For many years after World War II, the aircraft of the war were just, “old.” In the heady Jet Age, wartime transports still had economical utility, but the combat types were quickly left behind. They were relegated to duties as instructional airframes for novice mechanics (“learn riveting on this, it’ll never fly again so you can’t screw it up”) or stuck up on plinths as gate guards, showcasing the raw roots of the world’s newest military forces. And those were the survivors: the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of warplanes built for the war ended as scrap metal in the greedy furnaces of postwar industrial recovery. The combat life of a warplane might have been 25 to 100 hours during the war, and perhaps two years from variant introduction to obsolescence; but after the war, the pace of research and development didn’t let up, and the frontline jets of 1946 were outclassed by time of the Berlin Airlift of 1949.
This devastated the world supply of WWII combat types, and entire types became extinct. Even those most historic, most pleasant to fly, most likely to wind up as a rich man’s toy, were endangered species.
In the 1970s, this began to change, as a new appreciation for the old types led to recoveries and restorations. Now, there are more Spitfires, Hurricanes and Mustangs flying than there were ten years ago, or ten years before that, or ten years before that. Even “extinct” types like the Mitsubishi A6M2 “Type 0″ carrier fighter, and the Me 262 jet, have returned to the air. This is amazing, because while the Mustang, at least, was an industrial product whose documents are widely available, some of the others, especially the British and Japanese types, were more like machines that were “hand built in quantity,” and no two are quite the same. (The engineers of Packard Motor Car Corporation traveled to England’s Rolls-Royce plant to pick up a technical data package for the Merlin aircraft engine and see how the engines were built. They were appalled, and realized that they’d have to redesign the engine for modern industrial processes, which they then did very rapidly and so successfully that some marks of Spit were adapted to the American versions of Merlin engines).
One of the guys who was part of that early wave of Spitfire appreciation was John McVicar “Jack” Malloch, a former Spitfire pilot turned aviation entrepreneur in the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, which declared independence as a republic in 1965. Soon after independence, the UN placed sanctions on the Rhodesian government, and Malloch became an imaginative and effective blockade runner and sanctions buster. (He’d already had experience of clandestine aviation during the Biafra War).
And he renewed his love affair with the Spitfire. He and his team of mechanics restored Griffon-powered Spitfire Mk22 PK350, which had last flown 26 years prior. The restoration took 2 1/2 years, and saw Malloch’s initials “JMM” used as the plane’s buzz codes. When Malloch took the first flight, in March 1980, he had done high-speed taxi testing of PK 350 and had flown lots of other aircraft for thousands of hours, including some pretty hairy combat aviation (outflying MiGs in four-motored transports at treetop level, among other things). But he hadn’t flown a Spitfire in 20 years himself.
This video was produced by former Rhodesians in the Zimbabwe Air Force in 1982, after the death of Malloch in a mishap in this very Spitfire. In fact, quite a few of the long scenes of him dodging into and out of clouds in the Spit were filmed on his fatal flight on 26 March 1982. As near as anyone can tell, he entered a thunderstorm which either disoriented him or so upset the aircraft that he could not recover. He was killed instantly in a high-speed impact with the ground. Nothing of PK350 was salvageable. To date, it remains the only fully evolved late (Griffon-powered, bubble-canopy) Spitfire to be restored to flight.
Not long after the video was made, Zimbabwean president-for-ever Robert Mugabe executed the first of several purges of the air force. Over the years since, it went from a force of unquestioned competence and doubtful loyalty to Mugabe’s person, to a force of laughable incompetence but unquestionable loyalty to the dictator. Rhodesia produced men like Jack Malloch; Zimbabwe never will.
(You need a .mkv video player to play this. We recommend VLC).
The TSR-2 had planned capabilities than nothing in RAF service quite matches today. These inclue a design speed of Mach 1.1 at 200 feet, and Mach 2 at altitude, with a combat radius of over 1,000 nautical miles. It was designed for nuclear and conventional strikes. It had a precision strike capability 10 to 20 years ahead of the US’s developments in that genre, including capability to deliver television-guided smart weapons. It had modular reconnaissance capability, including live datalink. It was, militarily speaking, a revolution in the air.
So why did it die so early, and so hard? What killed the TSR-2?
British politics, in part. It became a football contested by the Labor and Conservative parties of the time, not on its merits but as a way to score points on the other side. It didn’t help that the plane was designed with a potential war with the USSR in mind, and Harold Wilson just couldn’t see the Soviet Union as an enemy.
Galactically bad judgment by British MOD and parliamentary leaders, going back to Sir Duncan Sandys (pronounced “Sands”) and his 1957 Defence White Paper which concluded that the manned aircraft was obsolete, and Britain henceforth would place its faith entirely in missiles and other robotic systems. Was this decision the dumbest in the history of air war — dumber than Hitler’s 1942 decision not to produce jet fighters? Unlike Hitler, Sandys was a man of generally good judgment; he had been deeply involved in the nation-saving development of Radar, and many other British technical coups of WWII. But unlike England, Germany’s aeronautical industry recovered (until pan-European consolidation, but that’s another complaint). The British leaders who actually killed off the jet, Secretary of State for Defence Denis Healey and Minister of Aviation Roy Jenkins (who later, as Home Secretary, would do his best to decriminalize crime),
Britain’s Soviet-inspired postwar industrial policy, which relied on central planning and forced consolidations in the thriving and innovative British aeronautical industry. (The one holdout against forced consolidation, Handley-Page, was forced into bankruptcy instead, and the planners counted this a victory). Thousands of aeronautical engineers and tens of thousands of skilled workers lost their jobs (perhaps a third to a half of them found new jobs in Canada or the USA. The guys who went to Canada wound up in the USA when Canada had a similar brainstroke vis-a-vis the CF-105).
The inability of the consolidated firms, wracked by personnel turbulence and culture clashes, to perform at the level of the previous, private industry. This led to the actual TSR.2 failing to meet many of its optimistic performance goals.
Further bad judgment in assigning responsibility, which left the stumbling Vickers firm (descendant, in part, of Hiram Maxim’s machine gun enterprise) in charge over the capable, proven (they designed and built the successful Canberra and Lightning jets), team from English Electric.
Still further bad judgment, in the political assignment of the untried Bristol Olympus design. All the delays, and most of the cost overruns, came from the immaturity of this powerplant.
Even further bad judgment, in making the subcontractors report to the Ministry, rather than to the prime contractor, which had no control whatsoever. This was symptomatic of Ministry micromanagement, which included delaying the project so that non-pilots could haggle over the position and labeling of instruments and switches.
Failure to plan for the normal problems found between drafting board and first flight, including engines that fell short of spec and weight gain. This left the design team and the MOD managers facing new decisions, one option of which was always to cancel the whole project.
In the end, they canceled the TSR.2, and they scrapped, burned, and shot up the airframes, tools and tooling, and burnt and shredded most of the paperwork, to make sure it did not rise from the dead to embarrass Whitehall. They also ordered that the scrapping and burning be as well publicized as possible — the broke British government managed to film the arson with color film.
And when they canceled the plane, they initially required industrial managers to keep the decision secret from their own, doomed-to-layoffs, workforces.
Why were these extreme measures taken? As with other instances where this has happened, like the cancellation of the Avro Arrow CF-105 in Canada, and the cancellation for further Republic F-105 Thunderchief acquisitions in the USA in favor of the on-paper TFX, the decisionmakers probably knew that they were screwing up. Hence, the seemingly vindictive destruction of the ability to reverse the decision — a reversal which might ding the decision-maker’s “legacy.”
Healey and Jenkins, the only men who could have issued these orders of vandalism, have made pro-forma denials ever since the initial British public reaction to the cancellation and destruction of the TSR turned out to be negative. Neither is a man of any particular demonstrated integrity (quite the contrary), but it’s anyone’s guess whether the vandal was one or both. They also canceled the nascent Harrier project (then called P.1154) on the grounds it would never fly, and canceled a transport plane. Healey would scrap new (and renewed) aircraft carriers and preside over the greatest unilateral disarmament of an undefeated nation in world history.
Had Denis Healey been in the pay of the KGB he could have done no more damage to British defense policy and strength. (The same is true of Jenkins; his junior position meant he could do less damage than Healey). The TSR cancellation, especially when coupled with the many other cancellations that came out of the 1964 Labour government, fundamentally ended a half-century of British aeronautical industry leadership, and ultimately led to the near-dissolution of the British aerospace industry.
The TSR.2 cancellation continues to have repercussions. Britain and its European defense partners are looking for a replacement for the aging Panavia Tornado jet. Rumor is they’re looking for a plane that’s supersonic on the deck, and with a 1000 nautical mile radius of action….
Of the many Victorian and Edwardian voyages of discovery, the two that became the most amazing stories of human survival against the cruel elements have to be Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition of 1914, and Sir John Franklin’s attempt to map the Northwest Passage of 1845-48. But no two heroic voyages have ever had such disparate outcomes. Even though both voyages failed their intended missions, all but one of Shackleton’s men survived an island stranding, thanks to careful selection, unparalleled leadership and Shackleton’s own almost otherworldly seamanship. And, perhaps, Divine Providence or a series of unimaginably lucky breaks. On the other hand, Franklin’s expedition sailed off into oblivion. The entire expedition — 129 officers and men on two well-found and well-preparedships — simply vanished for many years. Gradually, discoveries made it clear that the men had all perished in the long nights of the inhospitable Canadian Arctic winter. (A few may have survived into May).
Artist’s impression of the abandonment of HMS Erebus or HMS Terror on the pack ice.
Sir John was a veteran of high latitude operations, and his two sturdy ships had been rebuilt for Antarctic service (and gave their names to two mighty mountains there — HMS Erebus and HMS Terror). They had originally been built as “bomb ships,” vessels which carried a pair of huge mortars for shore bombardment; Terror, the older of the two ships,bombarded Stonington, Connecticut and Fort McHenry at Baltimore in the War of 1812. It was customary for “bomb ships” to be named after fear-inspiring things, including volcanoes and monsters or bad areas from mythology (“Erebus:was a region of Greek Hades). When they were rebuilt for high-latitude exploration, the ships were stripped of their mortars and they sailed first to Antarctica under the command of James Clark Ross of Ross Ice Shelf fame. They were rebuilt again before going to seek the Northwest Passage with Franklin, with steam engines, screw propellers, and iron-reinforced prows fitted for limited ice-breaking. The ships were last reported to have been seen by Inuit natives in early 1847, frozen tight in pack ice.
Beginning with their preparation for Ross’s southern journey, these wooden ships got the best of 19th Century Admiralty high-tech (from Cool Antarctica.com):
In preparation for the voyage, the admiralty dockyards doubled the thickness of the ships decks with a layer of waterproof cloth being sandwiched in between the old and new layers. The interiors of the two ships were braced fore and aft with oak beams to resist and absorb shock from ice. The hulls were scraped clean and double planked and finally the keels were sheathed in extra thick copper plate. Triple strength canvas was fitted for the sails.
They ships had sail power only for the Antarctic expedition, but were fitted out with single screw propellers powered by 20hp engines for the Northwest Passage voyage.
Many expeditions were dispatched in search of Sir John and his men, but they found only scattered artifacts, and not many of those. Some crewmen were found on King William’s Land (seen below in a scan by Philip V. Allingham at Victorian Web) — rather than pull their boats toward the water, freedom, and possible rescue, they’d gone inexplicably inland.
For over 100 years the Arctic kept its secrets. Then, in the 1980s, three crewmen were found, carefully buried six feet deep on Beechey Island. The bodies were perfectly preserved in permafrost, which allowed them to be examined in the interests of science. Discovery: their bones had staggering levels of lead, reinforcing the suspicion that what had killed the explorers was not just the inhospitable conditions in the Far North, but also the use of then-novel canned food — in cans held together with toxic lead solder. A can found intact from one of the attempted rescue operations showed toxic levels of lead in the soup and in the can itself. (More recent research argues that the lead in the deceased’s bodies might have come from pre-expeditionary ingestion, for example from living in a city with lead water pipes, common in the 19th Century).
Meanwhile, the expeditions which hadn’t found Sir John had done something worthwhile that might not have been done for many scores of years — mapped the Canadian Arctic. In the end, the Northwest Passage that Franklin sought proved to be a will-o-the-wisp; while exploring ships can occasionally get through in summer, it will never work as an economical trading route.
This left the final mysteries of the Franklin expedition as the last resting places of its leader, his men, and his ships. With the expedition capturing the imagination of many explorers and playing an important role in the folklore of both the Royal Navy (their worst peacetime disaster) and the nation of Canada, there was no lack of modern explorers.
Canadian PM Steven Harper wanted any discoveries to come from a Canadian expedition as a matter of Canadian pride, and his government has sponsored several attempts to find Franklin or his ships. This week they announced proudly that one of the ships — which one is still unknown — was found, resting in shallow water. Here’s a sonar image:
A remote operated vehicle (ROV) returned images and video of the vessel in close-up, showing that the hull has been ravaged by marine life and a brisk tide or current. A few artifacts, including two small signal cannon, are visible in the imagery.
Two signal guns amid decaying timbers. Still from a video provided by Canada Parks.
As the ships were abandoned by the crews, the issues that come with respecting sea graves probably don’t enter into the exploration plans here — and exploration plans are definitely being made. For one thing, while the wreck appears certain to have been one of the expedition’s ships, the specific identity of the wreck (Erebus or Terror) is not confirmed; for another, the second ship remains unlocated. And finally, the ships are likely to contain a great deal of information about the expedition and about the vessels themselves. (For example, no clear plan of Erebus or Terror survives, although supposedly enough is known of their differing steam installations to make it clear which one is which, under examination).
This table from a period book shows no usable distinctions between Erebus and Terror, unfortunately.
Harper, whose government has supported the Franklin search, is well pleased, and scientists are excited about a return to the site — possibly in force next year, but some divers will go down before this season ends.
As early as Saturday, Parks Canada’s underwater archaeologists will descend to the wreck, which lies in 11 metres of water, bringing high-definition video equipment to document their exploration.
The search team is prepared for the possibility it may find human remains, a development that would change how it explores the centuries-old vessel. Inuit accounts from the 19th century mention spotting the body of a white man in a ship adrift near O’Reilly Island.
“We are going to approach it as a site that may be a burial,” Marc-Andre Bernier, chief of the underwater archeology team at Parks Canada, told reporters Wednesday.
Canada has promised the UK that, if remains are found, they won’t be disturbed except inasmuch as necessary. Britain has given up any claim to artifacts from the expedition, except for a reputed stash of gold, and any “artifacts deemed important to the RN.” Hey, at the rate they’re going, they may need those cannon.
In a touch of irony, the ship was only found because the intended search area was closed to the searchers — by pack ice, the very killer of Franklin and his men.
Antarctica Fact File. Erebus and Terror, the Antarctic Expedition 1839-1843, James Clark Ross. Cool Antarctica, n.d. Note that this contains at least two glaring errors, “Terror saw service in 1812 in the Crimea,” Right year, wrong war. And “20 hp engines” when Bourne, a more credible source, says 30. Despite that, some good technical data on the ships on their previous voyage of exploration.
McGoohan, Ken. The Franklin discovery’s not about what, but where. The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 10 Sep 2014. Author of books on polar exploration discusses what the location of the find means, in terms of revising the known history of the expedition (which he considers long-settled, in its fundamentals).
USS Tunny, SSG-282, launches a Regulus in January, 1958.
It died too soon. That was the opinion of tag-end-of-Vietnam Chief of Naval Operations (i.e., top dog) Elmo Zumwalt. Zumwalt was noted not only for his unforgettable name, but also his “Z-Gram” messages to all hands, his many regulation changes (many of which would be reversed by successors), and, especially, blunt talk. Here’s what he said about the Navy’s 1964 cancellation of the Regulus missile, something that the Navy deployed on carriers, cruisers, and submarines, and that actually was the Navy’s first nuclear deterrent missile. It was the:
…single worst decision about weapons [the Navy] made during my years of service.
The Navy didn’t think it was that big a screwup, but Zumwalt was a big cruise missile fan, in many ways the father of the Tomahawk (which seems to be on its way out of submarine service, as the four remaining cruise missile SSGNs are all scheduled for scrapping. But that’s another post).
Regulus, though, was never anything but a stopgap. A conceptual child of the German Fieseler Fi103 V1 “buzz bomb,” it was an unmanned airplane that could be dismantled, stuffed into a cylindrical “hangar” atop a modified sub, and in the event of The Big One, the sub could surface, sailors could quickly assemble and arm the Regulus, and it would fire from a zero-length launcher and travel a preprogrammed course to a predetermined destination — over a Soviet target, where it would detonate its nuclear warhead.
A restored Regulus on its zero-length launcher.
Regulus was an aerodynamic oddity, with swept wings and vertical fin, but no horizontal tail at all, relying in part of the prewar and wartime work of Prof. Alexander Lippisch, who created the German Me163 rocket fighter. (The US was working its way through this “found technology” in the 1950s; Lippisch took American citizenship in this period). The robot jet had a single turbojet engine with its intake in the nose. The missile, which was first launched from a sub in 1953, resembled a period fighter aircraft, but the absence of any provision for a pilot or for landing gear made it lighter and more streamlined. (Although some test missiles carried a parachute as a means of recovering the missile, and the data it carried, operational missiles dispensed with that).
The Regulus had huge conceptual problems. For one thing, the sub was exposed, wallowing on the surface as the crew assembled and prepared it. For another, subs had a total offensive punch of one or two missiles, that’s it. Here’s the description from a Navy historical report:
The hangar could accommodate two Regulus I missiles in a rotating ring arrangement. The weapons could be checked out while the submarine was still submerged by entering the hangar through an access trunk, but actual launching required the submarine to surface and manhandle the weapon onto the rails before it could be fired. Then, the boat would have to remain at least at periscope depth to guide the missile to the radar horizon.
In addition, the targeting of the missile was fairly inflexible, requiring at least a launch boat and later, also, a boat near the target to come up to periscope depth, extend a radar mast, and radiate. If that wasn’t all, Regulus was basically a subsonic jet plane, and if we knew one thing from the fate of the V1 offensive, it was that manned airplanes guided by radar — something the Soviets had in great quantity — could hunt down unmanned airplanes rather well. In addition to their manned interceptors, the Soviets also constructed an anti-aircraft defense in depth which threatened bombers and Regulus-like cruise missiles alike (the Air Force was working on parallel programs at the time) with anti-aircraft artillery guided by fire-control and height-finding radar, and several interlocking types of anti-aircraft guided missiles.
Zumwalt wouldn’t like to hear it, but by 1964 his beloved Regulus was a dead duck. A Regulus II was designed to be faster (both faster to launch, and faster in the air) but it didn’t address the core problems.
In time, technology would allow all these problems to be answered with the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile and other cruise missiles. Subs could fire them from under the sea; their programming was rapidly changeable; they flew low, often below hostile radar, and many could be carried with much less hazard to the subs and surface combatants that launched them. It was still a subsonic jet plane, but the enemy would find it harder to find, hit and kill.
But in 1964, the weapon that had come on line and signed the decommissioning chit for Regulus was the Navy’s Polaris: the first submarine-launched ballistic missile. Polaris was a conceptual child of the V1’s Vergeltungswaffe stablemate, the V2 (Army A4) rocket. Unlike any subsonic airplane, in 1964 a re-entering ballistic missile was a target with no solution for enemy air defenses. But Polaris is another story.
And what happened to the subs that had huge hangars built on their decks for Regulus cruise missile? Well, they went to work for Navy Special Operations, and that, too, is another story.
Between 1953 and 1964, one cruiser and five converted fleet subs were equipped to launch Regulus. They were the nation’s only submarine nuclear deterrent until the George Washington class Polaris boats came on line. No Regulus was ever fired in anger, so you can argue they fulfilled their mission perfectly.
Within the last few years, the Navy has retroactively awarded the officers and sailors of the Regulus fleet the badge that recognizes today’s sailors for their patrols in missile boats. Nowadays, the Regulus I and its never-deployed descendant, the supersonic Regulus II, are only historical curiosities; transitional weapons studied by those interested in weapons technology, and in how weapons change history, and history changes them.
For a while there, it didn’t look like they’d make it, but our cousins to the north celebrate in August 2014 the centennial of the Canadian Submarine Force (which has had different names over the years; but what all the organizations and reorganizations have in common is Canadian crews and subsurface combat vessels). During the period Canadian naval officers call the “Decade of Darkness,” when political hostility to the sub force (and the Navy, really) combined with the budgetary realities of a nation of small population and vast coastlines, it really looked like there would be an end date to set against August, 1914. An ambitious plan to buy SSNs — nuclear boats, giving Canadians a sub-ice capability their Navy has never had — was torpedoed by budgetary realities and political opposition, either of which, alone, might have sunk it. The elderly Oberon-class subs would have been the end of the line, with submarines joining bombers, aircraft carriers, and cruisers as weapons systems the Canadian armed forces used to operate.
Instead, Canada lucked into a British policy decision that the Royal Navy would, for reasons of logistical and operational philosophy, take its sub fleet all-nuclear. And four spanking-new Upholder class modern diesel boats were being retired. The Royal Canadian Navy didn’t by any chance…? The hell they didn’t.
Of course, an immediate answer wouldn’t have been in keeping with Canadian politics, so there ensued nearly a decade of dithering (with enough drama that it actually makes an engaging book, Julie H. Ferguson’sDeeply Canadian: Subs for a New Millenium(note: the Google book link is to the 1st edition, the current Kindle edition is an improved 2nd), an excellent companion to her Canadian sub history, Through a Canadian Periscope, which even covers Canadian proto-frogmen in the Royal Navy in WWII), but in the end, Canada said yes in 1998. They worked an incredibly clever lease-to-own deal that put the subs in Canadian hands for next to nothing: the price came in adapting the British boats to Canadian weapons and systems, which the Canadian submariners preferred. The Canadian-specific modifications have been more involved than initially appreciated, and one boat was a casualty almost immediately, spending a decade out of service after an onboard fire during its delivery voyage.
Canada’s submarine missions are familiar to any sub operator worldwide: anti-submarine warfare, anti-ship warfare, minelaying, and covert operations (including surveillance and intelligence collection, and SOF insertions, extractions and support). ASW has long been a specialty of the RCN, and her frigates and destroyers (and the large helicopters they embark) are among NATO’s best at that art. Stealthy diesel subs take that mission to another level, and their utility in special operations goes without saying.
CC1 and CC 2, lying in port.
The Royal Canadian Navy had barely stood up when the First World War forced it to dive into submarines. On 5 August 1914, the government, not of the Dominion of Canada, but of the province of British Columbia, purchased two submarines from a Seattle shipyard. The subs were given the utilitarian names: His Majesty’s Canadian Ships, CC 1 and CC 2. Since then, Canada has commissioned 13 more submarines, and Canadian officers and men served in British submarines from 1914 to 1965, as well as in the Canadian boats.
The story of the first Canadian boats is a remarkable tale. CC 1 and CC 2 were built in Seattle for the government of Chile, but the Chileans, whose government had changed since the order was placed, was reluctant to pay for them. JV Paterson, of the Seattle Construction and Drydock company, mentioned this to Canadian members when he was a guest at the establishment’s watering hole in Victoria, BC, the Union Club. The Canadians perked up: the British Commonwealth had only one elderly cruiser, HMCS Rainbow, and two armed sloops, HMS Shearwater and HMS Algerine, on the West Coast when war broke out. With the US still neutral, the German Far Eastern fleet had the Allies outgunned. Would Canada be interested…? The Canadians were, but the government in Ottawa couldn’t move quickly.
BC’s premier Sir Richard McBride was soon informed. An avalanche of telegrams ensued, involving Victoria, Ottawa, and London, but little could be accomplished in the few days remaining before the imminent outbreak of war and a resulting American embargo on the provision of war materials to combatants. In this crisis, McBride took a courageous decision to use provincial funds to get possession of the much-needed submarines before it was too late. On his own initiative he decided to advance the purchase price demanded, just over $1.1 million. This was an enormous sum, twice the annual budget for the entire RCN for 1913-1914.
There was still one more problem: the deal McBride cut with Patterson was illegal in the USA, under the terms of the American Neutrality Act. The Canadians met Paterson’s terms — twice the Chilean price, cash in advance — and spirited the boats out of Seattle in the dead of night. Paterson was good to his (expensive, it’s true) word, and traveled out on one of the boats for a hasty offshore inspection and acceptance by Canadian naval officers. The White Ensign went up, and despite the risks taken by all, the results came out well: Sir Richard McBride was reimbursed for his off-the-books expenditure of provincial cash (and a subsequent enquiry by a Royal Commission (.pdf) into “[t]erritorially widespread and voluminous accusations of wrongdoing” cleared him of any wrongdoing and commended his “patriotism, and conduct.” For his part, Paterson turned two white-elephant subs commissioned by a deadbeat buyer into a windfall for his shipyard and a $40,000 commission, a staggering sum in 1914. And the Canadian sub force, created in a special operation of sorts, was underway. With two modern subs, there was something to guard that long west coast.
From that day to this, the story of the Canadian sub fleet has been one of close scrapes, desperate straits, and challenges, and all have been met by pluck and imagination. And that’s just the budgetary and parliamentary end of it!
VADM Mark Norman, Commander of the RCN, made the following statement on the occasion of the anniversary:
For 100 years Canada has benefited from the stealth and lethality that only a submarine capability can contribute to the maritime security of a nation such as ours. As the most decisive capability in any naval fleet, submarines not only dominate the seas but provide unrivalled deterrence. The dedicated members of Canada’s ‘silent service’ operate in the most demanding and unforgiving conditions. They truly represent some of the very best of our fighting service. As we look ahead to the challenges of the coming decades, we do so in confidence, knowing that Canada has submarines. I wish all of our submariners, past, present, and future, my deepest appreciation and a heartfelt BRAVO ZULU!
The Oberons, which Canada operated from 1965-2000, were British-designed and -built boats; state of the art for 1960, they were a major British export success, with Australia, Brazil, and Chile also operating them. The Oberon has a distinct silhouette with a prow seemingly designed for surface operations, and a sonar dome or blister on top of the nose; none of the 27 is still in operation (only one was a casualty, sort of: Brazil’s Tonelero, which sank at its dock after retirement, worldwide, all are retired). Canada operated three Oberons, and received two additonal ex-RN boats, Olympus as a non-commissioned training aid, and Osiris, which was parted out to keep the three Canadian boats, HMCSes Onondaga, Okanagan, and Osiris, sailing. HMCS Ojibwa is a museum exhibit in Ontario, and Onondaga in Quebec. All Oberon operators, except now-all-nuclear Britain, now operate new classes of diesel boats.
Diesel boats are not the “obsolete technology” that Hyman Rickover would have you believe. For one thing, because they lack the nuc’s constant cooling-water requirement, they can be far more silent and stealthy. The Victorias, like the Oberons before them, were state of the art in silent running. Their stealth is also enhanced by their small size. Naturally, better stealth is better in almost all of the missions of a submarine.
HMCS Victoria. Note how much smaller she is than British or American boats.
The Victoria class (ex-Upholder) has had, as mentioned, seen some heavy sledding on its way to operational status. The four ships, now named after Canadian cities, are HMCS Victoria SSK 876, whose motto is “Expect no Warning,” HMCS Windsor SSK 877, “Silent Pride,” HMCS Corner Brook SSK 878, “We Rule the Sea,” and HMCS Chicoutimi SSK 879, “Maître du Domaine.” They were formerly the HMS Unseen, HMS Unicorn, HMS Ursula, and HMS Upholder, and were paid off by the Royal Navy mere years after their completion. Their Canadianization has actually taken as long or longer than their original construction; Canada insists on locally available equipment, some Canadian electronics which were developed in the Oberon-class boats, and prefers American-designed Mk48 torpedoes, also something they used in Oberon days.
Chicoutimi gets a lift in 2005 or so. After years of repairs and refit, she commissions this year.
Corner Brook was damaged in an underwater groundingin 2011, and entered a drydock period this summer. Chicoutimi, the hard luck boat of the set,has not yet been commissioned in the RCN. The boat suffered an underway fire en route to Canada in 2004; an officer was killed and nine other submariners injured, and the boat was disabled and had to be towed back to England, making the journey to Canada as deck cargo on a heavy-lift ship. She was, however, repaired at the Canadian Sub Maintenance Group facility from 2010-2013, and is preparing for commissioning this year. The Canadian objective is to have three subs in commission and one in refit going forward, with bases on both Canadian coasts.
HMCS Windsor leaves Barrow, England in 2001, enroute to her new Canadian refit & mission.
The Canadian subs and their crews have demonstrated remarkable capabilities; Windsor, the first to patrol, recently completed a very remarkable 174 days at sea. (Remember, these are diesel, not nuclear, boats). Windsor, in fact, only docked to repair a generator that could not be fixed at sea, or it might have accomplished the half-year. While the ships and crews have managed feats of endurance reminiscent of their allies’ nuclear boats, the diesel-electric sub, other things being equal, will always have the edge in stealth. Windsor, again, has demonstrated this by tracking an American fast-attack sub. During RIMPAC 2012, Victoria slammed a Mk 48 torpedo into a drifting target ship, the former USNS Concord, off Oahu, sending the target beneath the waves in 17 minutes. (The video below is only 2 minutes long, and silent).
Did you even know that Canada has a sub fleet? (As Ferguson writes, “Mention the Snowbirds… and they immediately know that you are talking about the Canadian air force. Mention HMCS Onondaga and you are met with a blank stare.”)
The sailors who fly Canada’s Maple Leaf (on those rare occasions they put up a flagstaff and make port) have come a long way from the sailors who raised the Dominion’s White Ensign on CC 1 a century ago, but they’re doing the tradition proud.
In all history, about 99% of these have accomplished nothing but blind destruction, unrelated to war aims. Guernica myths notwithstanding.
We made the mistake of watching some Aspen Institute foreign policy luminaries (including ex-secretaries Madeline Albright, Condoleeza Rice, and Bob Gates) and then parts of the Sunday talking head shows. We’ve also read the Post and the Times on the pinprick airstrikes in Iraq, stories that seem to agree that they were made for the domestic political effect. (“We didn’t want another Benghazi.”) In time-honored Harvard-Yale-Georgetown Masters of the Universe™ fashion, these war-experts-from-the-campus-quad either endorsed or criticized the Obama policy of tiny strikes, as a fancied means for bringing the parties to the negotiating table, that Happy Hunting Ground of all diplomats.
We’re here to pickle off some precision-guided practical truth on that.
Here’s what bombs from the air can do:
Blow things up.
That’s about it. And to achieve that limited potential, they need to be dropped exactly on the people and things you intend to kill or blow up. Otherwise, they’re just wasteful fireworks, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Here’s some of what they can’t do:
Kill specific people (unless there are friendly and reliable eyes on the ground).
Send a message. No one ever successfully “sent a message” with bombing, unless the message was: “Bang. You’re dead.” You can send that message — if you have eyes on the ground targeting the bomb. Any other message you were trying to send is as likely to get across as the messages for the enemy that the ordies scrawl on the bombs. That is, not very.
Weaken the resolve of those under the bombs. Yeah, that’s why England folded in 1940, Germany in 1944, the Norks in 1951, and the DRV in 1967. Oh, wait… looks like bombing stiffens resolve, except for the people it physically makes stiffs out of. Seriously, if some foreign air force blew up your house and killed your family, would you (1) Japan is the exception, and they still had to be nuked twice after some fire-bombings that made the nukes look mild, on top of years of sub-blockade starvation.
Take and hold ground.
Over and over again, the lesson has been, bombing without eyes-on recon, terminal guidance, and eyes-on post-mission BDA, is wasteful and ineffective. For example, in the 1999 bombing of Serbia, the US killed — over and over again — obsolete jets wheeled out of museums, and broken-down tanks hauled into bait positions. What was lacking? This:
If we don’t have terminal guidance teams on the ground in Iraq, these missions are being set up for failure. If we do have them, and only give them two or four carrier strike fighters a day on a one-pass-and-haul-ass limit, we’re not going to succeed. We get that the President does not want to encourage Maliki, whose sectarian score-settling is a big factor in the current collapse of his country’s defense establishment.
Then, there’s the question of what we’re risking.
ISIL (the enemy on the ground, even if Obama can’t bring himself to admit that the Kurds are friendlies) has modern AA weapons, and the F/A-18, the only arrow remaining in the Navy’s quiver, is no less vulnerable to AA gunfire and SAMs than its Vietnam and even Korean War counterparts. (It’s actually slower, on the deck with stores, than the Vietnam era F-105). So, if we keep exposing them we’re going to start losing them.
That means: remains of pilots, or live pilots, in ISIL hands, whether as hostages (given the big payoff the Taliban got for holding deserter Bowe Bergdahl, certainly a possibility) or as stars in a single episode of JihadTube each. Normally, SOF take responsibility for personnel recovery, but it’s very, very different to do without some kind of footprint on the ground, and it’s a rare PR that goes off without losing at least one helicopter, potentially compounding the problem.
Now, we have no doubt that the Navy and Marine strike pilots will fly whatever missions they get — that’s what they do. But sending them on symbolic, ineffective pinprick strikes, and exposing them to a high risk of capture, is not good policy. That it’s being done to “send a message” to Maliki (and that the message is the amorphous, “you need to form a unity government and be more diplomatic and inclusive”) is extremely troubling.
Bottom line: for bombing to be effective, we need CCTs, JTACs or equivalent on the ground calling the strikes. (True story: in the early part of the war — remember, the part we won? — nobody sweated who had and didn’t have credentials or ticket punches. When we got friendly fire, it came from an Air Force ETAC and Air Force aircraft commanders who had all the requisite qualifications. But now, you gotta have a ticket punch). For bombing to be effective, there needs to be enough of it to kill lots of the enemy and break all his favorite toys. For bombing to be effective, it needs to be targeted by junior officers and NCOs on the groundwho can lay the Mark I eyeball on the enemy and direct the money shot all the way down, not by some committee of drones who attended all the right schools and never felt the chafe of a uniform collar.
Ineffective bombing is worse than no bombing at all. And that’s what we’ve got, so far.
The Navy, like traitor, felon and jailbird Bradley Manning, has a thing called a Transition Plan, and it may be proceeding towards the same end. We’ll provide the document as a .pdf for you, but we thought we’d highlight a couple of the lowlights.
First, get a load of the cover of this thing! Decide whether they wanted to publish the annual report of some Silicon Valley high-tech, or a brochure for some overpriced college. So they split the difference. It has the college brochure One Cool Looking Brother, the obligatory Action Shots, and the Meaningless Slogan some marketing department MBAs agonized and argued over, in this case, “MOVING FORWARD… MOVING FORWARD…”
Given that ships generally suck at backing up, that’s probably not a completely bad choice, but you have to wonder whether it was an attempt to suck up to the Administration’s E Ring suits, or hosts of sparsely-watched MSNBC shows, two practically interchangeable demographics.
The plan begins with a grinning picture (we’ll spare you) Ray Mabus, who’s getting antsy now that he’s only got two years left to name DDGs for Sacco and Vanzetti, an LHA USS Jane Fonda, and maybe an SSBN USS Benedict Arnold. And the plan is a very curious thing. Maybe it’s that we don’t have a Distinguished Naval Personage around the Manor, although we have thrown the dog in the fountain on a slow day, for comic relief. But the plan makes no sense to us… we can’t tell what they’re transitioning from or to, it’s almost as if in Ray Mabus World “transition” is an intransitive verb.
Anyway, the document includes an absolutely shocking set of goals. These are the Navy’s priorities:
Take care of our people The DON is committed to attracting, developing and retaining a diverse total workforce trained and equipped to meet our strategic readiness objectives.
Maximize warfighter readiness and avoid hollowness The DON will effectively size our force to meet strategic demands, maintain a credible, capable and combat ready military force.
Lead the nation in sustainable energy The DON continues to support alternative energy efforts, realizing that energy independence is vital to our national security and the safety of our Sailors and Marines.
Promote acquisition excellence and integrity
The DON is improving the execution of every program and increasing anti-fraud efforts, and leveraging strategic sourcing to take advantage of economies of scale.
5. Proliferate unmanned systems
The DON will integrate unmanned systems across the entire department ensuring that we can operate in any environment. Our global presence will be sustained and enhanced with our continued investment in unmanned systems.
6. Drive innovative enterprise transformation
The DON will continue to transform our business enterprise, ensuring that available resources are directed to our Sailors and Marines.
Apologies for any brain-dead formatting. (WordPress ^$^&#^I#$!! But we digress). Apart from the fact that those are a politician’s anodyne and empty statements, worthy of a game of Buzzword Bingo except that everyone has a winning card, the priorities they reflect are remarkable. (Mabus is an anodyne and empty politician; a former one-term governor who was defeated for a second term, he got rich as a revolving-door crony capitalist, and has served in several political appointments). Indeed, those statements look so stupid we’re putting a screen-cap of the document here for those of you disinclined to download the whole anodyne and empty Buzzword Bingo thing.
Of course, Mabus’s lodestone, “diversity,” gets mentioned in Goal 1. And “sustainable energy” gets mentioned a couple further on. Those terms come up a few times in the document. But the mention of “combat ready military force” in Goal 2 is the only place the word “combat” appears in the whole thing. That’s not what this Secretary is transitioning this Navy towards, apparently. Some things a Navy might do don’t show up, either: “battle?” “Superiority?” “Dominance?” Those all get “No Results Found.” There is, however, a mention of the Navy’s element, the sea. Exactly one mention, on Page 11 (which is page 13 of the .pdf, thanks to the cover letter). Here’s the only context in which Ray Mabus’s Navy is concerned about the freakin’ sea:
Institutionalize environmental sustainability on land and sea
Well, we guess we can’t say that the Navy has no priorities. It has priorities, all right. But we think we can be forgiven for the thought that they are all the wrong priorities.
You want sustainable energy, Ray Mabus? Go to the Naval Academy where, in a tomb reminiscent of Napoleon’s, John Paul Jones’s remains lie in honored repose, returned to the US after a century in a restless foreign interment. Wrap the old Admiral in a winding of varnish-insulated copper magnetic wire and call him an armature. Add a pair of magnets and brushes to take off the power , and zowie! Sustainable energy, as he spins.
Chris Kyle wrote that “Old Scruff Face,” whom he didn’t then identify by name, bad-mouthed today’s SEALs at an informal frogman wake in 2006, and that Kyle decked him. It was obvious to insiders that the old frogman he was referring to was SEAL turned pro wrestler turned actor (he’s in Predator, toting an M134), turned maverick politician, turned sometime reality-TV host Jesse Ventura, and Kyle later confirmed this during an appearance on a Los Angeles radio station — during which he also said it wasn’t anything special because the guy was “really old.” (Ventura is 63 now, so he was in his fifties when he and Kyle crossed paths in the bar).
Ventura insists that none of it ever happened: no bad-mouthing, no punch, none of it. Sure, he was at the bar, a SEAL hangout; he had been there as a VIP guest of a fresh graduating class. But he claims that the ridicule resulting from Kyle’s book has sunk his income, once millions a year, to less than what the VA pays people to mismanage vets’ treatment, and estranged him from the SEAL community, of which he was ever a proud member.
Naturally, the lawsuit, and the fact that he persisted in it after Kyle’s unrelated murder, with Kyle’s widow Taya standing in as plaintiff, has further estranged him. His name is mud in the SOF community, for certain values of “mud” that are highly organic in origin.
Everybody seems to have an opinion about the facts in the case, which seemed to be a classic “This guy said this and that guy said that” kind of case, complicated by This Guy being unavailable to testify. But the emergence of an eyewitness in the case, testifying for the Kyles in defense, seems to have shifted the balance of the case considerably. Here’s the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the testimony of Laura deShazo:
DeShazo, the sister of a Navy SEAL and an education specialist for Utah’s public schools, testfied that she was at the bar the night in question for the wake of Michael Monsoor, a slain SEAL.
DeShazo, the first witness called by the defense, said someone pointed out Ventura to her and that she, her sister and another woman posed for a picture with him. Otherwise, she said, she had little interaction with him.
Later that night, deShazo testified, she saw an altercation involving a group of people in the bar. Ventura was involved.
“I saw Mr. Ventura get hit,” she said.
But she didn’t know who hit him. She watched only for a few seconds, she said, before turning away because she wasn’t interested in a bar fight.
The Pioneer Press notes that some details of her recollection of the fight don’t gibe with Kyle’s (do Read The Whole Thing™; it also has some detail on Ventura’s finances). But deShazo’s description of the SEAL that punched Ventura does match Chris Kyle, according to a report at Fox News:
DeShazo said she later saw Ventura getting a scuffle with other people at the bar and saw a man punch Ventura. She said she doesn’t know who threw the punch but gave a description that was consistent with Kyle.
Reportedly, the defense team has other witnesses ready to testify they saw the big-mouthed former entertainer take one on the chin, but given that deShazo’s testimony was not perfect for the defense, and they led with her, the other testimony is probably weak. Still, the jury now has to disregard Kyle’s deposition and deShazo’s corroborating testimony, and accept Ventura’s testimony instead (he didn’t present on-scene eyewitnesses to his story). This seems unlikely, and the probable outcome is that the lawsuit will attaint Ventura’s reputation more than the bar fight story did.
You have to wonder why this wound up in the courts in the first place. It is nothing but a mess, and reflects badly on the SEALs in general and these two SEALs (yeah, technically Ventura was a UDT guy, but that hair-splitting distinction is of no consequence here) in particular. It’s unseemly.
Frankly, if Ventura really said the stuff Kyle wrote that he did, especially in that environment, he had the punch coming.
[W]alk away… from the military industrial complex that brainwashed you into believing in fight not flight. Take those boxes of SEAL shirts and torch them in a massive purifying ceremony….
…true freedom, the kind that has nothing to do with America or the military’s narrow definition of it…
…Have a good cry … and become Jesse Ventura, new age man and leader of the feMENist movement who strikes a blow for compassion above all else.
Uh, not too likely. Walsh also describes both Ventura and Kyle as members of “Douchebag Nation.” Well, all we want to know is, as King of that dominion, did Walsh sign their passports?
Since this post was drafted (and not published) on 15 July, the trial has continued, and a parade of witnesses who were at the informal “wake” for SEAL Michael Monsoor MOH have followed deShazo — and their testimony has further damaged Governor Ventura’s case. They include:
Rosemary deShazo, Laura’s sister, who testified that she heard Ventura say a disparaging remark about fallen SEALs: “They probably deserved it, they die all the time.” She admits she’s paraphrasing, but the statement is close to what Kyle recounted in the book, and like Kyle, she was angered and offended by it.
Former SEAL Jeremiah Dinnell remembers both Ventura saying that SEALs “deserved to lose a few in Iraq,” and Kyle immediately thereafter punching Ventura. That’s exactly the way Kyle told the story in the book and on KFI Radio in LA.
Gold Star Mother (of SEAL Marc Lee) Debbie Lee, who found that instead of sympathizing with her (or the Monsoors’) loss, he wanted to brag himself up. She “lost all respect for the man.” Kyle admitted to her that he punched Ventura.
Former SEAL Guy Budinscak saw something, although he did not testify it was the punch, but “a commotion,” saw Ventura depart looking like he’d been in a fight, and heard that same night that Kyle punched Ventura. He also remembers Ventura rudely dismissing wounded SEAL Ryan Job, and spouting 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Job himself formed an opinion of Ventura from their brief meeting: “Fuck that guy,” he said, according to his friend SEAL Kevin Lacz (via video deposition). Job died from complications of his wounds in 2009. Lacz’s recollections otherwise support Kyle’s version of the story.
SEAL SO1C John Kelly III didn’t see Kyle punch Ventura, but he did see Ventura down and apparently out, and then later, with blood on his lips. Kelly had initially admired Ventura, until the conversation turned political and Ventura began bashing both Bush and servicemen. The suggestion that SEALs like Kelly were in Iraq “killing women and children” stuck in his craw.
Former SEAL Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Paul also did not see the punch, but saw Ventura down, and then come up threatening to kill Kyle. Kyle later admitted to Paul that he punched Ventura. He also remembers Ventura ranting about “very bizarre” 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Former SEAL Bobby Gassoff saw “a commotion” and later that night “was told” that Kyle hit Ventura.
Kyle himself, appearing from beyond the grave by video deposition, expressed surprise that, of all the things in the book American Sniper, the three pages describing his encounter with Scruff Face were the part that went viral.
However this case ends — we all know that random stuff occurs in American courts all the time — Chris Kyle deserves to be remembered.
Two flags, one nation; we tried that 1860-65, didn’t work.
This story is still breaking and developing, and it’s not good any way you slice it. Initial reports were that 279 are dead aboard the Malaysian airliner, and 29 of them American citizens; later media reports raised the death toll to 295, and said none were Americans.
The missiles were fired either by the Russian military or by Russian-controlled ethnic-Russian separatists in the so-called “Republic of Donetsk.” Russia’s cat’s paw in the region, a sheep-dipped GRU officer, initially claimed the shootdown then rapidly backed away and is disclaiming not only the now deleted tweet but the entire social-media account in question. The Ukrainians report that they have communications intercepts of both ethnic Russians involved in the shootdown and the commander they report to, a serving Russian Army officer.
Whether the shootdown was deliberate or accidental, it looks bad for Russia either way: if it was deliberate, 300 people have been murdered in cold blood, something redolent of Soviet days; if it was accidental, 300 people have died due to criminal negligence, something equally redolent of Soviet days. Likewise, whether the mongs at the switches of the system were actual Russian PVO members, or whether they were some kind of irregulars, it’s bad for Russia either way: on one side, their military looks incompetent and leaderless, and on the other, they’ve armed a lawless guerilla group, who promptly used their shiny new Made In Russia toy to commit a bestial mass murder. They’ve either misused missiles under their control, or they’ve put missiles into the hands of nut jobs they don’t control — making the Russians look teenage-arsonist irresponsible at best.
It’s not the first time this issue has come up. Consider this passage from a book on the history of the major organization that coordinates world airspace and airlines (ICAO: A History of the International Civil Aviation Organization by David MacKenzie). This passage, from p. 304, refers to the US reaction to the screwed-up shootdown of KAL Flight 007:
The incident also made the Americans uneasy in other ways. If the Soviets knowingly shot down a civil airliner then all the criticism was justified; but if the aircraft drifted in Soviet space for two hours without the Soviets knowing about it; and if it took them hours to track it down; and if they shot it down not knowing it was a civil airliner, then what did this say about the state of Soviet defences or their ability to act responsibly as a nuclear power? If this kind of mistake can happen, Reagan asked, “what kind of imagination did it take to think of the Soviet military man with his finger close to a nuclear button making an even more tragic mistake? If mistakes could be made by a fighter pilot, what about a similar miscalculation by the commander of missile launch crew?”
MacKenzie notes that the decision of both parties was to submit it to the toothless ICAO for investigation; as an international agency with no subpoena or enforcement powers, it was guaranteed to take months to produce an empty result. But in the meantime, “the main protagonists could… be seen to be doing something” and this would let the parties “avoid applying sanctions and provid[e]…. an opportunity for both sides to cool off.”
The Russians know their best bet is to brazen it out, hence the belligerent statements we’ve seen from Vladimir Vladimirovich. Plus, in 1983 a bold Reagan faced a weak, sick Brezhnev. In 2014, a weak, vacillating and disengaged Obama faces a strong, bold Putin — whose help he perseverates in seeking on such issues as Syria and Iran. Russian forces have reportedly stolen the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder from the crash site, and spirited them off to Moscow — just as they did in 1983, and for the same reason: guilty knowledge.
Enough about the geopolitics, what about the missile?
SA-11 System: Clockwise from top, “Snow Drift” surveillance radar, TELAR, 9S470 “Ranzhir” Command Post vehicle, TEL.
However evil or stupid the hand that set them into motion in Ukraine this week, the the missiles in question are a highly developed product of Russian technology, and of nearly 70 years of Russian experience with guided missiles.
The system is known as “Бук” or “Beech” in Russian and as 9K37 in the Russian “Главное ракетно-артиллерийское управление” or GRAU, essentially Main Ordnance Directorate, nomenclature, but over the years system improvements have caused its DOD/NATO code designation and name to change from SA-11 Gadfly to SA-17 Grizzly. The system has largely replaced the SA-6 Gainful (2K12 Kub) in Russian service, but is also widely distributed worldwide, to Russian allies and rogue states alike.
The system has been used by Russians and Georgians against each other (both effectively) in 2008, and by these same Russians and/or Russian-controlled separatists to shoot down an Sukhoi Su-25 attack plane and an unarmed, but military, Antonov An-26 transport in Ukraine. The system has been generally ineffective in Syrian hands, and a Russo-Syrian attempt to deliver Buk systems to Hezbollah ended in the destruction of the systems by Israeli air power in 2013.
It is extremely unlikely that the system was operated without support and control from Russia. It is even more unlikely that the shoot-down of an international airliner was anything but an error. Certainly we’ve seen these errors before, when Israel shot down a Libyan airliner in 1973, when Soviet jets shot down off-course Korean airliners that had flown over Soviet airspace in 1978 and again in 1983 (the KAL 007 downing), and in 1988 when an American ship shot down an Iranian airliner.
And the one that seems most interesting, under the circumstances: in 2001, a Russian airliner was shot down into the Black Sea, in a screwup committed by a Ukrainian military unit. Then-President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma apologized, and some air defense officers were sacked.
There are some differences in these cases. In at least one case, the Soviet pilot knew the plane was civil, but didn’t care: he was ordered to shoot it down, and a civil plane could certainly have been spying, so he did, no more a human in the loop than the Buk missile has. In the case of the USS Vincennes and Iran Air Flight 655, the American crew clearly lost situational awareness and panicked, mistaking the harmless civil jet for an attacking Iranian F-14; it was a shameful day for the US Navy.
The Ukrainian 2001 incident has never been clearly explained, but appears to have been a case of a missile preferring the jetliner to an intended drone target — a Range Control no-go event.
What seems to have happened in the Ukraine this time, is that the GRU/rebels weren’t deconflicting their radar tracking with civilian airliner flight plans and whoever the controller is for the area (Eurocontrol? Roscontrol?). So, after two successful shoot-downs of Ukrainian military aircraft, they were fangs-out for God and Vladimir Vladimirovich.
Now comes a Cold War replay of finger pointing, and evidence shifting and/or destruction. (In 1983, the Soviets clandestinely recovered the flight recorders of KAL 007, then hid them and destroyed the tapes when they found that they fit the American propaganda line, not the Soviet one. After the fall of the USSR only Russian translations of transcripts were found. They also conducted a false search and recovery effort miles from the wreckage, and made no attempt at search and recovery at the actual crash site). The area where the Malaysia Airlines jet came down is under Russian GRU control, so evidence hiding will probably take priority over investigation. (In 1983, the Soviets deliberately avoided recovering human remains).
In 1984, in its final response to the KAL 007 mass murder, the ICAO Council called on the contracting States to “abstain from the use of armed force on civil aircraft”. Two council members voted no: Russia and the then-puppet Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.
The story reads like a press release from the Admiralty and the Air Staff, maybe because it is. The signatories are the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, and the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford. But the op-ed in Britain’s daily Telegraph also gives some feeds and speeds of the freshly-christened HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest and most capable aircraft carrier to ever fly the White Ensign of the Royal Navy.
At 65,000 tonnes, HMS Queen Elizabeth will pack a heavyweight military punch.
In the years ahead, she will be equipped with the Lightning II. Placing the UK at the forefront of fighter jet technology, Lightning II will provide a true multi-role aircraft that will surpass the majority of weapons systems in production today, or envisaged in the foreseeable future.
A fifth generation, survivable, low observable, multi-role aircraft, Lightning II will be able to undertake a wide range of mission types from both Land and Sea. In addition to the Carrier Strike role, the new aircraft carrier also has a deck big enough to airlift one thousand Royal Marine commandos or soldiers ashore by helicopter.
The naming of the ship is one thing; her building is still far from complete, and then she must be armed, manned, and equipped. She is two to four years from being an effective unit in the Royal Navy, depending on how things go with the inevitable budget cuts.
The Lightning II is the jet we know in the States as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The RAF/RN version will be V/STOL capable, using technology roughly similar to that in the now-retired Harrier and Sea Harrier aircraft that were the technological marvels of the Falklands War over 30 years ago. (The USMC still operates Harriers, as do some other navies, but the British ). A mock-up of the aircraft was present at the christening.
As well as military flexibility, HMS Queen Elizabeth and her embarked forces provide political and diplomatic choice, from a piece of independent, sovereign territory.
In disaster relief operations, she can be placed close in, to offer help in rebuilding shattered lives.
In times of crisis and tension, she can offer a visible coercive presence or position out of sight, a flexible means of escalating and de-escalating as the national or international will dictates.
And, able to roam across the international waters, she will offer a mobile sovereign air base.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will be the centre-piece of Defence’s Joint approach to warfare.
The air group which will operate from her 4-acre deck will be manned by both Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots. But her air missions will not be confined to fast jet carrier strike.
The embarkation of Army Apache attack helicopters in HMS Ocean for operations in Libya in 2011 already provides a blueprint for other types of inter-Service cooperation in the years ahead.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will not only host UK assets; we will work with our key allies to maximize our future capability.
The US long ago worked out joint maritime helo ops, initially in special operations, but increasingly across all services’ aviation arms. The British used V/STOL fighter-bombers and seagoing helicopters imaginatively and effectively in the Falklands, and they could get up to some quite interesting things with a powerful ship like this.
Indeed, HMS Queen Elizabeth will not only be the centre-piece of the nation’s maritime armada (named ‘the Response Force Task Group’), but the beating heart of the United Kingdom’s Joint Expeditionary Force.
And with her lifespan of 50 years she will enjoy a lengthy reign at the head of the nation’s future joint expeditionary capability.
During this long, value for money, working life she will be a platform for innovative technologies, both manned and unmanned. And, from a nation known for its inventiveness, this will include technology not yet imagined – after all, her last Commanding Officer has yet to be born!
HMS Queen Elizabeth is also serving as a turbocharger for deeper international partnership and coalition building.
Already Royal Navy and Royal Air Force personnel are being trained in ‘carrier skills’ in the United States. Our personnel are also serving within the French Carrier Strike Group.
These international exchanges — select American and French officers also serve exchange tours with allied air arms — serve the dual purpose of lubricating alliances with bonds of friendship forged on operations, and disseminating operational developments alliance-wide.
Of course, no British ship goes to sea without British traditions. In the case of HMS QE, this plaque shows that joint operations are built into her in the very shipyard:
As part of the arrangements with the US, the first UK Lightning squadron will form up in the United States in 2016, prior to returning to the UK in 2018.
Not only is this generosity of partnership enabling the UK to regenerate its carrier strike capability, it is also laying strong foundations with our key strategic partners as we look to share responsibilities in the years which lie ahead.
The ship is the latest in a line of illustrious British capital ships to bear this name. The second carrier in the class, well under construction, also will bear a historic name: HMS Prince of Wales. The most famous prior Prince of Wales, of course, was the ill-fated King George V class battleship which survived a gunfight with DKM Bismarck (unlike her squadronmate, the weakly-armored battlecruiser Hood) only to be sunk in OctoberDecember 1941 (Ugh. Embarrasing — Ed.) by Japanese land-based torpedo bombers.
The Telegraph also has a more technical description of the ship, likely to be of interest to us, linked in that article. Another excellent source of information on the ship is the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, an industry group of her builders.
While the ship is the first carrier of this size ever built by Britain (she is first of a class of two, and is approximately two to three years from commissioning and service), the USA has been building carriers this size or larger since the late 1940s, and the Russian Admiral Kuznetsov and former Russian carrier Liaoning (China, former Russian Varyag and Soviet Riga) are in this class.
Of course, not all the media is, shall we say, on board with HMS QE. The BBC irritated retired sailors and officers by referring to the HMS Queen Elizabeth as a “boat.” Well, that’s what you get with layers and layers of editors, one supposes.