March 04, 2021

Open Thread 73

It is once again time for our weekly open thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it isn't culture war.

Scott Alexander posted a link to a Proceedings article advocating privateering in a war with China earlier this week. Much interesting discussion ensued, and John Schilling and I were highlighted in a follow-up post.

DSL is also doing its monthly effortpost contest, which wraps up Monday. Lots of good entries this time.

2018 overhauls are Battleship Propulsion parts one, two, three and four, Strike Warfare and Sea Story - Late Night Forward Pumproom Test. 2019 overhauls are Museum Review - Singapore, Commercial Aviation Part 8, A Brief History of the Cruiser, the North Carolina Class, Pictures - Iowa Engine Room and The Spanish-American War Part 2. 2020 overhauls are The Range of a Carrier Wing - An Experiment, Pictures - Iowa Enlisted Mess and Merchant Ships Introduction and Passenger Vessels.


  1. March 04, 2021Neal said...

    @Bean @John

    Excellent, and nicely succinct, rebuttal to the Colonel's privateering article. Clean and crisp.

  2. March 04, 2021Alsadius said...

    The only letter of marque plan I've ever heard that made any sense (at least, from what I can tell) was using it as a tool to let merchants mount weaponry for anti-piracy duties in areas like the Somali coast, without getting into hot water for being a merchant ship with weapons. It seems like it'd be legal for that purpose - basically, to make them formally be counted as armed naval auxiliaries - even if it wouldn't be legal for them to seize ships (even in wartime).

  3. March 04, 2021ike said...

    My basic understanding of the point of a naval war with China is that cutting off grain imports will cause a famine forcing the government to surrender unconditionally without the need for ground-forces to fight their large army.

    What are the planned solutions to the two obvious problems?

    1. Russia and Vietnam can sell grain to China and cannot be cutoff by sea.

    2. Nominally friendly nations will try to sell grain to China.

  4. March 04, 2021Alsadius said...

    Or obvious problem #3, "China has ICBMs, and if you're starving them into submission, they'll probably use them to make you stop".

    Or obvious problem #4, "China starved tens of millions of its own people within living memory, and that wasn't even to win a war, so what makes you think they wouldn't just accept it as a cost of doing business?"

    Or obvious problem #5, "China has a whole lot of land area, and already produces the vast majority of its own food. So they can probably just adjust their crop mixes, slaughter a bunch of animals, and be self-sufficient in necessary foodstuffs".

    I could go on. Blockading Japan worked passably well, but it won't work against China. Blockading their oil would work better (they only produce about 38% of their usage), but even then they could economize by going back to their standard of living from a couple decades ago. The government can get away with that in the public's eyes if they're actively fighting a war with the US.

  5. March 04, 2021Suvorov said...

    I recently stumbled across a paper in the Naval War College Review, written by a Russian Navy vet, Maksim Tokarev, that I thought Naval Gazing types might enjoy. It was primarily about the Soviet plans to use maritime strike aircraft to attack the US carrier battle group, but there were a lot of interesting tidbits – for instance, the Soviets assessed the Harpoon as an anti-submarine missile designed to target surfaced SSGNs.

    You can read it here:

  6. March 04, 2021bean said...


    The Harpoon was initially designed to target surfaced SSGNs, as in the late 60s, that was what they'd have to do to launch. Later it became a more general anti-ship missile.

    Also, oops. Set the wrong date on putting the OT up. Oh well.

  7. March 04, 2021Suvorov said...

    Query for bean, regarding his response to privateering to fight the war with China:

    There's definitely no need to have a DDG sit outside a Brazilian port waiting. Take any reasonable civilian ship (big yacht, fishing boat, tug, whatever) and fit it with a couple of 40mm guns and a boarding party.

    Do we take all of these ships and outfit them with Marines and Navy guys – who presumably are very much needed on the DDGs in a time of war? Do we have enough trained personnel to spare on the drop of a hat to man these vessels?

    Or would we do what we've been doing for years and years now in other low-intensity conflicts and hire private security guys to drive them around? And if we do, is that legally privateering and banned under international law? Or do they float through the loopholes Wagner Group and Academi float through? Not trying to play gotcha here, I'm just curious as to where we would draw the line with that sort of thing.

    I assume that the difference is ostensibly that PMCs aren't being hired to fight a war, just provide security – but couldn't Congress pass a law sanctioning all Chinese shipping and then contract out interdiction operations to private entities (sort of like how DynCorp and other private entities are used to conduct anti-narcotics operations overseas)?

  8. March 04, 2021Suvorov said...

    The Harpoon was initially designed to target surfaced SSGNs, as in the late 60s, that was what they’d have to do to launch. Later it became a more general anti-ship missile.

    Oh, interesting. I hadn't known or had forgotten that. The paper is mostly about aircraft, but he does go a bit into SSGNs and how vulnerable they were to a surface strike.

  9. March 04, 2021cassander said...

    @Alsadius said...

    I could go on. Blockading Japan worked passably well, but it won’t work against China. Blockading their oil would work better (they only produce about 38% of their usage), but even then they could economize by going back to their standard of living from a couple decades ago. The government can get away with that in the public’s eyes if they’re actively fighting a war with the US.

    I don't think they could. It's not easy for society to go back that far, once everyone has traded their horses for cars you can't just go back to horses. Ditto planting millions of acres overnight. But more than that, the CCP's legitimacy rests on two pillars, and one of them is "your father had dirt floors and you have a cell phone. You're welcome." They need to show higher and higher standards of living to stay in power. Deprive them of new stuff for a year or two? sure, they can endure that. but starting taking things away for an extended period of time? that's not a risk the CCP wants to really run.


    I don't think cutting them off will cause them to surrender unconditionally, but I do think cutting them off will destroy their ability to meaningfully project power (not least by destroying the navy that attempts to prevent this from happening) and puts the US in a position to say "You've got nukes, we're NOT coming in, but we're also not letting you get out. How about we talk?"

  10. March 04, 2021bean said...


    I think only the gun crews and boarding party would have to actually be uniformed personnel, and maybe not even then. I'm not an international lawyer, and I don't know what current rules about mercenaries are. Note that you don't need the same number or type of trained personnel, and it probably wouldn't be too hard in a major war to get a lot of the current contractors (back) into uniform. Not sure if they'd have to actually draft them or just find some weird way to hand them the right paperwork.

  11. March 04, 2021Alsadius said...

    @Cassander: In normal circumstances, yes, it would be crippling to the regime's legitimacy to do things like that. But in the context of a shooting war with the most powerful nation on earth? People will sacrifice for that, just like our grandparents did.

  12. March 05, 2021ike said...

    Thank you all for the responses. The overall impression I am getting is that none of these problems have been meaningly planned for, and that in the event of war the navy will at best be able to mildly inconvience China.

    I guess that means it will be up to the Army and Airforce to win the war.

    That's... somewhat less than an encouraging thought.

    Also, as a boy, I remember the navy claiming it was definitely strong enough to prevent a landing against the RoC. I sort of get the impression this is not the case anymore. (which I guess makes sense, shoar-based weapons are getting better every year, and the strait isn't getting any wider.)

  13. March 05, 2021Anonymous said...


    In normal circumstances, yes, it would be crippling to the regime's legitimacy to do things like that. But in the context of a shooting war with the most powerful nation on earth? People will sacrifice for that, just like our grandparents did.

    How much people will be willing to sacrifice depends on how they'll be treated if they lose, compare WWII Germany's two fronts, in the West German forces surrendered readily, even before Germany itself did while the Eastern front had fiecre fighting even after the surrender order went out.

    A US occupation of China would not be so bad for the average Chinese, very much unlike Imperial Japan's occupation so the average citizen may not be all that enthusiastic to make prolonged sacrifice.

    Of course it isn't the average Chinese citizen who controls the nukes.

  14. March 05, 2021bean said...


    The Navy is definitely planning for this. But none of us are privy to their detailed planning. I definitely expect that the USN and allied navies would take center stage in any war with China, and I think there's a good chance we'd be able to win. The Army definitely won't be winning that war.


    I don't think that the US occupying China is on the table in a war. The PRC's leadership is a lot more reasonable than the death cults that kicked off WWII, and occupations are difficult and expensive. The war will either end with mushroom clouds or a settlement.

  15. March 05, 2021John Schilling said...

    @Alsadius: You don't need letters of marque to operate defensively-armed merchant ships; there's ample precedent for that in e.g. World Wars I and II. What you need is a general consensus among the nations of the world is that the security environment is such that merchant ships are going to be carrying guns and that closing your ports to armed merchant ships will result in your losing a lot of maritime trade rather than the merchant ships losing their guns.

    It didn't come to that in the early 2010s because everybody found alternate solutions that worked, including arming the merchant ships only while they were in international waters (fortunately the sort of weapons you need to fight Somali parties don't need to be bolted to the deck). And letters of marque wouldn't have helped with that part because letters of marque aren't recognized anywhere outside the United States.

  16. March 05, 2021Blackshoe said...

    @ike: oil is normally the target I see being discussed for a blockade, not grain. Even still, I doubt we can hold a blockade long enough to make it matter. Your overall impression of "not meaningly planned for" is unfair, but I'm not sure it's wrong, per se.

    @Suvorov: not much for Marines to do on a DDG. Not even a good gym for the poor guys. A more serious note would be that it's not just numbers of people you need on DDGs in the case of a gut-busting, mother-loving Navy war, but you need specific very well-trained people, and the training isn't a short time.

    WRT the boarding party manning problem (and even if the goal is a blockade and not privateering, boarding parties are something that need to be thought about), my impression is that there is enough excess capacity in the Marines and Naval Special Warfare, to go along with the Army (who will be uh, not terribly employed) that those missions can be accomplished. Forming prize crews for any vessels you board is a question that gets asked, and lacks good answers right now.

    As far as the ships carrying the boarding parties, bean is right that you can contract that out to various civilian companies. Indeed, one thing I learned from my trip to Afghanistan was that you can contract out everything short of shooting people, and if you are clever enough, you can do that, too! There are already PMCs that provided armory ship services to provide weapons to the protective crews who were riding merchies going through Somali waters. So there is a path forward that's not too hard to making that happen...provided it's what we want to do, which I'm not sure about.

  17. March 05, 2021Blackshoe said...


    A US occupation of China would not be so bad for the average Chinese, very much unlike Imperial Japan’s occupation so the average citizen may not be all that enthusiastic to make prolonged sacrifice.

    This might be technically true, but ask the average Chinese how they feel about the century or so where Western powers did in fact occupy them. They do not think kindly upon these times; indeed, at this point, it is built into their national ideology as a great wrong.

    This is one reason I think the PRC could absorb economic deprivation caused by war (as opposed to that caused by economic mismanagement/corruption) fairly well; it's one thing for CCP mismanagement to cause a depression, but it's another thing entirely for it to be caused by those perfidious foreign devils oppressing the Han-AGAIN. The latter provides a built-in outlet for anger that the CCP can exploit to the hilt.

    Mostly an aside, but I also think we tend to underestimate how much of the CCP's internal legitimacy derives from selling Han ethnic superiority to a very eager audience.

  18. March 05, 2021Blackshoe said...

    Random aside I forgot from a previous OT, but looking at some of the older posts on the Russian battleships (especially dreadnoughts, it seems), one thing that struck me is how much battleships were built around the weapon system of the guns themselves, and how that drove decisions later on. Also how little people changed out the guns-bean note one example of reboring the guns, but I think that was a pre-dread; other than that, I don't see much discussion about re-arming battleships. Sometimes de-arming them and taking turrets off, but not re-arming. It makes sense given how much everything else revolves around the guns themselves (eg shell storage, fire control, weight, etc), but it's interesting to me, at least. Bean, are you aware of any serious attempts at changing out the main battery of a BB, especially of a dreadnought or later?

    Also, interestingly to me was how the guns themselves could be considered viable weapon systems well past the life expectancy of the ship (like the Finns using barrels from a WW1-era Russian battleship into the 1970s). Again, not terribly surprising, but kind of amusing.

  19. March 05, 2021redRover said...

    In past discussions of "what size ship do we need", I think the consensus has usually been that "bigger is better, because the marginal savings from lower complexity/size are more than offset by lower capability. (e.g. why mini-carriers are a fools errand) However, I wonder if you get an inflection point where increasing quantity overcomes the quality gap, especially for lower intensity operations.

    Like, a Sea Hunter, or even five Sea Hunters, don't really replace a DDG, but are 10 DDGs better than 4 DDGs and 200 Sea Hunters?* Based on per day operating rate difference of 35:1

  20. March 05, 2021bean said...

    Bean, are you aware of any serious attempts at changing out the main battery of a BB, especially of a dreadnought or later?

    The only place it actually happened was the Italians, who made significant changes to their early BBs in the years leading up to WWII. I think it was technically the same guns, but they'd been significantly bored out and had new A tubes fitted. There were occasional plans to do more substantial replacements, I think mostly in the context of some treaty proposals in the late 20s that would have seen existing battleships limited to 12" guns, with new turrets fitted. But in terms of actual replacements, I can't think of anything after the demise of the MLR where they actually swapped out the guns. As for guns active past the life of the ship, I think the best example of that is probably Vanguard.


    That depends heavily on what you're trying to do and what you're using the Sea Hunter for. So far (and I really should do more reading on this, but my list is long) platforms like that are primarily sensor platforms. For hunting submarines, the Burke/Sea Hunter combo might be a good choice. For facing down heavy air attack? Not so much.

  21. March 05, 2021cassander said...

    @anonymous and @bean

    It's not just that the US doesn't have the manpower or desire to occupy china, it's that if we go to war with a nuclear power, everyone will be paranoid about keeping things from escalating. we will likely be broadcasting very loudly and clearly that we're not attempting to imperil the territorial integrity of china, or anything else we think they might be inclined to go nuclear over.

    As for extended sacrifice, for at least the next decade, the chinese will have little to no ability to stop US submarines and aircraft from enacting an extremely effective distant blockade, especially if Japan, the UK and taiwan get in on the fun. Such a strategy would cost the US relatively little and put huge pressure on the chinese homefront.

  22. March 07, 2021Johan Larson said...

    What was the most recent year in which US troops weren't engaged in active combat operations?

    Was there a year back in the nineties when US troops were on guard in various places and in training, but they weren't actually fighting anybody?

  23. March 07, 2021bean said...

    I don't think so. Technically, the 1991-2003 period was spent enforcing the Iraqi no-fly zone, and that was active combat operations. Maybe 1990 could count, although only on an extreme technicality that we weren't shooting at Iraq yet, and I strongly suspect that there was something else going on.

  24. March 07, 2021Johan Larson said...

    Digging a bit deeper, Table 5 of this reference shows US Active Duty Military Deaths for 1980-2010, broken out by cause of death.

    The following years had zero deaths from hostile action and terrorist attack: 1981, 1994, 1997, 1999. That suggests there was very little fighting those years, perhaps none at all.

    The late nineties, before 9/11, were also a low point in the total number of US Military deaths. (Table 4)

  25. March 07, 2021Ian Argent said...

    The only major question I have about a US/China Hot War is when the USN breaks out the Unrestricted Submarine Warfare. With "Never" being one of the options. It seems very easy to enforce the blockade with Cruiser Rules at the Indian Ocean straits (including the Straits of Hormuz) and the Panama Canal.

    And a Mk.48 ADCAP seems both financially and capability overkill against a merchant.

    And if we're using Cruiser Rules, why not hire out the prize crews to PMCs?

  26. March 07, 2021ike said...

    Why would you want submarine warfare? I would think the USN has enough warships, that anything you would want to torpedo without warning you could just take as prize.

  27. March 07, 2021cassander said...


    Merchant ships are bigger than you think these days, an adcap might not be as much overkill as you need. But ike is right, aircraft and cruisers can do most of the job.

  28. March 07, 2021ike said...

    Even if you didn't have the prize-crews to be able use interdicted shipping profitably, the state department would probably prefer it if you were able to inter the freighter's crew for repatriation BEFORE you put it on the bottom.

    Though thinking about it a little bit, there is an obvious use for submarine warfare - Harassing enemy supply lines to RoC / RoK after they fall to the Chinese.

  29. March 07, 2021echo said...

    I think anyone talking about starving the Chinese into submission needs to remember "Decisive Tang strategic victory; 20,000-30,000 civilians eaten"
    Their patriotic response to an American blockade would make British morale during the Blitz look like a Jane Fonda convention.

  30. March 08, 2021bluGill said...

    @Blackshoe There is a good discussion on why ships are like that at Don't skip the sci-fi discussions, a lot of the discussion on why space ships can't work as in sci-fi is the exact same as any ship.

    If you don't want to read all of the above, the short answer is: you design a ship around the guns and engines. Everything else just gets shoved wherever they fit. Thus to change the guns is to change the entire ship.

  31. March 08, 2021Chuck said...


    China then is very far from China now. I was just discussing this with some friends, and the political power of the Chinese middle class has grown exponentially. It's not so much starving as it is the decline in quality of life will not be something they will accept, especially for something seen as an unnecessary war. Another important aspect to consider is the loss of prestige, not so much abroad but at home. The Chinese very much enjoy their new status as a global power, being put on what is essentially house arrest will be a huge blow to that self image. I think it's worthwhile to note that the unique structure of Chinese society (actually not all that unique, many Asian countries are similar) gives it several outs it could take if the US is willing to go along. I envision whatever incident being blamed on "Rebellious Naval commanders" who would be summarily executed, despite the sheer impossibility of a coordinated attack being performed without blessing from the top, along with several "gestures of goodwill and friendship" to include anything but Taiwan or an apology. Selling this to the American people will certainly not be easy, however, I feel we have a very "blood for blood" mindset and will not be satisfied without inflicting a significant military defeat of some sort.

  32. March 08, 2021bean said...


    I like Bret Devreaux, but he's at his weakest when he's trying to be a naval historian. He's usually not wrong, but it's definitely not his specialty. For instance, I think he overrates the innovation of superfiring. Yes, it was to some extent in response to Congressional limitations, but it wasn't like nobody else had the idea. I think it even came up in some of the sketches for Dreadnought. He also missed a great chance to talk about the wacky superimposed turrets the US used on some of the pre-dreads.

  33. March 08, 2021Tony Zbaraschuk said...

    So much of the internal arrangements of the turrets, magazines, etc., are based around the characteristics of the guns and the ammunition they carry that it would be extremely difficult to redesign the rest of the ship for them. Things like "how heavy does the turret have to be to carry the weight of the guns? how much power does turret rotation need?" You don't have room inside the barbettes and turret armor for expansion (because you built it just big enough to contain the guns you designed in the first place, and adding topside weight just doesn't help with stability at sea).

    You could reduce the gun size, probably, but why would you want to do that again?

    The Brits modified some of the Queen Elizabeths between the wars to have longer-ranged guns (higher elevation), and it was a major and expensive rebuild -- if not for the Treaty requirements and the general cutdown in naval budgets, they probably would have built newer ships instead.

  34. March 08, 2021bean said...

    It wasn't just the British. Pretty much everyone (I can confirm for the US and Japan, too) refitted their guns for higher elevation. It was actually pretty controversial, as the WNT banned modifying gun mountings, and the US held off initially for fear of breaching that part of the treaty, at least until the British started doing it.

  35. March 08, 2021Anonymous said...

    echo: The Blitz didn't last all that long, had it gone for longer eventually the British probably would've agreed to a peace treaty (Churchill was never going to sign one, but he didn't have to stay PM).

  36. March 08, 2021Suvorov said...

    Thanks to bean and Blackshoe for their thoughts on how we would man and supply commerce raiders!

    Since everyone is talking about blockading China, I'm curious about the circumstances under which this would actually be helpful.

    It seems unlikely that the PRC will go to war against the States for fun, so that means, if it happens, it will probably be over Taiwan.

    But if China is trying to take Taiwan, they're going to either try to do a naval and/or airborne assault and take the island relatively quickly (IIRC, the Chinese think they will more-or-less win in three weeks or not at all) and/or they will do a blockade of some sort (either instead of an invasion, or after a failed one.)

    I get the impression nobody is quite certain how long Taiwan would hold out in a blockade scenario, but would it be longer than China? Would a punitive blockade of China continue after Taiwan surrenders or is occupied?

    Or would a blockade of China for the duration of a conflict over Taiwan actually dramatically impact their ability to fight and win such a conflict? I assume China has the relevant war material; my understanding is that the blockade would mostly impact civilian will-to-fight – is that incorrect?

    As I understand it, any war with China would be a huge economic blow to the nation even if we didn't carry out a physical blockade at all, so presumably if they go to war, their political leadership think that their people are capable of bearing the cost. Is there any reason they wouldn't include a blockade in that calculus, or to think that they overestimate the resolve of their people?

  37. March 08, 2021John Schilling said...

    @Cassander: The Mark 48's warhead isn't overkill against a modern containership, but it comes attached to about five megabucks worth of speed and smarts that aren't needed in that application. I'd expect that if the USN anticipated doing a lot of submarine commerce raiding , there would be pressure for a cheap low-performance version to fill some of the torpedo racks in the SSNs.

    Or possibly a new half-length ASuW torpedo, so you could get two-for-one in the racks. BOTE, that should still be good for about 30 knots and 15 nm range.

  38. March 08, 2021ike said...


    RE: Casus belli

    You are right that the Chinese civil war is the most likely flash point. If the US were seriously distracted in Europe or Egypt or something, there would be serious temptation to launch a lightning campaign and present it as a fait-accompli before an effective international response could be organized.

    If there were a revolution in Chinese-Korea, I cannot see them being willing to give up such a valuable strategic asset without a fight of some kind.

    The other big possibility is a naval clash between Chinese and Japanese/Philippine warships. Something like that could certainly escalate.

    I am sure others here, smarter than I, could think of other possibilities.

    RE: blockade of Taiwan.

    I hadn't really thought about this. (For the sake of the argument, let's assume the whole island remains in RoC hands.) Unless I am greatly mistaken, I think the USN would have no problem running supply convoys to Japan-facing side of the island(though part of me fears they may be dangerously rusty on convoy defense work). All of the good ports are on the china-side though, and I think the PRC probably close them or, at least, really chew up the forces trying to keep them open.

    RE: Why Blockade China?

    Because we can. : ) More seriously, if you have a navy big enough to do it, a blockade can put a huge amount of hurt on your enemy while costing you very little.

    The Chinese economy relies on huge amounts of over-seas fuel, and ore, and food (They like to make a big point in being self-sufficient in rice, but almost all other foodstuffs are imported directly or indirectly. They even more dependent on New World food than 1914 Germany.) The Navy probably has nightmares of the State Department telling them "No, those aren't war goods. You can only interdict shipments of finished weapons." You are almost certainly right that war-matrerial stockpiled for a few months of fighting, but if it drags into years bleeding money and having most of your workshops idled is a REALLY BAD place to be. Foreign investment is another thing to keep in mind. If you were building a new Widget Factory in Canton, seeing a likely blockade would make you change your mind in a hurry.


    It feels like half of this conversation is happening over at SSC or something. Would you mind summarizing some of your points here so it can be all in one place?

  39. March 08, 2021Suvorov said...


    Yes, there seem to be concerns in some corners that the bad state of "safe" ports would make a Chinese blockade effective. I feel like logically, even without ports, it would be possible to float cargo ashore in an improvised fashion, but I'm not sure how much supplies would be able to be transferred, and I guess the PRC would likely target operational port infrastructure, making any sort of cargo delivery extremely tedious.

    My understanding is that the Chinese air-defense network would be sufficient to effectively throttle an airlift and (at least on paper and in exercises) is resilient enough to last for some time, even against dedicated SEAD/DEAD efforts. Tho I'm sure the US has some tricks up its sleeve in that regard.

    Re: a war with the PRC dragging into years – I guess that's my question: what are the odds that that happens? I suppose it's possible that the PRC tries to blockade Taiwan and Taiwan is able to limp in a state of siege for years – in which case the blockade WOULD seem to be very effective. Otherwise doesn't it kinda seem like in three weeks either the PRC steamrolls Taiwan before the US can stop the invasion or half of their ships and aircraft are at the bottom of the sea?

    Obviously the capability is really good for deterrence, but once you get to the point where that is failed...

  40. March 08, 2021Ian Argent said...

    If the PRC doesn't overwhelm the ROC in the first couple of days of a hot war, then what?

  41. March 09, 2021ike said...

    "kinda seem like in three weeks either the PRC steamrolls Taiwan before the US can stop the invasion or half of their ships and aircraft are at the bottom of the sea?"

    Either way it turns out, I wouldn't expect a quick peace.

    CHINA: "Okay, we lost (won). Please, stop straggling our commerce."

    USA: "What are you prepared to give us in exchange?"

    I can't see those being quick negotiations. If losses are low I would think 'Make China suffer some more for starting this' would be pretty popular in the Senate.

  42. March 09, 2021Ian Argent said...

    China product not arriving on the West Coast will make for a lot of angry americans. And raw materials not arriving in China from foreign ports will make for a lot of angry foreigners

  43. March 09, 2021Lambert said...

    Perhaps the RoC should be building Mulberries.

    Do people think they'll be allowed to buy F35-Bs? If I were them, I'd be wanting a STOVL fighter for when the PLARF starts redecorating Taiwanese runways.

  44. March 09, 2021bean said...

    I don't think F-35Bs will be on the table for Taiwan any time soon. There's a delicate balancing act carried out whenever the US sells them anything, because the PRC tacitly accepts that there will be some sales, but doesn't want it to be anything too amazing. For instance, they ended up with the Kidd-class DDGs because selling them Aegis was seen as too provocative. I can't see the F-35 being in the "acceptable to sell" category for a long time.

  45. March 09, 2021Doctorpat said...

    Naively I would think that there's motivation there for ROC to build a couple of ports on the most Eastern points. Of course this assume suitable geography, at it would be useless without connecting rail/road/pipelines, so the cost might be prohibitive.

  46. March 09, 2021ike said...


    What does the US get in return for such deference to the PRC? My understanding was that it used to be 'promise of mutual assistance against the USSR'. I would think they aren't doing that anymore or if so it isn't worth very much.

  47. March 09, 2021bean said...

    During discussion with my RPG group, they suggested a new tagline for the blog: A deep dive into the lore and backstory of the United States Navy.

  48. March 15, 2021Ian Argent said...

    ADM Rickover would be very disappointed with my basement right now. There's a pinhole leak in the "low pressure" steam heating pipes whistling away.

    (15 psi according to the gauge on the boiler)

  49. March 15, 2021Blackshoe said...

    I will have more thoughts on the PRC later, but Tanner Greer talked about a blockade of Taiwan recently and it's worth a review.

  50. March 15, 2021bean said...


    Even worse, you don't have someone monitoring that pressure gauge 24/7.

  51. March 15, 2021Ian Argent said...

    @Bean I literally LOL'd. 15 psi appears to be the break point for the overpressure cutoff, too. (As it's just over 1 atm and this is a "low-pressure" system, I can't say I'm surprised. The previous gauge was calibrated in atms and therefore I never knew if it worked or not)

    My heating system recaps the history of naval steam propulsion starting with being fired by coal, through fuel oil, and is now fired by natural gas. I have no plans to upgrade to a nuke, but never say never, I always say ;)

    (The holes in the foundation for the coal scuttle and for the piping from the in-ground oil tank are still quite obvious)

  52. March 15, 2021bean said...

    I'm not aware of anyone using natural gas for steam propulsion. A few ships use gas turbines powered by natural gas, but those are LNG tankers, which have to deal with the stuff anyway, and even that is going out of style. (Although I think that's for cost/tax reasons.)

  53. March 15, 2021Ian Argent said...

    I was being facetious with the last; I know (and knew even before the propulsion series of posts) that gas turbines in naval usage don't use natgas. I just wanted to set up the "moving to nukes" line : )

  54. March 15, 2021Ian Argent said...

    @Blackshoe: I read over the Tanner Green piece, and I have questions. Primarily over the scenarios where the PLAN is sunk, but the PLA still has the capability to enforce a "quarantine."

    What happens if the US counters with an Earnest Will style escort operation? It won't work very well for air traffic, but for sea traffic?

    (Plus of course a counter-"quarantine" of the Pac<>IO chokepoints.)

  55. March 15, 2021bean said...

    Fair enough. There are enough commenters here that I can't keep track of everyone's knowledge level on this stuff, and default to taking things seriously. A good problem to have, I guess.

  56. March 15, 2021Blackshoe said...

    @Ian Argent:
    Note that there should be understood to be a difference between "sinking the PLAN" and "sinking the PLAN's amphibious forces". The latter is basically what one would aim to do to repel a PRC invasion of the ROC; the former is far more uh ambitious, to put it mildly (and probably not actually possible, given restraints in amount of ordnance and delivery systems).

    In the latter scenario, the PLAN could still operate enough surface/subsurface units (to say nothing of airpower) to achieve maritime dominance (or at least deny it enough to the US that running re-supply convoys is very risky). The scenario starts looking like the Naval battles for Guadalcanal, except this time Japan has more industrial capacity than the US and also we're fighting in Japan's home waters.

    As far as Earnest Will-type ops, feels weird to do that in a world we've already had ourselves a gut-busting, mother-loving Navy war (source: we sank the PLAN phibforce), but it does make sense in that lots of strategy seems WRT to the PRC seems to have a built-in loop of "We defeat the PRC and then revert back to Phase 0 ops", so I guess I wouldn't rule it out.

  57. March 15, 2021Ian Argent said...

    @Blackshoe: Fair enough - though I've kinda lost track of how much PLAN is left after their invasion force is decorating the South China Sea floor.

    My other question (and it's a real one) is who has the deeper logistics reserves, the USN or the PLAN, and who can restock their magazines quicker and with comparable munitions after pre-war stocks are shot off and the world economy is destroyed by the economic side effects.

  58. March 15, 2021Ian Argent said...

    Found this while looking for "Taiwan east coast ports"

    According to a friend of mine who lived in Taiwan (and is considering returning on retirement) Huailen is a (sleepy?) retirement community, and the underlying Google Map shows that there's not a lot of east-west highways in Taiwan. So, even if that's a viable harbor to run supplies into instead of Keelung or the western ports, you still have to get the cargoes to the Western side. Same argument applies to building a new Eastern-side port.

  59. March 15, 2021Blackshoe said...

    Also, this was probably going to be really covered in my longer comment about war with the PRC, but WRT idea of maintaining a distant blocakde on China: "good luck with that."

  60. March 15, 2021John Schilling said...

    Early LNG tankers did use steam turbines with boilers fired by boil-off gas from the LNG cargo, see e.g.

    As you note, there are more efficient ways to use the boiloff gas. But engines using those systems weren't available off the shelf for the first generation of LNG tankers, whereas steam turbines were and the boilers apparently required very little modification. As near as I can tell, this system was still in common use in the first decade of this century, and was the last major use of steam turbine propulsion in commercial shipping.

  61. March 16, 2021Anonymous said...

    Ian Argent:

    […]underlying Google Map shows that there's not a lot of east-west highways in Taiwan.

    The east of Taiwan is mountains so getting stuff from the east to the west is going to be a challenge, I suspect roads would be steep and windy no matter what while any railway will need some seriously tunneling.

    But if you're going to do a base tunnel, may as well connect it to an undersea tunnel to Kyushu so you don't need the port (or would building that make Taiwan too bankrupt to resist invasion?).

  62. March 16, 2021bean said...

    Yes, John. I do remember who you are.

    Re distant blockade of the PRC, I was surprised recently to find out how seriously the PLAN is taking keeping China's SLOCs open in a full-on hot war. While India may be a more likely target there than the USN, I'm definitely with Blackshoe on this one. It's not as easy as you'd think.

  63. March 16, 2021Johan Larson said...

    The Atlantic has an interesting article by Mark Bowen (the guy who wrote Black Hark Down) about the history of the US Special Forces. The number that popped for me is the total size of the organization: 75,000 people. That's real big, about half the size of the USMC, or one and a half times the Coast Guard full-timers.

    One old hand in the article comments how, you know, it's just not how it was in the old days.

  64. March 16, 2021bean said...

    That's good, but it struck me as mostly obvious. Then again, I've been following this stuff for a long time. I did like the quote near the end: “People often accuse the military of throwing money at problems. We don’t do that. We throw headquarters at problems." Very, very true.

    Re the 75,000 number, it's worth pointing out that military numbers are all lies. I checked the SOCOM Command Fact book, which claimed 70,000 (which may or may not include contractors) but the vast majority of those people are in units which don't run around shooting terrorists. The Army's contingent is 33,000, and includes not only Delta, the Rangers and the Green Berets, but also a bunch of logistics/support personnel and units like Civil Affairs and Psyops (the active ones, at least). Not to mention reserve units.

  65. March 18, 2021Johan Larson said...

    So, the UK is pushing this idea of a global D10 (Democratic 10) group of nations, which would consist of the current G7 plus South Korea, India, and Australia. What do folks here make of it?

  66. March 18, 2021Blackshoe said...

    @Johan Larson:
    My initial snarky thought is it's too bad they couldn't have found two more democracies, and then we could make jokes about them playing D&D.

    My slightly less snarky thought is that I'm sure adding more parties into the G-7 will make it more effective/sarc.

    My fairest thought is that I don't hate it per se, but I question what they think they're going to achieve by creating another forum for discussion. It reminds me of how hard the Russian kept trying to make BRICS A Thing.

  67. March 18, 2021bean said...

    There's a D10 in D&D. As for the purpose of this, my first impression is that all three of the new members are notable for being concerned about China, and I wonder if that has something to do with it.

  68. March 18, 2021Doctorpat said...

    Who would be a large, democratic, nation operating internationally who is NOT concerned about China?

    The European powers are the ones least concerned, and they are already in the G7.


    You could maybe finagle Turkey in if you minimise the democratic bit of the name? I don't know they have China high on their concern list.

    Mexico maybe?

  69. March 18, 2021ike said...

    Isn't Australia pretty pro-PRC, being their primary export market and all?

    Who in Europe would show up if China attacked? I guess Britain, Poland, and probably a few of the smaller nations close to Russia.

  70. March 18, 2021Blackshoe said...

    @ike: Australia has had a bunch of issues recently with Chinese activities on their soil, especially in interfering with higher education. Left a bad taste on their mouth. I don't know that it's quite driven perception into the hardcore anti-PRC, but it has changed some feelings (and I imagine what's going on in HK has added to that, as well).

    As far as European involvement: I cannot imagine any European nation actually doing anything substantial if the PRC decides to say, invade Taiwan. They don't have any colonies in the area anymore, and it's not their fight.

  71. March 18, 2021ike said...

    The commonwealth reaction to Hong Kong confuses me. Surely everyone knew this or worse would happen back in '99 and consented willingly all-the-same.

  72. March 19, 2021Johan Larson said...

    The commonwealth reaction to Hong Kong confuses me. Surely everyone knew this or worse would happen back in ’99 and consented willingly all-the-same.

    I don't know about that. Sometimes people and organizations keep their promises. Britain said they would give Hong Kong back to China, and they did.

    Generally speaking, China has been more assertive, aggressive, and authoritarian over the past generation than I expected. It might have been a bigger France, or a bigger South Korea, or a bigger Japan, but instead it seems hellbent on becoming a wealthier Russia.

  73. March 19, 2021ike said...

    Yeah, I remember the wild optimism of the '90s. I don't think we ever fully appreciated what an exceptional man Gorbichov was, the king who destroyed his kingdom trying to do the right thing.

    It is hard to imagine any government of China, Gentle Cruel or in-between, not wanting to be master of the Sino-sphere once again.

  74. March 20, 2021Anonymous said...

    Johan Larson:

    So, the UK is pushing this idea of a global D10 (Democratic 10) group of nations, which would consist of the current G7 plus South Korea, India, and Australia. What do folks here make of it?

    Maybe they feel lonely after Brexit.


    You could maybe finagle Turkey in if you minimise the democratic bit of the name? I don't know they have China high on their concern list.

    China is willing to deal with countries that democratic countries have decided they don't want to help so Turkey is unlikely to want to do anything against China while Erdogan is running the place.


    Mexico maybe?

    They're one of the countries that would stand to gain from a big trade war with China.


    Isn't Australia pretty pro-PRC, being their primary export market and all?

    China recently tried to make Australia an example, the Australian government didn't like that.


    The commonwealth reaction to Hong Kong confuses me. Surely everyone knew this or worse would happen back in '99 and consented willingly all-the-same.

    The handover happened in '97 for Hong Kong (Macau was '99).

    There were a lot of people expecting China to liberalize or even that the commie government would just collapse outright by the time the two systems ended.

    But even if it didn't, 2047 was so far in the future no one involved in the handover would be held accountable (they seemed to believe that it would last long).

  75. March 20, 2021Doctorpat said...

    Isn’t Australia pretty pro-PRC, being their primary export market and all?

    Three, maybe even two years ago this would have been correct.

    China pushed a number of things a bit too far and Australia pushed back. Things escalated.

    Currently in a trade war with lots of trade (including coal, wheat, wine from Australia, telecom tech and investments from China) being limited or stopped.

  76. March 20, 2021Doctorpat said...

    I don’t think we ever fully appreciated what an exceptional man Gorbichov was, the king who destroyed his kingdom trying to do the right thing.

    From what I remember of the 90s, (I was in university at the time, and did get to visit the USSR when it was still (barely) extant.) We DID appreciate how incredibly lucky the Eastern block, and the rest of the world, was with Gorbachov at that point in history.

    At the time, I guess everyone expected things to end up like Yugoslavia actually did. At 100 times the scale. With nukes.

  77. March 20, 2021ike said...

    I guess you are a little older than me. I saw a lot of 'historical inevitability', ' I TOTALLY saw it coming', that sort of stuff.

  78. March 20, 2021John Schilling said...

    "Surely everyone knew this or worse would happen back in ’99 and consented willingly all-the-same."

    Everybody expected that China would mostly play nice with Hong Kong for a decade or two to avoid looking like the obvious bad guys while people were still paying attention. Everybody was pretty much right about that.

    "Everybody" also believed that another decade or two of economic development would turn China into something close enough to a Western Liberal Democracy as makes no difference. We wouldn't need One Country, Two Systems, because by that point the Chinese system would have evolved into approximately the one Hong Kong had had all along. This not happening, genuinely surprised a lot of people.

  79. March 21, 2021Ian Argent said...

    I think everyone expected that China would continue to slowly liberalize, not turn back.

    Also, for HK specifically, the UK was acceding to facts on the ground, as it were. Remember all the discussions in the Falklands War posts' comments about how "if the Argentinians could only have held off 6 months or more"?

    Well, 1997 was a hell of a lot later than 6 months after the Falklands, and China was a hell of a lot less dysfunctional. And HK is a hell of a lot closer to China than the Falklands are to Argentina

  80. March 21, 2021bean said...

    I don't think Hong Kong was militarily defensible after 1949. The issue was that the CCP didn't want to get into a full-scale war with the British, particularly when the New Territories lease was expiring. As for the "6 months after the Falklands" thing, that was more referring to ships that were slated for retirement soon after the Falklands that were instead retained after the war.

  81. March 22, 2021ike said...

    @bean, I your mind how much longer would the Argentines have had to hold out for a pro-surrender government to come to power?

  82. March 22, 2021bean said...

    Define "pro-surrender". Pre-1982, there was some talk of the Thatcher government giving them the islands, or leasing them, or something of that nature. It was still early days, and obviously preempted by the war. In terms of someone other than Thatcher being in charge, AIUI the Conservative government was looking rather shaky before the war, and might well have been kicked out in the next general election (presumably 1984, if I understand the rules they were under at the time correctly). The problem was that even if Thatcher would be gone in two years if they waited, the Junta would be gone first, because the timing of the war was driven by the need to use it to placate the Argentine populace.

  83. March 22, 2021Anonymous said...


    The problem was that even if Thatcher would be gone in two years if they waited, the Junta would be gone first, because the timing of the war was driven by the need to use it to placate the Argentine populace.

    Another potential way for Taiwan to be invaded is if the mainland has a crisis and the dictator wants a distraction which does add to the risks of a trade war.

  84. March 22, 2021bean said...

    That's a very good point, and now that I think about it, by far and away the most likely reason for a war over Taiwan to break out.

Comments from SlateStarCodex:

Leave a comment

All comments are reviewed before being displayed.

Name (required):

E-mail (required, will not be published):


You can use Markdown in comments!

Enter value: Captcha