January 10, 2020

Open Thread 43

It's time for our regular biweekly open thread. Talk about whatever you want, even if it's not military/naval-related.

Overhauled from 2017-2018 were Armor Part 4, the Spotter's Guides to modern and early 20th century warships, Why the Carriers aren't Doomed Part 1, my take on the 80s reactivation of the Iowas and my comments on proposals to do so today. The 2018-2019 overhauls are Commercial Aviation Part 4, Information, Communication and Naval Warfare Part 2, Auxiliaries Part 4, the Stafford Museum in Weatherford (home of Apollo astronaut Tom Stafford), The Great White Fleet Part 3 and Interwar Naval Diplomacy.


  1. January 10, 2020Neal said...

    An Iowa question for Bean.

    Had this playing in the background a few days ago but the question about the waterline mark in the Iowa caught my ear. The presenter did not know the answer. Bean, perhaps this is in your wheelhouse? The question starts at the 40:50 mark: https://youtu.be/QgZJauOJ-yA

    One of the commenters thought it might be for the tourists to know how far below decks they are. Ideas?

  2. January 10, 2020DuskStar said...

    @Neal good to know I'm not the only one who does that with Drydock episodes - bit long to watch as a primary focus IMO

  3. January 10, 2020Echo said...

    Followup to my cage vs tripod vs pagoda mast question from the previous thread.
    Are there any good sources for reading about the evolution of masts into... integrated superstructures?

    Everyone seems to have developed them at roughly the same time, in the US's North Carolina class, Japan's Hiei refit, and the UK's Nelsons. Some countries gave up the duplicate aft mast, while the Nelsons seem to have kept their rear armoured spotting platform until replacing it with radar.

    It's interesting that some countries seem to have abandoned the double spotting platform before radar. Did funnel exhaust become less of an issue, or was keeping down topside weight the overriding concern?

  4. January 11, 2020bean said...


    I think I've seen that, although it's been a while since I was down there and I don't recall clearly. My guess is that it's for damage control purposes. It's really handy to be able to say "flooding in boiler 3 has us down 4'" and the guy can glance at the marker and immediately know how much pressure is on the bulkhead they're shoring. I know it's not for tourists (Iowa doesn't do brass signs, particularly not in that part of the ship) and I also doubt that it has to do with transport as the guy in the video speculates. That's much more of a design standards issue than an operational one. Operationally, it's dealt with in the SOPs. "All explosives need to be kept below Deck 3 except in the hoists or when being loaded or unloaded from the ship." They're not going to make someone low-carry a powder bag instead of putting it on his shoulder just to keep it below the waterline. (Not to mention that Deck 3 is the DC deck, so you have to use it to move fore or aft under armor.)


    I don't know of a good look at masts and superstructures, although it's on my long-term to-do list. It's going to be a long and exhausting thing to write, and I just finished something similar on battleship torpedoes, which will go up at the end of the month.

  5. January 11, 2020John Schilling said...

    Commander of the Iranian Air Force takes the blame for the Ukranian 752 shootdown. Pretty good, as institutional apologies go, though it will take someone of higher rank to e.g. pay compensation to the families.

    Nothing unexpected; looks a lot like the Vincennes incident in reverse. We are promised a transcription of the debrief of the operator, which may clear up a few details, but Hajizadeh is saying (probably accurately) "we didn't give this guy accurate information, and then he was cut off from higher command". Iran was at its equivalent of Defcon-1, which should have cleared the sky of civil traffic but somehow didn't, someone screwed up and said that a cruise missile had been launched (because, yeah, someone's always going to say that), operator sees a target where he thinks there shouldn't have been anything flying, tries to call for advice and can't get through, pulls the trigger on what he thinks is the missile he was warned about.

    What's missing is why the operator thought a plane at 8,000' and with a civilian transponder was a cruise missile. Possibly that information isn't prominent on the Tor system display, but it certainly ought to have been.

  6. January 11, 2020DuskStar said...

    @John Schilling If I was designing a cruise missile swarm to get through no matter what "have it fly at 8000' and say it's an airliner" would certainly be on my list of options to consider. There's nothing magical about civilian transponders that makes them impossible to spoof.

    I'd probably still go with "hug the ground with full emcon" for 95% of them, but 5% of "imitate airliner" would be a really nasty surprise for someone's air defence systems. Perhaps especially if those were the first missiles to arrive...

  7. January 11, 2020Neal said...

    Isn't the Tor-M1 more of a short range point defense weapon? I am thinking that these are road-mobile weapons and that the operator/operators very well might be not only have been lesser trained than those of say a S-300 system, but also tired, jittery and frightened. The missile launches into Iraq preceded this incident by not much, and as John stated they were all at the Defcon-1 equivalent.

    I would imagine that this crew's system was putting out easy to detect and, for the range, strong enough radar signals. To avoid speculation I will say I can only guess at the level of stress these operators were under and wouldn't fault them to think that something like a HARM (or choose your nearest poison) could be coming their way at any time as the U.S. worked to clear the area for a major strike.

    That still does not answer why they did not recognize this flight path. Most departures in this direction get a procedure that is runway heading to 7000 and then radar vectors. I hope that at least a transcription of any and all ATC and aircraft comms will be available to see if this is the case.

    Surely the operators must be used to seeing inumerable aircraft follow this routing and climb profile.

    A tragic chain of events to be sure. I just wonder what it would be like sitting there in a control cab that is easy prey for a suppressive action that might come at any time.

  8. January 11, 2020Neal said...

    Any estimates as the how close, in the second video, was behind the USS Farragut? This looks to be an extraordinarily aggressive maneuver that is an accident waiting to happen. What options were available to the Farragut's captain in this instance?


    Sorry about this coming from Twitter. It was the link that was sent to me.

  9. January 12, 2020bean said...


    There are a couple problems with that. The biggest is that cruise missiles rely on stealth to get through, and civilian transponders stop working when the enemy figures out what's going on and shoots down all the missiles you've conveniently marked for him. That's particularly likely to happen when the missiles finally have to do things that civilian airliners don't do, like fly into restricted areas. Second, the PR implications are potentially disastrous. If an airliner happens to be caught in the crossfire, then you deserve the blame, and it's likely to stick to you. Third, I'm not sure how well a cruise missile can mimic an airliner in other ways. Take NCTR. One method is to count blades in the engines. An airliner looks very different from a single-engine cruise missile on that, even one that has a transponder fitted to make sure the RCS is about the same.

  10. January 12, 2020bean said...


    Surely the operators must be used to seeing inumerable aircraft follow this routing and climb profile.

    If it was a Tor, it's a mobile system. It's quite possible that the operator's unit was just sent to the area, and he hasn't seen very many approaches.

    Doing some extremely crude photogrammetry on the video (comparing deck heights on the Russian ship to the heights of the lifelines on Farragut's stern) it looks like the Russian vessel is somewhere between 400' and 800' astern. In other words, about one ship length for vessels of this size. That's very close, twice the standard interval between battleships in line. And this wasn't a trained formation.

  11. January 12, 2020Echo said...

    Just the capability for a missile to imitate civilian transponders would be a PR nightmare, along the lines of the public finding out that every US warship has a giant red cross in storage for pretending to be a hospital ship.

  12. January 12, 2020DuskStar said...

    ...and navy warships shouldn't carry commercial transponders capable of saying that they're a perfectly harmless ULCC and not a carrier, right? Except that they do. And I'm pretty sure the same is true of fighter jets, too. (They have to show up on civilian secondary radar when at home, and there's no reason to hardcode "I'm a F-16!" there)

    I'm not saying "disguise your cruise missile as an airliner and it'll get through every time" or something. I'm trying to say that it is plausible that someone could implement such a system, and that such systems could be useful in limited circumstances.

  13. January 12, 2020cassander said...

    The more interesting thing to me than the story of how the shootdown (which John rightly says has happened before) is the US admission that we have a record of the radar paint on the hull of flight 752. Given that it's at least 500 miles from Tehran to the nearest US and the tor is not exactly the most high powered radar in the world, this to me indicates a rather impressive degree of capability in whatever system it was and I'm surprised we admitted it so casually and quickly.

    I suppose it could have been a satellite system, which is less impressive, but I would expect that the reflection from a SAM radar onto a jet at 8000' would bounce down, not up where a satellite could see it.

  14. January 12, 2020Johan Larson said...

    The Finnish Navy is going ahead with their Squadron 2020 plan to build and deploy four corvettes (or maybe light frigates) designed for surface combat and mine laying. Isn't that mix a bit unusual?

  15. January 13, 2020bean said...

    It's a little bit weird, but not terribly so. Mines are a good weapon for a country in Finland's position, but if you want to lay a lot of them, you need a reasonably big vessel. As for the rest, combining the minelayer role with a reasonably capable light frigate/heavy corvette is a good plan. Finland now has a core of good second-rate naval vessels, not a bunch of small, third-rate ones. Overall, the former is a better bet.

  16. January 14, 2020redRover said...

    What is a reasonable density of mines to actually deter an opponent? I'm sure it depends on who the opponent is, the nature of the mines, how close to shore, etc, but order of magnitude how many mines do you need to create a reasonable threat instead of having the opponent just count on the ocean being large and mines small?

  17. January 15, 2020bean said...

    The old rule is that you don't need any mines to make a minefield. You just need a press release. In more practical terms, you're not likely to see anyone sending ships into an area that is known to be mined without some sort of mine warfare coverage. Big sea, small mines works reasonably well when your warships are cheap, but that hasn't been the case for decades.

  18. January 15, 2020quanticle said...

    There's also the fact that while the sea may be large, the places that are most amenable to minefields usually have a limited set of shipping channels. So even though, for example, the Strait of Hormuz is roughly 50 miles wide, the amount of that actually suitable for use by big ships is probably much less than that.

  19. January 16, 2020Johan Larson said...

    The main goal of the Finnish Navy is to deter, degrade, or stop a Russian seaborne invasion from the south through the Gulf of Finland. The Finnish southern coast is pretty ragged, with lots of islands, reefs, and narrow shallow channels. I would guess the plan in the event of trouble is to mine those channels, particularly the ones that are passable to larger ships.

  20. January 16, 2020Lambert said...

    Chinese fishermen awarded equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars for catching foreign UUVs.


    7 UUVs found this year.
    'Fishermen' (and women) may or may not have been naval reservists in state-owned fishing trawlers that just so happen to be full of military comms hardware.

  21. January 16, 2020bean said...

    Hmmm.... Fishing trawlers full of modern comms hardware? Now where have I heard that before? Do they spend a lot of their time fishing near our carrier groups, by any chance?

    (This is something the Soviets used to do all the time.)

  22. January 16, 2020quanticle said...

    @bean @Lambert

    They are, of course fishermen (and fisherwomen, I presume). Nobody said they were fishing for fish. : )

  23. January 16, 2020dakkon said...

    Spotted a mystery US Navy vehicle in downtown DC. It was red, had US Navy printed on it, had a small set of flashing lights and sirens, wheels, and smooth, fairly featureless red sides, and the back was curved a bit like a garbage truck. Any idea what it might be? Google images and wikipedia were no help.

  24. January 17, 2020bean said...

    Sorry, doesn't sound like anything I know of.

  25. January 21, 2020bean said...

    My copy of the Anatomy of the Ship for Iowa finally arrived, having been on order since November 2018. Overall, I'd say it's a great book if you're planning to do a model of the outside of the ship, and inadequate for the inside. There isn't even a section of engineering diagrams, not to mention a neglect of the lovely interior details that made the Anatomy of the Ship for Dreadnought so amazing. The interior sections are all from 1944, and while that's valuable, there should at least have been 80s plans as well.

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