The Stars are in our Future

Well, celestial navigation is, anyway.

The same techniques guided ancient Polynesians in the open Pacific and led Sir Ernest Shackleton to remote Antarctica, then oriented astronauts when the Apollo 12 was disabled by lightning, the techniques of celestial navigation.

A glimmer of the old lore has returned to the Naval Academy.

Officials reinstated brief lessons in celestial navigation this year, nearly two decades after the full class was determined outdated and cut from the curriculum.

That decision, in the late 1990s, made national news and caused a stir among the old guard of navigators.

Maritime nostalgia, however, isn’t behind the return.

Rather, it’s the escalating threat of cyber attacks that has led the Navy to dust off its tools to measure the angles of stars.

After all, you can’t hack a sextant.

I was in the “never should have quit” camp, btw. That’s the same position I take on paper maps and protractors for land navigation.

USNA Celestial Navigation

 

This 1940s sextant is among the supply stored at the Naval Academy. Midshipmen were tested on celestial navigation for more than a century before the required class was cut in the late 1990s. (By Tim Prudente / Capital Gazette)

GPS does offer several advantages over celestial navigation. For one thing, much greater accuracy, measured literally in single digits of feet. For another, it is continuously updating. Other navigational systems, such as inertial, start with a known fix, and then “drift” after that, with the error in position accumulating over time until the next opportunity to update from a known position.

But as the cited article notes, you can’t jam a sextant. Sorta. Cloud cover actually does a pretty good job of jamming a sextant.

Ordinarily, I’m not at all in favor of gold-plating a system. Here, I’ll make a bit of an exception.  While having midshipmen pick up a sextant and the sight reduction tables is the best way to learn, I think it would  be pretty silly for the XO or Navigator to stand on the bridge wing shooting Local Apparent Noon with a 100 year old design.

Why not field a modern gyro stabilized star/sun tracker? And of course,  an iPad app that you simply input the sightings into. Heck, you could have that capability built into the star tracker.

This is not some fantastic idea I just came up with. Did you know some early  ballistic missiles used celestial navigation, with automatic trackers? Day or night, once the missile got up high enough above any clouds and most of the atmosphere, the needed stars were always visible.

The Navy (and the Army to a certain extent) desperately needs to relearn how to operate in an Emission Controlled (EMCON) environment. That means not only using EMCON to deny the enemy information, but also retaining the ability to work when networked sensors are denied or degraded. As fast as we are increasing our capability to field better capabilities through networks, you can bet China and others are working to disrupt or exploit those networks.

Sharpening the Spear- The Carrier, the Joint Force, and High-End Conflict

New From The Hudson Institute’s Center For American SeapowerSharpening the Spear: The Carrier, the Joint Force, and High-End Conflict.

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Spill and I had an interesting hour long conversation with the Center’s deputy director, and co-author of the report, Bryan McGrath, which, unfortunately for technical reasons we can’t podcast. With a little bit of luck, however, we’ll be able to have Bryan join us again soon to discuss the topic.

I’m going to shock you, dear reader, and admit that, like Bryan, I generally agree with President Obama, with regards to his policy toward China. I disagree on some specific issues, but not the general approach of emphasizing areas of cooperation, instead of those of divergence.

But as Bryan discussed with us, and as the report makes clear, there is a vast difference between not antagonizing China needlessly, and shutting down all discussion of the ramifications of a possible large scale conflict with China, and how that might best be fought.

Will The Marines Deploy Aboard The British Carriers?

Well, Britain says they will.

LONDON — The U.S. Marine Corps will deploy its Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II strike fighters on combat sorties from Britain’s new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, a senior U.K. Royal Navy officer has confirmed.

Rear Adm. Keith Blount, who is responsible for delivering the two 65,000 ton ships, said that using Marine aircraft and pilots to bolster the U.K.’s nascent carrier strike capability would be a natural extension of coalition doctrine.

“We are forever operating with allies and within coalitions. It’s the way wars are fought”, the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Aviation, Amphibious Capability and Carriers) and Rear Adm. Fleet Air Arm told an audience at the DSEI defence exhibition in London on Wednesday.

That’s not to say there are planned rotations of USMC F-35 squadrons deploying.

An artist's rendering of the future HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier. Royal Navy Image

At first blush, it makes some sense. The two Brit carriers are being designed with the F-35B in mind, and the British version is essentially identical to the US version. So interoperability shouldn’t be a major technical issue.

While Blount painted the co-operative arrangement in positive terms, it will disappoint critics who believe the U.K. government should provide the R.N. and Royal Air Force (RAF) with sufficient resources, in both aircraft and manpower, to regenerate the country’s carrier air wings independently.

Here’s the problem with assuming the Marines will deploy on British carriers. Just as the RN and RAF are likely to not have sufficient airframes available to operate from the carriers, so to will the Marines always be hard pressed to have sufficient numbers of jets available.

Operating a squadron from a particular ship involves far more than simply flying the jets aboard. The entire squadron, its maintainers, it admin types, and support staff have to move aboard, not to mention the spare parts and jigs and maintenance equipment. The linguistic and cultural differences between the US and the RN are sufficient to make that integration something of a challenge.

The US has routinely practiced “cross decking” with just about everyone who has a carrier, allowing them to trap aboard our ships, and either trapping or doing touch-and-goes on theirs. But that’s a far cry from actually deploying aboard.

To the best of my recollection, the US hasn’t actually deployed a squadron from a foreign ship.

On the other hand, the British ships have a bar and serve beer, so I’m sure there will be extensive and enthusiastic support from at least some elements of Marine Air to give it a shot.

The David Taylor Model Basin

You’re probably somewhat familiar with the concept of a wind tunnel being used to refine the design of an airplane. Did you know that ships have long been designed using a model basin? What’s that? Simply a very large, long pool in which scale models of the hulls are tested. The hydrodynamics of a given hull design can be tested and refined. One the the most famous model basins is the US Navy’s David W. Taylor Basin, located in Carderock, MD. Built in 1939, it replaced an earlier basin built there by David Taylor. The DTMB still serves the US Navy to this day.

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Shadowhawks Growlers underway 2011.

The Shadowhawks of VAQ-141 made one of the first deployments of the EA-18G Growler as it began to replace the aging EA-6B Prowler as the fleet’s prime Electronic Attack platform.

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Yes, that was a Tornado aerial refueling in afterburner. Heavily laden attack jets usually operate at a fairly low altitude (think the mid 20s) and keeping up with a tanker like a KC-10 at 30 or 35k takes afterburner.

Oh, and that little MRAD light? And then an explosion down below? Yes, they’re linked. But I’m not gonna say how.

We’re on the road this weekend, so posting is probably going to be pretty thin.

Footage of the Last Hours of USS Wasp CV-7

 Shortly after 1440 on 15 September 1942, in the waters of the Solomon Islands, USS Wasp (CV-7) was struck by three torpedoes from the IJN submarine I-19.   The impact point was directly below the AVGAS distribution station, which was in operation when the torpedoes struck.   Within minutes, Wasp was engulfed in flames, roaring like a furnace, punctuated by powerful explosions from built-up gasoline vapors.  Ammunition and aerial bombs began to detonate from the heat, and inside of an hour, Captain Forrest Sherman ordered Wasp abandoned.   She burned well into the evening before torpedoes from USS Lansdowne (DD-486) finally sank her.

lea

wasp-burning-and-sinking

When I was a young lad, I read an excellent book on the Solomons Campaign.  In it, the author described Wasp as burning like a torch, and how, as darkness fell, sailors on other ships could see her glowing red from the fires inside.   When Wasp finally slipped beneath the waves, it was said she emanated a loud and eerie hissing as her hot steel sank into the sea. Watching the footage above, one understands that such a description, like Tom Lea’s famous painting, is hardly hyperbole.

In all, 193 sailors died on Wasp, and 366 were wounded.   Forty-three precious aircraft also went down with her. She had been in commission just 28 months.

In the 37 weeks of war since December 7th, the US Navy had lost Langley (CV-1), Lexington (CV-2), Yorktown (CV-5), and Wasp (CV-7).  Also soon to be lost was Hornet (CV-8), sunk at Santa Cruz on 26 October 1942.   Hornet, however, would be the last US fleet carrier lost during the war.

H/T to Grandpa Bluewater

Navy in the news.

First up, earlier in the week, during an exericise, the USS Sullivans launched an SM-2 missile from her Mk41 Vertical Launch system. Almost immediately after clearing the launcher, the missile exploded.

A Raytheon SM-2 Block IIIA guided missile explodes over USS The Sullivans during a training exercise on July 18, 2015. US Navy Photo obtained by USNI News

 

Given that the missile had no warhead, it’s virtually a certainty that the solid rocket motor failed, and rather spectacularly at that! I’ve never heard of a similar failure of an SM-2. It could be simply due to aging, or a manufacturing defect. One suspects the Navy is going to take a close look at  a lot of other SM-2 Block III missiles.

I have, on the other hand, seen a Royal Navy Sea Dart fail rather spectacularly on launch.

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The US Navy is constructing a massive simulation capability at NAS Fallon, home of Naval Strike & Air Warfare Center. But more than being a collection of 80 simulators, it will also be integrating cruiser Combat Information Center sims, and integrating with genuine aircraft conducting real flights.

The Navy has begun to build a next generation training center that will pair up to 80 fighter, reconnaissance aircraft and ship simulators with live fliers in a massive environment that blends the real world with the virtual.

Navy director of air warfare Rear Adm. Mike Manazir told USNI News on July 16 that the Navy is working towards opening an Air Defense Strike Group Facility at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada in January 2016 and upgrading it to an Integrated Training Facility by 2020, which would represent a fundamental leap forward in live, virtual and constructive (LVC) training.

Today, the Navy can conduct live-constructive training, in which a live pilot up in the air reacts to computer-generated scenarios, and virtual-constructive training, in which a person in a simulator reacts to computer-generated scenarios. But connecting a pilot in the air with a pilot in a simulator to operate in the same constructive environment – a full LVC event – is a real technical challenge.

The big benefit is that you can construct very large scale scenarios, and tailor them to any location in the world. That is, it will give a more genuine representation of actual operations that current scenarios.

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Not exactly a Navy only story, but Lockheed is looking at ways to use sensors and datalinks to increase real time targeting capability.

A high-flying Lockheed Martin U-2 spy plane has enabled a mission control station to dynamically re-target a simulated Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), using data passed from an F-22 Raptor over the deserts of Southern California in a recent flight trial.

During the tests, targeting data was passed from the F-22 to a ground station via an L-3 Communications modem on the U-2, says Scott Winstead, Lockheed Martin’s head of strategic development for the U-2 programme. This allowed the ground station to re-target the LRASM surrogate, essentially a cruise missile mission systems flown on a business jet.

In addition, the U-2 was able to translate and pass data between the F-22 and a Boeing F-18 Hornet during the series of flights, which took place in June. The tests were designed to evaluate new US Air Force open mission system (OMS) standards using a Skunk Works product called Enterprise OMS.

Chattanooga- They fought back

Well, that’s interesting. In contravention to regulation and federal law, at least two servicemembers, including the commanding officer, were in possession of weapons, and fought back against the Islamist terrorist who attacked both a recruiting station and NOSC Chattanooga. During his assault which killed four Marines and one Sailor, at least one Marine carried a Glock pistol, and the NOSC commander, LCDR Timothy White possessed a weapon, and exchanged fire with the assailant.

Per the New York Times:

Chat

Pistols versus an AK style rifle and shotgun isn’t a fair fight, but it’s far better than nothing.

The question now is will the chain of command honor LCDR White for his valor, or denounce him for violation of regulations?

Bring The HEAT Podcast

OK, I got the (most of) the technology figgered out. And a quick call with Spill actually generated some real content.

You can stream it here.

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Or you can download the mp3 here.

(Right click and chose “Save Link As”)

If there’s sufficient interest, we’ll look at iTunes and Stitcher as well.

The Pacific Patrol Boat Program

The Central Pacific has some of the greatest swaths of empty ocean in the world. But in the Western Pacific, there are a great number of islands and archipelagoes, many of them independent nation states. Each of these nations has an EEZ, or Exclusive Economic Zone. While their territorial sovereignty only extends 12 nautical miles from the shore, the EEZ extends 200 nautical miles. Within that zone, these nation states have rights to fishing, drilling and virtually all other economically productive activities. If Tuvula doesn’t want you fishing in their waters, that is their right to deny you. Conversely, Tuvula can, if it wishes, grant you a license to fish in their EEZ, and charge you a tidy fee, adding nicely to their national coffers. The problem is, Tuvula, with an area of about 10 square miles, has an EEZ of about 126,000 square miles to patrol. And with a population of about 10,000, it doesn’t really have the tax base and industry to buy much of a coast guard.

Enter Australia. The concept of the EEZ is a relatively new one, first codified by the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea in 1982. Australia has long operated its own fleet of small patrol boats to enforce its EEZ and perform other similar maritime security and presence missions.  Australia also quickly realized that helping the large number of small nations to their north perform similar missions would help Australia perform its own. That is, time not spend dealing with problems to the north could be spent on dealing with local issues.

And so in the late 1980s through most of the 1990s, Australia built a fleet of 22 patrol boats, each just over 100’ in length, and get this… they gave them away, free of charge. Even better, they operate a schoolhouse in Australia to train the sailors from the countries that received these gifts. Australia also set aside money for overhauling and upgrading the boats over time.

The Pacific class patrol boat has been quite a successful design.

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Photographs taken during day 3 of the Royal Australian Navy International Fleet Review 2013. Papua New Guinean patrol boat Dreger underway on Sydney Harbour.

At about 103’, and displacing 162 tons, they have a top speed of about 20 knots, and a steaming range of about 2500 nautical miles at an efficient cruising speed of 12 knots.  They have an endurance of about 10 days.  Not all are armed (many are operated by police forces, as opposed to a navy or coast guard) but they can be fitted for machine guns and even 20mm cannon.

The Pacifics were built to commercial standards, both to keep construction and maintenance costs down, and for ease of maintenance by the relatively poor nations that operate them.

The Pacifics are beginning to reach the end of their expected service lives. And Australia has a bit of a slump in its current shipbuilding plans. And so:

MARCH 6, 2015 — Australia’s Minister of Defence, Kevin Andrews, today, issued a statement announcing the Request for Tender (RFT) for up to 21 replacement – Australian-made – Pacific Patrol Boats under the Pacific Maritime Security Program, Project SEA3036 Phase 1.
Under that program, Australia provides patrol boats to Pacific island countries to enable them take an active part in securing their own extensive Exclusive Economic Zones

The project announced today is seen as a lifeline for Australian shipbuilding. According to the minister, it represents “a significant investment in Australian defense industry,” with the Australian-made patrol boats worth Australian $594 million (about US$ 462 million) with through life sustainment and personnel costs adding an estimated at A$1.38 billion (about US$ 1.07 billion over 30 years.

It would probably be fair to say this is more corporate welfare for Australia than it is self interested charity to its neighbors. Australia’s neighbors will benefit, of course. But in the interim, Australia will also be able to keep its shipbuilding capacity ticking over pending some future major programs for domestic consumption.

The new patrol boats are expected to be somewhat larger than the Pacific class, at about 40 meters (roughly 125 feet) and a bit faster, with a top speed of 25 knots. Endurance should be similar. Again, the ships will be built to commercial standards. They won’t be fitted with armament, but will be fitted for it if the receiving nation wishes to add it.