March 06, 2020

Open Thread 47

It's time once again for our regular open thread. Talk about anything you want, even if it's not military/naval related.

I recently discovered Giant Military Cats on twitter. The author photoshops in cats to pictures of military equipment, sometimes to hilarious effect. He recently did his first battleship, and showed great taste in selection of his ship.

Of course, Lord Nelson and I were inspired to get in on the act, and we staged a "giant military cats in real life" with her cat, Dean.

2018 post overhauls are Strike Warfare, Propulsion Parts two, three and four and Late Night Forward Pumproom Test. 2019 overhauls are Neal's first part on delays in commercial aviation, A Brief History of the Cruiser, the North Carolina class, the Spanish-American War Part 2 and German Guided Bombs Part 3.


  1. March 06, 2020Carey Underwood said...

    So, whenever I hit the front page of naval gazing ( specifically), the connection stalls for 12-15 seconds before finally loading. If I load a specific page from my history ( for instance), it works fine. Non-existent links also load (the 404) quickly ( for instance).

    It's the network request for that's stalling, not a dns lookup or referenced resource on the page, everything else always loads fast.

    Same thing happens on my desktop, my laptop at work, and my android cell, so I think there's something wonky with the server.

    It's been doing this for as long as I can remember.

  2. March 06, 2020bean said...

    It does the same thing for me. No idea why, and I don't manage that stuff. Said Achmiz?

  3. March 06, 2020Chris said...

    For me firefox says that it's resolving fonts from that whole time.

  4. March 06, 2020The Fatherly One said...

    Talk to Ben

  5. March 06, 2020quanticle said...

    I pinged Said about it on IRC a little while ago, and he said that he'd look into it, so he's aware of the problem. I don't know where he's at with the investigation, though.

  6. March 06, 2020quanticle said...

    That is a beautiful model of the Arizona. Did you make it yourself?

  7. March 06, 2020Lambert said...

    Also this website sometimes renders for me in one font and sometimes another.

  8. March 07, 2020bean said...


    Yes, I did. Standard kit from Hobby Lobby. Sister bean got me an Iowa mod l, and I thought I'd do Arizona for practice. Got engaged just after I finished it, so Iowa still hasn't been assembled.


    Yeah, I see that sometimes, too.

  9. March 07, 2020Manly Reading said...

    I’ll be interested to see if the movie version of The Good Shepherd (starring Tom Hanks) is as good as I hope. It’s called Greyhound I think- perhaps they were concerned the audience would think it was a sequel to Brokeback Mountain.

  10. March 07, 2020bean said...

    Oh, wow. I didn't even know that was coming. I'll have to make sure to read the book, and then go see it when it comes out. I definitely have higher hopes than for Midway, but that's not saying much.

  11. March 07, 2020cassander said...


    the trailer was not encouraging. Lots of shots of destroyers and U-boats blasting at one another a few yards apart.

  12. March 11, 2020bean said...

    Yesterday, I was thinking about the nature of my posts here, and how they seem to fall on a continuum between "explanatory" and "research". Pure explanatory posts are mostly aimed at a general audience, and consist of me interpreting stuff that isn't hard to find into forms that are easy to understand. The "A Brief History" series is among the purest examples of this.

    Research posts are what happens when I decide to look into a topic which doesn't have good coverage in my library, and want to report my results. Battleship Torpedoes and Turret and Barbette are the best examples of this. Doing these takes a lot more time, as I'm having to laboriously mine my information from a lot of different sources and synthesize it into a coherent narrative, and I'm a lot more careful about making sure nuance and detail are preserved, because I'm making an attempt to add something to the scholarship on a subject and want to give naval nerds as much to build on as I can.

    Obviously, these two aren't mutually exclusive, and there's some combination of both in most every post. But some series definitely veer more towards one side or the other, and even entries within a series. (Auxiliaries Part 0 is definitely more on the Research side than the other Auxiliaries posts, for instance.)

    Just to be clear, this is self-reflection, and I'm not really planning to do anything differently going forward. I'm mostly wondering if this is illuminating for any of my readers in what they like and what they don't.


  13. March 11, 2020quanticle said...

    War on the Rocks has a debate on the role of China's "artificial" island bases in a future naval conflict, with Gregory B. Poling asserting that the US is dangerously underestimating the potential of China's island bases to deny access to the South China Sea for the US, and Olli Pekka Suorsa arguing that the US has adequate tools to deal with these bases even without support from allies.

    The two authors agree that the primary intent behind building the bases is not to defeat the US in a military conflict. Rather, the island bases serve to support Chinese civilian and paramilitary forces in increasing Chinese naval influence in the South China Sea region. The bases are currently best understood as an extension of Chinese "soft power", demonstrating that China has a long term commitment to supporting its interpretation of its rights within the 9-dash-line. The goal of the Chinese government appears to be to intimidate US allies in the region directly, via a campaign of persistent low-intensity aggression through fishing vessels and paramilitary militia forces. The bases serve as support stations and supply depots for these forces, allowing them to operate in the South China Sea for months, rather than weeks. This campaign of intimidation serves to give US allies an uncomfortable choice: either acquiesce, and give China de facto control over the South China Sea, or reply to this intimidation with force, giving the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) a pretext to intervene to "defend" Chinese citizens at sea.

    Where the authors differ is in their interpretation of the role of these bases in a situation where this sort of soft power intimidation has failed, and the US has gotten involved in a regional conflict. Poling argues that the island bases pose a significant threat to US assets in the region, and could very well force US naval forces to retreat out of the South China Sea in the early stages of a conflict. According to him, the bases that China has built on the Spratly Islands and Woody Island can amass a significant amount of air power, as well as ground-launched anti-ship cruise missiles. These, combined with the signals intelligence resources on those bases, would pose an unacceptable risk to US naval forces. As a result, the US military would have to neutralize those bases before it is able to operate in the South China Sea.

    Poling argues that disabling these bases is not going to be as easy as many US experts assume. The bases are much larger than are commonly assumed — for example, Mischief Reef's lagoon can swallow the Washington Beltway area and Subi Reef is larger than Pearl Harbor. This allows China to physically disperse critical infrastructure, requiring the US to expend more ordinance to disable these bases. Moreover, he posits that the only viable means of attacking these bases is with standoff weapons, such as cruise missiles. His estimate is that it would take roughly 100 cruise missiles to disable each of the bases on the Spratlys and Woody Island, plus a few dozen more for smaller facilities. This estimate is derived from the US attack on Al-Shayrat air base in Syria, where the US fired 59 missiles, and only disabled the base for a few hours. If it took 59 missiles to temporarily disable a relatively undefended unhardened Syrian air base, then it's not unreasonable to think that a Chinese air base with hardened air defenses and defenses on alert will require far more firepower to disable.

    So what will launch all this ordinance? According to Poling, the only viable launch platform in the opening hours and days of a conflict in the South China Sea will be US submarines. However, tasking submarines to this mission will deplete their magazines (as well as depleting the US stocks of cruise missiles more generally), pull them away from attacking Chinese naval forces, and place them at unnecessary risk, as every launch gives Chinese forces an opportunity to detect and attack the sub.

    Poling's suggestion is for the US to pursue further diplomatic and military contacts with the Philippines. This would allow the US to base aircraft at the Basa and Antonio Bautista air bases, as well as allowing the US to rapidly set up firebases at other locations. While such an agreement is unlikely under the current Duterte administration, the US can lay the groundwork with diplomatic and military-to-military contacts, greasing the rails for an agreement with a future Filipino government.

    Olli Pekka Suorsa, on the other hand, argues that the US still has the ability to fight past Chinese defenses, even without support from the Philippines. He argues that satellite photos show that the actual amount of dispersion on Chinese bases is relatively low, and that most infrastructure is above ground and unhardened. He says that an initial strike of 30-50 cruise missiles per outpost would be sufficient to disable them sufficiently for air power (such as the B-2 or B-21) to put the bases out of commission for the duration of the conflict.

    Suorsa also points out that these island bases don't have a lot of on-site infrastructure and thus are entirely dependent on the mainland for fuel, spare parts, food, and other supplies. Thus, any supply disruption would quickly affect the bases' ability to launch missions. Finally, the fact that most of these islands have only a single runway means that even in ideal circumstances, they will struggle to get all their planes in the air in a timely fashion, further increasing their vulnerability to air raids and cruise missiles.

    In addition, the US has operational plans for gaining access to the South China Sea. The US Marine Corps' big-decked amphibious vessels, while not as capable as US Navy carriers, do pose enough of a threat to stretch out Chinese forces, potentially opening holes for carrier or ground-launched aircraft to attack the bases directly. The US Air Force is working on deploying 5th generation fighters in a dispersed fashion, requiring only a C-17 or C-130 for support, enabling it to use airfields that otherwise might have the infrastructure to launch high-end fighters like the F-22 or the F-35. More recently, with the US withdrawal from the INF treaty, the US Army is developing intermediate-range ballistic missiles that will also be able to attack these bases.

    Suorsa concludes that even without a basing arrangement with the Philippines, the US possesses enough options to deal with the naval threat posed by China's island bases, and the US ability to neutralize these bases is only going to grow. He says that, far from being a strategic asset, these bases are actually a liability for China, and that it would be a mistake to focus on the island bases as the deciding factor in any future military conflict between the US and China.

    Personally, I'm with Suorsa. I think that the threat posed by China's airbases in the South China Sea has been overblown. I think the US will be able to island hop past them just as it was able to with Japanese installations during the Philippine campaign in World War 2. The greater risk, is the one that the authors agree on: that the bases enable Chinese non-military forces to intimidate and harass US allies into giving up their navigation, fishing and mineral rights in the South China Sea without hostilities ever rising to the point of open conflict. The real threat to me, isn't that the US will lose a future war in the South China Sea, but rather that a war will never be fought, with US allies switching, one by one, to a China-led order without US interests ever being directly threatened.

    In order to counter this, I would like to see the US do more to build up its allies' ability to resist Chinese non-military aggression. In particular, I would like to see greater involvement by the US Coast Guard in training and potentially equipping other Southeast Asian nations (like Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia) to better respond to violations of territorial waters and fishing rights by Chinese-flagged vessels. I also think that non-governmental efforts like the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative are valuable for highlighting Chinese transgressions and ensuring that Chinese challenges to the navigation, fisheries and mineral rights of its neighbors don't pass unnoticed.

  14. March 11, 2020quanticle said...


    Wow, that turned out much longer than I thought it would be. Uh, if it's excessively long, feel free to delete it as offtopic or something.

  15. March 11, 2020bean said...

    Not at all. That was very interesting, and I generally share your sentiment. The figure of 100 missiles is particularly bizarre. It's not even so much a matter of hardening as it is one of definitions. BDA is never an exact science, but if we ignore Russian sources (always a good idea) it sounds like the base's ability to operate was heavily degraded. Obviously, the runways and taxiways weren't hit. Those are easy to patch, which leaves the other guy with the option of scraping up a fuel pump, clearing enough debris to fly a plane off, and gaining a propaganda victory by declaring the base operational. That's obviously not going to cut it against a US carrier group.

  16. March 11, 2020quanticle said...

    The other Poling claim I found bizarre was his assertion that Chinese air cover and air defenses will make that entire area impassable to all US forces except for US submarines. That just seemed like a contrivance to "prove" that it was impossible for the US to launch the necessary number of missiles to disable the airbases.

    The strange thing is that I'm not at all sure that Poling and Suorsa actually disagree that much on conclusions. I suspect that they would both agree that an updated security agreement with the Philippines is valuable. It's just that Poling thinks that the US military can get locked out of the South China Sea for at least a limited amount of time without a basing agreement with the Philippines, whereas Suorsa thinks that not having such an arrangement makes things difficult, but not impossible.

    Another, somewhat related question that I'm working on is assessing the environmental cost of all this base-building. For example, we can compare Fiery Cross Reef from 2009 to 2018. It looks like a significant portion of the lagoon has been dredged away, and sand has been dumped over everything that remains. That has to have had some kind of environmental impact, but the amount and nature of that impact is something that I've seen very little discussion of.

  17. March 11, 2020Lambert said...

    Much easier to drive a truckload of repair supplies and engineers into Al-Shayrat than Mischief Island.

    OTOH, Mischief Island has almost twice the number of stars on Google maps as Al-Shayrat does.

    How long do the bases need to be out of action for strategic bombers to neutralise them permenantly?

  18. March 12, 2020Alexander said...

    Re: Explanatory Vs Research, I'm interested in both, but I'm often unsure which of your posts are which, since I tend to assume that anything you don't specifically mention having looked up, you just pulled from your huge reserve of naval knowledge, with references added purely so we can read further if we are interested Ü. Now that I've actually thought about it, there must be even more work than I'd assumed going into these articles, so thank you again for writing them.

    What sort of issues for merchant vessels does the Chinese activity in the South China Sea result in? Are there concerns about being taken prisoner or attacked, like tankers in the straits of Hormuz? Do they face competition from Chinese fishermen breaking rules that authorities are not prepared to enforce? Or are the island bases more of a concern militarily, or in terms of legal/diplomatic precedent, than commercially so far?

    Thanks for the link to the trailer!

  19. March 12, 2020boris said...

    On explanatory vs. research, I personally enjoy far more the research ones, for the simple fact that they really expand the knowledge of the theme in question. Not that the other are less useful in that sense: I have been thoroughly fascinated by the little pieces of information that you put here and there (my favourite is the bit on the lightbulb used to get the right air/fuel ratio in the Iowa's engines). That being said, I didn't realize there was a difference in "production" until you said it. As Alexander said, I always assumed all of this came from you knowledge of the theme in question. That being said, a big thank you for all of this!

  20. March 12, 2020quanticle said...

    The main concern, at least in the two pieces I reviewed above, is that China's island bases allow Chinese "militia" vessels (i.e. naval reserve and paramilitary ships) to establish a continuing and ongoing presence in what are normally considered international waters, making them de facto Chinese territorial waters, even though they're still listed as international waters on the charts.

    While control of fisheries is one objective these militias pursue, what they've been doing more recently is blockading and harassing oil and natural gas platforms and exploration vessels. There are considerable offshore natural resources in the South China Sea, and it seems like China has made it a goal to see that those resources are exploited on Chinese terms, rather than Malaysian, Vietnamese, Filipino or Indonesian terms.

  21. March 12, 2020bean said...

    How long do the bases need to be out of action for strategic bombers to neutralise them permenantly?

    I'm not sure that they'd use strategic bombers that way. Either they're pitching JASSMs from long range (and I should add that said JASSMs are essentially equivalent to Tomahawks, and should definitely be counted in the weapons capable of suppressing the islands) or they're trying to flatten the place with JDAMs. But using JDAMs means suppressing SAMs as well as the airfield, and at some point, the actual answer is "we can't get enough supplies through because their subs sink any transport and we keep losing transport planes to their fighters, so the airfield is down".

    Re my research process, pretty much every post involves reference to something. (Some of the photo posts don't, but they're a rare exception.) For something I know well, it might just be double-checking what I remember against wikipedia or a single book, or pulling numbers out to fill in the blanks. In a more typical case, I'll spend a couple hours on research and writing, with the number of sources depending on the topic, usually 2-3. The only one I counted on was the post on Dreadnought, when I checked 12 books, but a lot of that was because it was a day I had nothing else to do, and I had a lot of potentially relevant books. That's a level more typical of proper research posts, when I'll check every book I have that might bear on the subject.

    So no, I don't actually know all of this stuff offhand. It really helps to have a good library, and when I get it set up properly again (right now, I'm out of shelf space and am using the floor to store some books) I'll post pictures.

  22. March 12, 2020Alexander said...

    The blockading and harassment is what I was thinking of, and is pretty clearly the sort of thing that you aren't supposed to be permitted to do outside your territorial waters, and if you are, de facto makes them your waters. Is there a reason why it matters that it is "militia" vessels that do this rather than warships? The US maintains a presence in international waters, including in the South China Sea, and we're okay with that because they don't (except regarding NK/Iran etc) act in that way. This makes me think that a Chinese presence (even including their militia) would be fine, they weren't attempting to take control.

  23. March 12, 2020Chuck said...


    The importance of the "militia" tag for the Chinese is that these are nominally commercial vessels, just armed, crewed, and coordinated by the PLA. It allows them to deploy a limited amount of force while making it hard for anyone to respond directly. The Chinese government will publicly disavow any aggressive actions taken by these vessels, and if someone shows up to chase them off will either bring out their own navy to defend Chinese "fishermen"; Or in the case of the US, accuse the navy of trying to intimidate said "fishermen", then likely put out a bunch of photos small, harmless looking boats framed by hulking US warships.

  24. March 13, 2020Neal said...

    Very interesting post quanticle. Thank you for putting it up and no, for us readers, it was not too long at all.

  25. March 14, 2020quanticle said...

    [A] Chinese presence (even including their militia) would be fine, they weren’t attempting to take control.

    The problems I've seen raised with Chinese activities in the South China Sea are twofold. First, as you've pointed out, the activities that Chinese state-aligned groups are engaging in amount to a de facto declaration that China has sovereignty over the entire South China Sea and thus has an effective veto over any non-Chinese development in those waters.

    Second, even if Chinese forces were not engaging in harassing and blockading activities, China's development of the Spratly, Paracel, and other reefs into artificial islands is an issue. When the US Navy builds bases, it does so with at least the nominal permission of a host government. That's not to say that there's always zero friction between the US military presence and the host nation (c.f. Okinawa), but there's always at least a fig leaf of consent.

    China doesn't even have the fig leaf. It built a fairly massive military presence out in the South China Sea, by essentially abusing a technicality in international law. A lot of these reefs, because they weren't really inhabitable, weren't subject to the normal rules of sovereignty that inhabited or inhabitable islands fall under. So, by dumping a bunch of sand on these reefs and dredging the out to be navigable ports, China can get a bunch of bases in relatively strategic locations, without having to go through the usual process of getting permission from a host government. Also, because those islands are new "Chinese" territory, China claims the 12 nautical mile territorial waters and 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zones around those island for itself. The overall effect is like someone running a barbed wire fence around common lands. Even if they don't actually prevent others from using that land, the fact that they've unilaterally staked it out for themselves is an issue.

  26. March 17, 2020quanticle said...

    More drama in the saga of the Ford-class. The new new Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly, has indicated that the Navy may cease production of the Ford-class after the current four ships (Ford, Kennedy, Enterprise and Miller) are completed. Instead, after these four, the US Navy may build another, unspecified class of aircraft carrier.

  27. March 17, 2020bean said...

    Yikes. He's a retired Vice Admiral, and he really should know that the worst time to cancel a program is when the bugs are finally worked out. Odds are good that we'd get that, and just have to pay to debug a new class. Lower chance that we get a Virginia to the Ford's Seawolf.

  28. March 17, 2020quanticle said...

    I was especially surprised to hear this news because the outgoing Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, seemed to be rather committed to the Ford-class, to the point of proposing the retirement of a Nimitz-class carrier in order to better fund the Ford-class.

  29. March 17, 2020Chris Bradshaw said...

    If everything in that article is true regarding the increased reliability rates on EMALS, AAG, and AWE, then Ford has finally cleared the key hurdles to real capability. Hopefully, he's just talking about a Flight II Ford to incorporate some evolutionary lessons learned, and not some pie-in-the-sky dream of another giant step forwards.

  30. March 17, 2020bean said...


    My bigger concern is that they're looking at smaller carriers, maybe even conventionally-powered ones. That's a perennial threat to the carrier force, although the last few efforts have been beaten back. (The best-documented is the CVV design in the late 70s, although I believe there have been a couple others since then.)

  31. March 18, 2020quanticle said...

    That's my fear as well. The article itself doesn't mention it, but there's a lot of chatter generally floating around the "Lightning Carrier" concept. In short, instead of building out the nuclear powered supercarrier fleet, you hold that fleet at its current size and invest all the rest of your money into big-decked amphibious vessels, equipped with the F-35B. In theory this gives you an "expeditionary force in a box", able to conduct littoral missions on its own without requiring any support from a supercarrier. The buzzword for that operational concept is "distributed maritime operations", and while I'm not 100% sure what it means, it seems to indicate that the Navy wishes to pursue a strategy of scattering its eggs across more, smaller baskets, giving it the flexibility to scatter them widely in order to deal with "grey zone" conflicts or combine them into larger fighting forces to deal with high-end adversaries.

    In practice... I'm not sure it'll work. The US Navy tried a similar concept with its "escort carriers" in World War 2, and while they did have some utility, they were never really all that useful in intense combat (the heroism of Taffy 3 excepted, of course). Having lots of small baskets is great, if each of those baskets has the necessary striking power to do damage to the enemy. If not (as I suspect to be the case), all the "distributed maritime operations" concept accomplishes is to massively increase your maintenance and logistics burden while simultaneously still requiring your to concentrate your forces in order to secure objectives in the face of a determined enemy.

  32. March 18, 2020bean said...

    I'm very much not sure it will work. America can't carry AWACS, and we know very well what happens when you try to fight a war without that. Yes, we could get a helicopter to carry a radar, but it won't be as good as a Hawkeye, nor will the F-35B be as good as the F-35C/Super Hornet combo we already have. Also, we're going to have to buy a lot of extra planes. The whole "distributed maritime operations" thing is an outgrowth of the "transformational" Rumsfeld era, combined with junior officers who want more postings for themselves, usually forgetting that they'll be senior officers by the time this hits the water. The LCS should have killed that brand off, but somehow hasn't.

    The US Navy tried a similar concept with its “escort carriers” in World War 2, and while they did have some utility, they were never really all that useful in intense combat (the heroism of Taffy 3 excepted, of course).

    Not exactly. The CVEs were not intended to replace conventional carriers with distributed airpower. They were intended to get more aircraft to sea using resources that couldn't really be deployed to build Essex class CVs, and in that, they succeeded. In the ASW role, they were essentially killed off by helicopters, and for other jobs, by the increasing demands of postwar aircraft on their carriers. By the early 50s, the minimum viable carrier was an Essex, and we had plenty of them laying around.

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