Category Archives: Air and Naval Weapons

For More Ships, Navy Needs… More Money

USS John F. Kennedy,CVN 79, starts to take shape. Almost two years construction up to this point.

What’s the difference between an admiral and a drunken sailor? Answer’s at the end.

Ships are big. And, to steal a word from the President’s Twitter stream, building more ships is going to cost us… “bigly.”

$80 to $150 billion bigly. And that’s the Navy number, before it’s inflated with cost overruns to make sure there is No Retired Admiral Left Behind, and because some future SecNav may want to add to or remove the Transgender Head on the Poop Deck.

The Navy, at least, is talking about building actual Navy ships, not the science fiction experiment that was the DDG-1000 class, or the two mission-weak, firepower-absent and capability-poor “social justice cruisers,” the LCS or Literal Comedy Ship.

The exact size of the future fleet doesn’t matter right now, but rather the Navy just needs to start boosting its investment in shipbuilding quickly – which means buying many more Virginia-class attack submarines, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and Ford-class aircraft carriers in the next few years, [Vice CNO ADM Bill Moran] said.

“I’m not here to argue that 355 or 350 is the right number. I’m here to argue that we need to get on that trajectory as fast as we can. And as time goes on you start to figure out whether that number is still valid – 10 years from now, 20 years from now 355 may not be the number,” Moran said today at the annual McAleese/Credit Suisse “Defense Programs” event.
“Our number, give or take, to get to 355, or just to get started in the first seven years, is $150 billion. That’s a lot of money.”

A larger, more capable fleet is a good idea. Building instead of mothballing carriers, destroyers and attack/all-purpose subs is a complete and welcome reversal from what we’ve seen for the last dozen-plus years.

But is anybody confident that the Navy and its cozy little cabal of shipbuilders can manage a big-ticket project?

Well, ADM Moran starts off with, “give us the money and we’ll start to figure it out.” That’s not very reassuring.

Moran told USNI News following his remarks that dollar figure wasn’t exact but was based on the Navy’s best guess for how much it would cost to immediately begin a fleet buildup. A Navy official told USNI News later that one internal Navy estimate put the cost at about $80 billion over the seven years, whereas a Congressional Research Service estimate was closer to $150 billion.

OK, so now we’ve seen three independent estimates: 80, 150, and 155. That means that, based on government procurement history, building the ships will probably cost, not the average, $128 billion, but the sum of $385 billion.

“When you look at the number that started our 355 trajectory, to jump-start it – in order to jump-start it we think we need to build an additional 29 or 30 ships in the first seven years,” he said.

If it’s thirty ships, that’s an obscene $13 billion per hull. But he’s already waffled it down to 29, so it’s $13.3. But wait! Once Congress gets hold of it and demands fewer ships built in more Congressional Districts, maybe we’re looking at 20 or 25 ships. The Navy will certainly still spend every dime, so we’ll be sending our sailors to sea in new 1970s designs that average $15 to $19 Billion per ship.

Someone’s making out, and it’s not the nation’s ability to project sea power.

“When you do all that math, it’s a lot of money that we don’t have. But we were asked to deliver on that, so we’ve passed along what we think it would take. And obviously, any number you give in this environment is going to be sticker shock. So that’s why I say don’t take me literally, all it is is a math equation right now.”

Those 30 ships would mostly come from three ship classes in serial production today.

The Virginia-class submarine Minnesota (SSN-783) is “pressure hull complete,” signifying that all of the submarine’s hull sections have been joined to form a single, watertight unit. Newport News Shipbuilding photo.

“We definitely wanted to go after SSNs, DDGs and carriers, to get carriers from a five-year center to a four-year center and even looked at a three-year option. So the numbers I will give to you are reflective of those three priorities, because those are the big impacters in any competition at sea,” he told USNI News.

This is actually sensible. How about a stop-work order on the born-obsolete Literal Comedy Ship, before one of them gets into a sea fight with an Iranian Boston Whaler and loses, uh, bigly?

“Amphibs come later, but I’m talking about initial, what are we building that we can stamp out that are good. We know how to build Virginia-class, we know how to build DDGs.”

via Moran: Navy Needs Additional $150B to ‘Jump-Start’ Path to 355 Ships.

You just don’t know how to build them reasonably, do you?

You see, the difference between an admiral and a drunken sailor, is that the drunken sailor spends his own money. The admiral spends yours. 

Some Sense on Somali Pirates, from a Former Opponent of Theirs

This article about the Somali pirate seizure of a tanker appeared in a bit of an out-of-the-way place, but we were tipped to it — not least because the author is an old Ranger buddy with whom many a German beer was hoisted, back in the day.

“Those khat-chewing thugs are at it again,” I thought, recalling my maritime-security job almost 5 years ago off the east coast of Africa. Somali piracy, though, had seemed to have died off since then…

The online story elaborated: Pirates have hijacked an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia, Somali officials and piracy experts said Tuesday, in the first hijacking of a large commercial vessel there since 2012. … The area where the hijacking occurred is overseen by the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which is based in Bahrain. … It was not immediately clear what the pirates’ intentions are, but it may become one of the Trump administration’s first international tests.

The journalistically cautious “not immediately clear what the pirates’ intentions are” made me laugh. Intentions? Hijack then occupy (for as long as necessary) this non-US ship with grunt pirates while the clan’s CEO negotiates a high-dollar ransom of vessel, cargo, and crew—a big business deal via satphone from Mogadishu. It’s relatively easy money, too, if the targeted merchant vessel has no armed security personnel aboard.

We Americans are, I think, guilty of viewing too many world events through “It’s about US” lenses. Sure, it’s possible Somali pirates decided to test the new American president. After all, the US Navy has ships in the area….

Keep it Simple, Stupid (KISS) often has worked for me—the simplest theory often is the right one. This week’s hijack probably wasn’t about Trump; rather, Somali pirates simply saw an opportunity to score, after a long dry spell, and acted. Maybe the maritime industry had let its guard down in the HRA. You can bet DVDs of the “Captain Phillips” movie have been passed around in coastal areas of Somalia; pirates in 2017 probably won’t make the mistakes—exploited by our Navy and its SEAL marksmen—others made in 2009.

You’ll be better informed about Somali pirates and countermeasures if you Read The Whole Thing™. It’s written by a guy who’s been in those very waters on private MARSEC missions, deterring those very pirates.

What would actually work for the pirates of the 21st Century is what worked for the pirates of the 17th and 18th Centuries: a good dose of hanging at the yardarm, along with a thorough bombardment of the towns and harbors that emit them.

Pirates still are hostis humanae generis and ought to be treated that way. You don’t break a malaria epidemic by negotiating with the mosquitoes.


Pearl Harbor Defense — Better than it Gets Credit For?

The American side has always looked at Pearl Harbor as a terrible defeat — which it certainly was — and an embarrassing failure of defense. There were several formal investigations and uncountable books and magazine articles assailing this or that level of American preparedness. But one thing hasn’t really been given much credit, and that’s the readiness of Navy anti-air gunners. At least a skeleton crew was standing-to on each gun as the Japanese attacked, and many of them got their guns into action.

Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero at Pearl Harbor. Illustration by Darryl Joyce. (Actually, we think he has the color wrong).

The second wave got a lot more resistance than the first, and that AA resistance was one of four reasons that Admiral Chuichi Nagumo gave when he turned down air element commander Mitsuo Fuchida’s entreaties for a second strike delivering a third, decisive wave:

Even in the first attack, the enemy’s antiaircraft fire had been so prompt as virtually to nullify the advantage of surprise. In a further attack, it had to be expected that our losses would increase out of all proportion to the results achievable.

Nagumo, a cautious admiral intent on preserving his own force, knew he’d gotten a tough blow in. (His other three reasons were: the first attack had done as much as could be expected, and the Japanese were up against diminishing returns; Japanese SIGINT indicated the US still had 50 large patrol or bombing planes on Oahu, and they and the unlocated submarines and carriers were a threat to the fleet; and, the Japanese lacked good aerial or submarine reconnaissance and screening.

Ironically, the subs Nagumo worried about were almost all tied up in harbor; neither they, nor Admiral Kimmel’s HQ which overlooked the sub anchorage, were attacked at all during the actual strike. The Japanese SIGINT probably overstated the presence of large US aircraft, too, as the Navy’s patrol planes were nearly zeroed out by the attack.

In the end, we’ll never know how a counterfacual would have gone. A bolder admiral would have listened to Fuchida. Would the strike have further crippled the Pacific Fleet, perhaps by damaging the subs or fuel storage that survived the initial attack? Or would it have allowed the American carriers, which had been northwest reinforcing Wake Island, to set upon Nagumo’s task force?

For years to come, historians and surviving officers (which included both Fuchida and attack-planning air staff officer Minoru Genda on the Japanese side) would debate this.

But we wonder — did those AA gunners of the morning of 7 December 41 ever get the credit that Admiral Nagumo was willing to give them? Nagumo didn’t survive the war (he committed ritual suicide as the US captured Saipan from him) to speak up for them, or for his own decisions.

Perhaps some questions are not only destined, but meant to have no answers.

This Fokker Needs Your Help

There are not many Fokker Dr.I Triplanes left in the world.

How few are they? Well, actually, there are zero survivors of the thousands made. There are, however, replicas of varying quality, some of them, like this one, built from original plans and therefore quite good.

But it has a problem. Maintenance has been deferred for several years while museum management kept the once-flying bird inside on static display, and now that a new generation of managers want it back in the air, it needs a ton of work.

Which needs a ton of money ($90k). And with barely over a week to go, the plane’s owner, the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum at the Rockland County Airport in Maine is tens of thousands short of their goal on Kickstarter…

Moreover, this is the kind of Kickstarter campaign that is funded all-or-nothing — if the Kickstarter clock runs down and the Fokker isn’t Fokking funded, then  the curators get zero for the project (and those who put up money get it back).

Here’s some of what they say about their fund-raiser.

We’re in the middle of the centennial of World War I, and the Owls Head Transportation Museum is embarking on a mission to return the Red Baron to the skies with its full-scale, flying 1917 Fokker Dr.I reproduction. This aircraft is one of the most iconic aircraft in history, and none are better known than those flown by Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron. Even 100 years after his death, people of all ages still recognize his name and can conjure the enduring images it provokes.

Since the doors opened in 1976, the Owls Head Transportation Museum has been a bastion of transportation technology in its truest form. As an operational museum, virtually every vehicle in the museum’s collection runs, flies, or drives. As one of our original pieces, the Dr.I was built in the 1970s by founding Trustee Kenneth Cianchette and has been seen flying over the skies of Owls Head, thrilling and teaching audiences for decades. That is, until recently.

In 2014, it was discovered that the Dr.I was in need of considerable repair and maintenance. From new fabric to cover the wooden wings and body, to repairs to the intricate and delicate wooden structures, and a complete engine overhaul, this airplane requires total restoration. Because there are no original examples in existence—and artifacts are few and far between—getting this aircraft running and back in the sky is especially important. This flying example is one of only a few in the world, and it is the duty of Owls Head to preserve its historical significance by returning it to airworthiness.

In telling the story of the infamous flying ace, the Owls Head Transportation Museum brings visitors face-to-face with the technologies that fueled the early 20th Century and teaches younger generations about why those technologies are still significant today. Once completed, our Dr.I will enlighten, entertain, and educate our visitors through first-hand interaction with the plane. Please help us return this piece of history to the skies as we honor the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I.

What is it worth to you to see the Red Baron back in the skies of the Western Front mid-coastal Maine? Perhaps nothing, if you live far away. That’s OK; as always, when we plug some charity here, we have donated or intend to, even though we don’t always get out there to see it.

(We used to fly into this airport a lot, and so we had a membership at the museum. But that was over ten years ago).

When Defense Contractors Hire Losers

USS Cowpens arrives in San Diego, April 2013. The captain would be relieved a little over a year later. This is the ship that had one of the bogus bomb threats last year.

When defense contractors hire losers, hilarity ensues. Briefly. It’s not very funny when it all finally shakes out. Two laborers on Navy contracts in San Diego just got indicted for separate incidents of bomb threats.

Why bomb threats? They weren’t terrorists, or trolls. They just were lazy, and wanted paid time off work while the Navy chased its tail over bogus threats. It’s all a grand lark until the grim guy in the suit is talking about plea bargains and Federal prison — and he’s your lawyer.

Two men who have worked as Navy contractors face potential prison time and fines for making bogus bomb threats that resulted in mass evacuations of naval ships moored on San Diego Bay in recent months.

Joshua Rice, 26, and Roberto Rubio, 22, were arrested and arraigned in federal court Wednesday. The two San Diego residents each face up to five years behind bars and a $250,000 fine if convicted of issuing hoax threats.

Rice is charged in a grand jury indictment with reporting to Navy security personnel that he saw the word “bomb” scrawled inside of a portable toilet near three vessels docked at Naval Base San Diego on the morning of May 17, knowing there was no true threat.

At the time, Rice was working for American Marine, a ship repair and rehabilitation company.

Rubio is charged separately with writing “9-24-16 400 bomb” on an interior wall aboard the USS Cowpens, a guided-missile cruiser, on Sept. 24 and reporting the phony threat to another contractor. Rubio was then employed as a welder for Navy contractor BAE Systems.

via 2 Contract Workers Charged in Series of Bomb Threats at Navy Base – Times of San Diego.

The USS Cowpens is a Ticonderoga-class cruiser that bears the name of a Revolutionary War victory — and a WWII light carrier. But it didn’t really need any more bad publicity, after a romantic entanglement with one of his subordinate officers led the Navy to sack the captain (and his girlfriend) a couple of years ago.

It could have been worse. A few years ago, a high-functioning autistic guy hired to do some painting in the Portsmouth Navy Yard started a fire on the boat he was working on, USS Miami. The fire essentially destroyed the billion-dollar boat, and the loser got more time off than he was counting on — about 17 years in Club Fed.

Now, you might ask why defense contractors hire such losers in the first place? We can explain, and it only takes one word: money. From a Beltway contractor point of view, every dollar “wasted” on the people that actually provide the service you are selling in the contract, is a dollar that can’t be “invested” in the sort of inside-Beltway drones that secure the contract in the first place. So most DOD contractors are incentivized to provide the lowest quality workforce for the highest per-hour cost (to the Government; 90% of it stays in-Beltway). And so you have incidents like this, not just in 2016 like these current defendants, but every couple of years.

The A400M Airlifter is in Trouble. How much trouble?

It was a tempting deal for European nations: an airlifter with the capability of the C-17 for the operating cost of the old standby, the 1950s-vintage C-130 Hercules. Plus, it would be all-European and not subject to the winds and williwaws of American politics and foreign policy, which tend to strike Europeans as puzzling at best, and bat-guano crazy at times.


Airbus Industrie was going to do this by applying all its advanced processes and technologies from its airline experience to the A400M Atlas. Nations with fleets of aging C-130s and Transall C-160s rushed to sign up, and planned their airplane retirements for the arrival of the new cargo lifter in 2011.

They’re still waiting. What went wrong? France24:

Originally planned for 2011, the plane’s launch was delayed until 2013.

The A400M’s delivery has also run into substantial delays due to a string of technical problems and different requests from the governments.

An A400M plane crashed during a test in May 2015 near Seville in Spain, killing four of the six people on board and seriously injuring the two others.

And new faults were discovered in the propellor engines last year.

They’re actually turboprops, of course.

Airbus A400M Compared to the two US competitors. Wall Street Journal graphic.

On Wednesday, Airbus said its profits nosedived in 2016 due to charges related to problems with the plane.

Speaking to reporters when the group announced the results, [Airbus CEO Tom] Enders said that Airbus needed “the cooperation of clients… to push the programme forward and end the haemorrhaging.”

It turns out, what Tom is gathering the customers for next month in Madrid is a bit of the old hand-out begging: Airbus is being crucified, financially speaking, by penalty clauses in the A400M contracts, and he wants the buyers to waive further penalties.

Which certainly suggests we haven’t seen the end of delays.

Airbus delivered 17 A400M in 2016, compared with 11 in 2015 and has delivered two of the military transport planes so far this year.

But the Germans alone were counting on 12 planes in 2016, and didn’t get them all.

Who pledged to buy A400Ms? (The grounding from a 2015 test-flight accident was long ago lifted).

Still, the project, after a half-decade of delays and billions over budget, is at least delivering airplanes, and they can take off, land, navigate, and haul cargo. So far, the crews love and trust the new ship.

That’s all fine and good, but as is common for new airplanes with a lot of new engineering, they’re not being delivered with all capabilities. For example, they can’t air-deliver paratroops or cargo, yet. The promised self-defense system (anti-missile countermeasures) is still a prototype. A helicopter air-refueling package hasn’t shipped, forcing France to go shopping for C-130s to support special operations and SAR helicopters, or forego the benefits of substantial investment in refueling systems on the receiving side.

The delays have cost Germany alone €300 million, by requiring a life-extension for its Transalls, some of which are fifty years old.

Thomas Wiegold of calls it “a question of perspective,” (Awful German Language warning, although quotes from English sources remain in English). Wiegold notes that while the Luftwaffe and therefore the German MOD is unhappy with the plane, the RAF and therefore the UK MOD are well pleased by it. (The RAF also operates Hercules and C-17 cargo aircraft).

Airbus, for their part, is hinting that buyers must be prepared for either more cost overruns or more delays, because “Airbus is too important to Europe.” Ender is making the argument, implicitly, that Airbus now is too big to fail. The Germans, for their part, seem to be sticking to the contract, saying in effect, “This is what you signed, live up to it. Or compensate us for the costs your failure to perform has imposed on us.”

The latest problem relating to cracks in combustion chambers of the engines is just one more setback, but setbacks, delays and overruns are the norm and not some rare exception, in extreme engineering tasks like this.

We’re reminded of the one engineering manager at North American Aviation who, on military or NASA contracts, always came in on time and on budget. Company executive Tex Johnston (the former Boeing test pilot who famously rolled the KC-135/B707 prototype during a public demonstration), asked the prodigy how he managed it, when everyone else always underestimated.

“Well, I get my three best engineers to make an estimate.”

“Ah, and then you average them!”

“No, sir. Then I add them up.”

And that’s how it goes in cutting-edge engineering. Especially with a demanding customer who’s spending Other People’s Money (like a single MOD, let alone a bunch of them).

The Long Journey of U-534

Of all the hundreds of U-boats that were built, very few survive. One is the U-534, sunken only to be raised, displayed, abandoned again, and finally being repurposed as a sliced-and-diced tourist attraction on the Mersey River in the northwest of England.

This approximately 20 minute promotional video tells U-534’s story, from its last mission, to its last desperate fight with two Liberator bombers, to its recovery from the bottom of the sea, it’s abandonment to the elements, and finally, to its survival in Liverpool. The boat sank into a fissure deep in the Kattegat, yet all but two of the crew lived — the five or six of them who didn’t get out in time still managed to escape, like a handful of the survivors of the American sub Wahoo, from a torpedo-room escape trunk. A young radio operator was among the escapees, but did not exhale to equalize pressure as he rose, and died horribly as a result.

The attacking Liberators didn’t fare as well — one did sink the U-boat with depth charges, but not until after the gunners on U-534 had shot the other bomber down with the loss of its entire crew.

There is a great deal of information about this ill-fated submarine on the net. For instance, this page is the first of several that show some of the materials recovered from the boat, including documents that were readily restored to legibility. Here’s a report of what it was like to visit the boat during its near-abandonment on a quay in nearby Birkenhead. U-595’s armament was interesting, with lots of rapid-firing AA guns and three new homing torpedoes.

U-595 is one of only four U-Boats to survive. The others include sister Type VIIC/40 U-505 at the Chicago Museum of Science and Technology, which was captured during the war; near-sister Type VIIC/41 U-995, taken by Norway postwar and later acquired by German veterans as a memorial, on the water’s edge at Laboe; and the advanced Type XXI U-2540, which was raised a dozen years post-war (it had been scuttled) and served the Bundesmarine as Wilhelm Bauer.  U-2540 has been restored to WWII condition as a museum ship, and is the only U-Boat still afloat.

There is one mystery remaining: why did U-534 fight? Despite the survival of most of the crew, this remains unclear. You see, the fight took place after Admiral Dönitz had surrendered to the Allies, and instructed all boats at see to fly white flags of surrender and to give themselves over to Allied forces. The captain committed suicide shortly after the end of the war. The most probable reason is prosaic: the boat hadn’t received Dönitz’s message.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week:

As a clever reader might deduce from the name, the site provides information on Naval Weapons, mostly from the classical 20th Century age of battleship warfare, but with an objective to cover the period from 1880-present.

Extensive technical information resides here: not only on naval guns from AA popguns to ship-shredding 18-inchers, but also on torpedoes, mines, depth charges, rockets and hybrid weapons.

While a lot of sites discuss the main armament of American, British and Japanese capital ships, few go deep into the secondary and tertiary armament of these vessels, and fewer still review the armaments of smaller combatant vessels, or any vessel of secondary seafaring nations, such as Russia, Italy or Austria-Hungary. This site doesn’t get every single gun on every single vessel… yet. But it does seem like that’s their ambition.

Looking at the rise and fall of great guns through history, it’s interesting to see how gun caliber, range, throw weight, and power rose from the dawn of the Dreadnought Era to peak in the great battleships of World War II … and has declined ever since. US Navy ships now have nothing greater than 155mm (approx. 6″) on the Zumwalt class, and 5″ guns on most cruisers and destroyers. (And the ammunition for the 155 is not being procured; the Navy instead wants to convert the Zumwalts to fire the ground forces’ 155mm guided Excalibur rounds, but their first cut at the costs for doing that is $250 million for the engineering, before buying the first bullet — and, of course, before the Pentagon’s usual cost overruns.

The “big gun” on the all-but-defenseless LCS class is a 57mm (~2.3″), also selected for Coast Guard cutters. So if the Navy that Ray Mabus built gets in a war with the Coast Guard, they’ll be at technological parity, at least.

But that was a long and bitter digression, and this post is really about Along with the already-mentioned weapons information, there are some excellent historical articles on some aspect of naval warfare: for example, this one on German radar development.

Military Pilot Retention Too Low

Not enough pilots are staying in the flying services past their initial certificates of indenture terms of obligated service. A phalanx of generals and admirals, led by the USAF’s Vice Chief of Staff Steve Wilson (right), made the terrestrial trek from the Pentagon to Congress to tell them that.

Gen. Steven Wilson, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, told congressional leaders, “We can recruit pilots without a problem. The problem is retaining them. For the last five years, retention of pilots has declined. We need to keep 65% of pilots past the 10-year point,” when pilots’ post-training contracts expire. Gen. Wilson continued, “Today, we’re doing less than half of that.”

OK, so about 70% of pilots are ejecting as soon as they can, instead of the 35% expected historically and in Air Force (etc) budgets. And budget was one issue: Wilson and the other generals think that they can, essentially, bribe these pilots into staying. They can even make the case that paying pilots more saves a fortune, compared to the cost of training a replacement:

Wilson reports that the Air Force and Navy train a combined 2,000 new pilots per year at an ultimate cost of $10 million for a seasoned fighter pilot. Retaining 400 more fighter pilots for an additional five-year commitment, by Gen. Wilson’s estimates, would save the Air Force approximately $2 billion.

But money is not why the pilots are leaving. Why are they leaving? Frankly, it sounds like a leadership problem: too little flying, which has been declining, versus too much deployment away from home to do all that not-flying, which hasn’t let up at all.

Service leaders described the push of too little flying, together with long deployments, and the pull of comparatively lucrative airline pay that is drawing pilots out of the armed forces. Gen. Wilson says flying is why people join the Air Force and “today’s fighter pilots are flying 140 to 150 hours a year—that’s significantly down from before.”

Hey, we can remember when we considered it a confidence builder that near-peer adversaries provided their pilots with 2-8 hours training a month, while our guys got 20-25. Looks like flight hours have been halved, even when a pilot spends most of a year away from home in a deployment year, and a third of a year away from home anyway on a year that doesn’t contain a deployment to some global sphincter.

On the other hand, the tanker guys tell us that they have all the hours that they can handle, precision flying to support all those deployments, and often from deployed bases that aren’t on any tourist’s itinerary.

Pilots averaged 260 days away from home per year during deployment and 110 days away from home on temporary duty when not deployed overseas.

One of the problems with all the “sickeners” piled on pilot life in lieu of flying is that, while the Air Force (Navy, etc.) recruits young single pilots, at that ten-year point it has to retain families. You’ve made the pilot’s life miserable as a trade-off for a declining quantity and quality of flight time, and you’ve made his or her family’s life miserable, and they get nothing out of the flight time directly. So after that ten-year point you have pilots leaving, and freshly-divorced pilots remaining.

Wilson says that when pilots reach the 11-year mark, families ask whether it makes sense to “keep doing this when the airlines are hiring, paying a lot of money, and providing better stability.” Service leaders estimate the major airlines are hiring 4,000 pilots each year to meet the combined needs of industry growth and pilot retirements.

via Military Leaders Testify On Pilot Shortage – AVweb flash Article.

So that brings us to General Wilson’s argument for more money: maybe we can apply enough money to dull the attractiveness of the airline route, kind of Novocain for all the pain we’re making these pilots and their families suffer.

There’s a problem with that, and that’s this: anyone who’s considered an airline job for more than five minutes has discovered that airline hiring is highly cyclical, and the vast majority of airline personnel are ruled by one or another 20th Century, adversarial union, that mandates all personnel actions happen in strict seniority list order. In a hiring year, your speed of getting into the queue can make a difference of 100 or 200 seniority numbers — which can make a difference between employed or unemployed, next recession. Game-theorize this, and the guy (or gal) who goes airline early wins every time: the chance to go airline in 2023 is not worth the same as the chance in 2017, it’s worth hundreds (or thousands in really big and merged lines) of seniority numbers less.

One safety valve that the services have long had is the flying reserves, where in theory a pilot could keep flying Eagles or Warthogs while pursuing his or her airline career. (This is a win-win for both, as the airline and service flying cultures both benefit by cross-pollination). But that has lost a lot of its appeal as repeated long deployments in a period of endless war has made it almost as unpleasant as full-time service, from the family point of view.

We suggest that there has been another reason for the decline in pilot retention, and that is those ongoing wars, and, especially, the perception, true or not, that in those wars a combat pilot risks his neck for unclear American goals, and especially that the people who send him into harm’s way don’t care enough to pull him out if he gets in a jam. His squadronmates will circle over him; any ground forces in the area will try to come for him; the theater Special Operations Command has a plan, although often only token resources, to come and rescue him. But nobody in Washington, whether wearing suits or I-was-in-high-places medals, will do anything but give a self-promoting speech about him.

If the war we were engaged in was World War II, there would be no question of retention (even absent Roosevelt’s order freezing enlistments). In places like Libya or Syria, our pilots risk their lives to bomb one group of black-flag throat cutters on the behalf of another band of black-flaggers. And the leadership treats giving them half the training hours that were thought necessary when those leaders were junior officers as if it were doing its crews a big favor.

Roundup from The Aviationist: Yemen Raid, F-35 Program

Long ago, David Cenciotti’s The Aviationist was a Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week. David covers aviation, especially military aviation, thoroughly, working good sources and decades-long relationships to produce really insightful news. We have three of his stories to commend to you.

First, let’s have a look at the Yemen raid from the point of view of a guy well wired-in to the aviation side.

What has emerged so far about the deadly U.S. Special Operations on Al Qaeda in Yemen

He also has a knack for applying just the right photo, as in that picture of a V-22 in full Kopp-Etchells Effect. (If you haven’t seen and heard V-22s flying yet, they’re not like anything else).

Here’s a small taste of this article which should tell you why you should be reading his site:

Official statements reflect that the primary objective of the raid was to seize physical intelligence assets such as electronic media, computer hard drives and documents that will provide a detailed insight into terrorist planning for future Al Qaeda operations. In an official release to the Reuters News Agency the U.S. Defense Department told reporters the raid provided, “Information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots.”

According to reporting by Mohammed El Sherif in Cairo for Reuters, “The local al Qaeda unit [in Yemen] organized the Charlie Hebdo magazine attack in Paris in 2015 and has repeatedly tried to down U.S. airliners.”

The raid resulted in a “one hour firefight” according to local reports on the ground. While reports of casualties have varied most media outlets suggest between 17-30 indigenous personnel, some reported to be Al Qaeda members, were killed on the ground during the raid.

The weekend raid by U.S special operations forces was planned “well in advance” based on intelligence gathered during previous months. Timing for the raid was specific as one source inside the U.S. military speaking on conditions of anonymity reported, “There were operational reasons why it happened when it did.” A contributing factor may have been the moon phase. The raid happened during a new moon, a period when lunar illumination at the target area is at its lowest providing maximum darkness.

The next two are part of an F-35 charm offensive that is now underway by press release and leak, as the services fight for an airframe to which they are committed.

First, the F-35 is performing well at Red Flag, even though the jet is not yet fully operations capable.

F-35’s kill ratio with Aggressors stands at 15:1 during Red Flag 17-1 (most probably thanks to the supporting F-22…)

A little snippet…

“The first day we were here, we flew defensive counter-air and we didn’t lose a single friendly aircraft,” Lt. Col George Watkins, an F-35 pilot and 34th Fighter Squadron commander, said in a release. “That’s unheard of,” he added.

With the F-35A, pilots can gather and fuse data from a multitude of sources and use the jet’s advanced sensors to precisely pinpoint a threat. Then they can take it out with one 2,000 pounds bomb. It would be impossible for a fourth-generation aircraft to survive such a mission, according to Lt. Col. Dave DeAngelis, F-35 pilot and commander of the 419 Operations Group, Detachment 1.

Dave thinks that the F-22s having the F-35s backstopped is a significant boost to their potential (which makes sense). While the F-35 has a superior data fusion capability, it and the F-22 can also network together, giving the entire operation or strike something unheard of in all history — a clear, shared operational picture. Generals and techies have been talking about this for years, but it looks like it’s going to happen. And it’s going to suck for the guys in 3rd and even 4th generation jets, facing a strike like this.

Second, a post a few days older, by Tom Demerly, rounds up the state of the three main F-35 variant programs: the land-based USAF (and Allied) F-35A, the Marine (and British) VSTOL F-35B, and the Navy/Marine F-35C carrier variant. Each of these is in a different place in its life cycle, with the A and B models fairly well along (the Marines probably the most ready, despite having the most complex jet) and the C experiencing some catapult issues. These are teething problems that will surely be worked out in due course; the jet’s biggest problems are budgetary, not technical.

U.S. F-35 Update: F-35A to Red Flag, Navy F-35Cs Experience Problems, Marine F-35B Leads

While we call out these F-35 stories as part of a military charm offensive of leaks and bounds, bear in mind that political decisions have left the services with few alternatives. Procurement of the air-to-air supreme F-22 was canceled and the line dismantled; the 1970s-vintage legacy planes are on their way out of production. (A Cencotti post on the last of the F-15s, built for Saudi Arabia, gives some hints as to the potential and limits of these half-century-old airframe designs).

In any event, The Aviationist is a great place to look for news on things that fly and fight (he even has some news on a new Sukhoi variant… we leave finding it as an exercise for the reader).