We wrote about the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment that managed Continental Air Defense during the Cold War. When they were first fielded, the AN/FSQ-7 computer was the most advanced digital computer to ever enter production.
Tag Archives: history
“Did you conduct a leader’s recon?”
That’s a question often asked during post-exercise assessments in today’s Army. The leader’s reconnaissance holds a key position in the troop leading procedures and mission planning. That holds true from squad to battalion level (though the scope of operations from brigade higher tend to make a leader’s reconnaissance impractical). The Ranger Handbook explains the importance of the leader’s reconnaissance:
The plan must include a leader’s reconnaissance of the objective…. During his reconnaissance, the leader pinpoints the objective, selects reconnaissance, security, support, and assault positions for his elements, and adjusts his plan based on his observation of the objective.
Now in context, the Bible… er… Ranger Handbook focuses on small unit patrol operations. But considering a modern day infantry company might hold a position assigned to a Civil War-era corps, the fundamentals translate well to historical situations. And, the leader’s reconnaissance concept applies to any mission. Particularly a river crossing.
The old saying that in combat plans are useless, but planning is everything is a bit of an oversimplification.
One of the frustrations I used to have in some units was that the way graded evaluations of collective unit training was set up lead units to emphasis those preparatory efforts prior to battle, such as occupying an assembly area and how units employ the Troop Leading Procedures.
We’d spend so much time working on those parts of the evaluation that inevitably the actual training for the actions on the objective were slighted. And inevitably, we’d pay a penalty when the actual simulated battle took place.
Here’s the perverse part- so much of an evaluation was against a checklist of standards that doing well on the non-fighting part and checking the blocks of the fighting part, even if your unit fared poorly, led to an overall evaluation that your unit was doing well. That style of evaluation glossed over the fact that the actions prior to battle only had value in that they increased your chances of actual victory in battle.
FM 3-21.71 MECHANIZED INFANTRY PLATOON AND SQUAD (BRADLEY) says that at a minimum a Leader’s Recon must include a map reconnaissance. That might be minimally acceptable if enemy observation and security would compromise a physical reconnaissance. But far too often, I saw junior officers too consumed in the minutia of the TLP would run out of time to actually perform a physical reconnaissance (let alone take the squad leaders along), and substitute instead a brief glance at the map and graphics for an operation. That’s almost understandable on some attack missions, but it’s incredible that often in the defense the leadership would fail to go forward of the defensive position and simply look at the terrain from the enemy’s point of view. Far too often leaders would formulate the plan, publish it, and only then conduct any sort of leader’s recon.
Craig’s post shows a leader’s recon of a river crossing site by BG Hazen (go ahead and read the whole thing, it’s quite short). Note that BG Hazen’s recon of the objective not only informs him, but helps shape the plan itself.
There was an old German saying- time spent on reconnaissance is never time wasted.
We’ve been busier (and lazier) than usual, so we didn’t have a real chance to write up a battle this year. We’ve always wanted to write about this one, but the sheer scope of the Battle of Leyte Gulf makes such an effort quite daunting.
The largest, and in many ways, most complex, sea battle of all time. Virtually every weapon of naval warfare engaged- PT Boats, Amphibious assaults, destroyers, cruisers, battleships, subs, carriers big and small, land based and carrier based planes, gun, rocket, bomb, torpedo. The whole shooting match, over a vast area and with a nearly incomprehensible number of ships and planes and men. Some of the most decisive engagements in the history of war, and some of the more spectacular errors of war at sea. And stories of valor, courage, that shall echo throughout history.
A while back, friend of the blog Aggiesprite went to visit the Battleship Texas Memorial, and kindly shared a few pics with us. I thought I’d posted them, but they got stuck in draft limbo somehow. I was reminded when our other friend of the blog Zekexas posted pics of his trip to BBTXM today. Zekexas is a pretty good photog, so go take a look.
At any event, since Aggie went to all the trouble of taking pics of the old grey gal for me, I should post them.
USS Texas, BB-35, was commissioned in 1914, and served in both World War I and World War II. She was decommissioned and stricken from the register in 1948.
She’s the only American example of a Dreadnought battleship remaining. At the time, the 27,000 ton New York class battleships were among the largest warships ever built. Mind you, today the Gerald R. Ford is under construction, and will weigh in around 100,000 tons. And huge numbers of merchant ships displace far, far more.
Still, her ten 14”/45cal guns, in five twin turrets, were quite powerful, and were put to good use fighting during the invasion of North Africa in 1942,and the Normandy landings of June 6, 1944. In 34 minutes of sustained fire, she placed 255 14” shells on the Pointe du Hoc emplacements thought to contain a battery of 155mm guns. The Rangers assault on Pointe du Hoc is one of the more famous events of that incredible day.
Texas would also engage in a duel with the shore batteries of Cherbourg*, the Dragoon invasion of Southern France, and the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Texas was an innovative ship. She was among the second generation of US Dreadnought battleships, shifting from 12” to 14” guns. She also was the first to implement modern fire controls such as rangefinders, directors and rangekeepers** She was the first US battleship to operate and airplane, and was a pioneer in the use of aircraft as spotters for gunfire, greatly improving accuracy at long ranges. She was also an early adopter of radar, mounting the Navy’s first operational air search set, the CXAM-1.
Almost immediately after the war, the state of Texas sought to turn their namesake into a museum. By 1948, she’d been pulled out of reserve, towed to Texas, laid up. But time has not been kind to the flagship of the Texas Navy. She languished in disrepair until by 1988, she was in great danger of sinking. Indeed, when she was under tow to a drydock, leaks were so bad she was almost unable to be docked. A two year refurbishment brought her back to a much better state, but her advanced age and riveted hull means she still suffers from significant leaks, making the battle to keep her open an ongoing and costly one. Currently Texas is trying to convert her to a permanent dry berth, which hopefully will be complete by 2017.
In the meantime, at 99-1/2 years old, she’s still proud to represent Texas.
*She was hit twice by 240mm shells, with 11 wounded, one later succumbing to his wounds.
**A rangekeeper was an early analog fire control computer used not just to plot the present location of a target, but to predict its future range and bearing to account for the time of flight of the ships guns projectiles.
This is for his actions in the same engagement where SGT Dakota Meyers earned his.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 16, 2013
President Obama to Award Medal of Honor
On October 15, 2013, President Barack Obama will award William Swenson, a former active duty Army Captain, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Captain Swenson will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as an Embedded Trainer and Mentor of the Afghan National Security Forces with Afghan Border Police Mentor Team, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, during combat operations in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on September 8, 2009.
Captain Swenson will be the sixth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. He and his family will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service.
Captain William D. Swenson separated from the Army on February 1, 2011 and currently resides in Seattle, Washington. He is single.
Captain Swenson was commissioned as an Army Officer upon completing Officer Candidate School on September 6, 2002. His military training and education includes: Infantry Maneuver Captains Career Course, Ranger Course, Infantry Officer Basic, Infantry Mountain Leader Advanced Marksmanship Course, Airborne, Officer Candidate School.
At the time of the September 8, 2009 combat engagement, Captain Swenson was an Embedded Trainer and Mentor of Afghan National Security Forces. His actions were performed as part of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 10th Mountain Division.
His military decorations include: Bronze Star Medal with Two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with One Campaign Star, Iraq Campaign Medal with Two Campaign Stars, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Combat Infantryman Badge, Ranger Tab, Parachutist Badge
I stole this from John Donovan’s facebook feed. Thanks, John. John also mentions his suspicion that, for whatever reason, the Bush era DoD had a strong reluctance to consider any award of the MoH to surviving troops, whereas the Obama administration has not shown such reluctance.
Interestingly, this is the second small unit engagement that has seen the award of the MoH to two participants. Both here and the battle of COP Keating were desperate fights, and both came in for widespread criticism for the way Big Army handled the fight. I have a suspicion that the scrutiny of the fights has lead to greater documentation of the actions, which in turn raised the visibility of the participants, and led to greater supporting documentation for the awards process. Of course, in CPT Swenson’s case, the awards package was “lost” leading to a delay in the decision to make the award. That’s absolutely shameful.
I’m visiting in The Dalles, OR, a small town on the edge of the Columbia River. It’s a lovely town, with a stunning view of the Columbia Gorge.
It’s also the hometown of Medal of Honor awardee SFC Loren R. Kaufman.
Sfc. Kaufman distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action. On the night of 4 September the company was in a defensive position on 2 adjoining hills. His platoon was occupying a strong point 2 miles away protecting the battalion flank. Early on 5 September the company was attacked by an enemy battalion and his platoon was ordered to reinforce the company. As his unit moved along a ridge it encountered a hostile encircling force. Sfc. Kaufman, running forward, bayoneted the lead scout and engaged the column in a rifle and grenade assault. His quick vicious attack so surprised the enemy that they retreated in confusion. When his platoon joined the company he discovered that the enemy had taken commanding ground and pinned the company down in a draw. Without hesitation Sfc. Kaufman charged the enemy lines firing his rifle and throwing grenades. During the action, he bayoneted 2 enemy and seizing an unmanned machine gun, delivered deadly fire on the defenders. Following this encounter the company regrouped and resumed the attack. Leading the assault he reached the ridge, destroyed a hostile machine gun position, and routed the remaining enemy. Pursuing the hostile troops he bayoneted 2 more and then rushed a mortar position shooting the gunners. Remnants of the enemy fled to a village and Sfc. Kaufman led a patrol into the town, dispersed them, and burned the buildings. The dauntless courage and resolute intrepid leadership of Sfc. Kaufman were directly responsible for the success of his company in regaining its positions, reflecting distinct credit upon himself and upholding the esteemed traditions of the military service.
SFC Kaufman was killed in action in Korea before his award was presented.
High above the town, in a beautiful, immaculately maintained park, there is a memorial to him, and to the other veterans of this small town who have gone forth to serve their nation and its ideals.
Almost every town in America has something similar. And I’m always compelled to take a moment and enjoy each town’s, and reflect upon what a great nation I have had the honor and privilege to serve.
GEN “Skinny” Wainwright had the unenviable duty of surrendering US (and Philippine) forces in the Philippines to the Japanese in World War II. He endured the rest of the war in captivity. His sense of duty led him to believe he deserved court martial for failure to accomplish his mission and save his command. Instead, when the Japanese delegation boarded the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945 to sign the articles of capitulation, GEN Wainwright stood by General of the Army MacArthur in a place of honor.
His command to his soldiers then is every bit as valid today.
So, no pics… at least, none of mine.
One of the things I’d hoped to do while here on Whidbey was get in a little planespotting. And I’ve done a fair bit. I’m right under the approach to RWY 25 at NAS Whidbey (KNUW), which is currently the only active runway. So everything comes right by here. Of course, mostly it is the usual Prowlers, Growlers, and Orions. Which are all fun to watch. But we’ve also seen a few other odds and ends, such as the local C-9 transport, a C-40B Clipper (the Navy version of the 737) and possibly a P-8, a 737 variant specializing in maritime patrol. We missed a great chance to get a pic of a C-17 transport. And of course, there’s always the local Search And Rescue (SAR) helo, an MH-60S Knighthawk. We’re used to seeing ‘hawks of various sorts from our time in the Army. So when I heard a helo this morning, I simply assumed it was the only assigned type, the Knighthawk. But it sounded a little odd. After about the third pass, I strolled out for a smoke, and was delighted to see it the reason it didn’t sound like a ‘hawk was because it wasn’t one at all. It was a Canadian CH-124 Sea King. I was dismayed that I ‘d not brought a camera at all. Sorry.
Here’s a pic I missed a chance to take.
2011 was the Centennial of Naval Aviation, and one of the things the Navy did to celebrate was to paint various fleet aircraft in color schemes of days gone by. And of these schemes, one was a neat retro look of how the P-3 Orion was dressed when introduced into service in the early 1960s. I was pleased to see that it was, in fact, a local bird, and still clad in the attractive Midnight Blue upper, with white lower surfaces. Of course, I didn’t have a camera handy to take pics of it in the pattern. For that matter, I was busy driving, and couldn’t have gotten any pics without risking life and limb. I appreciate you, dear reader, but not enough to die for you just to get the picture.
This is the bird, but obviously, not my pic.
68 years ago, high above the city of Hiroshima, the crew of the 509th Composite Group B-29 Enola Gay, led by the Group Commander, 29 year old Colonel Paul Tibbets, unleashed a single bomb.
The devastation unleashed upon Hiroshima by this single blast was unprecedented in all of human history. Other cities, Tokyo in particular, had seen more damage, but never so instantaneously.
Three days later, a similar fate would befall Nagasaki. And 8 days later, Japan would sue for peace. The cataclysm of the 20th century, World War II, would come to a sudden halt. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, who knew in their bones that the invasion of Japan was just ahead, were suddenly free to consider that they might actually live, return home, and possibly even grow old.
Warfare would be forever changed. Every conflict since has seen the major powers strive to fight and win, and yet not so decisively that another major power would feel the need to resort to the ultimate in conflict resolution.
Admiral Woodward commanded the naval force sent by Margaret Thatcher to the islands after they were invaded by Argentina in 1982.
Later he was an outspoken opponent of Government cuts to the Navy and warned Britain no longer had a large enough fleet to launch a similar operation.
His daughter said he died after a long illness.
As Admiral Woodward noted before his passing, today’s Royal Navy simply no longer has the ability to launch such a large sortie. Likely, even with the introduction of the Queen Elizabeth class carriers in a decade or so, the RN never will again be of sufficient size to display a mastery of the seas. Such a sad fate of what was once the greatest navy the world had ever seen.
A navy that has a history with some of the great captains and admirals likely had its last huzzah with Admiral Sir John “Sandy” Woodward.
Traditionally, the Battle of Midway is listed as occurring over 4/5 June, 1942. But a proper appreciation of the battle also has to take into account the actions of 3 June 1942.
One of the amazing things about looking back at Midway is just how decisive it was (though that would take a long time to be fully apparent) and frankly, just how small it was. While virtually the entire Japanese fleet was tasked for the operation, in effect, only the four carriers were engaged. And virtually the entirety of available US Navy assets were deployed, a total of three carriers with cruiser and destroyer escort. In three short years, a three carrier force would be the hallmark of a decidedly subsidiary operation, not the entirety of the Navy.
I’d sell URR’s spare kidney for a chance at a ride like this.
Mind you, when FiFi goes flying today, she’s taking off from nice long concrete runways, minus many tons of bombs and fuel. Makes it a touch easier than flying off of Tinian or Saipan.
April 19, 1775 saw an advance guard of British regulars sally from Boston to Lexington, Massachusetts, in an effort to seize arms and powder from “rebel” militias formed by colonists.
About 80 colonial militiamen were formed on the green when the British arrived. In a brief, confused skirmish, a shot was fired. No one really knows who fired first, but that first shot was followed by a concentrated volley by the British into the ranks of the militia. Eight Americans would fall in the defense of their liberty.
Since that day, almost 850,000 Americans have fallen in combat. Another 430,000 have died from disease or injury in war.
Even today, Americans spill their blood in defense of liberty. Let us rededicate ourselves today to ensuring that we are worthy of the price they paid.
That’s the question posed by this piece at Foreign Affairs. Sadly, it’s a premium article, so I can’t read the whole thing, just the set up. But it does raise the question. Do we still need heavy forces in an era of a “pivot to Asia?”
I’ll just note that we’ve actually spent a lot of time post-World War II fighting in Asia, and armor was important in every fight.
Plus, here’s a tank.
At least, not when it comes to active duty troop levels.
One of my frustrations when frequenting Milblogs with a naval or air centric theme is that in tough budget times, the authors and commentariat are quick to offer up ground forces on the budget alter. “Oh, put the bulk of ground forces in the reserves!”
Well, here’s the thing. In the almost seven decades since the end of World War II, we’ve found ourselves time and again involved in manpower intensive ground combat.
Recently, retired Admiral Gary Roughead and defense analyst Kori Schake published a paper from the Brookings institution recommending that, in effect, all the looming budget cuts in DoD should come from the Army, and that the Navy and Air Force should see their funding levels maintained.
First, thanks guys, for validating the suspicion many of us harbored that AirSea Battle wasn’t a doctrine, but political maneuvering to preserve Navy/Air Force budgets. One can hardly fault a former Chief of Naval Operations for being a tad proprietary when it comes to his service’s budget.*
But to wave your hands and pronounce that henceforth, wars will be high technology affairs with little or no need for manpower intensive operations is to ignore not just the last seven decades of history, but all of history.
It would be nice if the United States could simply opt out of all messy conflicts, but it cannot. Global connectivity means that conflict in any part of the world has cascading effects. These are most intense in neighboring states or regions as combatants, refugees, money, disorder, crime, and weapons flow back and forth, but in most cases will spread even further. The recent conflict in Libya shows this contagion effect, when there is no sustainable security following the defeat of an enemy regime. In the future, major conflicts anywhere will affect the global and American economies, increasing commodity prices, disrupting the supply of goods and services, and creating uncertainty. U.S. economic growth will depend, in part, on whether the global economy is generally stable or conflict-ridden. This will make it difficult or impossible for the United States to totally avoid major conflicts (although it does not mean the U.S. will intervene militarily in every major conflict). The profusion of global diasporas will also make it politically difficult to ignore major crises or conflicts.
Now, Metz and Lovelace are not unbiased, either. They work for the Army War College at the Strategic Studies Institute. But they’re quite right that in spite of all our efforts to avoid messy operations on the ground, we seem to always end up there.
I’ll grant that one reason we tend to fight land wars is that in recent history, our naval power has been so overwhelming as to effectively preclude a naval war. And I do fully support the nation keeping a strong, forward naval presence throughout those areas of the world that hold our strategic interest. But the Navy has done poorly at managing the relatively strong support it has received. That’s not to say the Army has done much better, but before the Navy and the Air Force raid the Army’s budget, maybe they ought to consider which branch has born the brunt of the nation’s fighting for the past 70 years.
*We’d be a lot more sympathetic if his term as CNO hadn’t been such a goatrope in terms of shipbuilding.
In 1952, Boeing, using its own money, began development of a jet transport prototype. From its first flight in July 1954, Boeing knew it had a winner, and proceeded to develop two new aircraft based on this 367-80 design.
A larger, longer variant went on to become the world famous Boeing 707. But a smaller, shorter plane, very similar to the Dash Eighty, would also go on to a remarkable career.
In the mid-1950s, the Air Force Strategic Air Command was shedding its piston powered B-29, B-50, and B-36 fleet in favor of jet bombers such as the Boeing B-47, and B-52. As fantastic as those two jets were, they still needed in flight refueling to meet the range requirements to hold at risk targets deep inside the Soviet Union. Existing tanker aircraft, based on the B-29, and its cousin the B-50,* simply couldn’t provide enough fuel, nor fly fast enough, to fulfill the mission.
So it came to pass, in the mid 1950s, the Air Force, wanting a jet tanker for Strategic Air Command, held a competition to build one. And as we all know, the winner was… Lockheed? Yep. Lockheed. They had proposed a jet with a configuration similar to the later VC-10. But since it would take some time before Lockheed could get around to building any tankers, the Air Force gave an interim order to Boeing to build 28 tankers based on its Dash Eighty prototype. That order soon grew to 250 tankers. And pretty soon, the Air Force it would be silly to support two separate tanker fleets, and cancelled the Lockheed program. Boeing’s order book continued to grow, and in addition to tankers, “vanilla” transport versions without the refueling equipment were ordered. The basic designation for the design was the C-135. Tanker variants were known as the KC-135 Stratotanker. From 1957 to 1965, Boeing delivered 820 tanker and transport C-135 Stratolifter aircraft, the vast majority of them as KC-135A tankers.
Originally intended primarily to support the Strategic Air Command’s bombers, the KC-135A tanker fleet found itself more and more involved in supporting tactical aircraft in Vietnam. The F-105s and F-4s based in Thailand would have been unable to strike the heart of North Vietnam without the support of the Stratotankers. Since that time, the fleet has been deeply involved in virtually all use of tactical airpower, and increasingly has supported US Navy carrier operations, particularly the very long flights in Afghanistan and Iraq.
From first delivery to the early 1980s, the KC-135s underwent very few modifications. That’s a testament to the basic soundness of the design. But engine design in those years lead to far more powerful engines, with much better fuel efficiency, and lower noise levels. As commercial 707s began to retire, some KC-135s assigned to the Air National Guard were re-egined with their surplus TF-33 turbofan engines. More powerful engines meant a shorter take off roll. More fuel efficiency meant more of the fuel onboard could be transferred to other aircraft. These converted jets were known as KC-135E’s.
Fifty-six KC-135A’s were specially modified to support the SR-71A. Since the SR-71A uses a special fuel (JP-7) that normal jets can’t use, these modified tankers had to be able to segregate their own fuel from that intended for offload. Designated KC-135Qs, several tankers could be expected to support every operational SR-71 sortie.
Eventually, the remaining KC-135A fleet was re-engined with the CFM56 high bypass turbofan engine, essentially identical to what a modern civilian airliner would use. Twice as powerful as the original J57 engine, far more fuel efficient and much quieter, it has given the fleet much lower operational costs, lower maintenance requirements, and better available fuel offload. With the new engines, they were redesignated KC-135R. With the retirement of the SR-71, the KC-135Q’s were also re-engined, and designated KC-135T, and used alongside the “R” fleet.
Finally, from 1999 to 2002, the fleet, now down to about 365 jets, underwent a modernization program known as Pacer CRAG (Compass, Radios, Avionics, and GPS), which completely updated the flight deck to modern standards. With the new engines and flight deck, navigator position could be eliminated, and crew costs reduced, all while improving aircraft efficiency and reducing operating costs.
Today, the KC-135 still forms the backbone of the US tanker fleet.
Almost as soon as the first of the C-135 family entered service, the Air Force recognized that such a sound airplane could be used for other roles.
One of the very first “off label” uses was to remove the refueling boom at the rear of the jet, and replace the operator station with a battery of panoramic cameras. These RC-135As were used for photomapping and topographical survey.
They also spawned a bewildering array of modified C-135 airframes for a variety of specialized reconnaissance roles, most in the Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) and Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) missions.
The Air Force tends to give programs a two word code name, generally with the first word being the “umbrella” for a particular genre of programs, and the second one being a specific designator. For instance, virtually all programs that begin with “Pave” have to do with electro-optical and infrared sensors to improve night flying or targeting.
The two major programs that most recon and special mission C-135s fell under were “RIVET” and “COBRA.” RIVET was usually a SIGINT or ELINT program, while COBRA usually meant gathering intelligence on Soviet ballistic missile tests.
Several times, a single KC-135 or C-135 would be specially modified for a particular purpose, receiving both a new designation, and a new code name. One example would be the C-135B modified in 1960 to RC-135E RIVET AMBER, equipped with a special phased array radar to track ballistic missile warheads. With the stupendous cost of $35,000,000 for the radar alone, it was at that time probably the most expensive plane in the Air Force. Only one was modified. After it was lost in an accident in 1969, it was not replaced.
Quite a few aircraft would see their original mission change, undergo further modification, and receive yet another new designation and code name. Keeping track of all the variants is beyond the scope of this post, but suffice to say that the number of variants has used up almost all the available letters for designations.
The major RC variant is the RC-135V/W RIVET Joint, used both for strategic and tactical SIGINT and ELINT. Even today, RIVET Joint supports the war in Afghanistan.
That doesn’t count the various EC-135 variants, most (but not all) of which served as airborne command posts. Per wiki:
- EC-135A – KC-135A modified for airborne national command post role
- EC-135B – C-135B modified with large nose for ARIA mission
- EC-135C – purpose built C-135 variant for airborne command post role, “Looking Glass”
- EC-135E – re-engined EC-135N
- EC-135G – KC-135A modified for airborne national command post role
- EC-135H – KC-135A modified for airborne national command post role, “Silk Purse”
- EC-135J – KC-135B modified for airborne national command post role, “Nightwatch”
- EC-135K – KC-135A modified for deployment control duties
- EC-135L – KC-135A modified for radio relay and amplitude modulation dropout capability “Cover All”
- EC-135N – ARIA aircraft with “Snoopy Nose”
- EC-135J/P – KC-135A modified for airborne command post role, “Blue Eagle” and “Scope Light”
- EC-135Y – NKC-135 reconfigured as C3 aircraft for Commander-in-Chief, United States Central Command
Then there are the “weather reconnaissance” WC-135s. The only “weather” the WC-135C and WC-135W ever looked for were radioactive clouds produced by nuclear explosions. They use special air sampling equipment to retrieve particulate matter to analyze the results of foreign atomic testing (and they’re still in service).
Various C-135s permanently converted to specialized test aircraft were designated NKC-135s, most being one of a kind modifications.
Finally, there is the OC-135B. Under the Open Skies treaty, the US and other signatory nations (including Russia) have the right to conduct scheduled aerial reconnaissance missions over any other signatory nation on a reciprocal basis (that is, for each overflight we make, the Russians can overfly the US). There are limits to the equipment used (any recon equipment an Open Sky plane uses must be made available to any other signatory nation). The US operates two OC-135Bs, and maintains one in storage.
This doesn’t even count the several Air Force jets that actually used the Boeing 707 airframe, such as the E-3 Sentry AWACS, the E-8 JSTARS, or the E-6 Mercury TACAMO.
For well over half a century, the C-135 family has served the United States well, and current projections have it serving until, at a minimum, 2040. I guess when it hits 80 years old, it will have earned its retirement.
*The B-50 was essentially a B-29 with the R-3350 engines replaced by the R-4360- a radial engine of 4,360 cubic inches of displacement. The other major piston powered tanker of the time, the KC-97, used the wings and powerplant of the B-50 with a new, much larger fuselage to form the C-97 transport, which was further modified to the KC-97 tanker. The KC-97L would actually continue to serve for a long, long time, with the last one retired from the Texas Air National Guard in 1978.
Outlaw 13, of Threedonia fame, gave us the heads up on this. The 227th Aviation Regiment will be celebrating its 50th anniversary on the 13th. Now, in an army that’s over 230 years old, that may not seem so old. But aviation units, of course, didn’t get started in earnest until the Vietnam War. But in that war, and subsequent ones, some units, such as the 227th Aviation Regiment, have accumulated histories any unit would be proud of.
Outlaw13, Nick Searcy*, and film maker Kenn Christenson have collaborated to produce this film celebrating half a century of service. Enjoy!
*Yes, that Nick Searcy, my close personal friend, Peabody Award Winner, and International Film and Television Star, and host of Acting School with Nick Searcy.
I’ll leave it to SteelJaw to tell the story of the birth of Airborne Early Warning, but I did want to touch on one of the key components of his history of Project Cadillac.
Right from the beginning, the folks at MIT’s Radiation Laboratory, in conjunction with Hazeltine, came up with the radar they wanted for airborne early warning, the AN/APS-20. The challenge they faced was more a matter of integrating the radar not with the airplane, but with the fleet.
The radar itself turned out to be remarkably long lived.
Picture stolen from SteelJaw. AN/APS-20 installation on AD-3W.
While it took a highly trained operator to get the most out of the APS-20, it was reliable, and not only worked reasonably well in the AEW role, it was also, when used at low altitudes, a very capable surface search radar.
And because it worked so well, it was fitted to a very wide variety of aircraft. Just off the top of my head:
1. TBM-3W Avenger
2. PB-1W Flying Fortress (Navy version of the B-17)
3. AD-3W, AD-4W, and AD-5W Skyraiders
4. Modified B-29s (oddly, the three modified Air Force B-29s seem to not have had a special variant designation)
5. Grumman AF-2W Guardian (one half of the Guardian Hunter/Killer team, the other half being the AF-2S)
6. WV-2/EC-121 Warning Star (modified Lockheed Constellations)
7. P-2 Neptune family of maritime patrol aircraft
8. HR2S-1W (CH-37 series helicopter modified- two built for testing)
9. ZP-2W Blimps
10. Canadian CP-104 Argus maritime patrol plane
11. Fairey Gannet AEW.3 (modified ASW plane to replace Royal Navy AD-4Ws- they simply pulled the radar sets from the old AD’s, and installed them in new airframes)
When the Royal Navy retired their big deck carriers in 1978, they also retired their Fairey Gannets. But Great Britain still had a desperate need for AEW. The RAF’s project to build their own AEW system was something of a disaster. As an interim solution, they pulled the APS-20 radars from the Royal Navy’s Gannets, and installed them in obsolete Shackelton maritime patrol planes. Up until 1991 the Royal Air Force flew a piston engine powered evolution of the Avro Lancaster equipped with the same radar that had first flow during World War II. As front line equipment.
Not bad for a radar developed as a crash program during wartime.
Twenty two years ago, at about 2am, I was out in the desert of northern Saudi Arabia. We’d seen Coalition fighters and tankers cycling north to patrol stations for weeks. But this night, we saw multitudes of aircraft head north.
After months of fruitless negotiations and pleadings to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the US led Coalition forces began a massive aerial onslaught against Iraqi air defense, command and control, infrastructure, and deployed forces. The goal was to eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Before ground forces would engage the Iraqi Army, Coalition airpower, primarily US and British, but with help from others, to be sure, would set conditions for victory.
If airpower didn’t do all it claimed it could do, it was far more effective than in past wars, and learned a great deal about what could be done, and how.
Even as the air war began, ground forces were not yet ready to strike. The reason I was standing outside was my battalion’s Bradley’s had not yet arrived. Our vehicle crews waited at the port to unload and ready them, but us dismounts were already in our assembly area. It would be the 1st of February before our vehicles arrived. And even then, it would be almost another month before we struck.
I’ve said it before, you could not have built a scenario better suited for the heavy divisions of the Army in 1991 to demonstrate AirLand Battle Doctrine. Open spaces, an enemy largely equipped with Warsaw Pact weapons. Little to no involvement of civilian population areas.
More than 20 years after Desert Storm, no near peer is eager to face off with US forces in a fair fight.
There’s some good stuff on the web today that I’m just not gonna have the time to get around to writing about.
From Small Wars Journal, A Future For Armor In An Era Of Persistent Conflict.
At USNI, CDR Sal has some thoughts on the Royal Navy vs. the Japanese Navy Maritime Self Defense Force.
USS Freedom, LCS-1, may finally deploy. She’s only about a quarter way through her life expectancy.
It’s Thursday Random at Hookers&Booze. (a bit NSFW, but a lot funneh)
So, at the deactivation of the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) the Secretary of the Navy announded that the third ship of the Gerald R. Ford class of carriers will also be named Enterprise. Good news. And there are any number of former US carriers that have names that resound through the history of the fleet. Ranger, Constellation, Hornet, Yorktown, and Lexington all have proud heritages.
But not every carrier has a lineage like that. Many of the escort carriers of World War II served in relative obscurity. And then there were the two carriers that are the subject of this post.
If I told you the US Navy once had a carrier fleet on the Great Lakes, would you think I was nuts?
Carrier aviation was important and growing more so even before the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the attack the growth of naval aviation could only be described as explosive. The losses of trained aviators in early campaigns and the expansion of the carrier fleet meant trained aviators were critically needed. A fleet that would grow to over 90 fleet, light fleet*, and escort carriers would require thousands of naval aviators.
Flight school for these aviators was, for the most part, similar to that of pilots of the Army Air Forces. But the key thing distinguishing Naval Aviators from mere pilots was their ability to take off from, and more critically, land aboard a carrier at sea. The problem was, what carriers there were didn’t have time to train fledgling birdmen. They were already locked in battle with the Imperial Japanese Navy, and fighting for their lives. Losses of carriers at Coral Sea, Midway and the Solomon Islands meant that new construction carriers just entering the fleet couldn’t be tasked to training aviators, but instead had to be deployed overseas almost as soon as their paint was dry. Something had to be done, however, to provide those new carriers with aircrew to turn them from transports to fighting warships.
To be sure, as each new carrier was commissioned, it too its “turn in the barrel” serving as a platform for carrier qualification. This helped qualify aviators, but it also helped train each ship’s flight deck crew in its duties. But still, the backlog of aviators needing qualification would grow. Further, using fleet and escort carriers for this job meant they needed heavy escort, particularly in the waters of the Atlantic, where German U-Boats were taking a heavy toll on coastal shipping. No sub skipper in the world would pass at a chance to sink a carrier.
Very early in the war, the idea of a dedicated training carrier on Lake Michigan surfaced. And this idea had a lot going for it. First, the chances of a U-Boat attack on the lake were zero**. Secondly, any such ship would almost by definition have to be a conversion from an existing merchantman. But since it would be strictly a training carrier, other than providing a flight deck and arresting gear, almost no other carrier specific modifications, such as a hangar deck, ammunition magazines, aviation fuel supply, radars, or extensive ready room facilities would be needed. Operating daily from Navy Pier in Chicago, such a ship would be able to leave most functions to the shore side establishment. Navy planes would fly from NAS Glenview (near Chicago) out over the lake, practice landings and takeoffs, and then fly home to NAS Glenview at the end of the day.
Most of the existing merchant ships on the Great Lakes were either desperately needed to support the war effort, or were pressed into service on the open ocean. But the Navy found two ships ill suited for either of those tasks and hence available. Both were coal fired, side-paddlewheeled ships.
The Seeandbee had been built in 1913 to provide passage between Cleveland and Buffalo.
SS Seeandbee before conversion to a training carrier.
In March of 1942, the Navy bought the Seeandbee, began the conversion process by razing her to the main deck and adding a flight deck. By January, 1943, she had been converted, renamed the USS Wolverine (IX-64) and was operating out of Chicago.
USS Wolverine (IX-64) on Lake Michigan, circa 1944.
The other training carrier began life as as the SS Greater Buffalo, providing overnight service between Buffalo and Detroit.
SS Greater Buffalo, as built.
Built in 1924, she was acquired by the Navy a few months after the Seeandbee. During her conversion, she was named and commissioned as USS Sable (IX-81). Unlike the Douglas Fir plank flight deck of Wolverine (and all other US carriers of the time) she was given a steel flight deck. Sable entered service on Lake Michigan in 1943 as well.
USS Sable (IX-81) underway on Lake Michigan.
During the course of World War II, these two ships qualified almost 18,000 Naval Aviators, an astonishing number given their short careers. Future President of the United States, George H.W. Bush qualified aboard the USS Sable.
Both ships had top speeds of 18 knots. But when landing aboard a carrier, the ideal was to have 30 knots of wind across the deck. As long as there was a breeze of 12 knots or more to steam into, there was no problem. But if winds were calm, operations aboard the ships, especially by heavier aircraft such as the TBM or SB2C, could be problematic. And given the neophyte nature of the aviators landing aboard, it’s hardly surprising that accidents happened quite often. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 130 aircraft found their way to the bottom of Lake Michigan during the war. Many others suffered varying degrees of damage while landing aboard. But operating from Lake Michigan was far more benign than the open sea, so while there were deaths, the total loss of life was a quite small.
Spending the war shoveling coal on a converted steamer might not have the elan of a destroyerman, nor the dash of a cruiser or battleship sailor, but apparently, spending almost every night in port, with liberty in downtown Chicago was pretty popular with most of the crew. Today, Navy Pier is a major tourist attraction in downtown Chicago.
As soon as the war ended, the need for aviators fell, and thus the need for the Wolverine and Sable. By 1947, both ships had been decommissioned, struck from the Naval Register, and disposed of.
As for the 130 or so airplanes that sank to the bottom of the lake, that’s something of an ongoing story. These days, restoring warbirds to either museum display or flight is a big business. As it turns out, the cold fresh water of Lake Michigan provided for good preservation of airplanes that sank. But the Navy has long held that they still retain title to those planes, and forbids salvage of them. In recent years, however, the Navy has begun to allow limited salvage of some aircraft, while still claiming title, provided the recovered aircraft are restored and place on display in areas open to the general public. One such salvaged example is an F4F-3 of the type used by CDR Butch O’Hare. It’s displayed at O’Hare Airport, which was named in his honor.
Friend of the blog Jason Camlic passed along a couple of fascinating links. A&T Recovery specializes in salvage operations in the Great Lakes. Over the last thirty years, A&T has worked with the National Naval Aviation Museum to recover lost aircraft from the lake. Click on through to visit their very informative site and see some great pictures of the Wolverine and Sable conducting operations, as well as some neat information on their other discoveries.
Similarly, Jason passed along this link to the Pritzker Military Library’s presentation on the freshwater carriers and the lost aircraft of Lake Michigan.
*Light fleet carriers were nine ships laid down as light cruisers, but converted on the ways into aircraft carriers. They were very much compromise designs, smaller than regular fleet carriers, and with correspondingly smaller airgroups. But they were available, had speed enough to keep up with the fleet, and a compromise carrier beats the heck out of no carrier at all.
**Well, actually, there was one German U-Boat in the Great Lakes, and I’m not talking about U-505.
Tensions between Great Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands are rising again. If it seems to you that Argentina is again using the issue of the sovereignty of the islands as a sop to the population and a distraction from domestic concerns, you’re not alone. In the aftermath of the first Falklands war, the semi-socialist junta was deposed and a reasonably democratic government installed. Sadly, the gains made were lost when Argentina again embraced a socialist model, currently led by the government of Christina Kirchner. And again, shortcomings in what should be a vibrant economy are blamed on the ills of colonialism and the European powers.
It’s likely that most of this is for domestic consumption. And likely, Argentina will take some actions short of open conflict to further demonstrate its vitality to its domestic constituents. But it is always possible that Argentina will again make assumptions about Great Britain’s resolve or courses of action that lead to battle.
Options short of war will likely include operations to isolate the Falklands from outside sources of support and commerce. Simply prohibiting direct flights and shipping from Argentina to the Falklands has a deleterious effect on the islands’ economy. Bringing diplomatic pressure on other South American nations to likewise prohibit such direct communications would have even more drastic effect. There’s little in the islands that anyone really needs. But there is much from the outside world the islands can ill afford to do without. Simply accessing modern health care is a great challenge for the native islanders. Great Britain, will, of course, support the transportation of critical trade with the islands, either via airlift or sealift. And Britain is not without its own influence to pressure other states to not join a prohibition on direct flights and shipping. Argentina’s goal in such a scenario isn’t to actually seal off the Falklands, but rather to render it such a net economic loss for the Empire to maintain commercial communication with the islands that domestic British support for the Falklands erodes and leads to a diplomatic capitulation. It’s not a bad strategy, but I’m fairly certain that Britain, which has willingly absorbed the costs of defense of the islands for thirty years, even during the last decade where they have grudgingly supported extensive operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Betting on the British to fold in the face of a challenge has a poor history of success.
Currently, the primary economic product of the Falklands are agricultural products, primarily wool. Of course, there have been reports of deposits of gas and oil reserves. The presence of exploitable energy reserves would make the area of far more consequence. And should Britain attempt to confirm or exploit such reserves, it is highly likely that Argentina will emulate the Chinese pattern of harassment and interference with civilian shipping, either via maritime patrol vessels or even warships. Again, the point here isn’t to start a war, but raise the price of Britain’s demonstration of sovereignty to a point where the public no longer supports it. Probably even more importantly, the Kirchner administration can point to these actions to their domestic audience as proof of “standing up” to the colonialist Empire.
Further actions by Argentina include attempts to delegitimize the forthcoming referendum on sovereignty in the eyes on of the world community, and attempt to bring further international pressure through the UN and other transnational organizations to nudge Britain toward relinquishing its title to the islands.
While Britain has publicly stated they will resort to force of arms to retain the islands, neither side is in a terrible hurry at this point to get into another shooting war. But what happens if that changes? We’ll take a look at that in the next segment.
Argentina, struggling to keep its socialist economy afloat, has once again turned to an external distraction to keep the masses from looking too closely at the regime’s domestic record. For the last year or so, the government of Christina Kirchner has made noises about regaining control of the Falklands. For the most part, it’s just more political posturing. There will forever be a certain segment of the population there that will agitate for the Argentine flag to fly over the Falklands, no matter how little the inhabitants of the islands may wish it.
But the discovery of possible oil and gas reserves in the waters around the islands has also made future earnings in the area tempting to Argentina.
Britain has for the most part downplayed the tensions Argentina has attempted to incite. But the British are becoming annoyed, as, from their view, the matter was conclusively settled in 1982. Mind you, Britain has no great desire to hold onto the islands, even with potential energy reserves there. It is a net drain for them to support the islands and maintain a garrison there. But having spent fortune and shed blood to regain the islands, the very last thing Britain will do is succumb to Argentine diplomatic pressure to cede the islands.
The islands will shortly hold another referendum on British rule, in which they will almost certainly reiterate their loyalty to the Crown. As a matter of international law and the UN charter, that should be that. And as a practical matter, of course, Argentina’s failure to maintain control after seizing them means their claim is illegitimate. Your territorial integrity claims are only as legitimate as you can enforce them.
I’ve written a bit about the naval aspect of the Falklands War of 1982 here on the blog (a kindle version of the series is available HERE for the low price of $0.99) and the challenges both Argentina and Britain faced in that battle.
Should the Argentinians attempt to again seize the Falklands by force of arms, the scenario for both sides would be radically different. For one thing, Britain no longer has any Harriers to deploy aboard carriers, and as such securing air superiority would be a much greater challenge. On the other hand, Britain has a much more robust land attack capability at sea these days via Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles. And should Argentina attack again, I think Britain would be wise to make its opening salvo in reply an attack on the Argentine mainland, specifically, sending a TLAM through the front door of the Casa Rosada.
If there’s a bit of interest, I can describe some possible courses of action both sides might take should it come to a shooting war again.
In Western Europe, the Allied Forces had routed the Nazis in France, destroying two armies and opening the way to the German frontier. British and US troops were slowed more by lack of supplies than German resistance. After the breakout in Normandy, the Army dashed across France and the Low Countries, only wheezing to a stop at the German border. Just as soon as the logistical tail could catch up, the columns of tanks, infantry and artillery would finish off the the feldgrau Wehrmacht. The Nazis were on the brink of collapse. Everyone knew it. It was only a matter of months, weeks, days…
But on the morning of December 16, 1944, a bitterly cold, foggy day saw a truly massive German counterattack against the weakest point of the Allied lines. The Ardennes forest was held by a tissue thin layer of troops. Green units that hadn’t heard a shot in anger, and units bled white in other battles were more a string of outposts than any sort of defense.
The Germans had amassed an incredible three field armies for the counteroffensive. Extraordinary security measures had kept Allied intelligence in the dark. The Allies knew reserves were being built, but failed to grasp the scale and the likely avenue of attack. Instead, the Allies though only strong local counterattacks were likely, and those were expected in the north.
The German aim was to split the Allied front, cross the Meuse river, and roll onto the vital port of Antwerp, the key logistical hub of the Allies. Having split the British and the Americans, the Germans intended to defeat them in detail, buying time in the West to focus on the Russians in the East.
The Ardennes had several times before been the favored German route of attack to the west. Armchair strategists have long criticized American generals for the weak defense of this sector. But the enormous frontage covered across Europe, and the relatively small numbers of troops available meant the US and British couldn’t be strong everywhere. The decision to leave a light screen across the Ardennes forest was a risk, but it was a calculated one.
The appalling weather of December 16 meant a key component of Allied strength would be absent. Low clouds, fog and snow meant Allied airpower was grounded. Indeed, a forecast of bad weather was a key factor in the German timing of the attack.
When the Germans slammed into the American lines, some units were simply overrun. Others melted away in panic, and others fought doggedly if ultimately futilely. Casualties and confusion were the order of the day. It took Allied leadership time to first grasp the scale of the assault, and then to tamp down incipient panic. If the Army’s nose was badly bloodied, there had been no knockout punch.
Hitler, who had crafted the plan almost singlehandedly, had visions of victorious troops slicing their way through the lines to victory in the West. But like most Hitlerean plans, the Ardennes offensive had grave flaws. The US Army in the Ardennes in 1944, thin as it was, was far more agile and mobile than the French forces the Germans had steamrolled in 1940. And even without airpower, those forces had far more firepower than the French of 1940. Further, for the most part, the US forces were a well trained, well blooded force, stubborn and with an esprit de corps the French could only dream of. And terrain too played its part. The very thing that made the Ardennes an attractive avenue of attack also made it a poor one. The Ardennes was lightly held because it was just a forest, with little infrastructure or industry, and an extremely poor road network. The Germans had three armies for the assault, but in reality, only fragments of each could be fed into battle at any one time. Without holding the hubs of the few road networks in the region, such as at Bastogne, the bulk of the German forces would spend the offensive sitting idly, useless as if they’d never been gathered.
Recognizing this, the Allies moved heaven and earth to hold key towns and roads. The Battle of Bastogne, memorialized in books and movies, has come to symbolize the Battle of the Bulge. The intersection of five main roads made Bastogne, an otherwise unremarkable town, the center of the world’s attention in December 1944. Troops from the 101st Airborne, and a hodgepodge of other divisions, cut off, surrounded, and under constant attack by overwhelming German forces seemed ripe for the picking. Urged by the German commander to surrender his hopeless position, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, the senior American in the town, gave the most memorable reply –“Nuts!”
Eventually, Patton’s Third Army, lead by future Chief of Staff Creighton Abrams and his 37th Armor, would relieve the siege of Bastogne. And eventually, the Americans would halt the German penetration, and attack to regain the initiative. Countless German soldiers who could have been used to defend the Western Wall or the far bank of the Rhine, were instead caught in the open in Belgium. German losses mounted, and mounted again. The war wouldn’t be over in weeks or days, but the loss of so many troops did mean that the Germans would collapse in months.
The Battle of the Bulge remains to this day the largest battle in the history of the United States Army. Countless stories of valor and struggle came from it. Legends and traditions that inspire to this day arose from the battle. Sleepy villages across bucolic regions of the Benelux today were, 68 years ago, the scene of some of the most epic struggles in the history of warfare.