else is going on. This doesn't necessarily have to be to the level that will actually blind you. As for why not put the dazzler in Arizona, it's because the satellite can quite easily look away when it's over Arizona. Yes, you could build an actual satellite-killer there, and that might be easier, but it's a very different proposition.

    And the ability to fool/confuse the system is going to be very dependent on a lot of details about how it works that neither of us has a good grasp on. You know when the satellite is going to be overhead, so you can chose which orientation you show to it. This makes painting it so that it looks like a container ship to the satellite much easier. I suspect that you'll need a fair bit of off-nadir capability to get your constellation down to a reasonable size, which means that with careful ship handling, they won't be getting the nice, clean overhead views.

  34. March 26, 2019Andrew Hunter said...

    @John - my theory about using 16''s instead of the missiles on my Kirov (which was the main thought) was various claims I've seen here and on SSC that a Kirov couldn't actually land shots on a modern warship, hence the main thrust of the question. My assumption was that those were unstoppable (though it is, now that its' been brought up, very interesting to wonder if the shells could be shot down effectively.)

  35. March 26, 2019John Schilling said...

    Anything that can shoot down a P-270 "Moskit" can shoot down a 16" shell. The 16" shell is slower, and it flies a high predictable ballistic arc, and the heavier construction will make little difference against a ~2000 m/s impact. Claims that a Kirov could not "land shots" on a modern warship are I think wrong, based on oversimplified math, but if there is any truth to them it is because a Kirov can "only" manage a 20-missile salvo. If you don't insist on the 600+ km range of the Kirov's P-700 "Granit" system, you can put a bigger salvo in a smaller package and overwhelm most any practical single-ship defense. Three- or even nine-gun salvos would be a step in the wrong direction.

  36. March 27, 2019DampOctopus said...

    A thought experiment: what if naval shells had the same range as missiles? In this scenario, guns may become a viable option: even if they require a big ship, and can only fire a few rounds at a time, they let you use a steady trickle of fire to run down your enemy's reserve of SAMs. As long as shells are cheaper than SAMs, this is a good exchange.

    I wonder if it's possible to emulate this: to make cheap decoy missiles to soak up enemy SAMs. They'd need to have the same flight characteristics as your real anti-ship missiles, and to look the same on radar, but maybe you can make them both smaller and less stealthy so they have a similar radar cross-section. They don't need a warhead, or a radar. They might need radio comms so they can be directed by a nearby real missile: think of each real missile being surrounded by a handful of these decoys to protect it against SAMs.

    Of course, the rest of a missile (engine, body, control surfaces) isn't exactly cheap. And even if these decoys can be made cheaply, you start being limited by VLS capacity again. But, if they're cheap enough, they're still better than going to sea with empty cells.

  37. March 27, 2019bean said...


    That's basically the idea behind railguns et al. With guidance and enough range, you start to get a weapon that might be a viable replacement for missiles in a lot of circumstances.

    Re decoy missiles, it's theoretically possible, and there are even similar devices in service, but fooling modern radars isn't easy, and I wouldn't be surprised if a "bigger RCS, smaller size" decoy could be told apart fairly easily. At which point you're into sophisticated electronics, and that drives your price right up.

  38. March 27, 2019quanticle said...

    One of the problems with giving guns the same range as missiles is that, in practice, it's the guidance package that's expensive, not the rocket motor. So, in practice, any shell that can hit a moving target at a range of, say, a hundred miles is going to be similar in cost to the equivalent missile.

    As I understand it, this is what put a damper on the USN's love affair with railguns. The promised cost savings over missiles never really materialized, and railguns had issues like barrel wear that imposed other costs that weren't present with missiles.

    As much as I want to see a sci-fi weapon like electromagnetic railguns in practice, it just doesn't look like they're cost effective (yet).

  39. March 27, 2019bean said...

    The guidance package isn’t always the expensive part. A JDAM is only about $20,000. That sounds like a lot, but in military terms, it’s remarkably cheap. With sufficient volume, you could probably get a shell down to a little bit over that. (A JDAM is a bomb, which doesn’t have to withstand thousands of Gs.) Whereas the hot bits of a missile aren’t really likely to come down in price. That said, there are a couple of drawbacks:

    1. The USN so far has managed to thoroughly mess up every guided-shell procurement program they’ve set up, mostly by awarding them to BAE. That said, there’s been some good news on the HVP front, so they may have finally cracked it.

    2. The cheap bombs tend to be GPS-only, or maybe GPS/laser. This is great if you know exactly where the thing you want to blow up is, but has obvious limitations when shooting at, say, ships.

    3. No gun under discussion is all that big, which limits the size of projectile you can get. LRLAP was going to be 225 lb, with a 25 lb bursting charge. This is fine if you want to snipe a tank, but it’s going to get expensive if you need to work over a big camp. NavWeps has the railgun at around 35 lb for the projectile as a whole. I sure wouldn’t want to get hit by one, but for area targets, you’re sure not replacing missiles 1 to 1.

  40. March 27, 2019ADifferentAnonymous said...

    How much of an impediment is 3? For the DampOctopus paradigm to work, the shell only has to be big enough that saving your SAMs while a steady trickle of shells hit your ship isn't viable.

  41. March 27, 2019bean said...

    3 is more of an issue for shore bombardment than it is for ships, but I thought it worth mentioning under the heading of "problems with guided projectiles". The killer with ships is #2.

  42. March 28, 2019beleester said...

    Random question about etymology: How did naval lingo come to use "fight" to mean "fight with" rather than "fight against"? E.g., to "fight the ship" doesn't mean that the ship is an enemy, it means to command your own ship to fight. It seems like a weird turn of phrase, though it's always clear from context.

  43. March 28, 2019bean said...

    No clue at all. Sorry. It is an interesting quirk of naval vocabulary, and one I've sometimes had to edit out because it's too likely to cause confusion.

  44. March 28, 2019Lambert said...

    'When reported in British newspapers, the linguistic construction for talking to other ships at sea drops the preposition and retains the determiner: "Spoke the schooner Eliza" and "spoke a brig off Cape Henry" (both 1820). In US newspapers, the determiner disappears too: "spoke brig Charles" and "spoke schr. Dart" (also 1820).'

    --A history nerd I once knew

    Could be a related linguistic quirk: dropping a preposition?

  45. March 29, 2019quanticle said...

    I was wondering what you all made of this article, which argues that the Navy should focus on big-deck amphibious combat ships rather than new aircraft carriers.

    On the one hand, it makes sense to me, since I don't think the Navy will ever have funding to build enough carrier battle groups to allow them to in all the places they'll need to be. On the other hand, that article seems to be unduly pessimistic about the survivability of a Ford-class aircraft carrier in a high-intensity conflict.

    Regardless, I found the article interesting and thought provoking, and I'd be interested to read others' thoughts on the topic.

  46. March 29, 2019AlphaGamma said...

    On the naval sense of 'fight', the OED actually has it first used on land, by John Burgoyne (yes, that Burgoyne) in 1779, where he talks about his "intention of fighting [his] own regiment as colonel". It continued in use to describe command on land until at least the American Civil War, where General Lee said that General A.P. Hill "fights his troops well".

    This may be related to the earlier meaning of causing a person or animal (such as a gamecock) to fight on your behalf, which goes back at least to the 17th century.

  47. March 29, 2019bean said...


    Oh, dear. Let’s see how many problems we can count:

    1. He’s playing buzzword bingo. This is never a good thing. It is possible to express these ideas in plain English, and a refusal to do so is never a good sign.

    2. He’s citing Retreat from Range. Instant two strikes in my book because of how horribly the author mishandled his numbers. (I’m not going to give details now, but look for a post on this at some point.)

    3. Wait, are all of his cites to Proceedings his own articles? OK, not all, but a lot.

    4. No, an LHD is not the same thing as a CVL. It can’t carry AWACS, and if you’re going to complain about the short ranges of the current carrier wings (while not understanding that the MQ-25 is the right tool to solve these) you have no business advocating for the F-35B, which will make things much, much worse.

    5. Wait, he’s proposing what? A bunch of 8,000-ton well deck frigates? I’d love to see a weight breakdown of one of those.

    6. I find it interesting that the article has been purged of any mention of the author’s status as a retired Marine Lt. Col.

  48. March 29, 2019Philistine said...


    To that article, I would point out that big-deck CVs are considered by navies around the world to be extremely useful things to have around and well worth the requisite (admittedly enormous) investment. Apart from the US, those include the French, the Indians, the British (who are now getting back into the game after previously getting out in the 1970s), the Russians (who are only out now because they lost the only drydock they had which was large enough to refit their only CV)... And also the Chinese, who I believe are currently building carriers faster than all the rest of the world's navies combined despite also being the very power the author cites as having deployed technologies which make large CVs totally obsolete.

  49. March 30, 2019quanticle said...

    @bean, @Philistine

    Thanks for the feedback. I didn't realize the author was a Lt. Col in the Marines. Makes his advocacy of smaller landing-craft/aircraft carrier hybrids much more understandable.

  50. April 01, 2019bean said...

    I wouldn't necessarily take "was a Marine" to be a license to discard any advocacy of more amphibious shipping, but I do find it a bit bizarre that it isn't even mentioned in his bio.

  51. April 01, 2019bean said...

    CMANO is running a Steam sale right now. They're offering everything, including all of the DLCs, for about 50% ($100 instead of 200). Some of the DLCs are really helpful (Chains of War is required for a bunch of really good features) while others are just more scenarios.

  52. April 02, 2019Johan Larson said...

    Who was the most important female participant in WII?

    One of the heads of the women's auxiliaries formed for the war effort, maybe? There were a bunch of them, though.

  53. April 02, 2019redRover said...


    Eleanor Roosevelt?

    Some of the Soviet pilots?

    The wives of some of the Nazis?

  54. April 03, 2019bean said...

    You're probably going to have to define "participant" more carefully. If it's any woman who had an impact, then it's probably the wife of some leader or another. If it's someone in uniform, then maybe it is the head of one of the Auxiliaries. I'd say the person who took the initiative in forming them, but most were set up during WWI, then put on hiatus during the interwar years, so it's no surprise they came back.

  55. April 03, 2019AlphaGamma said...

    In terms of female participants in WW2, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was AFAIK the only female head of state of a belligerent power (unless you count the tiny Channel Island of Sark). She took an active role in the Dutch government in exile, including firing the original Prime Minister for advocating a separate peace with Germany, as well as making propaganda broadcasts.

  56. April 03, 2019Johan Larson said...

    Who qualify as participants in WWII?

    For this purpose, I would include members of the armed forces, political leaders (including informal leaders, like influential newspaper editors), home defense workers, producers of goods for the war effort, propagandists, spies, civilian police and intelligence agents who dealt with domestic sabotage and subversion, and a few categories I haven't thought of.

    I'm excluding people whose lives weren't really changed much by the war, like someone who was a firefighter in Kansas City before the war and continued to do so during the war. I'm also excluding anyone who was merely a civilian victim of the war. If you sold newspapers in Hamburg before the war and continued to do so during it, your being killed in an air raid doesn't make you a participant in the war; it makes you a victim of it.

    Does that clarify the question?

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