Category Archives: Air and Naval Weapons

Around Your Navy

Apologies to the growing cadre of non-US-ian readers, but most of you haven’t got much in the way of Navies, have you? (A direction in which we’re trending). Some of you haven’t got much in the way of armies, either — we were shocked to learn the dreaded German Panzer force is, count ’em, four operational tank battalions (+1 operational training battalion). But the US still is trying to have a Navy, despite a sex and social-justice obsessed upper management echelon, which makes these items interesting about Your Navy, if you’re a fellow Yank. If you’re one of our overseas friends, just think about this as Those Silly Yankees, #32767.

Item: Navy Blows over 130,000 Sailors’ PII, Shrugs.

A Navy contractor lost the complete Personal Identifying Information, including Names, Dates of Birth, and Social Security Account Numbers, of 134,386 sailors to an unknown hacker in October. Notified by the contractor, Hewlett Packard, the Navy sat on this information for just under a month. No one is being held accountable, and the Navy plans simply to provide the usual year of credit monitoring that has allowed other Washington agencies to escape any consequences for irresponsible data mishandling.

Payments to HP under the contract continue uninterrupted. The careless individual who put the Navy data on an unsecure laptop continues to draw pay under this contract.

Use of the term “sailors” in Navy official correspondence and PR on the matter suggests than the victims are all enlisted personnel. That might explain why Big Haze Gray is so apathetic about the breach.

Item: The CO Up and Quit

This has happened approximately zero times until this week, but you can bet it has taken the E-Ring by storm this morning: the Commanding Officer of USS Rushmore walked down the gangplank for the last time, and turned in her chit.

The “her” is why the E-Ring is abuzz; as a Valuable Diversity Bean, Commander Sarah DeGroot was, to pilfer a phrase, more equal than the other animals, at least to the sex-obsessed denizens of the big offices. Navy Times:

Cmdr. Sarah DeGroot told the head of Amphibious Squadron 3, Capt. Homer Denius, on Monday that she was resigning as the Rushmore’s CO. Three sources were unable to immediately specify why she’d taken this highly unusual and likely career-ending move.

uss-rushmore

Rushmore is an LSD, which in the Navy is not a mind-altering drug but a dock landing ship, which can launch landing craft from a floodable welldeck and helicopters and powered-lift aircraft from a short flight deck. Ships like Rushmore are also often used as flag and command vessels for amphibious and special operations.

Prior to taking command of Rushmore on 1 Mar 16, DeGroot was her XO.  At that time, Rushmore was starting a “maintenance availability” and remains in the shipyard. It does not appear to have put to sea, ever, under De Groot. At her change of command, in, the Navy released the following:

De Groot was born in Long Beach, California, received her commission, 3rd Mate commercial license, as well as Bachelor of Sciences in Marine Biology and Marine Transportation in 1998 from Texas A&M, Galveston Maritime Academy. She reported to the Rushmore as the executive officer after serving as the director of Combat Systems and Tactics Training, as well as lead tactical action officer mentor at Afloat Training Group San Diego.

So she was probably a ROTC scholarship student at that maritime academy (for the Regular and not Reserve commission).

“You have done incredible things over the nearly two years I have been [executive officer]. It has been a joy to be a part of your unbelievable accomplishments,” said De Groot. “Because of your exceptional achievements, I know without a doubt that I am the most blessed commanding officer coming into the seat because of [the crew of Rushmore].”

De Groot’s sea tours include USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) as the first division officer and the electrical officer, USS Constellation (CV 64) as the combat systems maintenance officer, USS Rushmore (LSD 47) as the 1st lieutenant and Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 50 as the force protection officer.

She served ashore at the Navy’s Operational Test and Evaluation Force as a C4I systems liaison officer and as the flag secretary for Commander, Naval Surface Force Atlantic.

That’s an interesting career, with tech jobs alternating with command, and heavy on the PHIBRON assignments… almost a career gator. The Flag Secretary strikes us as an unusual job for a non-Academy type. Wonder what Commander Salamander thinks of this? Let’s check… hmmm. Nothing, yet.

Item: Functionally Unarmed Ship Named for Anti-Gun Activist to be Commissioned

The 10th Littoral Combat Ship, USS Gabrielle Giffords, has passed a set of acceptance trials not involving weapons firing, which is deprecated in today’s Navy. It did, however, demonstrate lots of proof-of-bugout-capability. Giffords is one of the few Ray Mabus ship names that seems to fit. The human Giffords is a former politician who was shot in the head, and became an anti-2nd-Amendment activist as a result; the ship Giffords is as unarmed and defenseless as its namesake was on the day, and would like the citizenry to be for all time.  Here’s hoping they keep it far away from superior surface combatants, such as Somali and Yemeni pirate dhows.

150224-N-EW716-002 MOBILE, Ala. (Feb. 24, 2015) An aerial view of the future littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) during its launch sequence at the Austal USA shipyard. The launch of the Gabrielle Giffords marks an important production milestone for the littoral combat ship program. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

150224-N-EW716-002
MOBILE, Ala. (Feb. 24, 2015) An aerial view of the future littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) during its launch sequence at the Austal USA shipyard. The launch of the Gabrielle Giffords marks an important production milestone for the littoral combat ship program. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Like all the two-hull bipolar class of Littoral Combat Ships, Giffords can’t fight against aircraft, surface ships, shore installations, or submarines. It does, however, provide commander and command master chief billets and can launch and recover rigid-hull inflatable boats. That last capability may come in handy if it ever has to engage the patrol boats of a third-world navy, by allowing its selected-by-diversity-beancount officers to abandon ship without getting moistened.

It does have a fairly good turn of speed, if all the gadgetry is working, and decent stealth, if all its gadgetry (radar, radio, etc) is not working; thus, it will be capable of flight from enemies in littoral or deep water alike, making it the very Brave Sir Robin of surface combatants. (If “combatant” is really the word. But the Navy hates to admit these are “surface targets.”)

The LCSes that are not being named by SecNav Mabus for politicians and activists of his party, are being named for cities, names once reserved for cruisers, but the Navy seems to have given up on building cruisers: too many icky guns, too much versatility, too much triggering combat power.

Item: Navy Can’t Even Squeeze a Ship Through the Panama Canal Any More

Not if the ship is the science-fiction looking DDG-1000 USS Zumwalt, the new ship that’s so experimental that the Navy gave up on buying ammunition for it. The Zumwalt class are supposed to have an all new engineering setup that works a little like a diesel-electric locomotive, to provide previously unprecedented levels of electrical power from a non-nuclear ship. This juice is intended to power weapons of the future, but it’s having a hard time powering propulsion of the present.

USS Zumwalt, fitting out in October, 2013.

USS Zumwalt, fitting out in October, 2013.

Sam LaGrone at the USNI Blog:

A defense official told USNI News on Tuesday the repairs could take up to ten days.

The ship lost propulsion in its port shaft during the transit and the crew saw water intrusion in two of the four bearings that connect to Zumwalt’s port and starboard Advanced Induction Motors (AIMs) to the drive shafts, a defense official told USNI News on Tuesday. The AIMs are the massive electrical motors that are driven by the ship’s gas turbines and in turn electrically power the ship’s systems and drive the shafts.

That sounds like an attempt to minimize the event, as LaGrone also tells us that:

Both of the shafts locked during the passage and the transit had to be completed with tugs. The ship made minor contact with lock walls in the canal resulting in minor cosmetic damage.

That the ship made “minor contact with lock walls” and there isn’t an accompanying press release with the words “relieved when commanders determined they had lost confidence” hints at an unexpected event.

Following the transit, the Navy determined the ship couldn’t continue to its new homeport at Naval Station San Diego without additional repairs.

This is engineering casualty Nº 3, at least, for the new ship. It crapped out once, precommissioning, on arrival in Virginia from its builders, Bath Iron Works.

ddg_1000_newport_160908-n-px557-090

USS Zumwalt in Newport, 8 Sep 16

The latest casualty follows an incident in September following the ship’s transit from shipbuilder General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, Maine to Naval Station Norfolk, Va. in which the crew discovered “a seawater leak in the propulsion motor drive lube oil auxiliary system for one of the ship’s shafts,” the Navy told USNI News at the time. A service official told USNI News the most recent incident is similar. The service has narrowed down the likely problem to lube oil coolers leaking. The service replaced all four lube oil coolers following the September casualty.

If it’s the same part again, that’s probably not the planned service life. On the plus side, maybe they could store lots of lube oil coolers in the space taken up by empty magazines?

And then it lost propulsion again, sometime in October.

Following its Oct. 15 commissioning, Zumwalt suffered additional unspecified engineering trouble around the time arrived at Naval Station Mayport, Fla. and spent extra time repairing and testing the propulsion system, USNI News understands.

Zumwalt entered the Panama Canal following a successful port visit to Colombia last week – a visit which the service intended to skip if it thought the engineering problems would continue, several defense officials told USNI News.

Zumwalt has a number of tests and evaluations that it must undergo before actually joining the fleet, a date that was already projected gauzily to about two years in the future, and is certain to slide further now, possibly into 2019. That is not as much of a limitation as it sounds like, though, because the decision not to procure the only ammunition the Zumwalt class guns’ magazines can handle, means that, like the functionally unarmed LCS vessels, it is incapable of more than “presence patrols,” or showing the flag in uncontested seas and ports.

While this looks like something to keelhaul a few admirals over, everything suffers teething when it’s new (to put it in firearms terms many of you will understand, many are alive that remember the M16 controversy, and you can read about the unsatisfactory initial deployment of the gas-trap M1 Garand in the 1930s; even the first AK-47 had to be hastily redesigned on the fly). And the more complex something is, the more likely you are to have teething problems — and you’d better believe an all-electric guided missile destroyer is fiendishly complex.

The ship’s engineering plant – the Integrated Power System (IPS) – is arguably the most complex and unique in the service. Installing and testing the system — that provides ship additional power margins to power high energy weapons and sensors — was a primary reason the ship delivered months late to the service.

The DDG-1000 class is also very expensive on a unit basis because the three units left after cuts must bear all the overhead and RDT&E expense of the entire project.

The other two DDG-1000 ships will be named, one for a Naval hero as was long the custom of the Navy for destroyers, SEAL MOH recipient, DDG-1001 USS Michael Monsoor, and the other, thanks to lame duck SecNav Ray Mabus, for a politician of Mabus’s party, DDG-1002 USS Lyndon B. Johnson. They will benefit from anything learned with Zumwalt’s revolutionary but fragile propulsion system — but still go to sea with empty magazines.

Item: To End on a Positive Note, HoverJug to Go to Sea Soon

In additional news, an Marine force will soon be deploying with a full squadron of F-35 STOVL aircraft on its baby carrier. So there is that.

PT 305 Leaves the Nest

Obviously, we picked the wrong week to go to New Orleans, because this week, PT 305 left the restoration building. (Thanks to jfre in the comments and OTR in texts for the heads-up). The Higgins-built PT Boat is a rare survivor. (Ask anyone with experience with either wooden boats in general, or Allison engines in general, to explain the miracle of something, that combined two such short-lived and low-survival-rate items, surviving to be restored, to you. We grew up with a wooden Penbo boat and are expert in hand sanding).

Yesterday, we used a photo from the National World War II museum’s website of a much earlier stage of PT-305’s restoration. At this point, they were addressing the 13 feet that previous owners had shaved off her, so that she could be an oyster boat without requiring a USCG Captain’s License (all boats >65 feet need Documentation and a licensed captain, so the poor 305 got its tail docked).

museum-restoration-pt-305

Here’s a picture from a March article, showing how much further along the restoration had gone…

pt-305-in-resto-pavilion

And the March article at Fox News included quotes from two sailors who went to war on this actual boat in 1944.

U.S. Navy Torpedoman 1st Class James Nerison was part of the PT-305 crew patrolling off the coast of Corsica in 1944 when a pair of German destroyers locked onto them. The Higgins Industries Patrol-Torpedo boats were known for their speed and maneuverability, but they were up against superior Nazi firepower.

The young sailor was referring to a 5-gallon can with chemicals that emitted smoke as a distraction. He was given the approval to toss the container over the side, and the German warships quickly started firing at it as PT-305 slipped off into the darkness.

“We got off to one side and they weren’t able to find us that night,” Nerison said.

Joseph Brannan, Lawrence Petroni, Gregory Dosch, and George Rowland relax on the bridge and chart house of PT-305. Two swasktikas represent a German Flak lighter that PT-305 sank during the Invasion of Elba in 1944, and an Italian MAS boat she sank near Leghorn, Italy in 1945. (Joseph Brannan)

Joseph Brannan, Lawrence Petroni, Gregory Dosch, and George Rowland relax on the bridge and chart house of PT-305. Two swasktikas represent a German Flak lighter that PT-305 sank during the Invasion of Elba in 1944, and an Italian MAS boat she sank near Leghorn, Italy in 1945. (Joseph Brannan)

The California native’s experience is just one of many among the 44 officers and enlisted men who called PT-305 home during World War II. Now Nerison, along with Joseph Brannan, a former 1st class gunner’s mate who also served on PT-305, hope to ride the boat once again.

A volunteer crew, which includes people from all walks of life — from students to architects — has already worked more than 100,000 hours on the project at the museum’s restoration pavilion.

Period photos guided the resto crew in painting the 305 boat to match its wartime appearance (link).

Period photos guided the resto crew in painting the 305 boat to match its wartime appearance (link).

The boat was restored, in part, with $205,000 in Kickstarter donations from people like you. It was definitely worth saving:

The battle-hardened boat, which operated in the Mediterranean along the coasts of southern France and Northern Italy, conducted more than 77 offensive patrols and operations, fought in 11 separate actions and sank three German ships during its 14-month deployment, according to the museum.

PT-305 also conducted reconnaissance missions, landed troops on occupied coasts and carried generals, making most of its movements at night underneath the cover of darkness.

“German planes would see you in the daytime and come out of nowhere and strafe you and bomb you,” Brannan, 93, told FoxNews.com.

“There were no railings on the outside of the boat and we never lost anyone,” he added.

Brannan, an Arkansas native who said he was “very excited” about the project, started serving on PT-305 in December of 1944.

In June 1945, Brannan and Nerison’s squadron [MTB Squadron 22 -ed.] returned to New York from the Mediterranean and the war ended before PT-305 could be overhauled for deployment to the Pacific.

But the boat didn’t look the same as the first time it crossed the Atlantic.

Nerison, who wanted a fix for the stuffiness of the crew’s quarters, said when the crew was based in Saint Tropez in Southern France after fighting began to subside, he managed to find some brass portholes at a boatyard.

A PT Squadron in the Med, possibly at St. Tropez.

A PT Squadron in the Med, possibly at St. Tropez.

Now, there’s a TV Series we’d watch — PT boats based in St. Tropez, tangling with German Stukas and E-Boats by day, and French women by night! Kind of like McHale’s Navy, but serious.

He asked the skipper if he could install one on each side of the boat — and the problem was solved.

“That was a modification that I don’t think any other PT boat in the Navy had at the time,” Nerison told FoxNews.com.

Following the war, the Navy burned 118 boats off the coasts of the Philippines to downsize its fleet.

Only a handful of PT boats survived – PT-305 being one of them – and it was sold as military surplus for $10 along with the rest of the squadron, the museum said.

There’s more good stuff in Norman’s article, so you know what we’re going to tell you to do next: Read The Whole Thing™!

PT-305's original flags: combat flown battle flag (top), commissioning pendant (below).

PT-305’s original flags: combat flown battle flag (top), commissioning pendant (below). donated by Mitch Cirlot, sone of the late plankowner Joe Cirlot, who was the last “original” to rotate off the boat.

A more recent story by the same Greg Norman on Fox gives an overview of the Boat’s history and restoration, and covers the boat’s transit by wide-load vehicle and barge to its new home. The video is absolutely incredible. (If it doesn’t embed here, do follow the link).

https://video.foxnews.com/v/5218639044001/

PT-305, its masts removed for transit through the streets, then went the rest of the way by barge. In the med, German barges packed with flak guns were one of its opponents!

PT-305, its masts removed for transit through the streets, then went the rest of the way to its new home by barge. In the Med, German barges packed with flak guns were one of its opponents!

PT-305 will be used in Lake Ponchartrain (a big lake north of New Orleans) to provide rides for paying passengers — as a fund-raiser for its own maintenance and operation, and for the museum. It will have its own custom boat house. There’s a launch party in March! And tours of the boat, and 90-minute rides ($350), begin in April.

pt-305-boathouse

For more on the 305 boat, there’s a category at the Museum blog, a Friends of PT-305 Newsletter you can sign up for, and its own website: PT305.org.

Hmmm… anyone up for a WeaponsMan.com trip to the launch party?

Scrap Metal Thieves in the 10,000 Ton Range

The glorious story of the fourth ship to bear the name HMS Exeter came to an end twice — in 1942, when she went to the bottom off the Dutch East Indies with fifty men of her crew, and the survivors went into Japanese captivity (where over 150 more would be slaughtered); and again in 2016, when her wreck and war grave, rediscovered in 2008, was found to have been completely plundered by Asian metal thieves.

Exeter was not the only ship to be erased from the seabed. British destroyers HMS Electra and Encounter, Royal Dutch HMNLS De Ruyter and HMNLS Java sunk in the same battle are gone as well (although some bits of Electra remain). HMNLS Kortenaer is partly gone. The US Submarine Perch sunk in an unrelated action is gone, but is not a war grave (her whole crew escaped the fire of sinking into the frying pan of Japanese captivity); along with the two cruisers sunk at the follow-on Battle of the Sunda Strait, HMAS Perth and USS Houston, war graves for over 300 Australians and Americans respectively, which were determined by surveys in 2013 and 2015 to have been invaded and partly stripped by scrappers.

While the British losses at the Battle of the Java Sea were not trivial, the Dutch lost over 900 seamen in the battle, including the Netherlands’ last great admiral, Karel Doorman. It was a Dutch expedition to place a plaque in memory of Doorman and his men that first discovered that the ships were not there. There’s no question of a navigational error, as the indentations where the ships used to be are still there.

dutch-outrageThe Dutch, as you might imagine, are fit to be tied. (See front page at left: “Puzzle in the Java Sea,” with an artists’ rendering of the now-missing Dutch ships as of 2008).

The Indonesian response has been flippant. Indonesian Navy Spokesman Gig Jonias Mozes Sipasulta suggested that it’s the Netherlands’ own fault for not requesting that the Indonesians guard the location.

The Netherlands, the former colonial power, is little loved in Indonesia, and the majority mohammedan population does not respect the graves of infidels.

The only remaining question, at this point: were the thieves Indonesian, Chinese, or Indonesians and Chinese working together?

Exeter may be the most historic of these lost ships. She was a proud ship. Built in the 1920s under the strictures of the naval disarmament treaties of the era, the 8,400 ton cruiser was the second and last of the York class and sufficiently different from York as to be readily distinguished. In order to meet the weight strictures of the Washington and London Naval Treaties, York and Exeter dispensed with belt armor, reducing weight but increasing tophamper and rendering the ships vulnerable in a fight with peer or larger units. (It was Exeter’s fate in WWII to get into such fights).

Battle of the River Plate

Exeter was one of the three cruisers that harried DKM Graf Spee into this harbor off Montevideo, Uruguay and caused, ultimately, the scuttling of the vessel and suicide of her captain.

Exeter, the best armed and armored of the three ships opposing Graf Spee (The others were HMS Ajax and HMNZS Achilles) went toe-to-toe with the German battlecruiser and paid the price.

Exeter took a considerable beating, as seen here. German day gunnery was thought to be the best in the world, and the 100-plus hits Exeter took in barely 20 minutes proved that conventional opinion was valid. But a couple of hits from Exeter drove Graf Spee into harbor to make repairs. Believing he was bottled up — an erroneous belief, as Exeter had already decamped for the Falklands and hasty repairs of its own — the German captain, Hans Langdorff, scuttled the ship and then shot himself.

exetersdamage1939

Graf Spee remains on the bottom of the Rio Plata. Why? Uruguay and Argentina, the adjacent countries, are civilized. Indonesia? Not so much.

Battle of the Java Sea & 2nd Battle of the Java Sea

In 1941, Exeter transited the Panama Canal enroute to her new station in the Far East.

exeter-at-panama

After the Sino-Japanese war that had been percolating for years broke out into general warfare after the Japanese  became one of the ill-fated multinational ABDA (American, British, Dutch, Australian) squadron in the southwest Pacific. Exeter fought a number of actions against Japanese ships and aircraft (see below), before the Battle of the Java Sea on 27 February 1942.

In the Battle of the Java Sea, the ABDA force sortied from Surabaya on the Dutch (now Indonesian) island of Java to intercept a Japanese landing force, under the command of Admiral Doorman. The Japanese force was screened by the IJN’s surface combatants, at that stage of the war probably the best in the world, man-for-man and ship-for-ship.

The ABDA force comprised 9 cruisers, including USS Houston and  Marblehead;  HMAS Hobart; HMS Exeter, Jupiter, and Express; and Dutch DeRuyter, Java, and Piethien.  

exeter-sinks-1-mar-42Exeter was again ordered to seek repairs. She buried 14 dead at sea, and was provided with two escorting destroyers, HMS Encounter and USS Pope, and set course for Surabaya. After hasty repairs to Exeter, the same three ships headed for the Royal Navy’s docks in Ceylon, but nine Japanese warships caught up to the squadron on 1 March 42 and sent them all to the bottom. (This is called, by historians, the 2nd Battle of the Java Sea). Most of the crewmen survived, with Exeter taking the most casualties — 52, fewer than she lost at the River Plate. This photo was taken from a Japanese aircraft.

 

The ships were found in 2007 by a US/Australian and identified in 2008, and wreck archaeologists were only beginning to study the wrecks to shed light on the 1942 battles. One of the then-living HMS Exeter survivors, Fred Aindow, then 88, remembered of his station in a gun turret:

We were firing until the last moment,” he said. “I think we were the last to stop. Then it was over the side and I hung on to an oar for an hour until I was picked up. The next three years were sheer hell.

It’s great news that they’ve found Exeter. I’d like to dive down myself and get my shoes from my locker that I had only just bought.

Another, Tom Jowett, a spokesman for the Survivors’ Association:

This is great news but it is important now to make sure the wreck is properly respected.

That didn’t happen. The UK MOD, seeking to protect the ships’ locations as grave sites, shared the closely-held location with Indonesian officials, which is now looking like a rather large error and a Judas-and-Brutus level betrayal by the Indonesians.

As the ship went down, her surviving company, afloat in the water, sent up three cheers.

exeter_sinking

For the survivors, Japanese captivity killed three times the men that the sinking of their ships had done. It didn’t start off that way; Japanese captains including Shunsaku Kudo of the destroyer IJN Ikazuchi hazarded their own ships to rescue survivors; Kudo took 442 on board his own ship. But once the prisoners were transferred from the relatively cosmopolitan and chivalric Navy to the custody of the barbarous Japanese Army ashore, they were badly abused.

USS Pope’s XO, Dick Antrim, was awarded the Medal of Honor for a selfless act of heroism during captivity: as the Japanese were beating another prisoner to death, Antrim demanded that they punish him instead. The Japanese were astonished by this act, and ceased the beating, and generally seemed to respect the Americans more and abuse them less after this. Antrim is buried in Arlington… where the Indonesians can’t get to him!

Sources:

The Daily Express: http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/733462/War-graves-disturbed-Indonesia-British-ships-Battle-Java-Sea-removed

The Telegraph (destruction & desecration): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/16/dutch-probe-mystery-of-wartime-shipwrecks-that-appear-to-have-go/

The Telegraph (original discovery, survivor quotes):  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/indonesia/1975561/Wartime-naval-legend-HMS-Exeter-found-off-Java.html

WWII Today (excellent long quote from surviving Exeter officer Lt. Cmdr. George Cooper). http://ww2today.com/1st-march-1942-hms-exeters-final-battle

Reuters (Dutch irritation over missing ships, Indonesian Navy flippant comment): http://www.reuters.com/article/us-netherlands-indonesia-missing-ships-idUSKBN13D1Z5

Japan Probe (story of Captain Kudo and the Itazuki. Kudo survived the war, but his ship and most of the crew were lost later). http://www.japanprobe.com/2007/05/19/the-untold-story-of-captain-kudo-shunsaku-and-the-destroyer-ikazuchi/

Heroism of Dick Antrim: http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/rantrim.htm

 

Another Gobsmacking Navy Shortfall: Ammunition

USS Zumwalt, fitting out in October, 2013.

USS Zumwalt, fitting out in Bath, Maine; October, 2013.

There are problems with making great conceptual leaps across technological chasms, the Navy is finding out (again). Problem #1: if you fall short, it’s a long way down. (Down to where? Davy Jones’s locker? Maybe). Problem #2: the incumbent Pentagon overhead, obsessed with race/sex/class and social engineering, hasn’t laid on some simple things, like weapons and ammunition.

We’ve already discussed the near-worthless Littoral Combat Ships, where the navy doubled costs by splitting the all-but-unarmed class of ships baby between two designs, and thus never provided effective anti-ship, -shore, -sub, -mine or -air sensor and weapons suites. As a result, they are buying a fleet of ships incapable of any mission but “presence” — to wit, showing the flag.

At the same time, the LCS (despite its staggering cost) was supposed to be the low end of a low-hi mix in which the “hi” was going to be provided by a powerful new class of destroyers, stealthy, creeping up towards light cruiser displacement, and bristling with capital ship armament.

160421-N-YE579-005 ATLANTIC OCEAN (April 21, 2016) The future guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) transits the Atlantic Ocean during acceptance trials April 21, 2016 with the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV). The U.S. Navy accepted delivery of DDG 1000, the future guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) May 20, 2016. Following a crew certification period and October commissioning ceremony in Baltimore, Zumwalt will transit to its homeport in San Diego for a Post Delivery Availability and Mission Systems Activation. DDG 1000 is the lead ship of the Zumwalt-class destroyers, next-generation, multi-mission surface combatants, tailored for land attack and littoral dominance. (U.S. Navy/Released)

160421-N-YE579-005
ATLANTIC OCEAN (April 21, 2016) The future guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) transits the Atlantic Ocean during acceptance trials April 21, 2016 with the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV). The U.S. Navy accepted delivery of DDG 1000, the future guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) May 20, 2016. Following a crew certification period and October commissioning ceremony in Baltimore, Zumwalt will transit to its homeport in San Diego for a Post Delivery Availability and Mission Systems Activation. DDG 1000 is the lead ship of the Zumwalt-class destroyers, next-generation, multi-mission surface combatants, tailored for land attack and littoral dominance. (U.S. Navy/Released)

They went, however, a little too far on high-tech armament. Coupled with a Congressionally- and Pentagon-imposed budget ceiling, they wound up with a ship that shoots million-dollar bullets they can’t afford to buy, and so it sails with near-empty magazines. After a few minutes of firing, not only is the new USS Zumwalt out of BBs, so is the Navy — the bunkers, ammo ships, and cupboards are bare, and we’re back to “presence.”

There’s another word for an unarmed ship on presence patrol: “target.”

And, incidentally, these million-dollar bullets? Zumwalt’s designers assumed sea and air supremacy, so there’s no way to fire them against hostile ships or aircraft. They can bust bunkers when the Marines invade Tarawa or Iwo Jima, just in case we go to war with Japan again.

 

The DDG-1000 Zumwalt class ships have a remarkable array of new technologies, far more than the two classes of Little Crappy Ships, and it is amazing that they have been, so far, remarkably free of the structural failures and propulsion casualties that have made LCS the laughingstock of the seven seas. From a Fox News report (we have rearranged some snipped paragraphs out of the original order to make our points):

The destroyer features electric propulsion, an angular shape to minimize radar signature, an unconventional wave-piercing hull, and a deckhouse that hides radar and other sensors. The 155mm Advanced Gun System was designed by BAE Armament Systems.

The ships weigh in at nearly 15,000 tons, about 50 percent heavier than current destroyers. But the crew size is half of the 300 personnel of other destroyers, thanks to automation.

Of course, a smaller crew with everyone at battle stations raises the musical question: who ya gonna call for damage control? But that’s the least of Big Haze Gray’s problems, apparently.

The GPS-guided, rocket-powered projectiles developed for the new 155mm Advanced Gun System currently cost about $800,000 apiece, nearly as much as a cruise missile, making them too expensive for the Navy to buy in large quantities for the stealthy USS Zumwalt, according to officials.

ord_naval_ags_firing_concept_lg

The projectiles were supposed to be less expensive than missiles, providing a cost-effective way to pummel targets from 70 miles away and clearing the way for amphibious landings.

But the current price compares with $1 million for a cruise missile, which has a range of 1,000 miles. And the price grow, officials said.

“And the price grow.” They wrote that, we didn’t.

For now, there are no plans to buy projectiles beyond the initial purchase of 90, according to the Navy’s draft 2018 budget. The Zumwalt is supposed to be stocked with 600.

We see where this is going, of course. They’re going to adapt some Army projos so that this thing can sail near coasts with more powerful navies, like the dhows of the Somali pirates.

The Navy is evaluating alternatives for ammunition for the Zumwalt and two other ships in the class that are under construction at Bath Iron Works in Maine. Those options include both conventional and hyper-velocity projectiles, said Navy Capt. Thurraya Kent.

If there’s a boondoggle, there’s always sleek lobbyists from a Beltway boondoggle shop in the mix somewhere. In this case, the co-conspirators are Lockheed Martin, the Goldman Sachs of the defense industry.

Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin, which developed the 155mm projectiles, blamed the low production rate of ships — only three are being built, compared with the 32 originally envisioned — for driving up costs of the guided munitions. The defense contractor is working with the Navy with options, a spokeswoman said.

The Navy has been struggling to reduce costs because of budget limits, but those constraints could be eased when Republican President-elect Donald Trump takes office. He has vowed to boost defense spending and to increase the size of the U.S. fleet.

The 610-foot Zumwalt, the first ship in the class, was commissioned into service last month and is currently en route to its home port in San Diego.

It does sound like the Navy let somebody re-develop a paralllel to the Army’s Advanced Copperhead, etc. rounds, without any attempt to reuse the Army technology or save money.

This painting made for Lockheed Martin to promote the near-million-dollar rounds shows one about to strike a $200,000 BMP-1 and another plunging down onto a $5 bunker with a $100 AK-47 in it, inadvertently illustrating the basic problem with an all-smart-weaponry armament suite.

lrlap-painting

“Smart weapons” are beloved by DC politicians who want to make symbolic strikes without exposing American troops to risk. For example, in 1998 the USA conducted a series of Tomahawk strikes against various shacks, tents, and wooden bleachers described as “terrorist training camps,” ostensibly to defeat Al-Qaeda (and they’ve scarcely troubled us since then!) but probably to recapture the Beltway news cycle from Monica Lewinsky.

They can be effective in some scenarios, but not when targeted from the Situation Room, or exchanged for low-value targets, as in the picture above.

More detail (as usual) is available at the USNI Blog. (Update: we also found this entry by the indomitable Commander Salamander on that blog, which we had missed originally). Shaking his head, we’d bet, he writes:

This was a warship the size of a Pocket Battleship that would carry the largest guns of any warship in our navy – gun with a large rate of fire and range – that was intentionally designed not to be able to use these guns to engage an seagoing enemy.

Top. Men.

Update

Tam in the comments has selflessly pointed us to The Parable of the Stick on her blog, as good an analysis of the unit cost conundrum as you are likely to find, and yet one that appears to be unknown inside the Beltway. Set down your drink and ensure your upper digestive tract is clear of fluids before you read it; a sinus full of Dr Pepper is no reason to present at the ER. But it’s pure entertainducation to the last “thwack!”

Will the US Air Force Sign Lloyd’s Open Form?

Once-classified image of a Mark IV nuclear bomb, a descendant of the WWII "Fat Man" plutonium bomb.

Once-classified image of a Mark IV nuclear bomb, a descendant of the WWII “Fat Man” plutonium bomb. Click to embiggen.

A Canadian diver, Sean Smyrichinsky, was harvesting sea cucumbers off British Columbia when he found something that Mother Nature didn’t put there. When he described it to locals, he got the surprise of his life: they think what he found was an atomic bomb missing since it was jettisoned from a struggling B-36 in 1950.

It’s not confirmed, yet, but the US and Canadian Navies are responding to the site. Quoth the Beeb:

The story of the lost nuke has plagued military historians for more than half a century. In 1950, American B-36 Bomber 075 crashed near British Columbia on its way to Carswell Air Force Base in Texas. The plane was on a secret mission to simulate a nuclear strike and had a real Mark IV nuclear bomb on board to see if it could carry the payload required.

Several hours into its flight, its engines caught fire and the crew had to parachute to safety. Out of a 17-person crew, five didn’t make it.

Map of where the lost nuclear bomb might have landedImage copyrightROYAL AVIATION MUSEUM OF WESTERN CANADA
Image captionPeople have been searching for the lost nuke for years

The American military says the bomb was filled with lead and TNT but no plutonium, so it wasn’t capable of a nuclear explosion. The crew put the plane on autopilot and set it to crash in the middle of the ocean, but three years later, its wreckage was found hundreds of kilometres inland.

Dirk Septer, an aviation historian from British Columbia, says the US government searched the wreckage but couldn’t find the weapon.

“It was a mystery to everyone,” he told the BBC. “It was the height of the Cold War and they were just paranoid that the Russians would get a hold of it.”

Crew members have said they dumped the bomb in the ocean first, fearing what the payload of TNT could do on its own if it were detonated.

Canoe near Haida GwaiiImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe Haida Gwaii islands are a remote area off the coast of British Columbia

A spokesperson for DND told the BBC the department had conferred with its American counterparts, and that the object the diver found could very well be the bomb. The American military do not believe the bomb is active or a threat to anyone, he said, but Canada is sending military ships to the site to make sure.

Quite a remarkable thing, if this really is found.

So the question becomes, will the USAF sign Lloyd’s Open Form? (That may be out of date, but it’s what shipowners and/or captains used to have to do to promise to pay rescuers/salvors). And what’s the salvage of a nuke worth?

Sources: BBC report, The Telegraph.

A Historic Memorial

hindenburg02OTR, Our Traveling Reporter, is traveling again, and this time he finds himself in a place marked by history. Perhaps you recognize it from the image on the right. A terrible thing happened here — one that remains a magnet for controversy even today .

It’s an open field with a roughly fish-shaped area marked by a yellow-painted anchor chain embedded in the surface. inside, there’s a stone-paved area, and a bronze marker. To get here, you need a military ID — or to join a regular tour, which is closed to all foreign nationals.

Are you ready to guess yet? No? We’ll show you some more images.

To start with here’s another angle. Got it yet?

hindenburg01

Hmmm. Let’s try another angle. This looks like a clue. And look at the size of those hangars in the background. They’re behind that white one-story building!

hindenburg07

What’s those hangars in the background?  Let’s go to the next page for more images, if you haven’t got it yet.

Continue reading

The Short, Sad Career of USS Lancetfish

uss-lancetfish-emblemWho was the unluckiest guy in the US Navy in World War II? You could make a pretty good case for Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, who was holding the bag when the Imperial Japanese Navy recycle-binned the surface fighting power of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Naval tradition was served, and Kimmel’s head rolled (career-wise, that is; unlike among our Japanese enemies in that war, in American English that was just an expression).

But we’d like to nominate Commander Ellis B. “Burt” Orr, the first, and only, captain of the submarine USS Lancetfish, SS-296. Orr had been the commissioning-crew engineering officer on the successful USS Rasher, SS-269.  For a submarine officer, there can be no greater moment in a career than taking command.

But for Orr, a moment is all it was.

lancetfish-launchLancetfish was, in her design and construction, a typical World War II fleet submarine of the Balao class. A submarine was a long-lead-time project; Lancetfish was launched eight months to the day after her keel was laid down at Cramp Shipbuilding Company in Philadelphia.

Nine months later, the submarine, still a pre-commissioning unit, left Philadelphia under tow to be completed in Boston. Finally commissioned on 12 Feb 45 in the usual ceremony at the Boston Navy Yard, it was having the last things taken care of when, a little over a month later, a dockworker screwed up.

lancetfish-sunkTorpedo tubes have two sets of doors, inners and outers, and you will immediately recognize which is which from their formal names: breech door and muzzle door. Subs of the period were supposed to have an interlock that kept them both from being open at the same time. Perhaps that was one of the things being installed in Boston, but somehow, a worker managed to open the inner (breech) door of #10 torpedo tube, unaware that the muzzle door was already open. He couldn’t shut the door against the rush of water, and scrambled out of the after torpedo room. He might have mitigated the damage by closing the watertight door to the aft torpedo room, but… well, he didn’t. No lives were lost, but Lancetfish settled on the bottom 42 feet below the surface at Pier #8 on 15 Mar 45.

Orr was not aboard; the sub was still in the hands of shipyard personnel; the Navy had yet to fill out her crew. He lost his ship without ever having taken her to sea. Indeed, she never moved as much as a yard under her own power.

lancetfish-salvageIf you’re going to sink, of course, there’s few better places to sink than shallow water, pierside, in a Navy yard. But even so, it took eight days to refloat Lancetfish. Eight days in which seawater did its worst with the ship’s electrical, mechanical and hydraulic systems. The Navy being the Navy, both the sinking and the salvage operations were attended by photographers’ mates, and documented to a fare-thee-well.

Meanwhile, Navy finance personnel had been estimating her salvage costs, and they came up with $460,000 (about $6.2 million in 2016 dollars). For the Navy, the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze, and Lancetfish was decommissioned the very next day.

Burt Orr survived the loss of Lancetfish. (His old sub, USS Rasher SS-269, actually survived 8 war patrols and the war, too, and even served off Vietnam, before going to the knackers in 1974).  But Burt and his sub are likely to retain for all time the unhappy title of shortest command, and shortest commissioned service, in the submarine (and perhaps, in the American naval) service.

Just Another RV Driver

Charles Wickware Jr. is just another RV pilot. Except… his other plane is an F/A-18E. Here’s a great report by Megan Rupe of KSEE-TV aka Your Central Valley.com.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out how to embed it, so you’re going to have to go over there. But it’s a really nice report — longer on the web than they were able to run on the news, we think — and the talent and crew of KSEE deserve your eyeballs on this one. We’ll still be here when you come back.

http://www.yourcentralvalley.com/news/the-art-of-war-fighter-pilot-tells-his-story-through-video

Not sure whether the more entertaining bit is Wickware’s infectious enthusiasm for flight — he’s making a documentary of his squadron’s last Arabian Gulf cruise (we just call it that to offend the Iranians) — or reporter Rupe’s happy, refreshing enthusiam for flight and Wickware.

We enjoyed his shots of carrier takeoffs and landings. Something about his GoPro approach seems to do a better job of conveying the shot-from-a-cannon aspect of a cat shot and the slammed-to-a-standstill aspect of an arrested landing than previous films and videos. We hope to snag a copy of the documentary, when it’s done.

Because somebody will ask, his private airplane is an RV-8, and the one that flew formation with him and Rupe is an RV-6 or -7. The RV-12 we’re building is lighter, less powerful, and not aerobatic. (Not to mention, easier to build).

A Warrior Rests

For a century, a Warrior has rested in the blind, silent deep of the North Sea off Norway. We refer to HMS Warrior, an armored cruiser that was mortally wounded, but not killed, at the Battle of Jutland 100 years ago this past summer.

hms_warrior1

Unlike the other ships, it wasn’t found in time for the anniversary.

The HMS Warrior is the last of the Jutland wrecks to be located, out of 14 British and 11 German warships that were sunk on May 31 and June 1, 1916, as the Imperial German High Seas Fleet tried to break out from the Royal Navy blockade of the North Sea.

“It’s the only wreck left from the Battle of Jutland that we can categorically say is completely unspoiled,” said Innes McCartney, a marine archeologist at Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom. [See Photos of the Search for the WWI-Era HMS Warrior]

“It’s completely upside down, and it sank down into an area of very soft seabed, right to the level of the upper deck — so everything inside it is completely sealed in,” McCartney told Live Science.

More than 250 warships took part in the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval engagement of World War I, and more than 8,500 men were killed, according to British and German wartime records.

McCartney said the HMS Warrior, an armored cruiser, was heavily damaged during the battle by gunfire from the German cruiser SMS Derfflinger, but it had attempted to make its way back to Britain.

This painting, The Sinking of HMS Warrior at the Batle of Jutland, was painted by Alma Claude Burton Cull.

The Sinking of HMS Warrior at the Batle of Jutland, was painted by Alma Claude Burton Cull.

When the ship’s engines failed, the Warrior was towed throughout the night by a British aircraft carrier, the HMS Engadine. By morning, however, the Warrior had filled with water, and it was abandoned after its surviving crew of around 700 were taken off, McCartney said.

He added that the final resting place of the Warrior was unknown until the wreck was discovered on Aug. 25, using sonar scans and a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) equipped with video cameras.

Warrior had several remarkable men and officers aboard, like Engineer Lieutenant Geoffrey Morgan, who was recommended for an immediate promotion to Engineer Lieutenant-Commander among a long list of battle-honored officers and petty officers.

Geoffrey Morgan. Captain Molteno, late of “Warrior,” (above – Photo Ships) reports: ”Utmost gallantry and conspicuous devotion to duty in remaining in the enginerooms after the explosion and endeavouring to take action for the safety of the ship, by which delay he was imprisoned under the grating for over two hours, and very narrowly escaped losing his life by drowning, scalding and suffocation. Was almost overcome when rescued. He afterwards took part with energy and coolness in the work of salving the ship. This officer, under the able supervision of Engineer Commander Kitching, has run the engine-room department extremely well, and greatly increased ‘Warrior’s’ steaming efficiency.”

hms-warrior-at-speedSteaming efficiency was not enough, under a rain of 11″ and 5.9″ shells from German ships. But Morgan survived, to receive his promotion, dated 30 June 1916 (as were many of the meritorious promotions of Jutland heroes). Commander Vincent B. Molteno of Warrior was commended by Admiral Jellicoe, and invested with the Order of St. Anne by the Tsar of Russia. He did handle his ship with

Another officer, this one an aviator from the seaplane tender Engadine, made a hero of himself during the perilous transfer of Warrior’s survivors to Engadine at sea.

29703 – 11 AUGUST 1916 

Admiralty, 11th August, 1916.

The KING (is) pleased to confer the Decoration of the Albert Medal of the First Class on:-

Lieutenant Frederick Joseph Rutland, R.N. (Flight Lieutenant, Royal Naval Air Service).

The following is the account of the services in respect of which the Decoration has been conferred:

During the transhipment of the crew of H.M.S. “Warrior” to H.M.S. “Engadine” on the morning of the 1st of June, 1916, succeeding the naval battle off the coast of Jutland, one of the severely wounded, owing to the violent motion of the two ships, was accidentally dropped overboard from a stretcher and fell between the ships. As the ships were working most dangerously, the Commanding Officer of the “Warrior” had to forbid two of his officers from jumping overboard to the rescue of the wounded man, as he considered that it would mean their almost certain death. Before he could be observed, however, Lieutenant Rutland, of H.M.S. “Engadine,” went overboard from the forepart of that ship with a bowline, and worked himself aft. He succeeded in putting the bowline around the wounded man and in getting him hauled on board, but it was then found that the man was dead, having been crushed between the two ships. Lieutenant Rutland’s escape from a similar fate was miraculous. His bravery is reported to have been magnificent.

Magnificent, eh. One can just imagine what old Rutland would say to that.

Warrior’s class makes her an oddity today. She was an Armored Cruiser, a type of neither-fish-nor-fowl ship that would rise with the century and set with the end of the war, and especially with the Washington Naval Conference and other disarmament treaties of the inter-war years. By limiting capital-ship tonnage, the treaties obsoleted all those ships that were nominally capital ships, but not modern battleships. (If you only have so many tons to make warships of, you want the best quality tonnage you can buy). Today, only one armored cruiser of the scores built worldwide survives, as a commissioned museum ship in Greece.

And there’s an HMS Warrior that’s a museum ship in Portsmouth, England — but she’s an older ship, from the 19th Century.

The Danish Navy, 1962

Even if you can’t follow the Danish narration, there is some very cool stuff in this 1962 promotional film, Det Er Nodvendig… which means, This is Necessary. The point of the film is to introduce Danes to their Navy.

One of the first cool things you will see is a flotilla of ex-Deutsche Kriegsmarine S-Boats. The boats don’t show their age at all — they were probably never this clean in their wartime existence.

Other scenes include the S-Boat crewmen introducing themselves by name and hometown, destroyer operations, coastal defense with artillery and AA, and Denmark’s famous frogmen. (The nation was once a leader in scout swimming and undersea war, but ceased operating submarines about a decade ago after nearly a century of successful sub ops).

On the other hand, the Danes maintain a robust coast defense capability, but these days it’s with missiles, not last century’s cannon.