Angles and Dangles, and Then Some


Sequence of Events

15 to 30 Seconds After Loss of AC Power

The rate of change of increasing down angle accelerated rapidly from about 15 degrees down to approximately 40 to 45 degrees down; with full speed ahead still being answered.

The starboard controllerman on watch in the maneuvering room picked up the XJA circuit (inter compartmental sound powered phone system) but heard no conversations.

The Officer of the deck took the hand telephone from the helmsman and ordered “All stop” and immediately “All back full”. There was no response to this order, nor was it heard in the maneuvering room.

The after torpedo room watch picked up the hand phone (XJA circuit) and heard no conversation on the phone.

The diving officer ordered “Blow bow buoyancy” and the auxiliaryman responded to the order. In addition the diving officer ordered the stern planesman to shift to emergency and the stern planesman responded to the order.

The commanding officer entered the control room and was able to pull himself to a position between the ladder from control to conning tower and the control room table.

One of the chiefs fell to the forward end of the forward battery as he attempted to climb into the control room.

Holy moley.  Read the whole thing.   Especially “Lesson Learned and Action Taken” Number 5.   Drills and discipline.  Rote memory.  Training, training, training.  Not a word about SAPR or human trafficking, or Diversity…

H/T (not surprisingly) Grandpa Bluewater.

The Naval Battle for Guadalcanal; The Second Act, 13-15 November 1942


As the decimated US Navy force limped away from Ironbottom Sound after dawn on 13 November 1942, the prospects for protecting the Marines on Guadalcanal and preventing the counter-landing of powerful Japanese reinforcements seemed distinctly unpromising.   Four US destroyers, Laffey, Barton, Cushing, and Monssen, had been sunk, Barton with heavy loss of life.   Light cruisers Atlanta and Juneau were badly damaged, both in danger of sinking, heavy cruiser San Francisco was a shambles.  As was previously noted, the fight to save Atlanta was lost, and Juneau would fall victim to a Japanese submarine.

But the Americans did hit back.  During the daylight hours of 13 November, aircraft from Henderson Field, Espiritu Santo, and Enterprise finished off the crippled battleship Hiei, and sank the smoking hulks of destroyers Akitsuki and Yudachi.

On 13 November, Yamamoto ordered Admiral Kondo to reconstitute a bombardment force, marrying 8th Cruiser Squadron under Admiral Mikawa with the remaining ships from Abe’s force, including battleship Kirishima.  8th Cruiser Squadron consisted of four powerful heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and four destroyers.  The force slipped into the waters off Henderson Field unchallenged in the waning hours of 13 November and commenced a bombardment of the airfield.  The intent was to neutralize the airfield in order that the eleven transports, carrying supplies for Hyukatake’s starving ground forces and reinforcements from the 38th Division, could be unloaded.  The results of the bombardment were ineffectual.  The Japanese fired approximately 1,000 rounds in little more than half an hour, and damaged some aircraft, but the airfield and most of its planes remained fully operational.

Not long after dawn, the Cactus Air Force, as well as aircraft from Enterprise and Espiritu Santo, pounced on the Japanese ships.  They fell first upon the bombardment fleet, inflicting heavy damage to cruisers Chokai, Isuzu, Maya, and Kinugasa, the latter eventually sinking.

Next were Tanaka’s transports.  A series of attacks, including high-level B-17 sorties, sank seven of the eleven transports.  While most of the Japanese troops were saved, all the weapons and equipment, food, fuel, and ammunition were lost.  Instead of welcome reinforcements, those survivors became liabilities to an already badly broken supply system.

Earlier in the day on 13 November, Vice Admiral Willis A. “Ching” Lee, with new radar-equipped fast battleships Washington and South Dakota and four destroyers, was ordered east to defend Guadalcanal.  Named Task Force 64, Lee’s cobbled-together force entered Ironbottom Sound north and west of Cape Esperance, and picked up the Japanese ships on radar just before 2300 on 14 November.  Shortly after, the Japanese force under Kondo spotted the Americans.  However, Kondo believed he was facing cruisers rather than battleships, and he believed they would not be a match for Kirishima or his remaining heavy cruisers.

Kondo split his force, around either side of Savo Island.  Lee briefly engaged Sendai and several Japanese destroyers with radar-guided fire.  The Japanese cruiser bid a hasty withdrawal.  The cruiser Nagara and four destroyers actually sighted Lee’s force before they were reacquired by American radar.  Nagara and her accompanying destroyers, plus Ayanami, engaged the four American destroyers with guns and torpedoes.  Much like the results of the previous evening, the US destroyers lost heavily.  In a very short time, Benham, Preston, and Walke were mortally wounded, Gwin heavily damaged.

It was at this juncture that Kondo’s mistaken identity of the two US fast battleships spelled doom.  Washington and South Dakota steamed on, closing with Kirishima, two heavy cruisers, and two destroyers.  South Dakota, closest to the Japanese force, suffered a massive power failure which blinded her radars and knocked out her gun mounts.  She was set upon by the Japanese destroyers and cruisers as she passed, impotent, within 5,000 yards of the enemy.  As she had turned to avoid the burning American destroyers, she had been silhouetted against the flames, and became a target for every Japanese gun.  The battleship was hit repeatedly topside, damaging her gunfire control systems, knocking out communications, and causing almost 100 casualties.

However, unseen and unmolested by Japanese fire, Washington loomed in the darkness.  Her secondary (5-inch/38) batteries pounded the destroyer Ayanami to a burning wreck within a few minutes.  She had refrained from firing her main battery at her radar contact, because she had been unable to communicate with South Dakota to confirm her location.  When South Dakota was engaged by Japanese guns, Washington had no doubt of her target.  What followed was the first encounter between battleships in the Pacific War.  It was a one-sided affair.  At a range of just 8,900 yards, Washington commenced a radar-targeted engagement of Kirishima with her 16-inch main battery.  In just over six minutes, Washington fired 75 16-inch projectiles, striking Kirishima between ten and twenty times, and plastering her with 5-inch fire.  Kirishima was finished.  Her topside was a wreck of twisted metal, her steering destroyed, and she had been holed below the waterline.  Kirishima capsized and sank in the early hours of 15 November.  Ayanami was abandoned and scuttled.


The surviving Japanese transports reached Tassafaronga, but as soon as daylight broke, the four ships were taken under fire by aircraft from Henderson Field, the 5-inch guns of the 3rd Marine Defense Battalion, and an Army Coastal Artillery battery (155mm Long Toms).  As with their sunken sisters, most of the Japanese soldiers managed to get ashore, but almost all of the supplies, food, ammunition, and equipment were lost.

The naval actions in the skies and waters of Guadalcanal between 12 and 15 November 1942 were costly to both sides.  The action was fierce, confused, and deadly.  Losses of men and ships were nearly even.  However, these battles were the turning point in the Solomons.  Control of the waters around the island of Guadalcanal passed permanently to the United States Navy.  There would be more bloody fights in those waters, and even stunning setbacks (Tassafaronga), but US naval and air power in the Solomons would continue to grow, while that of Japan would continue to wane.  The Japanese would continue to attempt supply of its garrison ashore, to diminishing effects, but would never again send reinforcements down “the Slot” to wrest the island from the Marines.  The First and Second Naval Battles for Guadalcanal represent the last running of the Tokyo Express.

The Battle off Samar

For two decades prior to World War II, both the Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States Navy assumed any war in the Pacific would culminate in a decisive battle in the waters off the Philippines archipelago.

B0th navies built their fleets, their doctrine, their weapons, and their training around this assumption. And in late October, 1944, that battle was joined, the largest naval battle in history, The Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Spread over three days, and hundreds of thousands of square miles, it was a decisive defeat for the IJN. But on the 25th of October, one portion of the battle was very nearly a catastrophe for the US Navy, and only by the dint of extraordinary heroism and sacrifice was disaster averted.

In mid 1944, having consolidated the capture of the Marianas island chain, the Navy actually argued to bypass the Philippines, and instead invade Formosa.* But shipping and a shortage of available Army troops meant any invasion of Formosa would be delayed an unacceptable length of time. With the resources available, an invasion of the Philippines was practical. Further, GEN MacArthur strongly argued that the US had a moral obligation to fulfill his promise to return. The Philippine people, and all other Asian nations, he argued, would never forgive the US for a failure to attempt to liberate conquered peoples.

GEN MacArthur won the argument. The next objective in the Pacific would be his target. But President Roosevelt was loathe to place either MacArthur subordinate to ADM Nimitz, or ADM Nimitz under MacArthur. And so were sewn seeds of disunity of command.

Under Nimitz, VADM Halsey lead the Third Fleet in direct support of the invasion. But the actual invasion forces were under the US Seventh Fleet, which was under GEN MacArthur’s command.

The IJN plan to counter the invasion was, as so many of their plans, a complex one that divided the Japanese fleet into three forces, the Northern Force, the Center Force, and the Southern Force.

Northern Force was centered around the remnants of the Japanese carrier fleet. But the air wings of the fleet had been ground to a nub months earlier in the Great Marianas Turkey shoot, and so the force carried only a paltry 108 planes. It was, in actuality, a sacrificial decoy force, intended to draw Halsey and his stupendously powerful Fast Carrier Task Force away to the north.

The rest of the Japanese plan was for the Center force to pass north of Samar, and for the Southern Force to pass through the Surigao Strait, and for both to fall upon the lightly defended invasion forces at Leyte.

It didn’t turn out that way. The Center Force was attacked during the day of October 24th by Halsey’s carriers, and forced to turn back. The Southern Force, harassed by submarine and air attack was later annihilated in the Surigao Strait by waves of destroyer torpedo attacks and a masterful battleship and cruiser gun line in history’s last “Big Gun” naval battle.

The decisive victory had been won! Except, it hadn’t.

In the waters to the east of Samar, under the Seventh Fleet, three groups of small escort carriers were providing close air support to the troops ashore, and a Combat Air Patrol over the invasion fleet. Escort Carriers, known as CVE, were jokingly said to be Combustible, Vulnerable, and Expendable. Based on converted merchant hulls, they lacked many of the survivability measure of warships. Armed with a single 5”/38 gun on the stern, and with an airwing of about two dozen FM-2 Wildcat and TBM Avengers, they were well suited for their role supporting invasion forces.

Three groups of six CVEs were operated in support of the invasion, with the call sign “Taffy.” Taffy 3 was the northernmost group, under RADM Clifton A. F. Sprague.** In total, Taffy 3 had those six carriers, and an escort of three Destroyers (DD) and four Destroyer Escorts (DE).

At 0637 on October 25, 1944, a scout pilot from Taffy 3 was astonished to spot a massive Japanese force coming round Samar and headed right for Taffy 3. The Center Force, under ADM Kurita, turned back the day before, had countermarched and resumed its mission.  The thirteen fragile ships of Taffy 3 now faced a force of four battleships, six heavy cruisers armed with 8” guns, two light cruisers armed with 6” guns, and eleven destroyers.  Taffy 3 was doomed. No force could withstand such an onslaught.

Instantly, RADM Sprague made a series of decisions, every one of them correct. First, he called for help, especially from the other escort carrier groups. Second, he immediately turned away from the Center Force and ran as fast as his carriers could go. And third, he began launching every plane he could to throw at the Japanese. And fourth, he had his ships begin laying as much smoke as possible. While US ships used radar fire control, the Japanese fleet was still restricted to optical fire control.

An escort carrier had a maximum speed of about 18 knots. Every ship in the Japanese force was at least 10 knots faster, and many were twice as fast. Sooner or later, the Japanese would be able to run down the carriers.

The escorting destroyers and destroyer escorts place themselves between the carriers and the oncoming armada. USS Johnston, under the command of CDR Earnest Evans, immediately turned to make a torpedo attack on the Japanese. Soon the destroyer USS Hoel joined, and the destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts as well. All three would soon be sunk with heavy loss of life. But the combined efforts of these three ships and the others of the escort, the furious air attacks by Taffy 3’s planes and those of the other escort groups staved off complete disaster.

In the end, ADM Kurita’s heavy cruisers first slowed, then sank the escort carrier USS Gambier Bay.


An 8-inch salvo from either Japanese cruiser Tone or Chikuma straddles the burning U.S. escort carrier Gambier Bay on October 25, 1944 during the Battle off Samar. The Japanese cruiser can be faintly seen in the center right of the photograph.

But the storm of fire from the escorts and the American planes cost the Japanese three heavy cruisers sunk, and three badly damaged. ADM Kurita, with victory within his grasp, took counsel of his fears. He recalled his force and attempted to make good his escape.

In just over two hours,the Japanese had inflicted 1000 fatalities upon Taffy 3, and sunk four ships.

But as historian Samuel Elliott Morrison notes his history of the battle, ADM Kurita’s failure was a very minor tactical victory when he should have inflicted a major operational defeat upon the US Navy. The IJN in October 1944 was a spent force. The role of the Center Force was a suicide mission. Had he persisted, he could have further battered Taffy 3, and far more importantly, he could have fallen amongst the invasion forces and done unimaginable slaughter to them.

While Taffy 3 escaped annihilation at the hands of ADM Kurita’s Center Force, it’s ordeal that day was far from over. Possibly the most fear inducing weapon the Japanese fielded in the war made its debut an hour later. For the first time, the Kamikaze corps would dive their planes to their doom, and their targets were the thin decks of the carriers of Taffy three. USS Kalinin Bay would suffer ghastly damage, and the USS St. Lo***, already badly damaged by gunfire, would succumb to a Kamikaze.

In the dark days of the summer and autumn of 1942 during desperate fighting in the Solomons Islands, US Navy ships, equipment, doctrine, leadership and training were often overmatched by their Japanese counterparts. Two years later, under some of the most trying circumstances imaginable, young sailors, many who had never been to sea before a few months before, performed magnificently, a feat of gallantry and bravery that has few, if any, rivals in US Navy history.

Should you be interested in learning more of this battle, I strongly recommend Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James D. Hornfischer, and Samuel Elliot Morrison’s The Two Ocean War.

*Now known as Taiwan

**In an historical oddity, the southernmost group was under RADM Thomas Sprague, no relation to Clifton

***USS St. Lo was originally commissioned USS Midway, but that name was “clawed back” for the CVB class carrier CVB-41. Sailors say it is bad luck to rename a ship.

Mil Times: VA Doctor Regrets Post Telling Gun Advocate to ‘Off’ Himself


So typically VA.

Gorton was responding to a post that came through his Facebook page by an apparent gun-rights supporter, according to images posted to the website Imgur and described by the newspaper.

“I am all for gun control,” the user wrote. “If there is a gun in the room, I want to be in control of it.”

Gorton replied: “Off yourself, please.”

Gorton said he would not call himself a gun-control activist.

“I have concerns about gun violence, but many of us do,” he said.

He should have concerns about his next paycheck, because he should be fired immediately.

For what it is worth, and it is worth a ton, the VA Hospital in Philadelphia commented on the incident, as the AP tells:

“The post was totally inappropriate and does not convey our commitment to veterans. We are taking steps immediately to address the situation,” the VA told the newspaper.

Yes, it perfectly portrays your commitment to Veterans.   And is a symptom of a much larger problem.

In an unrelated matter, VA officials told Congress this month that nearly a dozen employees at the regional office in Philadelphia could face discipline over their errant handling of a backlog of benefit claims.

The VA’s inspector general had found that Philadelphia staff neglected mail, altered claims dates and reviews and made $2.2 million in duplicate benefit payments as it tried to reduce backlogs.

Unrelated, my ass.  The debacles in Phoenix and in Philadelphia and across the VA system should result in people being charged with criminal misconduct (including Federal charges relating to retribution against whistle-blowers), and if clinicians are found to have had knowledge or willfully participated in the scandals, they should have their licenses to practice medicine revoked.

The VA is an unaccountable, unresponsive, inefficient, bureaucratic nightmare, where medical care is decidedly uneven.  There are good people trying to do good work, to be sure.  But far, far too many who are of the ilk that begets the kind of despicable and dishonest mismanagement we hear about daily from the VA.  Secretary Bob McDonald, who took over for Eric Shinsecki, needs to fire people, loudly and publicly.  Heads on plates.  Gregg Gorton’s should be among them.  Along with his newly-revoked license to practice psychiatry.   If Gorton’s head is not on that plate today, perhaps Bob McDonald’s head should be served.

Angled Flight Decks: 1930s Naval Innovation?

Angled flight decks on aircraft carriers enable modern aircraft carriers to simultaneously conduct takeoffs and landings by aircraft. Previously, in the 1910s till about 1945, aircraft carrier flight decks were “axial” flight decks with no special angled area with which to manage aircraft. In this case “go-arounds” were much more difficult and in the event of a landing accident, the aircraft was caught by a barricade stretched across the width of the flight deck. Flight operations consisted on either takeoffs/launches OR landings. After landing, the aircraft would taxi forward out of the landing area, to clear it for the next aircraft. Parking the aircraft was typically done in the forward portion of the flight deck.

HMS Argus (circa 1917) is typical of the first aircraft carriers. Note the full length straight deck. Photo credit: Wikipedia.
HMS Argus (circa 1917) is typical of the first aircraft carriers. Note the full length axial flightdeck. Photo credit: Wikipedia.
This head on view of the USS Enterprise (CV-6) taken during World War 2 again shows the narrow straight deck design that was still prevalent during that time.
This head on view of the USS Enterprise (CV-6) taken during World War 2 again shows the narrow axial deck design that was still prevalent during that time.

Naval Historians credit the Royal Navy, and specifically Rear Admiral Dennis Cambell with the invention of the angled flight deck:

The angled flight deck was invented by Royal Navy Captain (later Rear Admiral) Dennis Cambell, as an outgrowth of design study initially begun in the winter of 1944-1945 when a committee of senior Royal Navy officers decided that the future of naval aviation was in jets, whose higher speeds required that the carriers be modified to “fit” the needs of jets.[13][14][15] With this type of deck — also called a “skewed deck”, “canted deck”, “waste angle deck”, or the “angle” — the aft part of the deck is widened and a separate runway is positioned at an angle from the centreline.[16] The angled flight deck was designed with the higher landing speeds of jet aircraft in mind, which would have required the entire length of a centreline flight deck to stop.[16] The design also allowed for concurrent launch and recovery operations, and allowed aircraft failing to connect with thearrestor cables to abort the landing, accelerate, and relaunch (or “bolter“) without risk to other parked or launching aircraft.

The angled desk indeed allowed for the simultaneous launch and recovery of aircraft. The first aircraft carrier with the angled flight deck was the HMS Triumph (R16) which was tested in 1952:

In 1952, HMS Triumph was used for the first trials of an angled flight deck. Her original deck markings were obliterated and replaced with new ones at an angle to the long axis of the ship. The success of these trials led to the development of the now standard design, with additional areas of the flight deck added to the port side of the ship

HMS Triumph seen in 1950 before the deck marking modification in 1953.
HMS Triumph seen in 1950 before the deck marking modification in 1953. Photo credit Wikipedia.
This diagram of HMS Triumph shows the 5.5 degree deck marking used in tests by the Royal Navy. Photo credit: Wings of the Navy: Testing British and US Navy Carrier Aircraft.
This diagram of HMS Triumph shows the 5.5 degree deck marking used in tests by the Royal Navy. Photo credit: Wings of the Navy: Testing British and US Navy Carrier Aircraft.

The US Navy tested the markings for an angled flight deck on the USS Midway (CV-41) in 1952. “However the orientation of the arresting gear and barriers remained oriented to the axial flightdeck.”

This view of the USS Midway, just after her commissioning on 10 September 1945, illistrates her "pre-conversion" straight flight deck.
This view of the USS Midway, just after her commissioning on 10 September 1945, illistrates her “pre-conversion” straight flight deck.
These are the deck plans for angled modifications aboard the USS Midway in 1952. Photo credit:
These are the deck plans for angled modifications aboard the USS Midway in 1952. Photo credit: Wings of the Navy: Testing British and US Navy Carrier Aircraft.

The USS Antietam (CV-3) had the first “true” angled flight deck, as structural changes to the ship were made to accommodate that feature.

USS Antietam showing her 8-degree angled flight deck. Photo credit: Wikipedia
USS Antietam showing her 8-degree angled flight deck. Photo credit: Wikipedia
The USS Antetiam with her original axial flight deck.

However upon reading Dr. John T Kuehn’s Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet That Defeated the Japanese Navy, it seems that the angled flight deck is a United States Navy invention, not as always thought, a British invention.

Before I get to that a bit about the General Board and flying deck cruisers. The General Board was established in 1900 to play a critical role in linking the Washington Naval Treaty and innovation in the fleet. “Particularly astonishing, given the hierarchical nature of the U.S. Navy, was the General Board’s tolerant and consensus-driven process which led to an environment highly favorable to creativity and innovation.”

The flying deck cruiser was an attempt by the General Board to use remaing Washington Treaty warship tonnage allocation to meet the perceived aviation needs for the Navy war plan in the Pacific, unknown as War Plan Orange.

During one particularly interesting meeting of the Board in December 1930 a design for a ship called the “flying deck cruiser” was undergoing review by the general board which lead to a very interesting discussion:

The refined design included one feature in particular that had received little discussion during the hearings but was an outgrowth of them. During the December 1930 hearings, the Board had questioned the BuAer (Bureau of Aeronautics, the part of the Navy responsible for Naval Aviation) officers at length regarding launching and recovering aircraft on the shortened deck of some of the designs. The aviators had brought up the technique of taking off at an angle in order in order to avoid the island, or perhaps a forward superstructure, as well as to get a longer deck run. Evidently, the BuC&R officers has paid close attention because they included and angled flightdeck in the design. It was offset to the port (left) side of the ship in order to give the aviators more usable deck space for spotting (parking) and flight operations (Kuehn, p.118).

If the US Navy had built this ship they would have learned the same lessons we now know about angled flight decks about a generation before the angled deck carrier.

Here’s a line drawing of what she may have looked like:


The 1920s and 1930s represent a period of unparalleled and rapid technical innovation in the US Navy and the angled flight deck is only one example (even if the CF was never built).
There were quite a few Naval innovations that took place as a result of the Washington Naval Treaty, the Fleet Problem exercises and War Plan Orange and I’ll be posting more about those in the future.

Sources (you can buy all these books by using the Amazon Store link to the right):

Wings of the Navy: Testing British and US Carrier Aircraft by Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown

US Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design HIstory by Norman Polmar

Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet That Defeated the Japanese Navy (make sure that you buy this book (through the Amazon link right). It’s an excellent and interesting read).

Cold War Naval Ops on Iceland

Warbirds News has some very interesting photographs detailing US Navy operations in Iceland during the 1960s:

One of VW-11′s Lockheed WV-2 Super Constellations at Ernest Harmon AFB.
One of VW-11′s Lockheed WV-2 Super Constellations at Ernest Harmon AFB.

From contributor Will Tate:

In November, 1963, after boot camp and Aviation Electronics school, I arrived at my new command, VW-11 (AEWRON Eleven). The squadron’s home port was Naval Air Station Argentia in Newfoundland, Canada. However, to maintain readiness for the ever-present Soviet bomber threat, the twenty man crews for our EC-121K Super Constellation AWACs aircraft spent two weeks out of every month deployed to a forward base; Naval Air Station Keflavik in Iceland. Our role was to augment the Distant Early Warning Line, or DEW Line for short. The DEW Line comprised a series of radar stations spanning the northern rim of the Americas out over the North Atlantic to the Faroe Islands. Along with other units, our squadron helped form an Airborne Early Warning (AEW) barrier in the Denmark Straits between Greenland and Iceland, and another barrier between Iceland and the United Kingdom. The DEW Line’s land-based radar stations throughout Alaska, Canada and Greenland were thusly joined with an unbroken link to stations in Iceland and England. The Navy’s AEW barriers would fill the over-water gaps round-the-clock for the next three years. While at NAS Keflavik, I was able to observe and photograph Navy and NATO aircraft operating from base.

There’s interesting photographs here of classic naval aircraft.

Maritime Domain Lessons from MH370

17M-Missing plane search MAP.jpg

I’ve been laying low on social media concerning MH370 (in addtion to the personal reasons). Seems like everywhere I go someone is going to ask me “what do you think happened to the aircraft?” or better yet, “how can you lose an airplane”).  I haven’t been able to go out for the past couple of weeks without being asked just once about MH370.

Frankly before we have evidence, I have no idea. The first and foremost point I try to make is that the ocean is a BIG place. To those of you on the coasts this isn’t new but those of us (here in flyover country) without exposure to the maritime domain, I think really don’t concieve just how BIG the ocean really is.

All the black area is ocean!

It’s not enough to be told in school that combined the oceans cover 2/3 of the surface of the planet. Below is a picture of the USS Harry S. Truman, a Nimitz Class nuclear powered aircraft carrier. There are amongst the largest movable man-made objects on the planet. According to Wikipedia the Nimitz class ships measure 1,092 feet overall and have flight decks that measure about 4.5 acres.

That's a HUGE ship!
That’s a HUGE ship!

The Truman seems immense when compared to the buildings in the background! But let’s take another look at the Nimitz class seen in the vastness of the ocean:

Or is it? There are 3 Nimitz class aircraft carriers here.
Or is it?

I know quite a few Naval Aviators that tell me the same thing about their first arrested landing and that’s, “it looked so small” and indeed it does.

Let’s go to MH370. MH370 is a Boeing 777-200ER twin turbofan powered aircraft carrying about 250 passengers. The -200ER has a length of 209ft 1in and a wingspan of 199ft 11in.

The 777 less than 1/5th the length of the Nimitz Class aircraft carrier. Keeping that in mind you can see the problem finding the aircraft in the vast ocean, let alone any wreackage (and that’s not even taking ocean currents, weather, etc into account).

That's a big airplane! A Malaysian Airlines 777-200ER.
That’s a big airplane! A Malaysian Airlines 777-200ER.

Hopefully, this will give you an idea about just how easy it is to lose what we perceive as large objects in the vast ocean. It’s the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Look at all that ocean.
Look at all that ocean.

The vast ocean makes MH370 hard to find, also makes it easy to hide a Carrier Strike Group (CSG). That brings me to an interesting article over at the Naval War College Review: “Maritime Deception and Concealment.”

The uninformed reader might think that in the age of global satellite converage it would be diffcult to hide a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) in the ocean but this isn’t the case. CSGs can undertake active and passive measures to deny an enemy the ability to target them.

Passive measures can include EMCON:

The most commonly practiced maritime tactic is emission control (EMCON). Maritime forces typically restrict their radio frequency (RF) emissions and configure shipboard systems to limit acoustic emissions when operatinf in contested areas; platforms tasked with active sensor searches in support of forces in EMCON are positioned so that the former’s emissions do not reveal the latter’s general location. As repeatedly demonstrated by the US Navy against the Soviet Ocean Surveillance System (SOSS) during the Cold War, EMCON measures can severaly constrain if not eliminate the usefulness of wide area passive sonar and RF direction-finding or electronic intelligence (ELINT) sensors for surveillance and reconnaissance. EMCON does not necessarily imply complete silence; highly directional line-of-sight communications and difficult-to-intercept “middleman” relays (satellites or aircraft) can provide critical command and coordination links. Even so, it does represent a deep cut to the force’s normally avaiable bandwidth. Effective EMCON therefore requires decentralized doctrine that embraces unit-level initiative in executing the forces commander’s intentions, as well as preplanned and frequently practiced responses to foreseeable situations.

Even weather can be used to limit the effectiveness of different deployed sensors:

Sufficiently dense haze and cloud cover reduces vulnerability to infrared (IR) and visual-band electro-optical (EO) sensors. Precipitation similarly reduces EO/IR sensor effectiveness and, depending on wavelength and clutter rejection capabilities, sometimes radar as well. Atmospheric layering can cause radar emissions to be so refracted as to render nearby surface units and aircraft undetectable. Highly variable diurnal ionospheric conditions can likewise degrade shore-based over-the-horizon-backscatter (OTH-B) radars. Heavy seas, however unconfortable for crews, increase the background clutter OTH-B radars must sift through, as well as the ambient noise that complicates passive sonar search.

I highly recommend reading the entire article. Learn about how a CSG can sometimes easily delay dectection by an enemy. Think about the different factors and limitations of various sensors and environmental factors effect tactics employed in a wartime search. All these factors are also applicable to a peacetime search and rescue/recovery.

Many of these limitations apply  to the non-combat SAR environment as well and that’s the lesson that I come away with from MH370.



Expeditionary Maritime Security Operations in the Littorals

In the immediate aftermath of military operations in a nation with significant coastal area, smuggling of weapons, fleeing militants and demonstration of presence are all important missions.

It’s a mission we’ve seen performed in Iraq after the initial 2003 invasion. And maritime security and presence operations are a key role for the Littoral Combat Ship.

Let’s take a look how the Coast Guard performed this mission in 1983-84 after the October 25, 1983 invasion to remove the Cuban installed Marxist government.

The U. S. Coast Guard was the logical service to fulfill these missions. As an armed service, it could deploy quickly and integrate fully into the joint command structure. As the nation’s seagoing police, it had developed great expertise in coastal surveillance and interdiction in the fight against illegal drug traffic. And its image as a humanitarian organization with a history of protecting lives and property at sea made its arrival less politically sensitive to both sender and recipient.

A squadron of four cutters, three 95-foot patrol craft (WPBs) and one support unit, was chosen. These were manned by a little more than 100 men and women. All four vessels were chosen from the Seventh Coast Guard District in Florida because of their proximity to the operating area and their familiarity with Caribbean waters, vessel types, and traffic patterns. The squadron commander was assigned from the Atlantic Area staff.

WPBs are seaworthy, fast, well armed, and small enough to steam along the coast, yet large enough to self-deploy across the Caribbean. Since their routine patrols include drug interdiction, law enforcement, and search and rescue missions, their 15-member crews are well versed in interception, boarding, searching, and seizing procedures. The WPBs chosen were the USCGC Cape Fox (WPB-95316), USCGC Cape Gull (WPB-95304), and USCGC Cape Shoalwater (WPB-95324).

Planning for the worst case, no support from ashore, a support cutter was included, in this case the USCGC Sagebrush (WLB-399). The 180-foot seagoing buoy tender (WLB) was an excellent choice. Designed and built more than 40 years ago to resupply offshore lighthouses, WLBs can carry a large amount of fuel, water, and provisions. Capabilities integral to a WLB not found in a WPB are a heavy lift cargo boom, a large forward cargo deck, a machine shop, welding facilities, and electronics repair.

Additional WPB support was included by embarking a special support team of senior enlisteds in supply, electronics, and engineering rates and WPB spare parts on the Sagebrush. This team was drawn on short notice from a WPB shoreside support group, an experimental concept at Coast Guard Base, Miami Beach. The group was part of a multi-crew, multi-hull program. Designed to exact the maximum underway time from hulls without exhausting crews, the program used three crews to man two hulls. The support group provided additional maintenance during the hull’s short in-port periods.

A squadron of three seaworthy patrol boats supported by a sizeable bouy-tender to extend their deployment time. Not a bad little concept of operations.

The article goes on to mention not only the successes of the operation, but some of the challenges and shortcomings as well, logistics and communications being the biggest, not surprisingly for a scratch team.

It wasn’t all that long ago that many types of US Navy deployments were supported by dedicated support ships –tenders- specifically charged to support the maintenance and logistics of forward deployed assets. While the Navy still has a handful of submarine tenders, in the past there were tenders for PT boats and other small craft, seaplanes, and even oceangoing combatants such as fleet destroyers.

Typically, a tender would be moored nearside or in an anchorage of a forward base.  Rather than spending time and money to build infrastructure forward, the Navy simply moved a ship into position. And as operating areas moved, so to did the tenders.

Not so today.  The LCS-1 Freedom is forward deployed to Singapore, where it is dependent upon a small team of US Navy personnel acting primarily as contracting agents for both US contractors (flying over as needed for specific taskings) and host nation facilities.

That’s all well and good in peacetime, but who is to say that Singapore might now bow to diplomatic pressure to deny port rights to US ships in a future incident?

Three  other geographic regions come to mind when we think of littoral regions that could benefit from US maritime security operations using less than major combatants.

First, the Caribbean. Long considered a “territorial sea” by the US Navy, it still today sees quite a bit of US naval activity, primarily in suppression of drug smuggling. But the dwindling numbers of low end frigate type combatants is making it harder and harder to support tasking there.  Other ships make occasional deployments there in support of US national interests, but generally as a break from the normal routine of deploying as a part of a Carrier Strike Group or Amphibious Ready Group.  The LCS is seen as likely to spend considerable time on the Caribbean station. The Coast Guard’s 154’ Sentinel class Fast Response Cutters are probably the smallest craft that could profitably be used in these operations, and Key West based cutters will likely do so.

Second, the Persian Gulf, specifically, the Straits of Hormuz. This is possibly the critical shipping chokepoint in the world. A large percentage of the world’s oil transits the Straits. Iran is on one shore, with the UAE on the other. Oman and Saudi Arabia also are close to the chokepoint. All three of the states on the southern shore have small combatants dedicated to patrolling the waters, but the US Navy has long had a presence in the region, and military operations such as Operation Praying Mantis have flared up from time to time.

A large part of the peacetime requirement for Maritime Security Operations is boarding and inspecting vessels, ranging from massive supertankers to tiny fishing boats.  While larger ships can dispatch a ship’s boat to do so, it makes little sense to tie up a billion dollar destroyer to haul around an 11m rubber boat.  Smaller patrol vessels (even something as small as the old 50’ PCF Swift boat) could profitably be used for such a mission, and supported easily by either shore assets or a very inexpensive tender as done in the cited article. Again, the Sentinel class cutter would be quite suitable.  Of course, in a shooting situation, small craft would have very limited utility, and would require greater support, but any shooting war there would call for a fairly large scale US Navy response anyway.

The third region that occurs to us is off the eastern coast of Africa, where piracy off the coast of Somalia has plagued shipping for the past decade. While an international coalition of nations has maintained a significant anti-piracy patrol in the region (with some fairly odd bedfellows- both the Chinese and Iranians have staged anti-piracy patrols there) and greatly suppressed recent pirate activity, there could be cheaper ways to do so. Again, something smaller than a tender supported squadron of Sentinel class probably wouldn’t work. And given the large area of concern, significant support in terms of land based patrol aircraft and ship-based helos are needed, but again, tying up billion dollar destroyers doesn’t seem terribly efficient.

The Coast Guard currently plans to buy 58 Sentinel class  cutters. An additional buy of 12-24 for the Navy to operate in choke points would hardly be a massive burden to the shipbuilding budget. Nor would the modest crews of the ships be an undue burden on the Navy.

As for a tender to support forward deployed assets?  Rather than building a ship from the keel up, the Navy could very easily buy any number of fairly large Platform Supply Vessels on the used market. These ships are sturdy, and already built to carry large volumes of liquid and dry cargo, often to include provisions and spare parts. Containerized workshops for limited repair facilities would be easy to provide.

The small political and infrastructure footprint of this scheme makes it more palatable for host nations to allow operations, and facilitates partnership operations with less developed nations. Further, such smaller craft have an inherent ability to support special operations warfare assets in inshore waters.

At very modest costs in money and manpower, the Navy could support important Maritime Security Operations in critical areas while freeing up expensive assets of the battleforce to focus on their primary warfighting missions.

VXX and the Hazards of Procurement

VXX reborn….

The original VXX program to replace the Presidential helicopter fleet became such a boondoggle, and object lesson on gold-plating and a failure to reign in requirements that a simple order of a relative handful of helicopters bloomed to a potential $13 billion program. That’s roughly on a par with the entire Navy shipbuilding budget for one year (though VXX would have been spread over several years) and as such was completely unrealistic. The basic “green” helicopter airframe wasn’t so bad. There were extensive costs involved in adapting a European airframe to US standards, but nothing insurmountable. The real problem came because the buyer, the US Navy, also had to represent the end user, the White House, and between them, they failed to properly define exactly what communications systems the aircraft needed.  It’s one thing to require secure Video Tele Conferencing on the Air Force One, when the President may be airborne for hours. But does he really need that on his helicopter? And a full galley for hot meals?  I think the President can get by with a thermos and a sammich for half an hour.

AW101/VH-71 Kestrel

In the reborn VXX program, the Navy has written a much more tightly defined set of requirements. But the method by which they’ve written them, and the scoring method set, has, as a practical matter, excluded all but one contender. The point of a competition is supposedly to avoid the issues of a monopoly supplier. But now there are concerns that Sikorsky will simply walk away with the program.

The U.S. Navy program to find a replacement for the “Marine One” Presidential helicopter is looking set to become a one-horse race following the withdrawal of AgustaWestland and Northrop Grumman.

The two companies had partnered to offer the AW101 three-engined helicopter for the VXX requirement to replace the aging fleet of Sikorsky VH-60 Whitehawks and VH-3 Sea Kings, but have decided to withdraw after analyzing the request for proposal documents.

In statement to Aviation Week, an AgustaWestland spokesman said: “After a comprehensive analysis of the final RFP, dated May 3, 2013, we determined that we were unable to compete effectively given the current requirements and the evaluation methodology defined in the RFP.

The S-92 was probably the leading contender anyway. Boeing’s two possible entries, the H-47 and the V-22, were really non-starters from Day One. And it’s hard to see how the AW101/VH-71 could be a realistic contender after the debacle of buying several green airframes, only to cancel the program, and sell them to Canada for spare parts at pennies on the dollar.

S-92 as Marine One

Separate from, but simultaneous with the VXX program has been the Air Force’s CSAR-X program to replace its Combat Search and Rescue helicopters. The Air Force fleet of HH-60G’s is old, has limited capabilities, and has shorter range than the Air Force needs. For over a decade, the Air Force has sought to buy up to 121 helicopters to renew their fleet. And while the answer to the Air Force prayers is, to most disinterested observers, a no brainer, politics and the maze of procurement regulations have hampered the Air Force from actually buying any aircraft.

The obvious answer for the Air Force was to piggyback on  the Army’s MH-47G special operations helicopter program, which would have given them a very modern, very long range, very capable aircraft, with the added benefit that the Army had already paid most of the bills for development. And let’s not forget the economies of scale of having hundreds of Chinooks already in service, in terms of training, spare parts, and a robust depot level maintenance system.

And that’s pretty much what the first CSAR-X contract did, awarding the buy to Boeing and the HH-47.

But the complexities of the procurement laws, and strong congressional support for constituent companies, meant that protests in court and the GAO led to the cancellation of the contract, and having to restart the entire program from scratch. Basically, we’ve poured hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps billions, down the drain. And the program requirements have been rewritten so that in effect, the only possible winner is the Sikorsky S-92. The other companies won’t even bother to compete.

Now, the S-92 isn’t a bad helicopter, really. It’s been something of a disappointment in terms of sales, and not without its problems, but it isn’t exactly a disaster.  But we’ve gone from a procurement system that provides the services with the best aircraft for the mission, with rules in place to prevent fraud, waste and abuse, to a system that protects the contractors over the customer. It’s insane.

As an added bonus for Sikorsky, the Air Force also desperately wants to replace its fleet of ancient UH-1N Hueys that provide support to ballistic missile sites. Their first plan, to simply buy UH-60s directly from the Army (rather than from Sikorsky) was shot down. Now, the S-92 is on the fast track to securing that mission as well, boosting the numbers bought.

There was a time in the not very distant past when the Air Force bought pretty much whatever aircraft the Chief of Staff said to buy. That’s something of an oversimplification, but not by much.

Today, we’ve reached a point where the concern for “fairness” has led to the Air Force, and Navy, being almost unable to buy any aircraft unless it’s a part of a Joint-Multinational program that involves every defense contractor and damn near every congressional district.