December 27, 2019

Open Thread 42

It's our regular Open Thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it's not culture war.

A blog I've recently discovered is the well-named A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry, which mostly covers ancient warfare as seen in popular culture, but has made a few interesting forays into naval warfare.

Overhauls since last time are The South American Dreadnought Race, Huascar Part 2, Dreadnoughts of the Minor Powers and Armor Parts one, two and three for 2017. For 2018, we have Commercial Aviation Part 3, all three* parts on electronic warfare, Spot 1, and The Great White Fleet Part 2.


  1. December 31, 2019quanticle said...

    I was going through my old podcasts and I found an interesting discussion at the Brookings Institution titled "The US Navy in an Era of Great Power Competition". It's between Michael O'Hanlon, Brookings Senior Fellow and Director of Research and Richard Spencer, Secretary of the Navy. I've outlined the discussion here.

    Some key highlights from the discussion are:

    • The US Navy and the US Marine Corps are going to be more closely integrated in the future, with the Marine Corps being viewed as another means for the Navy to do its job. To this end, the Secretary issued a strong recommendation for everyone to read the US Marine Corps Commandant's Planning Guidance, which goes into more detail on this integration
    • The Secretary is very concerned about the state of the US Navy's supply chain. He repeatedly stated that the US is having trouble finding skilled workers for its shipyards, and also stated that ongoing budgetary uncertainties (like continuing resolutions) really hurt the Navy and its supply chain
    • Relatedly, he wants more flexibility for the Navy to spend its money as it needs to. He specifically cited the Congressional override on the refueling of the USS Harry Truman as a personal failure on his part. In Secretary Spencer's view, assets should be scrapped not when they reach the end of their service life, but when the development of newer, more efficient systems make older systems no longer cost effective. In his view, the US would be better served pocketing the $3.8 billion it'll take to refuel the Truman and spending it on modernization and R&D
    • As might be expected from the previous point, he's quite bullish on the Ford-class carrier. In the Secretary's view, the problems that the Ford-class has encountered thus far are the usual ones that can be expected of any new platform. These problems will be worked through, and when the carrier becomes operational, it will be significantly more capable and efficient than existing carriers.
    • He wants the US Marine Corps to move to more numerous, smaller ships, which have the ability to operate in contested maritime environments. The challenge with that is ensuring logistical support, but Secretary Spencer thinks that unmanned assets could help with that.
    • Finally, with regards to geopolitics, he hit upon the major topics of the Western Pacific, the South China Sea and the Arctic as the major areas of focus for the Navy. He was particularly proud of the US Navy's developing relationship with Vietnam, with the USS Carl Vinson completing a port visit in Da Nang last year. According to him, that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago, but here we are.

    The whole thing is quite interesting, and I'd definitely be interested in reading other commenter's reactions to the Secretary's remarks.

  2. December 31, 2019Alexander said...

    I actually listened to this myself a while ago, and while nothing particularly sticks in my mind from it, I do recall him being much more excited by the option of operating a LHA as a Lighting Carrier than I'd have expected. I am very much in agreement with the point about short term thinking around spending.

  3. December 31, 2019bean said...

    None of this is particularly surprising, and it's definitely reflected in the various decisions made over the past few years. The Marines are returning to a maritime mission, after a decade and a half of being infantry in the Middle East, and there's been a fair bit of work on things like using Marine air defense assets on the decks of ships. Shipyard woes are an ongoing theme. I'm not sure I agree with him on Truman. That's a big chunk of capability to throw away.

  4. December 31, 2019Neal said...

    As big thanks to both Quanticle and Bean on the vectors to the meatier books on U.S. submarine efforts in WW2.

    I immediately ordered Roscoe and both volumes of Blair's Silent Victory. The Roscoe work, btw, almost needs a forklift as it is a hefty book.

    I flipped a coin to decide which author would come first. Blair won out and as I near the end of the first volume I am finding that not only can he write well, but it is obvious that he did a staggering amount of research. Just what the doctor ordered.

    Almost as if he had read my mental list of questions he is sticking off the answers one by one.

    He starts with just enough history to inform and refresh such as a description of Plan Black and Plan Orange. I do not need, or want, to know what brand of flux guy with a soldering gun in Portsmouth was using in 1941. He eschews that kind of nonsense (sadly many authors do not) and keeps an overview that balances detail with the sweep of events.

    When I first looked at the publish date of 1975 I thought it would be lacking in terms of what historical scholarship has uncovered since. Here I was pleasantly surprised. He had access to a number of the actual submariners and uses their testimonies judiciously. He even had Ned Beach review his galleys. He also had referenced Japanese records to confirm sinkings--or, in many cases, the non-sinking of ships a commander had thought he had sent to the bottom.

    He also describes the where and why of the operation in Fremantle and why, in retrospect, it would have been better to have moved those boats to Pearl and concentrate efforts in the Luzon Strait.

    One point I would quibble with him over is his argument that the Asiatic sub force could have greatly hindered the invasion of the Philippines. He lays out a handful of reasons why he believes this, but I am still mulling them over...not quite sure I buy all that he is selling here.

    As far as actual operations, we all know that the magnetically triggered (even a percentage of the contact) torpedoes were practically less than useless at that time, but I had no idea just how bad things were the first months of the war when it came to our subs putting enemy tonnage under the waves. Pitiful is hardly the word to describe it.

    One last point, and perhaps the one I was most eager to learn about, was just what the strain was doing to the men. One skipper basically had a mental breakdown and holed up in his stateroom with the exec taking over. One captain freely admitted that he did not have the stamina and was too fatigued to continue. Other skippers were removed from command due to over caution. Much the change from what I have read elsewhere--material I found way too cheerful.

    There is seriously good reading and indeed a certain level of scholarship. Again, thanks for the tip.

  5. December 31, 2019bean said...

    It's worth pointing out that the submarine campaign changed greatly around 1944. They got working torpedoes, and the early-war captains, who had been trained under the assumption that being detected was the same as being killed, were replaced with younger, more aggressive officers.

    Also, thanks for the review. Silent Victory has moved up my list of things to get when my wallet recovers from the USNI Holiday Sale.

  6. January 01, 2020Neal said...

    More directly related to Marine Corps aviation, but does this not fall under the purview of the 7th Fleet?

    A ProPublica look at the December 2018 crash of a Marine F-18 and C-130.

    Once again, not sure if the Marines fixed the overall problems but they certainly fixed the blame.

  7. January 02, 2020bean said...

    VMFA-242 looks to be technically under III MEF and not 7th Fleet, but it also seems to have suffered from the same issues that plague 7th Fleet. I think ProPublica probably tends to bias a bit towards blaming the central authority instead of the guys on the front line, but that's certainly the sort of thing that eventually happens in aviation when you take shortcuts.

  8. January 02, 2020Neal said...

    Bean wrote: . I think ProPublica probably tends to bias a bit towards blaming the central authority instead of the guys on the front line, but that’s certainly the sort of thing that eventually happens in aviation when you take shortcuts."

    Definitely agree with PP's apparent inclination to want to lay blame at the steps of senior leaders as I have seen this in other writings from their shop. When something like this happens it is leadership failure across many levels--from the flight lead to those demanding increased tempo on training sorties and the types of equipment that are used on those sorties.

    I was surprised at the low levels of flying this unit was getting--I can't imagine how any of them could maintain proficiency in even the basics such as air to air or air to ground missions--not to mention night AR with NVGs.

    In any organization it is hard to say no and I am not quite sure after reading the article exactly when no should have been said and by whom. The squadron commander seems to have been an obvious candidate, but the staff dropping these taskings and requirements down the chute should have been cognizant of mission readiness levels. As always, these kind of things have many shades and layers.

    I was wondering what the flight lead had in mind when he was telling the tanker to basically "watch this" when they finished. A hot nose? Nobody will know, but from the armchair doing just about anything on other than the task at hand whilst wearing NVGs seems to be sailing a bit close to the wind.

  9. January 02, 2020bean said...

    I wasn't necessarily agreeing with ProPublica here. Don't get me wrong. US forces in Japan are clearly in trouble, but PP tends to go with laying all the blame up the chain of command. That's a slightly less serious error than laying all the blame on the people on the front line, but that doesn't make it right.

    (This isn't a specific problem with any of their claims, so much as their general attitude.)

  10. January 02, 2020Neal said...

    Good point Bean.

    What I took from your remarks was that there is much more nuance than what can appear to be PP's sometime attitude of a generally implying that the upper ranks were/are culpable of all and any malfeasance. I was agreeing with your position as I understood it to be as I as well do not totally endorse all the points they made.

    I have seen this from PP on a few other occasions and I find it frustrating to a degree as they are doing some pretty good research and can do better with presenting the reader with a range of ideas as to the why and how. Not often, but just a few times where thought they were overlooking some of the nuance that should be part and parcel of any look at command failures and safety related lapses--of which a loss of a C-130 and F-18 is an exhibit A.

    That is perhaps why I have always been keen on solid analysis of the why such lapses occur, no matter what the rank.

  11. January 03, 2020quanticle said...

    The other thing that really irks me about ProPublica's reporting is that they assume that every government report, analysis or postmortem is a whitewash or cover-up.

    In reality, I've always found government analyses to be pretty fair and accurate. Maybe it's because I read analyses more from the civilian side of things, rather than military, but what I've usually seen is that the analysis itself is fair and reasonable, and then people draw unreasonable conclusions by taking parts of the analysis out of context.

  12. January 03, 2020Neal said...

    Well said Quanticle. Shame that they fall into this stance as they do solid work at sifting through the records.

    Btw, not sure if you saw it on the previous open thread, but thank you for your vector regarding Blair's Silent Victory. Just what I was looking for.

  13. January 03, 2020Echo said...

    I would like to register a complaint about this blog:

    I tried to read and close 2 tabs about the Great White Fleet, and now have 7 tabs open about early battleship propulsion, The Newport Conference, and harvey armor. Some kind of malicious virus is clearly at work.

  14. January 04, 2020bean said...


    Thank you. I have long dreamed of creating something that generates the same time of protective spell as Wikipedia does.

    From Armageddon, by Stuart Slade:

    "Her tame human had shown her the invocations of 'goo gul' and 'wiccan pee-dee-ah', which had revealed to her a treasure trove of secrets. The last was protected by an insidious spell that caused her to constantly lose track of what she was looking for, flipping from page to page until she was reading irrelevant nonsense about 'collectible card games' and 'sonic the hedgehog'. She persevered though, as it clearly warranted such protection because it was so rich in secrets."

  15. January 05, 2020quanticle said...

    @Neal You're welcome!

    Question for the group: what do we think of the movie version of Run Silent, Run Deep. It's starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, so it's got that going for it, but I'm wondering if anyone has seen it and if it's true to the book.

  16. January 05, 2020quanticle said...

    Looks like China has commissioned its second aircraft carrier, the Shandong. This is the first aircraft carrier that China has completed all on its own. It's previous carrier, the Liaoning was purchased as a hulk from Russia, and the extensively refurbished into a finished vessel.

    That said, I'm not that impressed. From looking at the number and types of aircraft they can field (up to 24 J-15s), it seems like they're closer to an upgunned LHA (or a conventionally powered Charles De Gaulle) than a true competitor to a Nimitz-class. But, on the other hand, maybe that's all that China needs. While the Chinese government has indicated that it wishes to pursue a blue-water navy in the long run, their current priorities seem to be guarding their littoral, preventing Taiwanese independence, and patrolling the South China Sea. When you're operating this close to friendly bases (whether fortified atolls or friendly ports) maybe an upgunned LHA is sufficient to keep the peace and show the flag, while the bulk of the fighting is delegated to land-based forces.

  17. January 05, 2020Neal said...


    Last summer when I was plowing through the first tranche of sub books I watched Run Silent Run Deep as soon as I had finished the book. I liked Beach as an author and was curious so as to how Hollywood would treat the the narrative.

    SWMBO was kind enough to spend the 90 minutes with me to watch and I rather enjoyed it. Apparently Gable and Lancaster had a bit minor falling out from Lancaster's ribbing of Gable as being far too old for the age of a real sub skipper during the war. This lead to a change from the book as to how Gable's (Spoiler Alert) character no longer remains in effective command at the end.

    Apparently the Navy lent the studio quite a few instruments and gauges and this makes for the interior shots to be as realistic as one could expect from a 1958 film. Exteriors were shot in the Salton Sea and again were surprisingly realistic considering the era.

    I think the heart of your question however, is how closely the film hews to the book and I would say about 75%. The writers, imho, did decent justice to Beach's story and this keeps it interesting for viewers with basic knowledge and above of the book, military/naval matters, etc.

    Overall it was an enjoyable film and worth 90 minutes of your time. Here is more from IMDb:

  18. January 05, 2020Neal said...

    Re. the Chinese and its desire to foray into blue water, I am wondering if anyone has teased out just, if you will excuse the phrase, how blue water it wants to go.

    By this I mean how far does it wish to project power past its historic 9-dash-line (or 10,11-line) demarcation:

    At the moment there seem to be those with the vapours in fearing that the Chinese have "beyond their region" hegemonic aspirations. Apart from setting up far afield resource and energy supplies however, e.g., in Africa and Australia), I have not yet been convinced that they are looking beyond the ken of what you described Quanticle as to the littoral, Taiwan, SCS, etc.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that I just have not seen convincing arguments thus far that indicate that China wants to go seriously deep Blue and start exercising hard power or presence beyond the 9-dash-line.

    I am sure there are experts beavering away at this daily in the think-tanks so surely it is being considered. Unfortunately their work is being drowned out in what I perceive to be an over-eagerness to elevate China into an immediate threat as opposed to something that certainly merits close watching but has of yet not indicated beyond region hegemonic aspirations.

    Probably the big question is how much control/influence will the US concede (or should it concede any)within that 9-dash-line area.

  19. January 05, 2020bean said...

    First off, if China just wants to control the 9-dash area, it shouldn't be building carriers. Carriers are for worldwide power projection. Bombers and tankers are good for controlling the area near your own coasts.

    Second, I think the principle of freedom of navigation is a vital one to the US. Nobody has control over waters outside the 12-mile limit. End of story. If we compromise that with China, we raise a dangerous precedent.

  20. January 09, 2020quanticle said...

    Speaking of the 9-dash area, I just discovered CSIS's island tracker. It's a database of satellite imagery and textual descriptions that documents the island building efforts of China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines and Malaysia in the South China Sea.

    If nothing else, having the pictures of tropical islands is nice in winter, even if realistically, one's chances of taking a vacation on any of these atolls is nil.

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