November 29, 2019

Open Thread 40

It's time for our regular open thread.

In the naval news recently has been the mess that is the Secretary of the Navy's replacement/resignation. Richard Spencer has resigned/been fired in a case that looks to have something to do with the trial of Eddie Gallagher, a SEAL accused of war crimes. Gallagher was acquitted of murder and other serious charges, but convicted of posing for a photo with a slain member of ISIS. Trump has for some reason fastened onto the case, granting clemency, restoring Gallagher's rank, and tweeting that Gallagher would not be stripped of his status as a SEAL before he retired. Spencer has been publicly in favor of letting the process run its course without Trump's interference, but appears to have brokered a deal to make sure it would produce the result Trump wanted. Somehow, Trump lost confidence in him, and fired him via tweet. Personally, I won't mourn Spencer's departure. He's done a better job than his predecessor, Ray Mabus, but that's a bar that could probably have been cleared by appointing a cabbage. His replacement is to be the current ambassador to Norway, retired Rear Admiral Kenneth Braithwaite.

Please remember to be nice to the other side, and not to venture too far from the issue at hand. The broader culture war ban is still in effect.

Also, a reminder that the Naval Institute Press Holiday Sale ends in two weeks, the same day the next OT goes up, so I'd recommend getting your shopping in now.

Overhauled posts since last time are the Battleships of Pearl Harbor Part 3, Iowa parts five, six and seven, Mine Warfare Part 1, and Russian Battleships Part 1 for 2017. 2018 overhauls are Commercial Aviation Part 1, Missouri Part 3, the internment of the High Seas Fleet, Crew art aboard Iowa, So You Want to Build a Battleship - Design Part 2 and G3 and Nelson.


  1. November 29, 2019Jade Nekotenshi said...

    So in a Discord discussion elsewhere, the topic of the Japanese Agano-class CLs, and how they weren't especially good. One person opined that they wouldn't match up favorably in a surface gunnery duel with an Cleveland, which, I mean, yeah, not too likely. But someone else countered that they wouldn't have been much of a match for two Sumner-class DDs, which I think is a more interesting hypothetical, since with two opponents, a range advantage isn't nearly as decisive.

    What do you all think? I'd give the edge to the two DDs, though I wouldn't especially want to be on one of them.

  2. November 29, 2019Chris Silvia said...

    I was just looking at this article about the US Navy airships:

    I hadn't seen this story but it's fascinating how it fits in with the interwar navy, billy mitchell's struggles in the interwar years, and the lax safety culture.

    It seems like airships were supposed to be the navy's answer to Mitchell's Air-first doctrine. The airship even got a hull designation!

    But...turns out airships aren't even remotely suited for anything close to "all weather operations", and the first one crashed after hitting a line of thunderstorms in ohio, killing the captain and many of the crew.

    Maybe something to add to the "duture post ideas" list?

  3. November 29, 2019bean said...


    I actually just picked up a couple books from the USNI sale with the intent of writing on that topic.

  4. November 29, 2019Doctorpat said...

    I do find the airship carriers USS Akron and Macon to be fascinating what-ifs.

    For no other reason that it is a rhetorical nuke to drop in the conversation when someone starts talking about the flying carrier in the Avengers movies. "Oh yes, the US navy already launched two flying carriers but they crashed... yes... I'm not kidding here is the wikipedia link"

    And I'm glad someone FINALLY mentioned what Eddie Gallagher was supposed to have done. From outside the USA, I just heard all this mention of the guy, but every story already assumed that the audience knew the background accusation. And his name is too common to easily google.

  5. November 30, 2019quanticle said...

    I've been reading about the P8 Poseidon, our replacement for the P3 Orion, and one thing that I found interesting was the decision to ditch the Magnetic Anomaly Detection system. Apparently it was dropped from the project requirements as a weight/cost saving measure.

    What's doubly interesting is that the P8I (the variant Boeing is selling to India) does have a Magnetic Anomaly Detection system.

  6. November 30, 2019Alsadius said...

    Without going into culture war stuff too far, I think Trump's fastened onto the Gallagher case because it fits his priors so very well. (And to be clear, everything below is a descriptive account of what Trump sees and how he'd react - there may be arguments on the other side, but they're not ones likely to affect Trump's behaviour, simply because he's unlikely to have noticed them.)

    1) The hero is a low-ranking Special Forces guy, which matches both Trump's love of "normal people" (as opposed to "the elites"), and his appreciation of people who are good at war. Trump seems to be even more enthusiastic about people who make sins of aggression than Churchill was. (As a side note, I find some of Trump's other pet military cases to be much more disturbing than the Gallagher case, and this seems to be the reason why - "We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!" in the context of pardoning people who've confessed to war crimes is Trumpy in all the worst ways.)

    2) The villains are the prosecutors. You can imagine why Trump wouldn't be a big fan of prosecution these days. And they genuinely did screw the pooch on this one - they charged him with murder, granted another witness immunity, and then that witness confessed to the killing that they'd charged Gallagher with in open court. They managed to get caught spying on him, to the point where the judge booted the lead prosecutor from the case.

    3) The "elites" (military bureaucracy, senior leadership, etc.) mostly chose to attack the "normal guy" and defend the prosecutors. The prosecutors got medals for their misconduct, and Gallagher was going to get a whole host of punishments that seemed designed to punish him for the sin of getting himself acquitted. Trump had the ability to step in and drain this particular "swamp" quite effectively by his executive authority, and he did so.

    4) The media coverage couldn't have been better designed to make Trump double down. He doubles down any time he encounters opposition, of course, but they added some extra layers to it. Most obviously, I saw a lot of coverage that seemed to think the admirals were in charge of the Navy and Trump was sticking his oar in where it didn't belong. This is similar to criticisms of Trump's foreign policy going around the State Department(or, for that matter, the crazy people on the right who think Obama was treasonous for making the Iran deal). That's not how it works. The President is actually in charge of this stuff, and they have extremely wide latitude in how they use that power. And being told that he's not allowed to run the country, and he should be forced to leave it to unelected bureaucrats, is even more likely to make Trump double down than most other forms of opposition.

    Every set of biases will be confirmed by empirical data once in a while, and people with those biases will cling to those data points. This case was the best confirmation of Trump's biases I've seen in a long time, so he's jumped in with both feet.

  7. November 30, 2019DampOctopus said...

    There seems to be a bug in the comment system. In the discussion about Harpoon, the last link in the last post is closed by a instead of a . As a result, this link includes all the text until the start of the next link, including the reply form. This could be fixed if the system automatically terminated any outstanding links at the end of each comment.

  8. November 30, 2019DampOctopus said...

    Okay, there's another bug: I followed the Markdown instructions and used HTML entities (starting with an ampersand) to give escaped examples of HTML code - but the commenting system parsed them into the code I meant to display, and embedded that into the page. To see what I meant you to see, you need to view the page source.

    According to the instructions, I should also be able to display code by embedding it in a code block. So here's another try. In my previous post, I meant to say that the last link in the last post of the Harpoon discussion is closed by a instead of a .

  9. November 30, 2019DampOctopus said...

    I give up.

  10. November 30, 2019bean said...


    The US and India are going to face different challenges and have different doctrines for ASW. The USN ultimately said that they didn't think the weight and thus range penalties of MAD were worth it for how they planned to use the planes. The Indians thought otherwise. Could just be that they expect to operate closer to home, or that their targets are different.


    That's an excellent and even-handed analysis. Thank you. I'm really torn on the Gallagher case myself. On one hand, the NCIS seems to be upholding their finest traditions with this case. On the other, Trump's attitude towards potential war crimes is downright disturbing, and while it's a legitimate use of Presidential powers, it's also one that should be exercised very lightly.


    That's happened before a couple times. I've gone in and fixed it.

  11. November 30, 2019David W said...

    I've got a blog to recommend that I think most of the audience here would enjoy: "A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry". He typically deconstructs popular culture's depictions of military, pointing out the places inspired by history and the places where the author (or director) falls down. The most recent entry is an exploration of battery placement on the Battlestar Galactica, with contrast to battleship design considerations (which is why this Open Thread came to mind), but most of his work is on medieval and classical militaries. There won't be much overlap in content with Bean's work.

  12. November 30, 2019bean said...

    Weirdly, I just found out about that from some other friends, and finished writing up some incredible pedantry of my own about that post, specifically on some of the battleship design details. We'll see when the comment clears moderation.

  13. November 30, 2019Alsadius said...

    @Bean: Yeah, I'm mostly with Trump on the Gallagher case, but he really disturbed me on his murder pardons. War crimes aren't okay. The first thing that came to mind when I saw those was actually a WW2 tidbit I discovered recently - after the Nazis invaded Poland, Hitler issued an amnesty to German troops who'd killed prisoners or civilians. That sure echoed a lot more than I was comfortable with. Arbitrary executive power is good for cutting through existing structures, but that is not always a good thing.

    @David W: Nice link. Anyone who openly admits to being in it for the pedantry is my sort of writer.

  14. December 01, 2019Kyzentun said...


    Okay, there’s another bug: I followed the Markdown instructions and used HTML entities (starting with an ampersand) to give escaped examples of HTML code - but the commenting system parsed them into the code I meant to display, and embedded that into the page. To see what I meant you to see, you need to view the page source.

    This sounds like the commenting software has a cross site scripting flaw that anyone can use for attacks by html entity encoding special characters.

    Test it in a safe place, report it to the maintainer, and set up a WAF or other protection.

    Also, new post has "guboat" spelled wrong.

  15. December 01, 2019CatCube said...

    @David W, @bean

    Hah! I found him on Friday and have spent the last couple of days reading archives. I actually was going to post a link in this OT because I thought it'd be interesting to others here by subject matter; did you also come across it on Twitter?

  16. December 01, 2019Echo said...

    "During World War II BuOrd developed AA shells for (the 16"/50) guns which were standard HC rounds with a mechanical time fuze replacing the usual nose contact fuze. This meant that the gunnery crews could easily change the function of any HC shell on board by simply replacing the nose fuze. These AA shells do not appear to have been issued their own Mark number, as they seem to have been known simply as the HC Mark 13 AA round."

    This is the first I've heard of American main battery AA! Were the Japanese not crazy to try it, or were we just crazy too?

  17. December 02, 2019Doctorpat said...

    @David W,

    Well that's several hours of my time gone and I've only done the Tolkien stuff.

  18. December 02, 2019bean said...


    It's a PMWiki plugin, so I'd guess it's had at least basic security testing, but I'll send Said Achmiz an email about it.

    And I've fixed the typo in that post.


    The US and Japan were doing fundamentally different things. For the Americans, the time fuzes were probably the same time fuzes they always used (unfortunately, the relevant pamphlet isn't available online) and the shells were already aboard the ship. For that matter, I wouldn't be surprised if they were prepared so the HC shells could be airbursted, with the AA functionality being seen as just a nice bonus. All you had to do was work out the range table, which is a couple of man-months of effort. It'll probably never be useful, but it's cheap to do.

    The Japanese, on the other hand, filled a third of their magazines with special shells that weren't useful against normal targets, shells that had to be bought and supplied to forward areas. The difference is pretty obvious.

  19. December 02, 2019Lambert said...

    I think most of the audience here would enjoy: “A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry”.

    And here I was, foolishly thinking I was going to have a productive month.

  20. December 02, 2019Chuck said...

    On the Gallagher case, it is very important to note that (correct me if I'm wrong) no one is denying that he stabbed an incapacitated prisoner in the neck while the prisoner was receiving medical treatment, his defense is based around that not being the cause of death.

    It seems a number of people consistently side against any sort of military justice, and view it as "anti-military". This is always baffling to me, as it overlooks that it was other soldiers who reported, investigated, and decided the case. These soldiers are the ones who made the initial call that the actions taken were out of bounds, they are the ones who have to work side-by-side with the people who did them, and they are the ones who have to deal with the mess these actions create. I think it's a disturbing blind spot.

    I'm kind of curious what the general thinking is about Spencer's actions. I've seen a lot of people excoriate him on the basis that he was subverting justice by trying to make a deal. It seems to me that he was attempting to make the best of an impossible situation by trying to avoid having the naval justice system appear powerless and arbitrary, even if that meant rubber-stamping the president's wishes. Given this, I can see why he chose the course he did, but I'm not sure whether it makes his actions right, wrong, or totally wrong.

    I guess the question is which is it easier to recover from: Being casually overruled publicly, or being given respect in public but privately manipulated? I imagine how you weigh these alternatives colors how you see Spencer's actions.

  21. December 02, 2019David W said...

    Hah, I'm not surprised that the ACOUP blog came to bean's attention, battleship posts probably almost all do. At least posts that are thoughtful. I'm not sure where I ran across it, it was a couple weeks ago not the battleship post itself. Probably patio11's Twitter, but it could have been some other blog.

  22. December 02, 2019Daib said...

    Anyone have any thoughts about the weird UFO related Navy patents that SSC linked to? I'm thoroughly perplexed.

  23. December 02, 2019Alexander said...

    Speaking of Battlestars, if you made a post about hybrid battleships and heavy aviation cruisers I'd be interested in hearing how those ships came to be. They seem too large to be suited to independent patrols, but inferior to a more conventional mix of ships as part of a fleet. What are they good for, other than operations in the black sea?

  24. December 02, 2019bean said...

    Hybrid battleships and the like are on my list eventually, but it's not something I'm going to get around to soon. Unfortunately, there's too much I just don't know about them.

    As for the patents, I'm perplexed, too. Maybe SecNav Spencer was a closet UFO enthusiast, and they'll settle down now that he's been forced out.

  25. December 03, 2019quanticle said...


    I'm mostly disappointed in the US' decision to drop magnetic-anomaly-detection because it's the single coolest detection technology there is. Detecting submarines by the distortion their hullmetal creates in the Earth's magnetic field is a technology that's straight out of science fiction and it makes me sad to see us giving that up.

    Though, from what I'm reading, apparently the P8 will have a hydrocarbon sensor that will allow it to "sniff out" diesel fumes from snorkeling submarines. That's pretty cool too, I guess.

  26. December 03, 2019bean said...

    Yeah, I'm kind of with you on that, but I try not to let my aesthetics dictate my policy preferences. (See battleships, reactivation of.) As for the exhaust sniffer, that's not a new idea. They were common in the 40s and 50s, then declined when the Soviet submarine threat shifted from diesel to nuclear. Today, the threat is heavily diesel again, and they're back.

  27. December 03, 2019John Schilling said...

    MAD requires the sensor platform fly low, whereas everything else about the P-8 would prefer to be at high altitude. But I wouldn't be terribly surprised to see a dedicated ASW drone with a MAD - possibly air-launched from a P-8 when other sensors (e.g. a transient radar contact that might have been a snorkel) gives a hint that a detailed MAD sweep of a particular area might be fruitful.

  28. December 03, 2019bean said...

    Thinking it over, I wonder if one of the big reasons behind the removal of MAD was improved sonobuoys. At first, sonobuoys were just microphones, without any directional capability, and while they had some of that by the end of WWII, it wasn't very strong. I'd guess that improvements in electronics and signal processing over the last 2-3 decades have let sonobuoys get much more precise bearing fixes. MAD was almost always more a fire-control sensor than a search sensor (the madcat patrols over the Strait of Gibraltar being a notable exception) and if the precision location job can be done by the sonobuoys, then you really don't need it. It's also quite possible that India doesn't have the same sonobuoys that the US does, and so fitted MAD to fill the gap.

  29. December 03, 2019John Schilling said...

    I'm not sure that even modern sonobouys are all that effective against modern diesel-electric submarines running silent. And if a diesel-electric sub gets a whiff of P-8 anywhere in the vicinity, it's probably going to be running as silent as it can for as long as a P-8's fuel supply can hold out.

    MAD doesn't depend on target noise or activity. So if the same radar return that tells you there's a snorkel at [X,Y] tells the sub it's time to pull in the snorkel and get quiet, or if one of your ships was just torpedoed an so gave you a transient +/-5nm fix on a submarine, MAD is probably still the best way to figure out exactly where to drop your ASW torpedo

  30. December 04, 2019Alexander said...

    Can sonobuoys use active sonar to locate a sub on batteries, or is that no use unless you have a very good idea of its location already?

  31. December 04, 2019bean said...

    I was thinking of active sonobuoys, as Alexander suggests. For a long time, those were range-only, but I could easily see modern units, particularly two or three working together, being able to sort out any target that's actually vulnerable to a homing torpedo. (So something sitting on the bottom might be impossible to see, but the P-8 has no way to attack it.)

  32. December 06, 2019quanticle said...

    The US Navy will be officially christening CVN-79 as the USS John F. Kennedy this weekend.

  33. December 10, 2019Echo said...

    On the subject of carriers, and at least tangentially related to Proper Ships, the new HMS Price of Wales was commissioned today. Can anyone suggest a good analysis of what exactly the UK intends to do with the QE carriers? Obviously they'd be very useful for Falklands Part 2, F35 boogaloo, but they surely must have some other mission?

  34. December 11, 2019Alexander said...

    Here's a link about potential roles for the carriers:

    It doesn't suggest where they might end up being used, but then I suspect that very few people would have thought that Hermes would have been part of a campaign to retake the Falklands when it was entering service. I expect a substantial part of the mission is to prevent anyone starting something that a British carrier might counter - in other words deterrence.

  35. December 11, 2019bean said...

    It's fairly simple. Is there something within a couple hundred miles of the ocean that the British government wants dead? If yes, is it in a country with serious air defenses, like China or Russia? If no, then send a carrier to blow it up. If yes, then it may be a bit harder, but the carrier is likely to be useful.

    Seriously, they give the UK a great deal of power projection capability. This is not something you want parked off your coast.

  36. December 11, 2019quanticle said...

    Continuing the discussion of carriers, The Diplomat has an article about how China is having to scale back its carrier fleet from six hulls to four.

    The reasons are the usual ones:

    1. Engineering is hard
    2. Carriers are expensive

    More specifically, they're having ongoing problems designing and building a new carrier-based fighter to give their new flattops some teeth. Until the new plane is ready, the carriers are going to be outfitted with the J-15, which reportedly has ongoing problems with its engines and flight controls. Moreover, while the J-15 theoretically has the same range and payload as the F-18 E/F Super Hornet, in practice the fact that Chinese aircraft carriers don't have catapults (they're ski-jump designs instead) considerably limits the actual range and payload of those fighters.

    Second, Chinese engineers are having significant difficulties developing nuclear propulsion for their carriers. They had anticipated using similar powerplants to their nuclear submarines, but, for reasons that aren't clearly explained in the article, those powerplants are not suitable for their carriers and it's been much more troublesome than anticipated to make the necessary design modifications to make them suitable for carrier use.

    Finally, building the shoreside maintenance facilities has been more expensive than anticipated, and a key factor in the decision to downsize the fleet to four carriers rather than six was to reduce the amount of new shoreside infrastructure that had to be built to service these ships.

    With all these issues coming in on top of a potentially slowing economy, the Chinese government has re-evaluated its naval priorities and has, at least for the moment, chosen to reduce its carrier ambitions.

    As a result of this downsizing, China's current carrier, the Liaoning, which had been scheduled to transition to a training and systems test vessel, will instead be upgraded to have at least limited combat capability. The source quoted in the article expresses optimism that this conversion can be accomplished rapidly, but I have my doubts.

  37. December 11, 2019bean said...

    Thanks for sharing that. Hmm... It seems that China does have to obey economic limitations, and that they're suddenly discovering that anti-access warfare is much less fun on the receiving end. Particularly when your opponents are nice and close, instead of all the way across the ocean.

    The one thing that the article doesn't talk about is a potential strategic shift. The carrier program was ultimately the victory of the blue-water naval faction over the coast defense faction, and that probably has a lot to do with why we haven't heard much of the DF-21 lately. If they start talking about that stuff again, it probably indicates they've gone back to coast defense for some reason.

    Re the nuclear plants, I'd guess it's a matter of power density. A Nimitz has 260,000 SHP, and is about the size of the proposed Chinese nuclear carriers. I'd guess their submarine reactors are ~10% of that. If you don't want the Enterprise solution of a bunch of small reactors (and that may not be practical for a whole host of reasons) you're going to need to up your game a lot.

  38. December 12, 2019quanticle said...

    In much more tragic carrier news, there has been a fire aboard Russia's only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, as it was undergoing a refit in port. The TASS news agency is reporting that one person has been killed, twelve have been injured and two remain missing. The cause of the blaze is speculated to be a welding mishap.

    My condolences to all affected. Fire aboard a vessel is a terrifying thing, even when the ship is tied up alongside the quay.

  39. December 12, 2019quanticle said...

    Obligatory link to previous coverage of the misfortunes of the Kuznetsov on this blog.

  40. December 13, 2019Daib said...

    The best kind of wikipedia vandalism:

  41. December 13, 2019quanticle said...

    The most amazing thing about this whole incident has been the Russian Navy's continued insistence that everything is still on schedule and the Kuznetsov will totally be returning to active duty in 2021.

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