June 03, 2019

Open Thread 27

It's once again time for our regular Open Thread. Talk about anything you want, even if it's not defense-related.

Following on from last OT, it seems there's definite interest in an RTW2 community game. Some reminders: you will be the general staff of whatever nation you pick, making shipbuilding decisions and providing strategic direction. The game plays at one turn/month and theoretically can last 50 years, so I'm going to have to implement a lot of decisions independently. I plan to play 1 year/week, and do a summary post every Monday (this will alternate with the OT, with the OT-week post going into the RTW2 thread from the previous week). I'll give you guys a couple of days to make decisions, probably until Thursday or Friday. I don't plan to restrict who can contribute to decision-making, as the community here is pretty small and congenial, but I might revisit this if there are problems.

So this OT, I'll let you guys decide on what nation you want to play. Options are the US, Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Italy, Japan and Austria-Hungary. Some of these will definitely be easier to win wars with than others, but that's up to you. I'm going to say 1900 start and Very Large fleet size, because this should give the easiest ramp in and a big fleet to play with.

Recently overhauled posts include The Falklands War Part 2, Learning From History - The New Maginot Line, So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Coast Guard Part 1 and all seven parts of the Jutland series:


  1. June 03, 2019Inky said...

    Just finished reading HMS Ulysses, and it's amazing. It also got me thinking: the ships of that age could withstand such an amazing amount of punishment and still stay afloat and fighting, and that's probably true even discounting for the artistic exaggeration. I don't really have any reliable data on how survivable would be the modern ship in actual combat but I think that it would be much less survivable then the ships of the WWII age (as a elaboration, I'm going for a case of survivability as in "ship of the age VS weapons of the same age").

    So, why would that be?

    One reason, I guess, is that development of modern guided weapons heavily favors active defense over passive (which was the only way really before). In the good old days the only way to protect the ship was to lay on as much armor as reasonably possible and ensure that the ship can survive the hits — isolate spaces inside the ship, install counter-flooding spaces, and so on. Now, since the preferred and almost exclusive weapon of naval warfare is a missile, the focus have shifted from rolling with the punches to evading them, by destroying the launch vehicle preemptively (ideal case) or the missile itself. The active defense is multi-layered as well, comprising stand-off weapons, missile interceptors, CIWS systems — the properly functioning ship has a good chance of surviving even several attacks intact. Thus armor became obsolete — it didn't add much to the protection of the ship, and it wasn't much use against the kind of warheads anti-ship missiles might carry anyway.

    But this is just the armor. What about actual survivability?

    This is much more complicated topic for speculation, but I'll try to. I'll divide my argument into two parts: why it is more complicated to build survivable ships now and why it makes less sense to build survivable ships now.

    The first part is really about how much more complex a modern warship has become, mostly its sensory, data processing, C&C and weapons systems. All of these rely on the increased interconnection to function properly. What this means is that there is an ever increasing amount of cabling, piping and other orifices throughout the ship's hull, all of which can promote the spread of fire, flooding and other dangers.

    The second is corollary of the first: since the ships have become so complicated, disabling them, or at least achieving a mission kill takes much less damage. The ship in the novel, HMS Ulysses, in the course of action, had most of its vital systems disabled — radar, fire control, bridge, transmitting station etc and it still continued to stay afloat, and, more importantly, function as a useful combat unit — it still is able to provide AA cover to the convoy, for one thing. Now, let's take a modern warship, say an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. How much damage physically does one need to inflict on the ship for a mission kill? I think, very little, just enough to damage the antenna of SPY radar. No radar -> no AEGIS -> mission kill. And this is just one point of failure, the most obvious. I'd be very interesting to be proved otherwise, but it seems to me that the mutual interconnectedness of the sensing, data processing and weapon control systems has the unfortunate consequence that failure of one of the systems disables the whole, while in the past, the functionality was degraded, but the ship still remained useful. Modern warship without a functioning radar (or damaged data processing center, or malfunctioning weapon system) is a liability to the whole fleet it operates in. So, what's the point in making a ship survivable if it will become useless long before it will be sunk?

    These are my considerations. I'll be interested to hear any corrections and/or additions.

  2. June 03, 2019beleester said...

    For those of us who haven't played much RTW, I found a good rundown of each nation's starting position: https://jasonlefkowitz.net/2016/05/a-brief-consideration-of-various-strategic-problems-in-rule-the-waves/

    I'm voting for Germany because taking on Britain in a naval arms race sounds like a ~terrible~ fun idea.

  3. June 03, 2019John Schilling said...

    There isn't an option for trying to build a world-class navy for the Ottoman Empire? I'm disappointed...

  4. June 03, 2019bean said...


    That article looks decent, but it’s also old, and the game has been updated since then. His description of the range mechanics seems particularly weird.


    There’s a custom nation creator for RTW1, and it will probably work for RTW2, but I’m not going to run it for our first game. I’m kind of surprised you’re not voting for Austria, or maybe France.

  5. June 03, 2019bean said...


    It wasn't missiles that killed armor so much as it was nuclear weapons, which no practical amount of armor helps against.

    And I think you underestimate how much redundancy there is in a modern warship. A lot of the mistakes from the Falklands have been turned into lessons. Brilliant, for instance, was knocked out by exactly the sort of hit you describe to the databus, but this is the sort of problem that the designers can fix. And they largely have. Likewise, I'm not sure that damage to the SPY-1 renders the ship helpless. There are 4 SPY-1 arrays, and I'm sure the arrays aren't wired like Christmas lights. Yes, there's a blind spot, but you still can see well in most directions, and it's not actually your only radar. For that matter, I don't see any fundamental physics preventing a subset of elements being used if there's damage to part of the array. You'd lose performance, but could stay in the fight.

    Likewise, modern ships probably have fewer cable penetrations than old ones. Instead of a separate wire for each and every device that needs to talk, you just have a ship network and put the data on that, so the number of wires goes down.

  6. June 03, 2019Lord Nelson said...

    My vote is Japan, because of course it is. Japan is the best.

    Also, playing as one of the more minor powers sounds fun.

  7. June 03, 2019IsANobody said...

    Are the guns on modern ships still useful? Is this something where GWOT warps my expectations? Or, maybe it's just less clear b/c all the upgrade paths (e.g., Advanced Gun System) have been cancelled?

  8. June 03, 2019Alsadius said...

    I've heard Japan is unpleasant due to their distance from the main theaters of war - it's hard to get good battles. I'm plying Italy now, so that's redundant for me. UK and US are easy mode, which is boring. Austria is probably too hard, with the smallest budget in the game. So my money is on France or Germany, or possibly Russia in a pinch. Both have colones, especially France, and both have decent budgets as well as some fun enemies to fight. If we get one pick, I'd say France.

  9. June 03, 2019bean said...


    The primary utility of a gun is in medium-intensity conflict. It's good for putting shots across the bow of merchant ships, bombarding shore targets (the British might be slightly obsessed with this as a result of the Falklands) and even for doing things like shooting at light aircraft. There are even rumors that they've finally managed to produce a guided shell that works and won't get cancelled. That opens up a lot of new options for things like shooting at drones and maybe even missile defense. This is a big deal, because ships carry a lot more shells than they do missiles. So we could see an upswing in the importance of guns over the next few years.

  10. June 04, 2019doctorpat said...

    I'm kind of interested to see what a minor power could manage to do that makes it a major power. After all, Japan went from medieval 5th world curiosity to major power in two generations.

    What could China have pulled off if it had brilliant leadership (where leadership means both the people right at the top, and the structure required for those leaders to actually get anything done)?

    But I have to admit that I doubt I have the nouse to participate.

  11. June 04, 2019Alexander said...

    Much of what Naval Gazing has written on ship design has been from the point of view of the US and UK. I suspect that the other nations found similar solutions to similar problems, but if we are missing something important about the design of (say) the French fleet that could hamper our planning. On the other hand, we'd have Bean to correct any misapprehensions, and could learn something about a less discussed theater. How about Italy? They are more of a maritime focused power than the other continental nations because of the natural barrier presented by the Alps. We could take revenge on the Austrians for Lissa, and then try expanding beyond the Mediterranean, or making it once again Mare Nostrum.

  12. June 04, 2019bean said...

    First, everyone, don't take this too seriously. I'm interested to see how you as a group play the game, but it's only a moderately good simulation of how navies actually developed. The diplomacy aspect is not great, and powers tend to act far more independently than is historically the case, at least in my experience.

    Second, we currently seem to be in a four-way tie between France, Germany, Italy and Japan. Seriously?


    I suspect that the other nations found similar solutions to similar problems, but if we are missing something important about the design of (say) the French fleet that could hamper our planning. On the other hand, we’d have Bean to correct any misapprehensions, and could learn something about a less discussed theater.

    Less than you'd think. Fleet requirements are usually reasonably obvious from looking at your enemies and your commitments, and I've tended to stick with the same ship-design philosophy no matter who I'm playing. Haven't had much trouble with it, either.

  13. June 04, 2019Graham said...

    You should invest everything in amphibious tanks instead of boats. Those have never failed! They'll never see it coming.

  14. June 04, 2019dndnrsn said...

    You are approached by a reclusive, eccentric multibillionaire. Said billionaire wants to turn a fighting ship - the bigger, the better - into an extremely impressive pleasure craft - and seeks your advice.

    The weaponry will be removed, except for some of the lighter weapons for recreational and light AA use. If the ship has the ability to launch a plane or helicopter, that will be maintained - private planes and helicopters are assumed.

    The ship must be a pleasure craft - she must be convertible to a high level of comfort. The crew will, of course, be much smaller than a warship - so lots of space can be repurposed for recreational use. However, the comfort of the "base" ship is still a factor.

    Which particular ship (not necessarily an individual named ship, but a model of ship) do you propose?

  15. June 04, 2019Gareth said...

    I'll add a provisional vote for France, but am not enormously informed about the game, so feel free to disregard this if you need to break a tie. Revenge for Trafalgar (and Quiberon Bay, and the Saintes, and Aboukir Bay, and Cape Finisterre, and...) sounds fun.

  16. June 04, 2019bean said...


    The most obvious candidate is an amphibious ship. A lot of the basic design features work in the direction of comfort already. Wide corridors, to accommodate Marines, will also make it easier to move through. And by stripping out said Marines and their equipment you get lots and lots of room to play with. There's already a flight deck, and you can use the well deck to carry lots of really cool boats. It's not super-fast, but it should be reasonably economical to operate if it's something like a San Antonio.

  17. June 04, 2019quanticle said...

    I second the vote for the amphibious ship, specifically a LHD like the Wasp or the Belleau Wood. Those things are designed to transport an entire Marine Expeditionary Unit (roughly 2000 soldiers) across an ocean, along with a full complement of helicopters, landing craft, and even some Harriers. The top deck is nice and flat, much like that of an aircraft carrier (though smaller, of course). I'd section off a portion of it to be a helipad, and turn the rest of it into a putting green and driving range. The Marine accommodations, I'd turn into luxury cabins for myself and my guests. The crew to run the ship could live in the existing Navy crew quarters. The well-deck for the amphibious assault craft could be turned into a portable boat house for motorboats and jet-skis.

    The only real downside to converting a LHD is the lack of windows belowdecks. Warships aren't exactly festooned with portholes or windows like cruise ships. All the same, a used LHD could make a really cool mega-yacht.

  18. June 04, 2019David W said...

    I've also got no idea about how the game works, but France does seem like a perfect candidate for an alternate history. In reality their navy wasn't relevant due to their diplomacy, but with a different set of allies and enemies it could have been hugely important.

    In particular I think we need an alliance with Germany.

    I would need a primer on what levers we actually have to pull but assuming bean plans to provide that, I'm game for kibitzing.

  19. June 04, 2019cassander said...

    An LPD would be considerably smaller and cheaper than an LHD, while preserving most of the utility.

    The speed of only 20kts might be disappointing, however.

  20. June 04, 2019John Schilling said...

    The amphibious assault ships are going to win on creature comforts, but a billionaire who wants to be comfortable is just going to stay in one of his mansions and a 21st-century billionaire who needs to be someplace probably doesn't have time for an ocean voyage. Yachts are for impressing other people more than they are for personal comfort. And gators are too boxy to be beautiful or impressive to anyone who doesn't get naval architecture.

    I'd be tempted to whether it would be possible (and how much it would cost) to have the Admiral Nakhimov's refit completed to western standards and reconfigured for as much luxury will fit in her mostly-demilitarized hull and superstructure. The machinery may be too far gone for that, of course, but the Kirovs were beautiful, impressive ships in a way that LPDs really aren't, and you'd have the only nuclear megayacht on the seven seas.

    Also, you have to fill the former VLS bays with crew quarters and the like to free up abovedecks space for the owner and his guests. If you then make a point of never ever letting visitors see those spaces, they'll be wondering whether you're really an Evil Supervillain with a fully operational nuclear battlecruiser. Probably the only fully operational nuclear battlecruiser, by that point.

    Er, until bean figures out which Turkish billionaire has been secretly reftting the Yavuz and where. OK, we don't have Tom Clancy any more, and I don't trust Clive Cussler. Is Larry Bond still up to writing this as a technothriller?

  21. June 04, 2019redRover said...


    The practical answer is a pilot ship or an ice breaker or something of that sort. There are a number of ex-naval yachts, most notably the former British corvette Jackie O. These are all in the 200-300' range for reasonable draft and utility, as well as operating costs. (Business jets and yachts being two things where you could conceivably drain even a billionaire's bank account)

    However, reasonable restrictions aside, the obvious answer is a modern Nimitz class carrier or perhaps a Kitty Hawk. The aviation facilities would be great, as you could run not just a few choppers but maybe an old A-4 (or an F-4????) and a C-1 to improve your reach inland and facilitate transit to your home or office. Plus, as a nuclear yacht there would be no fuel/range restrictions except weather, so you could make all transits at 35 knots or whatever.

    Flag facilities on the carrier are probably already pretty decent, but if not you can build something either in the hangar deck, or even take over part of the forward part of the flight deck.

    The other option is to cheat and say HMS Britannia, the former Royal Yacht.

  22. June 04, 2019redRover said...

    I'll also throw in a pitch for an LCAC or something. It's not a yacht, per se, and you wouldn't want to cross an ocean with it, but it gives you a lot of coastal exploring capability (ie the ability to actually enjoy cruising beyond just seeing waves or anchoring five miles offshore) that you don't get in a ship with 30' of draft that can only go to the major ports. For this practical and dull reason, relatively few yachts draw more than 12-15', as that's the difference between tying up along the race course in Monaco and sitting in the outer harbor at anchor and taking a tender to shore. (Though the ramp on a Newport could be a novel if ugly solution to this problem.)

  23. June 05, 2019AlphaGamma said...

    Possibly of interest on the yacht front, in 1958 Stavros Niarchos commissioned Vosper to build him the fastest private yacht in the world. The result was Mercury, later renamed Brave Challenger, based on the Brave-class patrol boats which were (at the time) the world's fastest warships. Powered by 3 Bristol Proteus gas turbines, top speed of 60 knots and would cruise at 44. A later owner bought the decommissioned SR.N4 cross-Channel hovercraft ferries for spare engines!

    Faster motor yachts have since been built (the fastest is Foners, ex-Fortuna, formerly owned by the King of Spain and capable of 70 knots) but Brave Challenger is still very impressive (and still exists, probably being refitted).

    Perhaps this is the best use for the LCS prototypes?

  24. June 05, 2019bean said...


    The view out an LHA's elevator well is pretty spectacular. Just put the quarters in the hangar. But overall, I'm with cassander that one of those is much too large and silly.


    You are a madman. I love it. The only problem with playing "Maybe it is still fully-armed" games is that you're probably going to find it hard to get permission to dock anywhere.


    A CVN can't make 35 kts. The later Nimitzs struggle to make 30. And technically, Britannia's prefix is HMY, not HMS. (Different prefixes for British vessels used to be a big deal, but this has mostly fallen by the wayside.)

    But the LCAC is a good idea, if rather louder than is probably a good idea to operate as a yacht, for the comfort of both passengers and bystanders. And the idea of using a Newport is amusing.


    Sadly, there isn't an LCS prototype per se. But it would be a good use of the LCSs that exist. The mission modules give plenty of space for swanky quarters, and the Navy presumably gets some money back from them.

  25. June 05, 2019quanticle said...

    What about a Zumwalt-class destroyer? The highly computerized systems means that it won't need a lot of crew to run, and it looks both futuristic and evil in a way that few other warships do. It's the sort of thing I can definitely imagine a Bond-villain owning.

  26. June 05, 2019bean said...


    No need to debug the combat system. Low possibility of damage. Can be kept out of major storms. This seems like the perfect use for the things.

  27. June 05, 2019redRover said...

    Looking away from major combatants to more oddball vessels, the Pegasus hydrofoils could be cool, though they're small enough that you couldn't really do much with them in terms of accommodation or carrying a chopper.

    HSV-2 also seems like it would be a cool option, as it's fast, has lots of internal space, and a good ride, plus you could easily put a nice Sea King or something on the roof.

  28. June 05, 2019dndnrsn said...

    Maybe the billionaire will get the Soviet battleship or the carrier as a main thing and the amphibious vehicle for some offroading. Who knows, maybe Bond Villain chic will become a thing.

  29. June 05, 2019Philipp said...

    (SSC occasional poster here)

    The true solution to the mega-billionaire's military-surplus yachting needs is a ballistic missile submarine (preferably, still armed with at least a couple of the things). Nothing can beat being a real life Captain Nemo, and you're literally untouchable! If you get bored of being underwater all the time, you can rendezvous at your private Pacific atoll with your assault ship/privately built carrier/Zumwalt-put-to-good-use and practice your golf swing for a while.

  30. June 06, 2019AlphaGamma said...


    I stand corrected on the LCS- the first-of-class ships had so many teething problems I thought they were prototypes!

    As for prefixes, apart from HM Submarines (still HMS) AFAIK the last vessel in the Royal Navy to have a different prefix was HMSML (Her Majesty's Survey Motor Launch) Gleaner, a 48ft inshore survey vessel that was one of the few Royal Navy warships to visit Switzerland, which was decommissioned in 2018. The replacement is HMS Magpie which is somewhat larger at 60ft long, and which I have only ever seen referred to officially as HMS, perhaps because it's bigger than some existing HM Ships.


    it looks both futuristic and evil in a way that few other warships do. It’s the sort of thing I can definitely imagine a Bond-villain owning.

    You mean like [MY A](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A(motoryacht))?

  31. June 06, 2019bean said...

    First, it’s rather interesting when you start to get posts that you think might be GPT-2 tests of some sort.

    Second, voting on what nation to play in the RTW2 game will close at 1500 Central Time tomorrow. The current leader is France.

  32. June 07, 2019quanticle said...


    The resemblance between MY A and the USS Zumwalt is striking. I guess there's just something about wave-piercing tumblehome hulls that makes them look inherently ominous.

  33. June 07, 2019bean said...

    France has won the poll for the RTW2 game, and I will begin setting up the game immediately. Look for the post starting play on Monday.

  34. June 08, 2019Inky said...

    How big of a gun does it make practical sense to fit on a modern warship?

  35. June 08, 2019bean said...

    I can't see any reason to mount a gun larger than 8", maybe only 6". For most jobs, a lot of small explosions are as good or better than a few big ones, and the cost and weight of a gun scales with the cube of diameter. The crossover point at which missiles are just a better option in general is somewhere in the 6-8" range.

  36. June 09, 2019John Schilling said...

    There's a reasonable argument for using the same caliber as the standard army gun on the grounds that when the army comes up with a spiffy new projectile the navy can use it as is (maybe in a QF rather than bagged configuration, but same shell) at least for shore bombardment. I don't think this has ever actually worked out for anyone in practice, but I think that's due to military-procurement dysfunctionalities that don't have to be treated like laws of physics.

    That points to a 152mm or 155mm, roughly 6", shell. And the history of naval warfare going back to the pre-dreadnought era says that HE shell in that range is pretty good at tearing apart unarmored warships. Everything else, as bean notes, argues for more but smaller shells - and probably for commonality with your last generation of warship guns, so 76mm or 127mm in Western navies.

  37. June 11, 2019Alexander said...

    On naval guns, this article discusses some of the options (http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/MCG.html)

    It sounds as though you can quite happily get by with something as small as 57mm for most purposes, but expensive guided shells are expensive (though less so than missiles), so if you are going to use them you may as well use one large rather than half a dozen small. 6" is probably still plenty though, and the cost per guided shell may drop as they become more mature.

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