March 19, 2021

Open Thread 74

It's time once again for our usual open thread. Talk about whatever you want, so long as it's not culture war.

One thing I would like to talk about is Proceedings, the Naval Institute's flagship publication. It doesn't work quite like it appears to, which results in a lot of confusion.

The United States Naval Institute was founded in 1873 as a location for independent debate and discussion of the future of the sea services - Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, and that remains its core mission to this day, with Proceedings as the main mechanism. As a result, most articles tend to be a discussion of where the Navy is and where the author thinks it should go. (There's also some other stuff of interest to the readership, like book reviews and short naval history stuff.) The majority are fairly boring inside baseball, calling for better mine-warfare capabilities or improved barracks or a greater focus on Russia. Yes, some of these are important, but if they are, the same theme is almost certainly being pushed by other outlets which are more accessible to the layperson. (This is why I personally don't usually read it.) But Proceedings also occasionally publishes weird stuff, like the article on privateering. This is entirely in keeping with its mission, and the main problem is that these weird articles tend to get picked up by the wider media, who assume that they are far more legitimate than they actually are because they're published in Proceedings.

This effect is so strong that when I see a reference to Proceedings from someone who isn't a specialist, I immediately assume that it's going to be one of the weird and wrong articles that will pop up. I'm very rarely mistaken, and I would urge everyone to remember that Proceedings isn't peer-reviewed if they encounter links to it in the wild, and that they're likely to be wrong.

None of this is meant to bash the USNI. They're doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing by publishing this stuff, and they do a tremendous amount of good. If not for their publishing arm, naval history in the English-speaking world would be in a much worse state. That, more than anything, is why I'm proud to be a member. (The discount on books doesn't hurt, either.)

Also worth a read is Blackshoe's discussion of Rickover's effect on the USN's organizational culture.

2018 overhauls are the Bombardment of Alexandria, Military Procurement - Pricing, Amphibious Warfare Part 5, A Day on the America parts one and two and Thoughts on Tour Guiding. 2019 overhauls are German Guided Bombs Part 3, Commercial Aviation Part 9, Falklands Part 12, Weather at Sea, my review of Dayton and the South Dakota class. 2020 overhauls are Auxiliaries Part 0, Barb's raid on the train and Revolt of the Admirals Parts one and two.


  1. March 19, 2021DampOctopus said...

    The UK seems to be presenting SPEAR-3 as the future anti-ship weapon for the Fleet Air Arm. This is a lightweight (100kg) missile with GPS/inertial/radar/datalink/etc. guidance that can be packed four each into an F-35's two bomb bays: think of it as a Small Diameter Bomb II (93kg) with an engine.

    This is unconventional for an anti-ship missile. Even a relatively small missile like NSM is still 410kg (though I think that includes the rocket booster for surface launch), and LRASM is 1100kg, giving them substantially more punch. A larger number of smaller SPEAR-3s is unlikely to be able to sink a warship, but could still achieve a mission kill if they hit, and would require more SAMs to be expended to stop them. SPEAR-3 is shorter-ranged than its larger counterparts, but being able to fit it internally in a stealthy airframe makes this less dangerous than it would be otherwise.

    How important are the details that I'm presumably missing here? Is this a decent idea, a terrible one, or somewhere in between? Have I misread the situation completely?

    I'm particularly concerned about the cost. If four SPEAR-3s each have the same sort of smarts and sensors built into them as the single heavier missile that would fit into the same bay, I expect they're going to cost a comparable amount each, which makes for a very expensive salvo.

  2. March 19, 2021bean said...

    I'm really not sure on this one. I'd guess that the plan is to try and use the precision available to modern missiles to hit specific points on the target, which will make mission kills far more likely. If they can pull that off, it could be a pretty good plan, despite the small warhead. The downside is that you have to get the precision or it's just not that useful compared to something like NSM or LRASM.

    I don't think cost is likely to be quite as big of an issue as it might seem. A lot of military procurement costs are dominated by various forms of overhead, so building four times as many missiles of a given complexity is likely to result in a lot less than 4x the cost.

  3. March 19, 2021Jade Nekotenshi said...

    It seems to me that something like SPEAR-3 would be interesting for plinking low and medium-capability targets like large FACs and corvettes, rather than the frigates or destroyers of near-peer adversaries, while retaining the capability to do that if you really need to.

    That said, the "suck up SAMs" angle seems interesting. I wonder - would wide proliferation of something like that make deeper magazines of cheaper defensive ammunition make sense? (Hanging onto gun CIWS and/or adding CIWS capability to various light and medium guns, or something like DART in addition to RAM?)

  4. March 19, 2021Tony Zbaraschuk said...

    One might note that sensors, and the computer power to interpret them, are both vastly cheaper now than in previous decades. They're still not cheap compared to, say, sheet metal and explosives, but you can get a lot more sensor for the same pricetag as you could a decade ago.

  5. March 19, 2021Suvorov said...

    That said, the “suck up SAMs” angle seems interesting. I wonder - would wide proliferation of something like that make deeper magazines of cheaper defensive ammunition make sense? (Hanging onto gun CIWS and/or adding CIWS capability to various light and medium guns, or something like DART in addition to RAM?)

    I presume this is why the US Navy is working hard on the HPV for the 5-inch, which would boost the anti-air engagement capabilities of the gun dramatically, as I understand it.

    Same rationale behind the laser: ~unlimited magazine.

    It's worth mentioning that purpose-built decoys are a threat to magazine depth as well, since they can be launched in relatively cheap swarms to eat up enemy missiles and screen your own anti-ship weapons. The USN and USAF already have a lot of air-launched decoys that can serve this role. And in theory a plane could launch a drone that can launch, idk, a dozen smaller drones that could all present themselves as valid targets, meaning a surface ship would have to allocate, say, 3-4 VLS cells (assuming quad-packed ESSM) to deal with the package on a single bomber hardpoint. Already it seems like for certain purposes an intelligence-gathering asset, decoy (for more expensive weapons) and guided munition can all be the same platform (e.g. Switchblade.)

    If you want an off-the-shelf system that isn't an experimental laser or HPV projectile, I like the Kashtan CIWS the Russians use – it is a combined missile and 30mm CIWS system, so in theory you get the extended range of the RAM and the deep magazines of a small-caliber auto-cannon at the same time. I don't know if their missiles are as good as the RAM, though, and it's pretty big – weighs more than twice as much as a Phalanx.

  6. March 19, 2021Alexander said...

    @Jade I think that dual purpose 3" guns are a good fit for quite a few roles, though I've no idea of how DART compares to RAM, in either price or effectiveness. Better yet, Laser CIWS have the potential to be very accurate while having cheap 'ammunition'.

    Perhaps the most attractive feature of Spear (3) is it's flexibility. While it may fare worse in some respects as an anti-ship missile, it can cover a lot of the capabilities of Brimstone (which currently can't be dropped from an internal bay) and would be very useful for killing air defences. When you can't afford to develop, integrate and procure a good range of different munitions, multirole utility is important. Sadly, the NSM/JSM won't fit in the 'B' variant's weapon bay, so there isn't an existing alternative.

  7. March 19, 2021Lambert said...

    Are they planning to put any bigger standoff anti-ship missiles on the RN's Lightning IIs? Or is it going to take either harpoon, paveway or land-based typhoons to sink a destroyer?

  8. March 19, 2021Alexander said...

    @Lambert Perhaps 'Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon' but that is a lot further off, if it comes to anything.

  9. March 19, 2021bean said...

    The JSM variant of the NSM is specifically designed to fit in the bay of an F-35. LRASM is too big for that, but it could go externally. And I suspect that the software is written so that if anyone integrates a weapon, everyone else can use it, too. They'd still have to procure the weapons, but that takes less time than getting the software written and tested.

  10. March 19, 2021Neal said...


    Thank you for your detailed response to my questions in OT 72. Bean linked it above and it is time well spent for those wondering about Rickover's legacy in today's Navy.

    You made a good, and quite sobering, point when you said:

    "I am not certain that “minimize risk at all levels” is a system that wins wars, though, is a very different question (indeed, one of the major criticisms of the early US submarine force in WW2 was that the captains, trained in pre-war mindsets of minimizing risk to their equipment, were entirely passive and lacked a killer instinct."

    Indeed...and to find, and then implement, the proper balance of risk minimization with the necessary warrior ethos that is (or will be) demanded in fighting a near-peer or competent foe is a tough task. Lack of risk minimization strategies can yield sloppiness. Yet how does one master decisive, creative,and, might I say, bold leadership if constantly tethered on a very short leash? Time might not allow for wartime/conflict OJT to aquire those say the least.

    Lots to mull over from your response. Again, many thanks.

  11. March 20, 2021Alexander said...

    @bean Will the JSM fit in the smaller bay of the F35b, or just the A and C variants? I suppose external carry is still an option, and if the missile is stealthy, it may not increase the aircraft's signature by that much.

  12. March 20, 2021bean said...

    I am not sure. Google turns up no evidence either way.

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

    In my notes on space warfare, which I really do have to write up sometime, the concept of a "minimum viable kinetic munition" keeps coming up. I think that's going to apply to naval warfare as well, though some of the details are going to be different. If you've got many mediocre missiles (or whatever) and your enemy has a few good ones, you can use many-on-one and shoot-look-shoot to get reasonable cumulative Pk. If you've got too few, too good missiles, most of the enemy's shots are going to get through.

    So what does that look like in naval warfare? The MVKM has to be viable, which means that it has to be kinematically capable of engaging the enemy and inflicting substantial damage. On the offensive side, there seems to be a consensus that a 5" shell can inflict substantial damage and that if we need more damage we can just use more 5" shells and don't need e.g. bigger shells to penetrate thick armor. Even if the enemy does start armoring their hulls, you can probably still mission-kill them with 5" shell equivalents and save a few heavier weapons to sink them. But you need to deliver those hits from reasonable standoff range, which in most cases means over-the-horizon.

    Conveniently, it looks like the latest generation of 120-130mm artillery rockets have 40+ km ranges fired from a static platform, which would be greatly increased from a high-altitude or fast-moving aircraft. Warheads comparable to 5" HE or SAP shells. And we know how to build cheap imaging-IR guidance systems down to 70mm. Back of the envelope, we can put 36 of those into one weapon bay of an F-35, so two planes = 144 missiles = saturation of most any warship defense system and mission-kill of most any warship. And you could put the same weapons on a FAC/LCS/whatever for surface warfare, giving you the flexibility to overwhelm large warships or plink small craft en masse.

    Defensively, we're not going to meet that with 144 Standards. We'll still need some long-range SAMs for ballistic missile defense and to engage high-altitude aircraft at long range, but the bulk of the defense will need to be with smaller missiles. If we want to engage out to the radar horizon, and we probably do, ESSM is a good start and a navalized AMRAAM would be even better. Can we make something smaller still that would have ~30 km range and ~0.5 Pk against a basic missile target?

    But even if we can, that would be for at most the first 1-v-1 salvo of a defensive engagement. The bulk of the shooting would be with smaller, cheaper weapons at closer ranges. The combination of RAM and CIWS looks like the best off-the-shelf solution there, or the Kashtan for people who can buy Russian. 76mm guided shells might be better, better still might be the same guidance system on a small rocket. With a large number of simultaneous engagements, EMI issues suggest optical rather than radar guidance may be the way to go there.

  14. March 20, 2021Suvorov said...

    John Ratcliffe, former DNI, had some intriguing things to say about UFOs in an interview recently. He said:

    1) There have been more sightings than are publicly known 2) They have been detected worldwide 3) They have been detected by satellites 4) They have been detected by multiple sensors

    As some of the commentariat here might recall, I suggested the Princeton sighting might be attributable to a classified technology test, rather than a radar problem (as bean suggested.) Most commenters thought it very unlikely the sighting could be attributed to classified technology, however.

    While Ratcliffe doesn't specifically mention the Princeton sighting, that's one of the well-known (recent) UFO incidents, and Ratcliffe seems to rule out both classified technology and sensor glitches as a general explanation. (Similarly, last December John Brennan, former CIA director, suggested rather vaguely that some sort of "a different form of life" might be responsible for "unexplained" "phenomena.")

    Is there any reason to think that these intel guys might be trying to play some sort of double-head-fake? I can definitely see people wanting to intimidate foreign adversaries by vaguely hinting that we have high-performance technology (and leaking 'UFO' stories to suggest that without suggesting it) but this seems to be the specific opposite of that strategy. And if we had technology with this sort of performance we absolutely wanted to cover up, would we talk about it like this? (Unless the people responsible for the program are content not to inform big players in the intel community?)

    I don't think there's ever been one single simple explanation for UFOs – but it almost seems like we can rule out a prosaic explanation as being probable for the 2004 event, if we take Ratcliffe at his word. How likely is it that he is lying, or that he is unaware of classified weapons tech?

    You can see the clip with Ratcliffe and read more info about recent disclosures (including FOIA documents showing that the Secretary of the Navy received a briefing on "UAPs" in 2019) here:

  15. March 20, 2021Suvorov said...

    @John Schilling

    If we want to engage out to the radar horizon, and we probably do, ESSM is a good start and a navalized AMRAAM would be even better.

    I thought the ESSM had the AMRAAM seeker package? What would a navalized AMRAAM bring to the table?

    With a large number of simultaneous engagements, EMI issues suggest optical rather than radar guidance may be the way to go there.

    This would give air attackers an advantage during inclement weather, right? Of course then you would probably want a non-IR guidance on your MVKM. Would a passive radar sensor (dual-purpose anti-radiation/beam-riding) be too expensive and bulky for an MVKM?

  16. March 20, 2021AlexT said...

    While using radar to guide a zillion guided RAPs to a zillion/100 targets, would there be interference in a setup where the shooter mounts a big-ass, high-resolution radar and remote-controls each individual shell to interception?

  17. March 20, 2021bean said...


    The DNI isn't omniscient. He's supposed to serve as an overseer of American intelligence efforts, and in general, probably don't have that much visibility onto what the DoD's weapons development people are up to. Need to know and all that. Add in that Ratcliffe himself was a lawyer appointed for political reasons, and I really doubt that the intelligence community went out of its way to read him into everything, particularly weird stuff like this. He also wasn't DNI for that long, so if he asked about this, he probably got the minimal brush-off. "We've detected stuff we don't know about", and the person doing the reporting left off "but the Air Force does".

  18. March 20, 2021Lambert said...

    if the offensive strategy is to mission-kill then does defence become a game of multiply redundant systems? E.g. one main radar, a couple of cheap fallbacks made using COTS where possible and a modular spare deep in the hold that you can bolt on to a mounting point on the deck as soon as the battle is over.
    Of course integrated fire control and similar concepts let you share capabilities and redundancy between ships.

  19. March 20, 2021Suvorov said...

    I really doubt that the intelligence community went out of its way to read him into everything, particularly weird stuff like this.

    If they didn't read him into anything, he certainly was giving the impression that he had (he specifically said he was aware of classified non-public information, and we know there is a UAP report of some kind, seeing as both military and Congressional leaders have been read in on it.) Perhaps that was merely Fox News grandstanding, though.

    The real question, it seems to me, is weird stuff like what? The last time we chatted about it, everyone seemed relatively convinced that the stuff described in the UFO sightings probably wasn't a black project.

    I still think a Project Palladium-esque enterprise might explain (at least some of) the sightings, although everyone seems to agree that an aircraft with conventional technology couldn't disguise itself as a 'Tic-Tac' or something having breath-mint-like performance.

    Maybe we'll know more when the unclassified UAP report drops this summer.

  20. March 20, 2021Alexander said...


    That sounds pretty perfect, with most of the advantages of Spear, but presumably even cheaper. You couldn't do much better for devastating an armoured brigade either, if the IR could pick out AFVs, or it had a secondary laser seeker.

    How far is it from a laser guided Zuni to what you are talking about? You'd need some way of deploying them from an internal bay, and there probably isn't an existing guidance system that is suitable (but I'm sure you're right about it being achievable). How about the motor? Can you really get enough range from a Zuni? If it didn't cost too much, a small ramjet might be a nice alternative, either extending range, or to permit a flatter trajectory. I suppose that would be moving away from the whole 'minimum viable' concept, and would be important to be able to afford to buy in bulk.

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

    @Suvorov: AMRAAM has a smaller motor diameter (and warhead) than ESSM, which should allow roughly twice the number of stowed kills in the same volume. Performance would I think still be adequate for (non-ballistic) missile defense applications.

    @AlexT: Using one big radar to guide multiple projectiles would be ideal, but it's hard to get the resolution you need for terminal engagement that way. Might be useful when you're using IR-guided projectiles in inclement weather, getting them to within the (reduced) terminal engagement envelope.

    The attacker has the advantage of shooting at a ship that's only going to move a few hundred meters in the missile's flight time. Fog or rain heavy enough to obscure a warship from FLIR at that distance is a rare thing, so if the launch platform can pop up to get a radar fix before launch, that gets you pretty close to all-weather capability.

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

    @Alexander: Laser Zuni is an early stab at the concept, but A: the motor and aerodynamic (mainly fin) design are far enough out of date that I don't think you can do a pop-up attack from beyond the radar horizon, and B: laser guidance means you need a designator platform, which is vulnerable to counterattack. It would be good against e.g. corvettes with only point-defense SAM/AAA capability, but not as versatile as a new IIR design.

    It did have the virtue of being cheap in dollar terms, which is essential for this sort of thing. At the time, laser guidance had become relatively cheap whereas IR sensors weren't, and of course there were still many Zunis left with a reasonable service life. I'd be skeptical of any Zuni still lying around in a warehouse today, and if you have to build new airframes and motors you're better off with a new design in the same general class.

  23. March 20, 2021DampOctopus said...

    I didn't expect my comment to spark so much discussion, but I'm glad it did: it's all interesting. I'm particularly interested in John's MVKM concept, and I look forward to reading his notes at some point in the future.

    Some of the discussion, though, assumes that the threat of smaller, more numerous anti-ship missiles should be countered by switching to cheaper defensive munitions. I don't think this works. Assuming that a smaller ASM is no easier to shoot down than a larger one, the trade-off for systems to shoot them down is the same: if the current mix of Standards/ESSMs/etc. is optimum for defending against large ASMs, it will be optimum for defending against smaller ASMs too.

    There are measures you can take that help specifically against smaller ASMs, some of which have been mentioned here. They're shorter-ranged, so you can put more effort into chasing their launch platforms. You can build more redundant systems, so you're more resistant to a mission kill. Their sensors will be less sophisticated, so you can work harder at fooling them.

    But if nona-packing nav-AMRAAMs gets you more ASM kills than quad-packing ESSMs, that's something that should be done regardless of whether the ASMs are large or small. It's reasonable that the balance in the future may shift toward defensive systems with deeper magazines, like guided 5-inch HVPs or lasers - but again, this is something that should happen regardless of the size of the ASMs.

    Note, however, my big assumption above: that ASMs are equally difficult to shoot down, regardless of size. If large ASMs are more damage-resistant, or small ASMs are harder to hit, that will shift the balance one way or another.

    Another tangential point relevant to this discussion: the design for FCASW/Perseus includes a pair of "effectors" with inertial guidance only, to be ejected from the main missile body and impact the target separately. The name suggests that they're intended to increase the effect on the target ship: you spread your warhead mass over three impact points, to give yourself a better chance of hitting something important. But, depending on how far from the target they're ejected, they could also act to saturate short-ranged defences.

  24. March 21, 2021Andrew Hunter said...

    Some sad news.

    My dog Temeraire--who Bean has met--is dying. She has terminal lymphoma, and a vet is coming today to put her to sleep. A very sudden decline; as of Wednesday my parents just thought she was eating poorly. Friday night they were scared and took her to a vet, and I flew home early from my trip yesterday.

    She's named after some combination of the ship-of-the-line who fought Trafalgar, and the Bellerophon-class dreadnought. Good ships, and a good dog. I'm pretty heartbroken after ten years.

  25. March 21, 2021John Schilling said...

    @Adam: Very sorry to hear that. I've only lost one dog, in childhood, and she decided to go out into the woods and find a quiet place to die on her own rather than bother us with it. Hurts either way, and you have my sympathy.

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

    Just ran across an article about the loss and salvage of MV Golden Ray off the coast of Georgia (the state, not the country).

  27. March 21, 2021DampOctopus said...

    Andrew, I'm sorry to hear your news. You and your parents have my best wishes, and I hope Temeraire is remembered as fondly as her namesake.

  28. March 21, 2021bean said...


    Sorry to hear that. I have fond memories of your and Temeraire's visit.


    Thanks for posting that. Very interesting.

  29. March 23, 2021Carey Underwood said...

    “…were entirely passive and lacked a killer instinct.”

    “And that is why the LCV is so weird and impractical, Harry had to reach far into the absurd to meet his standard of killing the enemy.” or however that went in hpmor :D

  30. March 23, 2021Carey Underwood said...

    …and that's what I get for not finishing reading the thread before posting :(

    Losing furry family members hurts, I'm sorry :(

  31. March 24, 2021Ian Argent said...

    In re the loss of MV Golden Ray

    "it had become practice in the car carrier sector to not calculate actual stability conditions after completing cargo operations but before the ship sails out to sea." ADM Rickover wept!

    Plus the pilot hatch was left open - which I know from being on cruise ships, they leave that hatch open for a long time prior to transfer. And it's pretty close to the waterline!

  32. March 24, 2021bean said...

    That's not just offensive to Rickover, it's offensive to anyone with an understanding of how to safely operate ships. Seriously, if you're dealing with that kind of cargo, not doing the math to check your stability is frankly malpractice in this day and age. We have computers to do the actual number-crunching, so it's not like you can even claim that prevents you from doing so these days.

  33. March 24, 2021Ian Argent said...

    The ADM Rickover wept was my own editorial comment, and a lot less tongue-in-cheek than it came across. I agree that not checking the stability until too late to do anything about it, particularly in this age of software, is grossly and possibly criminally negligent.

    I have my problems with the cargo cult of Rickover. With his own philosophy, not so much.

  34. March 24, 2021Neal said...

    In the transportation business there are some phone calls (so to speak) that you hope never to have to make. I think it is safe to assume that having to call the boss because you are now sideways in the Suez Canal is one of those, irrespective of cause, dreaded moments.

    I know it should be of no surprise based on the transit numbers, but it still amazes me how quickly and how large the backup grows.

  35. March 24, 2021echo said...

    Has anyone tried mathing out the losses from this?
    Some people were giving estimates of $10+ million per minute the canal is closed, which is more than double my first guess.

  36. March 25, 2021Lambert said...

    How close to the maximum throughput does Suez usually operate?i.e. how long will it take to clear the backlog after Ever Given is dislodged?

  37. March 25, 2021Neal said...

    I am seeing figures that state that after the opening of the Ballah Bypass the canal can now handle 97 a day with 50 being the daily actual average...this 18,000 average transits per year recently.

    I am not sure about that 97 number though as it does not seem to be definitively stated but rather put forth as an estimation of expected capacity. Perhaps someone has good figures on this.

    The Ever Given seems to be fast. If they pump out ballast and fuel I wonder if they will have to offload cargo in order to maintain stability. You would hate to have it tip once it was brought free.

  38. March 26, 2021Blackshoe said...

    Someone who may or may not be the Iranians may or may not have shot an ASCM at a vessel that may or may not be owned by the Israelis.

  39. March 26, 2021Lambert said...

    So once the Suez is open again, there might be a backlog that lasts as long as the canal was closed. (depending on how many ships decide to take the Cape Route and whether 97 is the real daily max capacity)

  40. March 26, 2021Ian Argent said...

    @Lambert: I've been seeing a bunch of news reports (regular press, not specialized) that there will be a delay in return to normal; one that lengthens every day the canal is closed.

    According to the AIS tracker site I've been using, there's 30-ish merchanters in the Great Bitter Lake right now, another hundred or so off Port Said in the Med, and at least 200 on the Red Sea end.

    Plus you can see the traffic heading for the Cape of Good Hope both more or less straight from Malacca and also down the coast of East Africa (not surprisingly swinging wide of the Somalian coast).

    There's still a surprising amount of traffic up the Red Sea and towards the Med end.

    Another thought - the Suez shutdown is going to tighten oil supplies and that of other consumer goods, but what about chandlery items? There was (apparently) already a shortage of empty containers in China; but what about bunker oil and other supplies? Or will it not matter, because while the ships are making longer voyages they're sill not going ot be at sea any much longer overall? Longer voyages, but less of them?

  41. March 26, 2021ike said...

    I forget; which US trade routes use Suez? I think trade with Iran would. What about India? I guess even if Long Beach is faster, maybe grain from New Orleans goes east.

  42. March 26, 2021Ian Argent said...

    @Ike: I would expect Persian Gulf to east coast destinations passes through the Suez, and even China to US East Coast simply because water transport is so much more efficient than land transport, and Suezmax is much larger than Panamax, even with the improved locks. (East Coast in this case includes the Gulf Coast).

    Which reminds me, I wonder if they're gonna tweak suezmax after this...

  43. March 26, 2021bean said...


    The way around Panamax is to ship to the West Coast, which is why the ports of LA and Long Beach are first and second in container traffic in the nation. Water transport is much more efficient than land transport, yes, but it's not quite enough these days to beat sending a ship to California and then using trains and trucks to move it inland.

    Re Suezmax, I'd guess they'll step up training for the canal pilots, and put more work into their disaster-response. Tweaking Suezmax is going to trample on a bunch of toes.

  44. March 26, 2021bean said...

    Also, it's worth pointing out that this is not the first time that Suez has been closed. Still, I think we can confidently say that this one will be resolved sooner.

  45. March 26, 2021Ian Argent said...

    @Bean: how do you address "nil visibility and blown into the canal wall by 40 kmh winds" with training, though? That seems to be the story so far. Permit the pilots to advise the Master to stop below certain visibility levels?

    I expect either "nothing" or the SCA shakes down the transiting shipping for a second lane south of Great Bitter Lake.

  46. March 26, 2021Ian Argent said...

    Yellow Fleet: largest ship by gross tonnage (17,614) SS Observer. Assume the capacity at the time of 45-ish ships per day (which is what Wiki says the pre-expansion capacity was) 792,630 GT per day

    MV Ever Given is 220,940 GT, and 95-ish transits per day today (again, from Wiki) 20,989,300 GT per day. (MV Ever Given is said to be Suezmax)

    Back of the envelope math says the Suez only has to be shut down for 110-ish days to equal the amount of lost transit gross tons in the Yellow Fleet time period.

    I should be using a different tonnage, I bet, but I can't be arsed to look up SS Observer's other tonnages - it's not in the Wiki article on the Yellow fleet. Either NT or DWT would give more weight (heh) to the modern side

  47. March 26, 2021Anonymous said...


    Water transport is much more efficient than land transport, yes, but it's not quite enough these days to beat sending a ship to California and then using trains and trucks to move it inland.

    Trains are just as energy efficient as ships but at higher speed and need even less crew assuming of course you can justify the cost of the infrastructure.

  48. March 26, 2021bean said...


    I don't know what went on on the bridge of Ever Given. If the pilot told the master to stop and he didn't, then the master is an idiot, and the SCA probably needs to revise their terms for transit. I'd guess that it's more likely that the pilot wasn't paying attention, as Suez pilots don't have a good reputation. Hard to solve, although being made to look like idiots in front of the world might be a push in the right direction.

  49. March 26, 2021ike said...

    To say nothing of the savings in simplified logistics and streamlined infrastructure you get by saying, "Send it all to Long Beach, offload to trains to regional distribution hubs, which put it on trucks for final delivery", rather than maintaining facilities in 5 different ports across the country. I am sure the reduced turn around time also helps.

  50. March 26, 2021Ian Argent said...

    @Ike: The West Coast ports are overloaded and have been for a while.

    @Bean: I was assuming the pilots were not permitted by policy to stop the convoys (they'd pretty much have to drop anchor against the reported winds, no?)

  51. March 26, 2021Neal said...

    I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this post, but it is an interesting hypothesis as to how the vessel was "drawn" toward the bank and what a helmsman options might have been.

  52. March 27, 2021Ian Argent said...

    The water physics as-described sounds like the same effect that generates "suck" and lets tall ships lower their height above water by a couple of meters to get under bridges by running fast.

  53. March 27, 2021Ian Argent said...

    Seen later on in the thread that Neal linked to:

    You don't actually need to see the pointy bit, although it helps. You tend to look into the mid distance and use the foremast. More important is knowing ere the stern is. In a narrow waterway the pivot point tends to move aft and you want to keep the body of the ship some 3/4 of the length from the bow on the centreline. That's why on a bend we put the bow into the outside of the bend before turning. we then use the bank effect to push the bow round and control the rate of turn accordingly. Quite normal to go round a bend with opposite helm on. if you turn to soon and end close to the inside of the bend you will end up 'stuck' to it. Conventional ships with the bridge aft are much easier to keep in position as you can see were the pivot point is. I don't know why she took a shear, there are many factors to be ascertained. Wind , visibility, helmsmans experience, was there an unknown sandbank caused by wind blowing sand into the canal?

    So he's saying that it's normal for ships to powerslide/drift around bends? ;)

  54. March 27, 2021Neal said...


    An apt image indeed! I also liked his reminder of some of the factors that will need to be looked at. I wonder how much investigation is ongoing whilst they are trying to get her free again.

    I can only imagine what the shipping companies are throwing into the mix as to the losses they are claiming.

    In other words, is the the delay cost for cargo that is awaiting (or close to the transport stage of the supply chain)these vessels at their destinations included? How forward looking can one tabulate expected delay losses?

    I have no doubt it is difficult to wade through, and then accurately, tally the true costs.

  55. March 28, 2021Lambert said...

    So the speculation is that there's a venturi effect due to water flowing through the constriction between the stern and the bank? Is there video of the crash? If my understanding of free surface flow is correct, the water level should decrease around the area that's acting as a venturi. It ought to be possible to estimate the force and torque of the bank effect according to the water level along the ship's hull.

  56. March 28, 2021ike said...

    @Neal Yeah, I doubt we will ever get honest numbers on costs. Being able to go to your boss and say, "Yeah boss, our division had had a bad quarter, but it was all Suez's fault." Is just too good of a card not to play.

  57. March 28, 2021Ian Argent said...

    @Lambert: Since the official explanation involves "visual blackout due to weather conditions" I doubt any such footage will appear.

  58. March 28, 2021Neal said...

    Another problem that might be moving up from the back burner is if they have to start unloading containers there might not be a crane high enough in Egypt to undertake the task.

    Apparently they are not at that point yet, but they certainly must be preparing for such an eventuality. The Dutch and Japanese salvors are beavering away and their expertise is impressive. The next 24 hours should be interesting.

  59. March 28, 2021Johan Larson said...

    Obviously this whole Ever Given event was set up by the EU to distract everyone from their crappy vaccination figures.

  60. March 28, 2021Doctorpat said...


    Standard operating procedure for something like this is the "big bath".

    If we are going to have a loss this quarter, especially if it's due to some external event that can't possibly be blamed on us, then every single expense we can possibly scrounge up gets dumped into the bad quarter.

    We were going to pay $500 000 to get the ship repainted next year, going to pay $3M for an engine overhaul at the end of 2023, going to recognise that the pension fund needed topping up sometime, going to depreciate that equipment over the next 10 years... load every expense into the bad quarter, then have fantastic looking numbers for the next five years.

    Only thing that will stop this from being as huge a loss (according to the reported results) as it could be is that everyone has just done exactly this for 2020 (not our fault, pandemic year, yes that meant we had to pre-pay for the next 5 years maintenance...).

  61. March 29, 2021Johan Larson said...

    In other news, a woman completed the Special Forces qualification course in 2020.

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