Category Archives: navy

“Make Sail!”

The Royal Navy in the age of sail was a force so dominant that it led a small island nation to rule over a quarter of the world’s population. How many of us are avid readers of historically inspired fiction of the era, such as the Aubrey/Maturin series, or Horatio Hornblower, among many others?

The Royal Navy was the greatest naval power in the world until World War II. The stupendous cost of the war, coupled with the unprecedented  growth of the US Navy saw the end of the RN as the master of the seas. Even so, for some time after, she would remain a significant force, with ships deployed worldwide for a variety of roles.

One such ship was HMS Dampier. Laid down as a Bay class anti-aircraft frigate in World War II, she would be commissioned in 1946 and serve for over 20 years as a hydrographic survey ship, mostly in the Far East.

In 1967, returning to Britain, the ship lost a screw near the off the coast of southern Africa. To be sure, the ship had twin shafts. But a 3000 mile journey, with only one shaft on an elderly machinery plant was a long way to limp home. And there were only three weeks until Christmas. It would be nice to reach home and hearth in time for the holiday. What to do?
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Yes, they fashioned lug and square sails from awning canvas.

And made it home on the 23rd of December.

The crew apparently became quite adept at trimming and jibing. Old traditions, like old habits, die hard.

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Salvage

An interesting and informative look at the truly herculean effort sometimes overlooked in the epic that was World War II.

Salvaging and reclaiming tanks and vehicles destroyed in combat was sometimes a disturbingly gruesome task, as the late Belton Cooper wrote so eloquently about.   But the salvage effort was truly impressive, and saved the cost of manufacture, transport, and time to supply the gigantic American arsenal in Europe and the Pacific with the spare parts needed to keep fighting.

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TDB: Chinese Hacker Complains About ‘Perverted’ American Military

Oh good Lordy.  From our laugh-till-you-cry funny friends at The Duffel Blog.

BEIJING, China — According to Chinese news agencies, the head of a People’s Liberation Army unit of military hackers is planning to file a formal complaint today with the United States Department of Defense after a number of what were called “disturbing” conversations with “American military perverts.”

Senior Colonel Bo Wang of the People’s Glorious Facebook Battalion is one of thousands of Chinese military personnel who spend all-day attempting to infiltrate the social media profiles of US military and intelligence personnel with fake accounts.

Once a target is identified, the hacker will create a false profile, usually of an attractive member of the opposite sex, and ‘friend’ the target.  Over time, a successful hacker can friend almost an entire unit and learn valuable information about military or intelligence plans.

The problem, as Colonel Wang soon found out, is that the majority of his targets are young American servicemen, most of whom only agree to friend requests because they expect sexual favors at some point.

The rest is definitely not safe for work.  Or most anything else.  But jee-ZUS is it funny!

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The 1962 Fleet Review

For centuries, heads of state would periodically review their fleets. In the age of sail, the line of battle was nearly always concentrated, and so, to view the entire fleet was not the greatest logistical challenge.

By the early years of the 20th Century, the various naval powers of the world had evolved the Fleet Review to a major public relations exercise, almost on a scale of a World Exposition. The nation would flaunt its naval might. It was also an exercise in diplomacy, with friendly (and often not so friendly) foreign powers sending major units of their own fleets to observe and pay their respects. In addition to an excellent chance to show off your own fleet, it was a good opportunity to scope out the competition’s ships. Indeed, a good bit of the intelligence the US Navy gathered on Japanese warships before World War II was gathered simply by photographing them at various international reviews.

The Fleet Review has pretty much passed into history. One of the last I know of was the 1962 review of the Atlantic Fleet by President John F. Kennedy.

It was pretty much the ultimate in dog and pony shows. Give it a couple minutes to get going. You’ll see some serious airpower, and even better, you’ll get to see a Marine amphibious landing.  There’s quite a bit of live fire going on in the clip.

Did you notice the Terrier missiles? Did you notice they missed the drone? Friedman, in his cruiser design history, tells us Kennedy was so disgusted by the miss that he personally ordered that USS Long Beach be refitted with a pair of 5”/38s.

Also, that’s just about the only place I’ve seen contemporary footage of the LVTP-5 Amtrac.

Finally, can you imagine the Secret Service letting the President get that close to all that live fire today?

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Lynx-Yikes!

We’ve mentioned operating helicopters from smaller ships. In the US Navy, this mostly means destroyers and frigates. Which, at anywhere from 3000 tons to 9000 tons, that’s a goodly sized ship.

Other navies, like the Royal Danish Navy, often operate helicopters from much smaller ships, such as this Offshore Patrol Vessel. And in heavy seas, it can get downright sporty.

Notice immediately after touchdown, a probe extends from the belly of the Lynx. It engages a grate on the landing deck, to keep the helicopter from sliding off the deck, in spite of the pitching and rolling.

The US Navy uses a somewhat different system, RAST, developed from the Canadian Beartrap device.

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The Death of HMS Vanguard

Look at Life was  a popular British film series, short 8-10 minute documentaries shown in British theaters before a main attraction. Most were upbeat and interesting, if somewhat overly chipper.

But the short on the end of HMS Vanguard, in spite of the relentless optimism of the of the narrator, is poignant and sad.

HMS Vanguard was the last battleship completed anywhere. Laid down during World War II, competing shipbuilding needs meant she wasn’t completed until after the end of the war. A modified Lion class, she bore King George VI on a Royal Visit to South Africa. Other than that, she mostly spent her time in routine training, and serving as the flagship for various fleets and stations. And in 1960, she was decommissioned, and sent to the Clyde for scrapping.

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The Iranian Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile

There have been a lot of pixels spilled worrying about the Chinese DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (AShBM). Now comes news that the Iranians have developed and fielded their own AShBM. Hit the panic button!

Or not.

Iran’s Khalij Fars anti-ship ballistic missile (AShBM) – a weapon that could shift the military balance in the Gulf region – is being delivered to operational units, according to the US Department of Defense’s annual report to Congress on the Islamic Republic’s military capabilities.

“Tehran is quietly fielding increasingly lethal symmetric and asymmetric weapon systems, including more advanced naval mines, small but capable submarines, coastal defence cruise missile batteries, attack craft, and anti-ship ballistic missiles,” the report’s declassified executive summary said.

This is the first corroboration of Iranian claims that the AShBM is in service. US officials declined to comment further on the report, which was submitted to Congress in January.

The Khalij Fars is a version of the Fateh-110 tactical ballistic missile with an electro-optical (EO) seeker that enables it to home in on a ship’s infrared signature in its terminal phase. The Iranian media has reported that the missile has the same 300 km range and 650 kg warhead as the more recent versions of the Fateh-110.

Vice Admiral James Syring, the director of the US Missile Defense Agency, submitted a statement to a Congressional subcommittee in June saying: “This ballistic missile has a range of 300 km, which means it is capable of threatening maritime activity throughout the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz.” Vice Adm Syring confirmed the AShBM had been flight tested, but did not comment on whether it was operational.

Let us assume for the moment that the Khalij Fars (KF)  is indeed operational with the Iranian Forces. 

The biggest challenge with any long range anti-ship missile system isn’t building the missile, nor yet even the seeker. It’s building the targeting. Detection, localization, classification and identification at long ranges is a difficult task. Most generally, you have to have some sensor platform relatively close to the intended target. Most nations use helicopters and aircraft for this role.  If you can get a helicopter or aircraft in close enough to perform the targeting function, why not make them the shooter as well? That’s one reason the US withdrew the Tomahawk anti-ship missile variant and relied instead on the Harpoon missile with its somewhat shorter range.

But let us again assume for the moment that the Iranians have addressed the long range targeting issue to their satisfaction.  How dangerous is this Khalij Fars missile?

Well, it’s not to be ignored. With a reported range of 300km, it’s got more than enough range to hold all of the Strait of Hormuz at risk, as well as significant portions of the rest of the Arabian Gulf.  And a 650kg warhead is fairly powerful. Further, the angle of impact of a ballistic warhead would tend to mean the blast will more likely do greater damage below the waterline than a conventional anti-ship missile that impacts above the waterline. And the passive Electro/Optical guidance system means that ships won’t be able to use their electronic support measures for warning of incoming missiles, nor able to jam their radars or use chaff to decoy them.

As the article notes, the Iranians are working with a spectrum of systems to hold at risk shipping, both merchant and naval, in the Gulf, and this is one more arrow in the quiver.

But all is not lost.

First, the range of a ballistic missile is a function of its speed. The shorter the range, the lower the speed of the missile. The KF has a speed of about Mach 3.5. That’s far, far less than the speed of the much longer range Chinese DF-21D missile. 

The primary difficulty in intercepting a ballistic target is the speed of an engagement. There’s nothing magical about a parabolic trajectory that creates difficulty in interception. Indeed, the parabolic trajectory makes for simpler tracking. Today’s SPY-1D radar and Aegis computer system have no difficulty tracking such a target from launch to impact. Sea skimming supersonic cruise missiles keep surface warriors up at night because their speed, coupled with the short distance to the radar horizon for surface mounted radars, means that a target has very, very little reaction time. A ballistic missile, however, actually becomes somewhat easier to see on radar as it rises along its trajectory, away from the clutter of the sea surface, or the shore its fired from.

And the Mach 3.5 isn’t terribly excessive for the Standard Missile family to engage. Any Aegis equipped ship should have multiple opportunities to engage any KF missile, from mid-course through the terminal phase, with an excellent chance of defeating it.

And while the KF’s E/O sensor is invulnerable to jamming, it’s not invulnerable to decoying via flares and other infrared techniques.

So while the KF missile might add a new capability to the Iranian forces, it alone certainly won’t fundamentally change the ability of the US Navy to transit and operate in the Arabian Gulf.

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