August 07, 2020

Open Thread 58

It's time once again for our regular open thread. Talk about anything you want, so long as it isn't Culture War.

I'm going to declare this OT the occasional "suggest topics for future Naval Gazing" thread. I don't promise to actually implement any of the suggestions, but it's always helpful to get a look at what people are interested in.

Also, note that our next Naval Gazing virtual meetup will be on Saturday the 21st instead of the 14th or 15th. Sister Bean is getting married, so I'll be on the road.

2018 overhauls are The 15" Battleships, Museum Ships - United States, my pictures from Wayne E Meyer, Information, Communication and Naval Warfare Part 1, So You Want to Build a Modern Navy - Aviation Part 3 and my look at the Operational Intelligence Center in WWII. For 2019, overhauls are Wolverine and Sable, Italian Battleships in WWII, So You Want to Build a Battleship - Trials and Commissioning, How to Build a Battleship - 1942, The Maximum Battleship and the Spanish-American War Part 6.


  1. August 07, 2020bean said...

    I have good news. Midway finally came in from the library, and I should have my review of that up relatively soon.

  2. August 07, 2020Alex said...

    “So you want to build a modern navy” was really interesting, but it focused on a state with financial resources comparable to the UK or France, which both have a GDP of ~$2.8 trillion/year.

    I’m interested in what trade-offs we would make in building a navy for a state with more constrained resources - I’m thinking something comparable to Chile, the Philippines, or Malaysia (GDP of $300-$355 billion/year). If we commit to spending 2% of GDP on defense, that’s roughly $6.5 billion/year to spend across all of our armed forces.

    That budget is far too small for us to acquire, sustain, and support a CVL or large LHD of the type we discussed in “So you want to build a modern navy”, so we’ll have to adopt a completely different strategy towards building and using our fleet. What sort of trade-offs would we make?

    Discussion questions:

    • A typical navy for a country in this class seems to have a handful of SSKs, a handful of late-Cold-War frigates and corvettes, a similar number of offshore patrol vessels, a couple low-capability amphibious warfare vessels, and a whole bunch of patrol boats. Is this efficient? What, if anything, would we cut from this?

    • Guided missiles have longer range and more lethality than guns, but the high unit costs make it prohibitive for small navies to stockpile enough missiles for a true emergency, and crews don’t get the chance to do live-fire training exercises. How should we approach this trade-off? Should our surface combatants use rack-mounted MANPADs and gun-based CIWS instead of “real” SAMs? What should we do about SSMs?

    • How much of our budget should we allocate towards coastal “asymmetric warfare” capabilities like mines, minelaying vessels, missile boats, etc.?

    • Should we invest in modern maritime patrol aircraft like the P-8, or smaller and cheaper converted turboprop aircraft? Alternatively we could bet heavily on drones for this purpose.

    • Many smaller navies during the Cold War developed a specialization in minesweeping and minehunting. They did this at least partially because it was perceived as a relatively cheap capability to develop and maintain, and delivered significant value for the larger alliance networks they participated in. Is this sort of specialization still an option, or does hunting modern naval mines require higher-capability vessels with advanced electronics and aircraft? If it is possible, would devoting some of our budget to this capability be desirable?

    • How much do we care about developing a local industrial base? Presumably we want our local shipyards to be able to do maintenance and overhauls, but is it worth the additional cost and potential quality issues to actually build our ships locally?

  3. August 07, 2020Alsadius said...

    For future topics, I'm always fascinated by military economics - how much do these ships cost, what makes them cost what they do, and what kind of tradeoffs are we dealing with? And, as an eternal source of high-grade facepalm, "How screwed up is procurement?" can be good too.

    On the more combat-focused side, analyses of battle tactics are always fun (best I've seen on this recently is on the battle of Midway, from the Japanese perspective). I'd also like to see some earlier battle discussions - Napoleonic era, perhaps - if you feel competent to discuss them.

  4. August 07, 2020Alsadius said...

    Also, as the next of my occasional wacky "what if" questions, what if the ocean floor globally was, say, a fifth of the depth it actually is? (To prevent ships from being stuck in port, I'll say that the ports keep the same depth that they have IRL, as do any artificial waterways like Suez. Dredging still works as usual too.)

    The open ocean won't be affected much by this, but a few major waterways would get uncomfortably shallow. New minimum depths I've found:

    • Straits of Malacca, five metres

    • Bering Strait, 6 metres at best, probably less (I can't find a minimum, just an average).

    • English Channel, nine metres.

    • Great Belt (to the Baltic), 3 metres. (Side note: You could walk from Copenhagen to Malmo, since it'd only be 1.4m there)

    • TBH, the whole North Sea gets pretty tight -

    • I can't find really solid numbers, but the continental shelves off North America and China/Korea look problematic too. The Yellow Sea would average about 9m deep, for example.

  5. August 07, 2020redRover said...


    I think it depends on both what their alliances are, and what their threat model is.

    Most of these less developed states are at risk not of going toe to toe with the US or China, but either getting in a border spat with their neighbor or some sort of low intensity conflict, which puts a premium on "what can my neighbor do?"

    Thus, the profusion of patrol boats and such makes sense, as you're primarily doing border patrol/ protecting fishing rights type things, not hunting SSNs in the open Pacific.

    To the extent that they're considering "real" war, I think the resource limitations make asymmetric war from a defensive posture the most feasible, because it's unlikely that you can really fight a determined carrier group. Thus, lots of mines and things.

    However, I almost wonder if a "real" navy is actually that useful, given the threat model, or if they're better off spending the money beefing up their Army/Air Force and having a glorified Coast Guard take over the naval duties. While anathema to the underlying theory of the blog, I think in some ways it better matches their resource constraints and likely threats.

  6. August 07, 2020redRover said...

    With the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII upon us, what is the definitive account of how Japan decided to surrender, and the goings on within the US about the decision to use the bomb?

  7. August 07, 2020bean said...


    This is a case where what you buy is determined by what missions you want to carry out. Chile has quite a few patrol vessels (not surprising, given their coastline, but gets most of their high-end stuff second-hand. This is a specialization of theirs, and they’re very good at it. They need the high-end stuff because I suspect their biggest threat is Argentina, and they want to be able to safeguard their coast if war should break out.

    The Philippines are in a really awkward position. They have a zillion islands and something of a piracy problem, which means they need a bunch of patrol craft. But China is also a growing problem, which is going to push them high-end. So far, they seem content to leave that to the US, at least when their President isn’t burning bridges there. So it’s a bunch of medium to low-end patrol vessels, along with a substantial amphibious warfare capability, which mostly gets used internally, because archipelago with serious insurgency problems. They look to be pivoting a bit more high-end, but nothing like what they’d need to face China themselves.

    Malaysia is somewhere in the middle. Definite piracy problems, probably internal security problems, but not as bad, and so they can spend more money on cool toys. Also, further from China, but not as closely aligned with the US. So they have some better frigates and a couple of submarines, but also a couple of amphibious ships and a lot of patrol craft.

    All of this is going to inform the answers to your questions. For instance, the European navies during the Cold War put a lot of emphasis on mine warfare because there was a lot of risk to them from mine warfare. They were right next to the Soviets, who liked mines a lot. The US wasn’t, so the risk was a lot smaller, and we were more concerned about clearing landing beaches. The result? Minesweeping helicopters.

    Likewise, how much you spend on coastal asymmetric warfare depends on how much you expect to need it. Quite useful for Sweden and Finland, who have enemies at close range. Not so important for Chile, who can and probably should emphasize handling things further out to sea.

    (This was another reason I set up the original scenario the way I did. If you don’t have enough money and power to have a global navy, the details get very scenario-dependent very fast, and I didn’t want that.)

  8. August 07, 2020bean said...


    The book you're looking for is Downfall by Richard B Frank. Very good, and shouldn't be particularly expensive.

    However, I almost wonder if a “real” navy is actually that useful, given the threat model, or if they’re better off spending the money beefing up their Army/Air Force and having a glorified Coast Guard take over the naval duties. While anathema to the underlying theory of the blog, I think in some ways it better matches their resource constraints and likely threats.

    Depends on the threat model. This is more or less what the Philippines have done.

  9. August 07, 2020FXBDM said...

    A while back I had suggested you take a tour of what's interesting from a Naval perspective on Google maps. I know you can poke around Murmansk and see a lot of subs and the Kuznetsov, you can do the same around Norfolk and most worldwide naval bases (except, notably, Toulon and Brest). Once I even tried to see if I could find the 11 US CNVs (found 6 or 7).

  10. August 07, 2020Alex said...

    (This was another reason I set up the original scenario the way I did. If you don’t have enough money and power to have a global navy, the details get very scenario-dependent very fast, and I didn’t want that.)

    Yeah that makes a lot of sense.

  11. August 07, 2020AlexT said...

    Would be nice to read more on modern naval weapons - torpedoes, more about missiles, modern surface gunnery, also more about hardware from other nations.

    Also, more about likely future developments - railguns and lasers, of course, but also current trends in ship hulls, aviation, missiles and torpedoes, as well as what propulsion, electronics etc might look like in twenty years.

    The "Carriers Are not Doomed" series was fascinating. Maybe more like that - modern weapons and the tactics for their use.


  12. August 07, 2020bean said...


    That's a good idea, and I've started poking around on it. Probably will start with Norfolk, because of all the stuff that's going on there.


    Some of that is in the pipeline. There's a couple of posts coming up which are broadly in that area. There are a couple of relevant books being published later this year.

  13. August 07, 2020fxbdm said...

    @bean: Thanks!

    I'd also like to note I meant CVN, not CNV.

  14. August 07, 2020Neal said...

    RedRover - I would second Bean's recommendation of Frank's Downfall. For the bomb development, Richard Rhode's work is quite good but it sounds as if you are interested in the decision making process and diplomatic unfolding vice actual bomb construction

    It is still shocking that even after the second bomb had been dropped that there were still factions that were ardently advocating continuing the fight...and I do mean ardently. Frankly I would have thought the severity of the naval blockade would have been enough but such was the fervor.

    If you are familiar with the writings of Fred Kaplan on the topic of nuclear doctrine, he penned an interesting think piece in Slate yesterday that puts forth the argument that the decision to use the bomb against the Japanese had already, in effect, been made when the U.S. started the development of the weapon and that Truman was merely the extension of that policy.

    This train of thought is certainly open to many quibbles, but it does flip the discussion onto a side that prompts thought. Well worth the five minutes to read it.

  15. August 07, 2020bobbert said...

    Well, if you are fishing for ideas for topics, I suggest a 12 part series on canals - ancient and modern with economic and military implications. : )

  16. August 07, 2020bean said...

    That is a lot of parts on canals. It's not that the topic holds not interest, just that that level of coverage is probably more than the muse will sustain.

  17. August 07, 2020bobbert said...

    Well, there are lots of natural topics.

    premodern I. China II. S France

    Modern III. Erie / Toledo IV. Kiel (ties nicely into the Schlewig War and "Hey, maybe we need a navy after all.") V. Russia (the sane ones) VI. Russia (White Sea) VII. Suez VIII. Panama IX. Future? (Nicaragua / Thailand)

    I would be surprised if Suez could be done in less than 3 parts given how it basically dominated British foreign policy for nearly a century.

    I all seriousness, you do great work and are always a joy to read.

  18. August 08, 2020Matt B said...

    Looking forward to the Midway review. Maybe a Greyhound review after that?

    I always like reading about naval battles, though not sure if there is something you haven't covered.

  19. August 08, 2020Alexander said...

    Lots of the suggested topics sound good. To throw another one in the ring, how about a bit more on commerce raiding, e.g. the East Asia Squadron in WWI, or how to set up something like the Asama Maru incident.

  20. August 08, 2020Balesirion said...

    I would love to see your take on the idea of the arsenal ship: what the concept is, whether it's viable in and of itself, and whether it would actually serve a useful role.

  21. August 08, 2020bean said...

    All good ideas, and added to the list.

    @Matt B

    There are definitely a lot of battles that I haven't covered. After I finish the Falklands, I'm looking at starting in on the Russo-Japanese War and/or the American efforts in the Persian Gulf during the 80s.

  22. August 09, 2020Matt B said...

    @bean Oooo those both sound like great reads!

  23. August 09, 2020Johan Larson said...

    "The Outpost" is a 2020 film about Combat Outpost Keating, which was an American military outpost in the mountains of Afghanistan. The outpost was poorly situated in a steep-sided valley, and was almost destroyed by a major attack by the Taliban in 2008 and abandoned shortly thereafter. That attack is the focus of the film.

    The front half, which sets the scene, is a bit slow but the back half is an intense series of combat sequences that bear comparison to "Black Hawk Down".

    The film manages an almost perfect Dicks-Not-Chicks score. Unless I missed something, the only woman we see is dead and the only women we hear are on the phone and on the radio.

    If you like movies about war, you'll like this one.

    "The Outpost" is available now on iTunes and YouTube Movies.

  24. August 09, 2020Johan Larson said...

    Actually, "The Outpost" does have a couple of small female roles. There's a military therapist of some sort and we see some Afghan women transporting corpses after the fight is over.

    But the cast is overwhelmingly male.

  25. August 09, 2020Neal said...


    As luck would have it, Dr. Mark Felton posted today an excellent 20 minute video on Japan's surrender. Gives an overview of both Truman's decision and the palace coup that, had it succeeded, would have undoubtedly prolonged the war.

  26. August 10, 2020Doctorpat said...

    @bobbert @bean, I agree with bobbert that canals probably support a 12 part series. Especially if you include "improved" natural waterways.

    Whether Bean has the interest and resources to sustain that is another matter.

    Joint project?

    Possible open thread subject: What feasible, but never done, canal projects could have seriously impacted world history? -- A greco-roman era suez canal? -- Linking mississippi network to snake and colorado rivers to give trans-USA shipping back in the 19th C? (Probably some waterfalls or something I'm not aware of.)

  27. August 10, 2020bean said...

    The problem isn't that it would be impossible to find material for a 12-part series on Canals. I'm sure I could if I wanted to. But I've gotten halfway decent at estimating how many posts I'm going to want to do/be able to do with available resources, and I suspect that the actual answer would be 6-7. (1 general, 3 Panama, 2 Suez, 1 misc.) Note that 12 parts would be longer than any sequential series I've done except for the Falklands, and that's taken 2.5 years to write. (Finishing the last part of the main series right now.)

    Joint project?

    If you guys want to, we can talk about it. Certainly wouldn't rule it out.

    A greco-roman era suez canal?


  28. August 10, 2020bean said...

    Speaking of big series, I've finally finished the Falklands. Part 24 is written, although it still needs to be illustrated. Should be coming to you in September.

  29. August 10, 2020bobbert said...

    @Doctorpat "...seriously impacted world history?" Well, the British conquest of The Sudan was driven partially by the fear the some rival power would gain control of it and cut a channel through the Red Sea Hills drying up the (Egyptian) Nile entirely and completely destroying Egypt. I am not making this up.

  30. August 10, 2020bobbert said...

    @Doctorpat RE: Transcontinental canal I am going to assume you haven't been out west before (out of curiosity where is home for you?) The Rocky Mountains a lot bigger and meaner than you think they are. I think the modern limits of navigability are Lewiston, ID (Columbia)(800ft) & Great Falls, MT (Missouri)(3,300ft) - roughly 400 miles apart. The continental divide is something like 7,300ft.

    For an account of what the Missouri-Columbia portage looks like, I would highly recommend Ambrose's 'Courage Undaunted' an account of the Lewis/Clark party. It also got a PBS miniseries Ken Burn's 'Lewis & Clark - The Journey of the Corps of Discovery' Which is a faithful recreation and pretty good- all be it with some political censorship.

  31. August 10, 2020CatCube said...


    Re: Missouri River

    No, the Missouri River Nav channel is only maintained to Sioux City, IA, 734 river miles upstream of the confluence with the Mississippi. It's maintained to a 9' channel, but I don't know what level of dredging effort is required for that.

    Gavin's Point Dam at RM 811 would be a hard barrier to navigation, as it has no locks. As I understand it, it's mostly reregulation, so the forebay probably doesn't swing too much, and it appears that the difference in head across the dam is maybe 60-70 ft, so you could, in principle, build a lock there. I think the massive flood control reservations for the dams upstream would make it a lot harder to make the river navigable above Fort Randall, though.

  32. August 10, 2020Doctorpat said...


    I'm currently living in Sydney, Australia.

    I've only ever been to the Western USA, but only the South West.

    So, a couple of visits to San Diego, and one to LA, with a 2 day trip from LA to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.

    So when wikipedia shows me something like Two Ocean's creek, I've no real idea how tricky it would be to go ocean to ocean via there.

  33. August 11, 2020quanticle said...

    @Johan Larson

    Is The Outpost based on the eponymous book by Jake Tapper?

  34. August 11, 2020Johan Larson said...


    Yes, the film is based on the book.

  35. August 11, 2020Dave said...

    I've recently been fascinated by the Guadalcanal campaign as pretty much the last time surface ships deliberately fought a real campaign against each other, with guns, on reasonably equal footing, with strategic consequences. Carriers were still precious and rare before US industrial capacity could be brought to bear, land-based air was still short-ranged and irrelevant at night, and the scale of the campaign was small enough for cruisers to zip down the slot and slug it out without air power dominating all other concerns. Lots of opportunity to talk specifically about night fighting, crew training, the early days of radar and radio, and evolution of surface tactics. Also battleships sinking other battleships with guns.

    Apologies if you already covered this, but search didn't turn anything up.

    1st and 2nd Guadalcanal would make a great film too.

  36. August 11, 2020Neal said...

    Out of curiosity I posted the question about German coastal defenses pre WW1 on a German military forum. It seems that there is a ton of stuff out there which reinforces my impression that both professional and skilled amateur historians in Europe keep these topics in mind and enjoy researching them.

    The good news is that the information going back to around 1860/1870 is robust. The bad news is that the reproductions are devilishly hard to read--shame they did not have Word or word processing back then.

    Bottom line though is that Germany seemed to start thinking in earnest about beefing up defenses on its northern flank around the time of the Franco-Prussian war. They had to destroy quite a bit after WW1 but then started building again in the lead-up to WW2...after which we know what happened.

    I am glad to see that this info is still extant and had not been destroyed.

  37. August 11, 2020Blackshoe said...

    A few recommended topics (unless you've already covered them elsewhere, if so, ignore me)

    -Naval Organization (eg fleets, squadrons, etc). Might be better as a "then" and "now" sort of thing -Shipboard organization (divisions, departments, etc).
    -Ground Tackle/anchors/mooring etc (didn't see a post on it in here, but I may have missed it, as it's not easy to search for).

  38. August 12, 2020bean said...


    Guadalcanal would be interesting, but there's so much to cover. Maybe down the road.


    Greatly appreciated. You have made a contribution to English-language scholarship on coastal defenses.


    All good suggestions. I have the reference material for those, but it's in forms which sometimes make it hard to deal with. Official manuals are good for some things, but can be surprisingly hard to turn into blog posts.

  39. August 12, 2020quanticle said...

    Here's an interesting thought experiment. You are the Minister of Defense of Elbonia, a very hypothetical nation at the turn of the 20th century. Your monarch, having imbibed deeply of Mahan, has instructed you to build a navy.

    The thing is, though, you're actually a traitor. You don't want Elbonia to have a good navy. But, at the same time, you can't just ignore the monarch's instructions. You have to build a plausible-looking navy that will fall apart in combat, allowing your adversary, Kneedonia, to sail in, topple the king, and give you your richly deserved rewards.

    So how would you go about building ships that both look good when paraded in front of a monarch on Fleet Day, and are absolutely worthless in an actual fight?

  40. August 12, 2020Alex said...


    I think the solution there is actually pretty easy - pour nearly 100% of your money into ship procurement, and limit the budget for training, logistics, ordnance stockpiles, etc. to an absolute minimum. When choosing ships to build, pick the biggest, most complicated, most impressive things around: battleships and battlecruisers. Deliberately avoid building destroyers and auxiliaries, which Elbonia might be able to figure out how to use somewhat more quickly.

    You'll have a very impressive fleet on paper, but without training and logistical support it will be totally unable to execute in a crisis. In some ways, it's worse than having no fleet at all, because your government will be lulled into complacency regarding its defensive posture.

    Such a fleet is somewhat useful as a "fleet in being", but only if your opponent actually thinks it's a credible threat. Kneedonia will know better, because of you!

  41. August 12, 2020Alex said...


    Any alternative where you try to compromise the effectiveness of the ship designs themselves is too risky, because there are too many people involved in the ship designs. There are at least a handful of sharp, patriotic engineers in the Elbonian Bureau of Ships, and they're going to disagree and pipe up about decisions they see as obviously bad or risky. Any really controversial or unorthodox decisions you make about design or fleet composition risk getting your sacked or exposed.

  42. August 12, 2020bean said...

    So how would you go about building ships that both look good when paraded in front of a monarch on Fleet Day, and are absolutely worthless in an actual fight?

    Alex's plan is good, but it doesn't go far enough, so I have a couple of additional points. First off, invest in every wacky contraption that comes across your desk. Dynamite cruisers. Submarines. Airplanes. There are plenty of fads flying around, and it shouldn't be hard to constantly be picking them up.

    Second, pick some feature and enshrine it as the be-all and end-all of effectiveness. I'd suggest "speed is armor". If you make your ships the fastest, there won't be much room for anything else.

    Third, insist on heavy armament anyway. You want lots of big guns on smaller ships, so they can't be worked properly. They'll look really cool, and they'll also tear themselves apart if fired on any but a handful of bearings.

    And be sure to discard unimportant things like redundancy and adequate crew quarters. Those don't mean much on Navy Day, and mean a lot in combat.

    When choosing ships to build, pick the biggest, most complicated, most impressive things around: battleships and battlecruisers. Deliberately avoid building destroyers and auxiliaries, which Elbonia might be able to figure out how to use somewhat more quickly.

    So the Brazilian model, then?

  43. August 12, 2020Blackshoe said...

    I was about to note that functionally, the Imperial Russian Navy served the role of the hypothetical Royal Elbonian Navy, right down to serving as breeding grounds for mutiny that brought down the king.

  44. August 12, 2020David W said...

    I like quanticle's challenge! Here's a couple additional points: - Heavily emphasize looking good for Navy Day. Try to build a culture of frequent inspections focusing on appearance. There's no excuse for the engineers to be out of dress uniform, or to be dirty! Ideally you'll scare people out of ever using the ships, except for the parades. - Strong, strong emphasis on an absolute chain of command and perks as they go, along with draconian punishments. Goal here is to hurt morale as much as possible for ordinary sailors. Also, since you're a monarchy, you can probably get away with forcing the chain of command to go by aristocratic title rather than any form of merit. - Add corruption as possible. Let everyone dip their beak, don't hold it as a personal perk - maybe you can have half the budget disappear - and on top you can hurt morale some more! Pay should be late if it shows up at all, food should be horrible or missing as well. It should be normal for half of the crew to be fictitious, and half of the rest to be detailed to their officers' estates as unpaid servants - ideally the best people will want to be detailed because at least they can eat that way. And, of course, the ships as delivered shouldn't be the ships as designed, you can fudge the Navy Day parade enough to hide the missing speed and the fact the guns are only good for 10 rounds instead of 200.

  45. August 12, 2020Alexander said...

    Re. Elbonian navy, I'm a bit late, and therefore the main feature of my plan has been suggested by Bean already, but here goes: First, invest heavily in battleships (as Alex proposed), but as they are working up, announce that BBs have been rendered obsolete by torpedoes, and sell them off (to Kneedonia?) to finance the development of flotillas of MTBs. After a period of dithering about the design/procurement, split the contract amongst a wide range of domestic and foreign producers (unless I take the opportunity to accept a bribe, thanks David W). The resulting variety of vessels will complicate logistics and operating together, so it shouldn't be too hard for me to cancel the program part way through, having concluded that more flexible cruisers are the future. I'll explain that after the disappointing MTB program, we'll choose a single contractor, and require a prototype before we commence full production. In fact, we'll have several prototypes, since after each is complete and tested I'll change the requirements to demand features proposed by a competitor. You might wonder how I'll keep my job, when on Fleet Day all I have to show is one last battleship that Kneedonia haven't yet taken delivery of, MTBs that have fewer than one torpedo each now we've shut down the production line, and a few prototype cruisers (all alongside, as they've each been stripped of vital components that were reused in their successors). To which I say, look at this artist's impression of our submarine - In but a few years we will have the finest fleet in the world!

  46. August 12, 2020quanticle said...

    Thanks everyone for the helpful suggestions about how to cripple a Navy without making it look obvious that you're crippling it. The Republic of Kneedonia thanks you for your service in its long struggle against the Elbonian regime!

    Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming about US Navy procurement.

    A little while ago, I covered the US Marine Corps' new operational concept, which calls for the Marines to position many small units on islands in the South China Sea, to provide the same sort of anti-access and area denial that the Chinese have from their reinforced reefs. At that time, I noted that the US Marine Corps' strategy only made sense in the context of joint operations with the Navy.

    Now, thanks to this [report]]( from the Congressional Research Service (outline), we're starting to see how the Navy plans on supporting the Marine Corps' EABO concept. The US Navy is pushing for a new type of small amphibious ship, the Light Amphibious Warship (LAW). The Navy wants the LAW to be a small, cheap, shallow-draft ship that can disembark and pick up at least 75 Marines directly from a beach. The current design parameters are targeting a length of about 200 feet, a displacement ranging from 1000-8000 tons, a 12-foot draft, and about 8000 sq. ft. of open-deck storage.

    The Navy wants these ships to be as economical as possible. To that end, it's targeting a crew size of 40, and a transit speed of 14 knots. In addition, the Navy is looking to derive the LAW design from that of a commercial vessel, and is targeting a design lifespan of 10 years, rather than the 30-45 year design lifespan of larger ships.

    Armament will consist of a 25 or 30mm autocannon, plus various .50cal machine guns.

    The overall plan calls for the Navy to conduct 2 years of industry studies and design concepts, with procurement beginning in 2023. According to the proposed schedule, all 28 ships will be acquired by FY2026. Given how recent Navy surface vessel procurement programs have gone, this schedule seems optimistic, to say the least.

    My main concern with this concept is survivability. According to the report, the Navy says that these ships will be able to survive by hiding behind islands and blending in with normal commercial maritime traffic. In addition, they will be able to call upon support from other Navy assets, as well as forward deployed Marine Corps units. Well, they had better be right, because these things are going to have trouble standing up to a coast guard cutter, much less a modern destroyer. And their design speed of 14 knots means that, if they're discovered, they can't even run away. As far as calling on other units for help, that may not be feasible in the opening phases of a conflict, before Chinese anti-access/area denial systems have been suppressed sufficiently to allow US Navy assets to surge forward.

    A secondary concern is maintainability. The Navy has made it clear that it wants these things built as cheaply (targeting around $100 MM per ship) and quickly as possible, and that's an open invitation to making design compromises that result in lower upfront costs while increasing maintenance burdens. The increased maintenance costs can be excused by assuming that the ships will be scrapped after their 10-year design lifespan ends, even though it's quite likely that they'll be in service for years (and possibly decades) after.

    I guess, overall, I just don't get it. What good are a bunch of glorified LSTs? They can't run, they can't fight, they can't actually carry very many troops. The short length (roughly that of a Flower-class) and shallow draft means that seakeeping will be compromised. Sure, they can run up onto the beach and let you re-enact a World War 2 style amphibious assault, but is that still a viable mission in the 2020s?

  47. August 12, 2020bean said...

    "Isn't that basically just an LST?" was my first thought, too. And I'm very much with you on not getting it.

  48. August 13, 2020Doctorpat said...

    Maybe there is some sort of political budget reason they can't buy a bunch of LSTs, but can purchase new ships? That seems to be the explanation for a lot of similar historical curiosities.

  49. August 13, 2020quanticle said...


    To clarify, a LST, or Landing Ship, Tank is a World War 2 era vessel that was designed to deliver armored vehicles onto enemy beaches. No one has built an LST in a long time, because we have better ways now of delivering troops onto a potentially hostile beach than running a ship up on the sand and dropping a ramp.

    Or, more to the point, why is it buying these ships at all instead of anything else? The Congressional Research Service report does not seem to indicate that this is a program that has been foisted upon the Navy by Congress. Rather, it appears as if the Navy is asking for these. My question is, "Why?" Why is the Navy spending approximated $3 billion buying 30 of these ships, whose utility I've questioned above, rather than another LHA or LHD?

  50. August 13, 2020bean said...

    I can really only think of two reasons for them to build these. First, they're just lying about the roles. There's some potential value in a new LST, so long as you're planning on using it in a low-intensity situation. More or less what the JHSV was supposed to be, but without the need for a pier. The second is if they're doing attritional tactics, and expecting to lose some of the ships. That's not something they can say publicly, but it's the only thing that makes sense if they actually want to go up against China with these things.

  51. August 13, 2020David W said...

    These might be meant partially as training vessels. Seventh Fleet seems to have had a lot of problems with their bridge staff - well, these can even be crashed into an island while the navigators are learning!

    Slightly more seriously - crew size of 40 means the whole program takes fewer sailors than a single aircraft carrier, but it gives 30 times the opportunities for practice as officer of the deck, or other roles where they have to take responsibility rather than just follow orders. It's also a small enough crew complement that they can rely on Dunbar's number effects rather than bureaucracy to help train people rather than letting them coast on habit and inertia. 40 crew means that there will be a lot less specialization by necessity, as well, which might be useful in binding together the various departments when everyone gets promoted to the carriers.

    And of course what Bean points out, these still work fine for low intensity roles, embassy evacuations, pirate hunting, and so on.

  52. August 13, 2020bean said...

    Oh, right. I forgot where most of the pushes for small craft come from. It's junior officers who want a command, and in this case, they're pushing to have the buy done before they become senior officers.

    OK, a bit snarky, but David W's argument makes a lot of sense. I'd be inclined to suggest that if we want ships for junior officers to practice with, it makes sense to be upfront about it, but that may not be plausible with Congress.

  53. August 13, 2020quanticle said...

    I looked into the JHSV, which is now known as the Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF), and those do seem like larger versions of what the Light Amphibious Warship is intended to be.

    The LAW is supposed to carry just over a platoon of Marines, whereas the EPF carries Marines in company-sized formations. In addition, one of the requirements (PDF) for the LAW is that it can make headway in heavier sea states (up to Sea State 5) than the EPF, which can only make headway in up to Sea State 3. That said, given the short length and shallow draft of the proposed vessels, I hope no one is actually planning on using these things in rough seas.

  54. August 13, 2020Alexander said...

    I'm not exactly a fan of the concept. If anything, I generally argue in favour of fewer, larger and more capable vessels for any given role. However, my guess would be that the Marines want to be able to threaten landings on more of these small islands at once, and the LCAC/SSC (which is great) needs to make a great many trips back and forth to transfer the same forces as a LAW, and Ospreys are really only good for landing infantry. If you are landing forces on islands that are too small to garrison with a large force, but would be a handy place to locate surface to air/surface missiles, or a FARP for Lightenings or whatever, you don't require a LHD (which may be busy elsewhere anyway). The point about vulnerability is well made, but if you are serious about even a limited shooting war with China, casualties are inevitable. If, say, 5 land successfully, and 5 are lost with heavy casualties, it is conceivable that would be seen as an acceptable outcome.

  55. August 13, 2020AlexT said...

    What is the most likely scenario that a LAW would be detected (and then attacked)? Satellite, mainland radar, airborne radar, fishing junk, what? Maybe it would make more sense under the assumption that most (if not all) recon assets (from both sides) had been neutralized (jammed, blinded or plain destroyed).

  56. August 13, 2020bean said...

    JHSV is very obviously made for the Persian Gulf. Short range, poor seakeeping, lack of any sort of self-unloading capability. LAW (also, I hate that acronym) would have better range and probably genuinely better seakeeping. But it still seems a huge step backwards in terms of capability and performance, and very much not in line with traditional USN doctrine.

  57. August 13, 2020Blackshoe said...


    It’s junior officers who want a command, and in this case, they’re pushing to have the buy done before they become senior officers.

    But, if SWO JOs don't make acquisitions decisions. And if they were, they would probably be pushing for something more like the Ambassador-class missile boats.

    The one argument I've heard for the LAW (along with others) is that yes, they are very vulnerable...but with their small size, they are hard to find, and the enemy will have to spend a lot of resources trying to find them (sort of the same arguments we've had in threads about the utility of FACs). And smaller ships are, to retort against the Bard, "if mark'd to die, not enough to do our country harm".

    And there's good logic to that (not that I inherently agree).
    I think that works better if we're talking about something like the Ambassadors or Mark VI patrol boats (speaking of early command opportunities!), where you can argue they can meaningfully contribute to the concept of Distributed Lethality.

    As I've noted before, I'm not sure I agree with the whole concept...but I can kinda get it.

  58. August 13, 2020bean said...

    You're right that they don't make acquisition decisions, but they can write to Proceedings and convince weak-willed Congressmen. That said, it was probably uncalled-for sarcasm on my part.

    I'm not particularly convinced by the "they'll be hard to spot" argument. We get better and better ISR tech each year, and at some point, you just can't assume you'll be able to hide. That's sooner rather than later, particularly when these are vulnerable to a light airplane with a load of Hellfires/Mavericks.

  59. August 14, 2020AlexT said...

    Doesn't better and better ISR also make it easier to target the other guys' ISR? And viceversa, of course. Where is the balance likely to end up, in a shooting war?

  60. August 17, 2020Ian Argent said...

    I stumbled across this post and was entirely unsurprised at his ratings.

    Iowa, SoDak, and then the rest, in the Open categories. As was foretold by prophecy, or at least Bean. SoDak takes the Treaty-Compliant categories.

  61. August 17, 2020Ian Argent said...

    Via a Quora discussion about "who would win, USS Missouri or the Bismark?"

    (Almost everyone went with the Mighty Mo, but there were a few holdouts in the "crew experience matters" or "and then a miracle occurs" camps)

  62. August 17, 2020bean said...

    Not so much "as foretold by Bean" as "as borrowed by Bean". That was quite informative back when I was still fairly new to all of this.

    As for the Quora discussion, what on earth are they talking about in terms of crew experience? Bismarck was sunk 9 months after commissioning. Missouri reached Ulithi after about 7, and was at 15 by the time of the surrender. Not to mention the greater general experience of the USN.

    As for the "and then a miracle occurs" crowd, I'm going to suggest that the appropriate miracle is for Iowa to show up, too.

  63. August 17, 2020Ian Argent said...

    The "crew experience" crowd seemed to assume that the Bismark (counterfactually) survived her famous voyage to be able to encounter the Missouri and therefore had a worked up crew (and faced Missouri on her own first deployment).

    And, somehow, managed to get into optical fire control range and/or direct fire range of the Missouri without getting picked up on radar. (That would be the "and then a miracle occurred").

    Everyone else goes "Missouri has the benefit of an incredible 5 years of advancement in BB design on Bismark and the american ship outclasses the german one in speed, armor, AND firepower."

  64. August 17, 2020bean said...

    On crew training, if Bismarck somehow survives her Atlantic cruise, she probably ends up in France, and then presumably makes the channel dash back with S&G. And then goes to Norway, where she spends most of her time sitting in a Fjord, which is not exactly good for crew training, so it kind of destroys that angle.

    And, somehow, managed to get into optical fire control range and/or direct fire range of the Missouri without getting picked up on radar. (That would be the “and then a miracle occurred”).

    That's not "and then a miracle occurs", it's "and then a bunch of miracles occur". If Bismarck somehow didn't share Tirpitz's fate (miracle 1), there's no way she manages to come across a single inexperienced battleship all by herself. My guess is that she'd basically share actual Bismarck's fate, lamed by aircraft and then sunk by multiple battleships from Home Fleet. Only much closer to home. Probably wouldn't make it out of the North Sea. (Miracle 2.) If she did, then you're now looking at the entire Atlantic Fleet and all its aircraft hunting her. (Miracle 3) And then to have Missouri running around alone and stupid instead of working with other ships while the Allies know Bismarck is out? (Miracle 4)

    Most likely case for an encounter with Missouri is as a "finish her off", much like how KGV and Rodney actually did. So it's not undamaged Bismarck vs undamaged Missouri, it's lamed Bismarck vs Missouri and whatever other ships King can scrape up. This is nonsense (but we already knew that from people arguing for Bismarck's superiority).

  65. August 17, 2020bean said...

    I just noticed that SSN-787 is USS Washington. I wonder if that was deliberate.

  66. August 18, 2020quanticle said...

    As we all know, carriers are dead. They are obsolete relics from a bygone era that wouldn't last a second in a modern naval engagement.

    They are so obsolete, South Korea has decided that its new amphibious ships will be light carriers designed around the F-35B, and will be built without a well deck.

    Oh wait...

  67. August 18, 2020Alexander said...

    The new design is missing the ski jump from the 2019 image. Presumably they're envisaging supporting helicopters to be their main role of (i.e. they're closer to America than a small QE).

  68. August 18, 2020bean said...


    I wouldn't be sure of that. This early in the process, any images are likely to be more about marketing than anything else. I can't see anyone building a dedicated F-35 carrier without a ski jump.

  69. August 18, 2020David W said...

    Last week's ACOUP definitely spoke to the carrier question. Basic thesis extracted from the post: "You can see this in a lot of the bet-hedging that’s currently happening: the People’s Republic of China has famously bet big on A2/AD and prohibiting (American) carriers from operating near China, but now has also initiated an ambitious aircraft carrier building program, apparently investing in the technology they spent so much time and energy rendering – if one believes the carrier skeptics – ‘obsolete.’ Meanwhile, the United States Navy – the largest operator of aircraft carriers in the world – is pushing development on multiple anti-ship missiles of the very sort that supposedly render the Navy’s own fleet ‘obsolete,’ while also moving forward building the newest model of super-carrier."

  70. August 19, 2020Alexander said...


    I hadn't considered that the new image might have been changed to remove the jump for no real reason. Just as you say, no jump (or catapult) indicated to me that it wouldn't be dedicated to fixed wing aircraft operation.

    Tangentially, would WWII era carriers have benefited from ski jumps, or was aircraft weight so low that it was irrelevant?

  71. August 19, 2020bean said...

    It’s very possible that the South Koreans would ultimately decide to make the same tradeoff that the USN did, and accept worse aircraft capability in exchange for more helicopter slots. But until we see the final plans, we don’t know.

    As for ski-jumps in WWII, I don’t think it would have worked/helped. A STOVL ski-jump uses vectored thrust to support a fair bit of the airplane’s weight until it gets up to flying speed. Look at this picture of an F-35 on Queen Elizabeth and note the lift fan is going and the nozzle is tilted down. Can’t really do that on a WWII plane, which had to be up to flying speed by the time it hit the end of the deck. Of course, its flying speed was much lower.

    This obviously leaves the question of STOBAR jumps, and I think that the point there is much more to do with establishing angle of attack quickly and using the boost from the ramp for a little bit of extra altitude while you do so. Also, you're going to get a reasonable amount of extra lift from the thrust vector being tilted up. If it's a 15 deg jump, it's 25% of your thrust that's now supporting weight.

  72. August 19, 2020bean said...

    Re the ACOUP thing, I think it's a little bit deeper, because these systems aren't mutually exclusive. The USN's missile development probably has a lot to do with opening the door for the carrier and its aircraft to operate, while the Chinese seem to be looking to transition to a more traditional maritime power role.

    As to the space warfare application, I think we can know more than he says. Some of us are actual engineers, not just amateurs, and space is a very clean environment relative to most planetary combat. In particular, all of the engineering objections on the general detection side of "no stealth in space" fail in the face of the numbers we can run. There might be ways around it for specialized craft, but it's definitely not going to be like things are today with the horizon.

  73. August 19, 2020Chuck said...

    @bean In particular, all of the engineering objections on the general detection side of “no stealth in space” fail in the face of the numbers we can run." There may be a few too many negatives in this sentence, I've read it several times and I am still not sure whether it is for or against space stealth. (the engineering objections have failed, but were they made by or against the "general detection side", who I am assuming is against stealth?)

  74. August 19, 2020bean said...

    I'm anti-stealth. I think that current technology is enough to basically give a panopticon against anyone who isn't actively trying to thwart detection. I don't think that criticisms which boil down to "engineering is hard" are a good counter to this.

    The ability of someone to thwart detection via stealth ships is a bit more of an open question. I'm still not sure it's possible, but I'm less sure than I was that it's not possible. But I have yet to see any plan for a stealth spacecraft that didn't involve massive sacrifices to get said stealth, and even if they do work, I don't see any reason that all warships would be stealthy. It's like expecting that all warships would become submarines in the WWII era. There are just too many compromises.

  75. August 23, 2020Ian Argent said...
    I should note that for this brief summary, I am treating everyone’s development and ship procurement systems as rational and strategic. Which, to be clear, they are not

    I'd comment further, but I nearly died from laughing.

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