Category Archives: navy

Oddball Aircraft

We’ll post a little later about one of the oddities of the EA-18G Growler squadrons, but in doing a touch of research, I was reminded of one of the more obscure aircraft in the Navy’s inventory right now, the MZ-3A.

“M” stands for multi-mission. The “Z” stands for lighter than air. Yes, the Navy operates a blimp.

File:Handlers prepare to launch the U.S. Navy MZ-3A manned airship for an orientation flight from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., on Nov. 6, 2013 131106-N-PO203-532.jpg

Basically the Navy owns a commercial off the shelf blimp, and has used it primarily for various research programs. It’s been an on-and-off affair, threatened with cancellation several times.

The Navy actually has a long history of operating blimps (and that’s a story for another time), in addition to dirigibles. But as best as I can tell, this is the Navy’s first blimp since 1962.

Sadly, it’s a GOCO program. That is, the aircraft is government owned, but contractor operated. Which is a shame. It would have been very cool for some young officer to earn his blimp wing.

Yes, wing.

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Filed under navy, planes

Grumman at War

Spill mentioned today that with the retirement of the Prowler, the only Grumman aircraft on US decks now will be the E-2 Hawkeyes and C-2 Greyhounds. Mind  you, the E-2 will be around till at least 2045. But there was a time when the word “Grumman” was synonymous with carrier aviation.


Filed under navy, planes

The Defense of the West-SeaCoast Fortifications

Unlike the eastern seaboard, the western coast of the continental United States has relatively few major ports. From south to north, the main seaports include San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Columbia River, and Puget Sound. There are others, but those are the “Big Five” handling the majority of seagoing vessels.

Interestingly, all five are quite suited to seacoast defense. Depending on the time in question, Los Angeles and Puget Sound might have posed a challenge for the defender, but by the Endicott period, the guns and mines available were quite suitable to close off each port.

Craig has an interesting post on the concerns the Union had for the security of San Francisco during the Civil War. At that time, San Francisco was by far the most significant western port, and as the shipping point for the vast majority of California gold rush gold that was financing the Union, could have made a very attractive target for a Confederate raider, or an adventurous foreign power, say England.

All of this was known by authorities in Washington.  In 1856 a survey of the terrain brought back numerous recommendations to fortify the bay. Those included additional batteries to supplement Fort Point and located on Alcatraz, Yerba Beuna, and Angel Islands, Point San Jose, and, most important to the Golden Gate, Lime Point opposite Fort Point.  I’ve highlighted some of those on a snip from the 1859 coastal survey map (which, by the way, indicates that someone had “cast a lead” into those waters to figure out the depth):

Similarly, last weekend I enjoyed the view from Cabrillo National Monument.  CNM and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery are today on the grounds of Naval Base Point Loma, but used to be within the confines of Fort Rosecrans, a Coastal Artillery post with several batteries guarding the entrance to San Diego harbor.


One of the interesting things about San Diego is that it has only one channel in or out. To say that Fort Rosecrans dominates that channel is something of an understatement. The seaward facing batteries control the approaches, and the channel itself was narrow enough that even a very modest minefield could completely seal the channel.

The Endicott/Taft period batteries consisted of 8 12” mortars, 4 10” guns, 2 5” guns (later replaced by 2 3” guns) and two 3” guns.

A mine casemate for a controlled minefield was also included.

To give you an idea how restricted the channel is, here’s the USS Chancellorsville, CG-62, passing through the channel.


During World War II, several additional batteries were added.  The big punch added was a pair of casemated 16” guns at Battery Ashburn (aka Battery 126).

Arguably the most interesting two batteries were Battery Zeilin and Battery Gillepsie. Battery Zeilin was two 7” guns on pedestal mounts, while Battery Gillespie consisted of three 5” pedestal mounts.

Both batteries were originally training batteries for the US Marine Corps. And therein lies an interesting side story.

The US Army’s Coast Artillery Corps was responsible for the defense of the US ports and harbors and those of its overseas possessions. But what of advanced bases?

During the interwar years, having tasted the success of large scale operations in World War I, the Marines were soon relegated back to fighting in banana wars in South America, and providing detachments aboard US capital ships. In search of a raison d’etre, the Marines looked to the Pacific, and like others, saw a likely war with Japan.

They saw that any US fleet movement across the Pacific would entail seizing and defending forward operating bases. And contra our vision today of the Marines storming the beaches, the hope was they would be able to occupy undefended, or lightly defended island outposts, and then defend them against Japanese counterattack. Accordingly, there was a significant slice of Marine Corps doctrine that focused on seacoast defense of forward bases. And Batteries Zeilin and Gillespie were training batteries allocated for Marine Defense Battalions to practice their trades.

And apparently, the instructors at Battery Gillespie did right by their students, as Marines manning 5” guns at Wake Island suceeded in sinking the IJN destroyer Hayatuke during the initial Japanese landing attempt, the first of many Japanese surface ships sunk during World War II.

Batteries Zeilin and Gillespie were turned over to the Army early in the war. And while Fort Rosecrans was never called on to actively defend San Diego, it stood guard throughout the war. Further it was a major training center for the Coast Artillery, providing training in both seacoast defense and anti-aircraft artillery defense.

The age of aviation rendered the seacoast gun obselete by the end of World War II, and Fort Rosecrans was soon surplus to the Army’s needs. Closed in 1948, it was turned over to the Navy in 1959, and continues to this day to be home to significant naval activities, as well as the lovely Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, and the beautiful and popular Cabrillo National Monument.


Filed under army, Artillery, marines, navy

F-35C Sea Trials Extended Cut

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Did you see the gorilla? TACTS, TOPGUN and NTC

Remember this video from a couple years ago?

Here’s a half hour documentary about the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center, home to the famous TOPGUN course for fighter crews.

The video is apparently about a decade old, with the SuperHornet just coming in, and the F-14 just heading out.

Unlike the 1986 movie, at the real TOPGUN, much of the focus is on the brief and the debrief. One of the key tools used in debriefing the students after a hop is TACTS. The Tactical Air Combat Training System allows TOPGUN to show an engagement in its entirety, either on a gross scale, or down to very fine detail. The positions, heading, altitude, speed and other information on every participant in a fight is shown.

As a student is flying a mission, they’re trying to accomplish the goals for that mission. When they return to be debriefed, they’ll very often forget key incidents, misremember the timing of others, or just never notice something critical that occurred during the mission. They simply didn’t see the gorilla.

But with TACTS, they have to face the harsh truth. And that makes learning easier.

The National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, CA has a similar approach, though for Army ground troops. Each vehicle has equipment to report its location, while the entire battlefield is under video surveillance, and radio transmissions are recorded for future reference during the debrief (which we Army types call an AAR, or After Action Review).

Key questions in an AAR are typically, what were you supposed to do, and what did you actually do? Many times, people are surprised to learn how poorly they understand the first question, and even more surprised to learn they don’t really remember rightly what they did. That’s why tools that can help accurately recreate the battle are so powerful as teaching aids.


Filed under navy

The BBC’s 1964 Masterpiece “The Great War”

Of all the events of the Twentieth Century, it is the First World War that has had the most dramatic and longest-lasting impact on the psyche of Western civilization, more so than all the events that followed.   For anyone with an abiding interest in that war, the 1964 BBC documentary The Great War is an invaluable reference to understanding.  Narrated by Sir Michael Redgrave, the 26-part documentary is a superbly-crafted work.  The tenor of the broadcasts reflects the erosion of the naïve hopes of the warring parties in 1914 into the grim fatalism that the years of slaughter evoked, and the upheaval that would ultimately topple the crowned heads of Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Serbia.  BBC producers make excellent use of voice to read the actual words of the key participants such as Edward Grey, Bethmann-Hollweg, Conrad von Hotzendorf, Joffre, Haig, Falkenhayn, and others.  The series features remarkable and little-seen motion footage of the world of 1914-18, including the civilians, the politicians, the armies, and the great battles of that war.   The battle footage heavily emphasizes the two great killers of that war (in inverse order), the machine gun, and modern breech-loading recoil-dampened artillery.

Of note also are the poignant, and sometimes extremely moving, interviews with the participants of events of the great tragedy.  Some had been in the thick of the fighting, others young subalterns or staff officers at the sleeve of the decision-makers.   Most remarkably, the BBC managed to produce a documentary about momentous events that changed the world and yet also managed to allow the viewer insight into the inestimable human tragedy that these events summoned.   At the time of the release of The Great War, those events were closer in time to the audience than the beginning of the Vietnam War is to our contemporary world.   The twenty-six episodes are around forty minutes each.  Worth every second of the time spent.

Oh, and as the credits roll at the end of each episode, one can spot the name of a very young (19 years old) contributor named Max Hastings.


Filed under Air Force, armor, army, Around the web, Artillery, Defense, doctrine, gaza, guns, history, infantry, iraq, islam, israel, logistics, marines, navy, planes, Politics, Syria, veterans, war, weapons

More F-35C at sea testing

This is just the first workout of the F-35 on the boat. For now, the testing is on best case launch and recovery. Later, they’ll explore the worst case, making it tougher and tougher.

Say what you will about the F-35 development program, but here’s something interesting. The C model will carry an astonishing 20,000 pounds of internal fuel. By way of contrast, the A-6 had an internal capacity of about 15,000 pounds.


Filed under navy