Category Archives: Air and Naval Weapons

The Economics of Combat on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Night over Laos, circa 1966. From a “Nimrod” (A-26K night interdiction aircraft) navigator’s recollections:

Back at altitude, I reflected on our situation. So far, we had made two passes, had maybe 40 to 50 rounds of 37mm, 23mm ZPU and who knows what else fired at us and had only dropped two bombs?!! Considering the fuel and ordnance load we carried, expending at this rate would have us work (and being shot at) for at least 10 passes, maybe many more if we fired the .50-caliber machine guns.

And so it was to be! This squadron’s credo was to be persistent and take the time to inflict the greatest damage on the enemy. That took patience and perseverance-and meant dodging considerable hostile fire.

Having expended all the .50-caliber ammunition, we headed home. On the way back, our FAC reported that we had destroyed several trucks and a couple of AAA positions and that we received an estimated 800 rounds of antiaircraft fire!

On the way back, an absurd conversation from the night before ran through my mind. We were marveling that our government paid us $65 a month combat pay. Now, if we flew a mission like this 25 times a month, that meant we would earn $2.60 per mission. If each mission had 10 passes over the target, that meant we would get 26 cents per pass. If on each pass they shot 50 rounds at us, that meant we would get a half cent for each shot fired at us.

Of course, the pay was even worse on Nguyen’s side of the exchange.

And combat pay is higher now. There is that.

Sometimes Nimrod was just busting trucks, economically a fool’s game. The entire COSVN (Central Office of South Vietnam) ran on some six tons of supplies a day, meaning anything more than a couple of trucks that got through was gravy. It was like dealing with a carpenter ant infestation by stepping on individual ants — the house will fall down on your ears before the bugs feel the pressure. But the ant nests were off limits until Linebacker, which was many years, and 50,000 American deaths, in the future as Nimrod worked the Trail.

Sometimes Nimrod was working in support of the SF guys who were not in Laos, officially speaking. Unofficially, or really, covertly, they were leading Lao guard forces around critical sites related to navigation, precision bombing, and signals intelligence; conducting small and stealthy (they hoped!) reconnaissance patrols and occasional Hatchet Force combat patrols under the aegis of SOG; and, sheep-dipped into the CIA, advising Vang Pao’s clandestine Meo army. SF and the Air Commandos, later renamed, as the Invader nav, Nolan Schmidt, wryly notes, because someone in the Air Force thought the name “too warlike.”

At the end of the James S. Michener novel (from the period in which he could write a prizewinning novel of reasonable length, even) The Bridges at Toko-ri, and repeated in the movie of the same title, an admiral, reflecting on the heroic deeds of a Naval Aviator and a Chief Aviation Pilot, stares into the wake of USS Boat and asks a rhetorical question: “Where do we get such men?”

To which WeaponsMan, who has never been in danger of flag rank, would add, “and why do we squander their valor so?”

But if you Read The Whole Thing™, old Invader nav Schmidt doesn’t think, and when we think about it, we don’t think, that it was all done for nothing or even for the silly geopolitical games the gormless Georgetown grads play in the NSC. It was done for the guys, whether it was the guy on your team, the guy in the other seat of the plane, or the guy who was just a sound on the radio, speaking a little more rapidly and at a higher fundamental pitch than his conversational voice.

It was never for nothing. 

Saturday Matinee 2013 047: Fortress (2012, DVD)

fortressDVDWe spend a lot of time inveighing against low-budget films that depend on CGI. See for example, our review of Age of Heroes (2011): “Guys, if the only CGI you can afford is sucky CGI, skip it and spend the money on a week-long bender instead. At least the bartenders will love you.” Or 1939:Battle of Westerplatte: “CGI is used extensively, and it’s generally bad to dreadful.” Or Tae Guk Gi. You get the idea. Can you do a good film on a low budget? Fortress is the answer to that question. It has believable and distinct characters, great acting from previous unknowns, a credible plot, an excellent script both in story and dialog, and is set in an underserved, as it were, campaign, at an understudied time of the war.

We liked it. We liked it a lot. We actually used it to clear Kid’s brain of the trauma from watching the Worst Movie We Have Ever Seen, Hypothermia, a horror flick set on a Maine lake that had one thing too few — a Steven King story without Steven King is the very definition of hubris – and two too many — a “monster” that was a guy in a latex suit, à la 1952 Japanese horror films, and a climax in which the Last Surviving Humans negotiate with and appease the voracious thing. (Imagine Jaws, without the M1 and air tank and plus a soliloquy about the Chief’s respect for the fish’s place in the wondrous panoply of nature).

That would have put Kid off movies forever (and he already spends too much time on video games and homework, the other two corners of his triangular existence). So instead, we watched Fortress together, and he learned a little bit about World War II in the air, and cinema appreciation.

Fortress-CGI-headonFortress opens slowly — for a minute or two, with a glimpse of a North African setting. You get a single expository graphic that tells you why American heavy bombers — B-17E and -F models — and their ten-man crews are flying from just-seized North Africa against Italy, where they meet stiff resistance from flak and Luftwaffe fighters. Then you’re suddenly pulled up through the floor of a B-17F Lucky Lass in an incredible effects shot, and thrown in amongst its crew as they fight for their country, and their lives, but mostly for each other, in a raid on Gerbini, Italy.

The fight is dramatic and graphic without the fetishistic, disturbed violence of a Tarantino film: it’s more realistic. And the end, the ship is barely intact and the crew is, well, not… and you, the viewer, feel their losses just as you felt their fear as flak riddled the plane and fighters screamed in for the kill. The tactics are realistic: fighters did indeed single out any straggler, just as lions on the Serengeti mercilessly prowl the edge of the herds of wildebeest or zebra, culling the weak, the halt and the lame.

On the ground, we meet new characters: three replacements for the crewmen lost in the first raid. But the Lass herself is on the bubble, and the crew must draw a max effort out of a maintenance chief and crew who are already beyond max effort.

Several seeming subplots and side effects drive the script along. When the pilot alone likes the native Berber roast goat, it will have effect later on; when a sandstorm sweeps through the aviators’ camp, it brings consequences in its wake. Reputations are lost, or made; friendships are formed and snuffed out.

Fortress-CGIThe normal (and war-weary) trope of the Hollywood Slice of America Squad is turned on its head; the original crew are bonded, in part, because they all happen to be Irish, and the Lucky Lass’s nose art, which is just “there” and never dwelt on, is a pinup overlaid on a green four-leaf clover. The replacements are not Irish — copilot Michael Schmidt, who has difficulty fitting in, is an abstemious, serious Lutheran farm boy — and this is one more obstacle to them bonding with the crew. The skipper, Wally, tells Mike not to worry: when the flak is heavy, everyone will forget any differences. “So, I need to pray for flak?” Mike asks with an eyebrow raised. Wally comments on the irony and shrugs — perhaps it doesn’t make any sense, perhaps it does, but there it is, either way. Moments like this make Fortress soar above the usual low-budget independent film. It’s gripping, but not an ordeal; sentimental, but not mawkish.

Acting and Production

You’re not going to see marquee names here, unless your marquee has Bug Hall (who plays new copilot Mike Schmidt) or Donnie Jeffcoat (Wally). You are going to see professional actors who have been working steadily (Hall, for instance, since childhood) and give a life to their characters that a big name probably couldn’t.

Most of the actors are young, and that makes them far more effective in this kind of film than forty-something Hollywood stars would have been. (Indeed, the original crews were in their teens and twenties, younger than the Fortress actors).

The film punches far above its budgetary weight, thanks primarily to a lively and accurate script and a lot of attention to detail by all concerned.

Accuracy and Weapons

The film is generally historically accurate. Where there are deviations, they are less in the key facts, or even in the minute details of the aircraft, weapons and equipment, but more in small anachronisms in the script. For example, there’s a reference to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which was some 20 years in the future (the World War II reference would have been to the Manual for Courts-Martial). On the other hand, the movie had a pitch-perfect ear for the strange dichotomy between the Air Corps’ official policy of officer/enlisted nonfraternization and the reality of tight bonds between all ranks of an aircrew, which continued on the ground as in the air. 


To make this model, the Paul K. Guillow company scaled a B-17 down 18 times and designed a wooden structure for it. For the Lucky Lass set, the upper fuselage of the model was scaled back up.

To make this model, the Paul K. Guillow company scaled a B-17 down 28 times and designed a wooden structure for it. For the Lucky Lass set, the producers scanned the model plans and scaled the upper fuselage of the model back up.

The principal weapon in the movie, and one of the stars, is none other than the Lucky Lass, which is either a CGI rendition in exterior shots or an ingenious, full-scale mockup for interiors. How ingenious? The producers acquired a 1:28 scale B-17 model and scaled it back up, producing in effect a 1:1 B-17 fuselage kit. They only built the upper fuselage, above what Guillow’s, the company whose model was used, calls the “side keels.” This rested on a stout wooden ladder frame, which rested in turn on … scrap tires.

The tires, which are of course off camera (the fullsize set was used primarily for interiors) act as springs, and when the “aircraft” was “in flight,” assistants jostled the frame to simulate turbulence and make the actors react… they jostled harder when the plane was “over the target, taking flak.” It sounds corny, and it’s delightfully low-tech, but it worked.

Not all the interior details of the plane are accurate, because there has to be enough space to film what’s going on, and it’s hard to frame shots if you’re shooting through a mass of mechanical items and hydraulic tubing.

The firing is realistic, in most cases, although sometimes the CGI flak and light AA is a bit thick. This was Rome, as bad as an air raid on Rome was, not Berlin.

A few of the maneuvers are a bit over the top, but we’re not willing to say no B-17 crew ever did them.

The CGI is among the best we’ve ever seen. The aerial combat scenes have a resemblance to those in the History Channel TV show Dogfights, apparently because the same technology was used. (Director Mike Phillips was a producer of that show, and scriptwriter Adam Klein has worked with Phillips before). But the aviation scenes where the CGI is a little “off” are not the combat scenes, but the takeoffs.

We did wonder if their CGI Fortress was a little narrow in the cockpit area, as we thought the Guillow’s model was, but we’re not certain. Places where the CGI doesn’t quite work include some of the aerial shots of the camp, the sandstorm, which will be very unimpressive to any vet of a real haboob, and that sort of thing. But it’s nothing like the lame CGI that has kneecapped so many excellent Chinese and Korean movies — even at its worst, it’s better than that

The bottom line

Fortress is a history lesson, a drama, and a hell of a lot of fun. Supposedly these guys had to go direct-to-DVD because they couldn’t get distribution after a very long period of trying, which is a crying shame. Due to salty GI language, they probably couldn’t have gotten it on TV which would seem to us like its natural home. We’d urge each of you to go out and buy a copy for the following reasons:

  1. It’s pretty damn good.
  2. It’s inexpensive entertainment.
  3. Mike Phillips’s direction was good, and he deserves to be rewarded.
  4. We don’t know Adam Klein from, well, Adam, but if this is the quality of script he writes, we damned well ought to.
  5. The (mostly young) actors are good.

If you’re penurious or just plain cheap, perhaps Netflix or Amazon streaming has it — or soon will. If you make it to the end — and we can’t really see why you might not — it’s worth hanging in there for the credits, which with Pythonesque humor inform you, among other things, that “No B-17s were harmed during the making of this film.”

The Last Toast of the Doolittle Raiders

The last toast - doolittle raiders

Saylor (with cane), Cole, cadet, the goblets, cadet, Thatcher, historian CV Glines.

It was a daring raid, militarily a tiny pinprick but psychologically a tremendous blow — and to thinking Japanese officers, a warning that their Empire had no roof, and a harbinger of the devastation that the 20th Air Force would bring to their nation, even as Navy submarines starved Japan literally of food, and figuratively of war materials. A small force of medium bombers, launched improbably from the aircraft carrier Hornet, bombed Tokyo and other Japanese cities, shocking the Japanese public as much as the military government.

Last week, the few survivors still able — Doolitte’s Crew #1 copilot, then-lieutenant Richard ColeCrew 15 flight engineer, then-sergeant Ed Saylor who would retire as a Lt. Colonel, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo author Ted Lawson’s Crew 7 “The Ruptured Duck” engineer/gunner then-sergeant David Thatcher, sipped brandy from a ceremonial bottle that Doolittle had sourced some sixty years ago. The tradition was that the last man standing would drink the bottle; in the 1940s no one expected four of the raid survivors to survive into their 90s. (The fourth, Crew 16 “Bat out of Hell” co-pilot then-2nd-Lt. Robert Hite, who was captured by the Japanese after the raid, was too unwell to attend; he participated from home).

“May they rest in peace,” Lt. Col. Richard Cole, 98, said before he and fellow Raiders — Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, 93, and Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, 92 — sipped cognac from specially engraved silver goblets. The 1896 cognac was saved for the occasion after being passed down from Doolittle.

Hundreds invited to the ceremony, including family members of deceased Raiders, watched as the three each called out “here” as a historian read the names of all 80 of the original airmen.

The fourth surviving Raider, Lt. Col. Robert Hite, 93, couldn’t travel to Ohio because of health problems.

But son Wallace Hite said his father, wearing a Raiders blazer and other traditional garb for their reunions, made his own salute to the fallen with a silver goblet of wine at home in Nashville, Tenn., earlier in the week.

via World War II’s surviving Doolittle Raiders make final toast | Fox News.

The ceremony was held at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, where the silver cups — one for each Raider, upright for the living, inverted for the deceased — have long been kept. Dayton, of course, was also home of the Wright Brothers. Next month it will be 110 years since the Wrights’ first flight and what a century-plus it has been. These last few warriors of the Second World War, whose mortal end is so near, have written their names in the books of immortality with their daring feat. May they be remembered as long as men gather to tell stories of valor and triumph.

For more information on the Doolittle Raiders, the above news story has an overview, but a fully rich experience is available at their own website, maintained by Raider son Tood Joyce, which, with this last reunion over, is declaring Mission Complete. Ave atque vale from the admiring groundpounders at

Allied Air Raids Still Terrify the Ruhr

British_HC_Bomb_Mk1The reports in the US press were fairly vague, but suggest that a 4,000 lb bomb was found in Dortmund in the Ruhr. This bomb was a 4,000 lb. HC “cookie” dropped from a Bomber Command Lancaster, Halifax or Wellington some dark night, probably in 1943. The bomb was a demolition bomb in a thin sheet metal shell, which was one of Bomber Command’s staples. (Even the light plywood Mosquito could be rigged to carry a Cookie). The image to the left is a schematic of the MkI Cookie (there were at least seven marks of the bomb), and as usual for this blog, it embiggens with a click.

The designation, 4,000 lb., was the bomb’s all-up weight. Of that, over 3,000 lb. was HE filling, and the other half-ton-minus was casing, structure (most marks of Cookie had an internal stressed structural “spine,” called “beam” in the graphic), arrangements for fuzing, and a nose-cap. The nose-cap is conical on the MkI, and was domed on later Marks; bombs that have hit the ground usually have no evidence of the sheet-steel nose cap, especially if they’ve lain around for years. (The Dortmund bomb did have a domed nose-cap).

German authorities safely defused a huge bomb left over from World War II after evacuating large parts of the western city of Dortmund on Sunday.

About 20,000 people were taken to safety before explosives experts moved in to defuse the unexploded 4,000-pound bomb that was discovered by analyzing old aerial photographs.

The bomb was dropped by Allied aircraft over the Ruhr region — a key industrial center for the Nazis’ war machine.

While unexploded World War II-era bombs are regularly discovered in Germany, they are rarely as big as this one.

via German authorities defuse huge WWII bomb after evacuations | Fox News.

Unfortunately, we’re on the road and unable to grab references off the shelves, or we’d have some more on this interesting, historical weapon.

Some historical background

Given the (real, not “pickle-barrel” propaganda) capabilities of World War II bombing, especially the night bombing preferred by German and British bombers, these were minute-of-metropolitan-area weapons. American bombers held tighter to the fiction that they were bombing military targets exclusively than the British cousins did, but through 1943 even British raids were targeted ostensibly on military-industrial objectives. At first, solo bombers navigated individually to the target and chose their own aiming points — if they could see them. Later, elite Pathfinders used radio aids to navigate to the target and dropped incendiaries to set a blaze everyone else could aim for.

British Air Marshal Arthur Harris — “Bomber” Harris to the press, but “Butcher” Harris to the RAF, a nickname predating the war that the RAF was not keen to publicize — had argued rather cold-bloodedly that civilian housing was a military target, comparing the days it took to build an aircraft and the months it took to build a factory to the 18 years it took to form and educate even the most basic apprentice. But whether the British were bombing residential blocks by happenstance or by intent, they were doing far more damage to German families than German war production (German war production actually increased steadily throughout the Allied bomber offensive. It only declined when factory areas fell to Allied armies). The casualties on both sides were staggering.

The Germans did not take this lying down. The meaconed the radio aids, and built fake Pathfinder fires in empty pastureland. (This gave them a better understanding of Bomber Command accuracy than Bomber Command had). Bomber Command countered the fires with new Pathfinder flares that were designed by fireworks pyrotechnicians to hang long in the sky. When the British shifted to airborne terrain-identification radar called H2S, the Germans built a gadget (Naxos) that homed night fighters in on the radar emissions (they did this without even understanding what the emissions were, only that they came from night bombers and were a telltale of the bombers’ activity and location). They loaded the coastline with night-fighters and the Ruhrgebiet with deadly radar-guided 105mm, 88mm, and smaller rapid-firing flak batteries. But their cities were doomed by this defensive mindset — the British kept coming, despite staggering losses, and the few pinpricks the Luftwaffe returned to England were wasted in the vastness of London or Birmingham, rather than being targeted on the RAF.

Today, 70 years later, the warriors are fading, but the UXO doesn’t


With the tens of thousands of bombs dropped, the millions of pounds of explosive, and the imperfection of anything designed and built by human minds and hands, not all bombs produced the desired earth-shattering Kaboom. Not all bombs were even fused when dropped — bombers in distress customarily jettisoned all ordnance to lighten ship. Once the bomb aimer (British term for what Yanks call a bombardier) pickled, or the pilot pulled the jettison handle, the Allies lost most of their interest in the high explosives. (Apart from running bomb damage assessment reconnaissance flights the next day). So a variety of unfuzed, time-fuzed, half-fuzed, and dud-fuzed bombs were scattered all over Europe, in a loose pattern centered on the industrial Ruhr valley. Some were found and defused or blown by German sappers, but others even today lay dormant and still in the fields, and streams, and below the very streets, of today’s peaceful, friendly Germany.

Everybody inside this circle, outside…

Everybody within this circle, outside! Everybody outside, hold your ears….

The bomb defused in Dortmund last Saturday is one such. A similar 4,000-pounder turned up in Koblenz in 2011 when a drought lowered river levels; German experts blew it in place (image above right).

German papers have a great deal more information about the Dortmund bomb. Their pages are in German, of course. One local story is from The West General Newspaper (Westen Allgemeine Zeitung). Its story is called, “On the Bombsite Before Defusing”: 

From this story we learn:

  • The Arnberg regional government EOD team responded to the scene
  • Meanwhile, a large area was evacuated: 20,000 people had to leave their homes. People with nowhere to go were put up in the Westfalenhalle stadium.
  • The bomb was lifted aloft by an excavator
  • The EOD men defused the bomb

And then, presumably, 20,000 people who’d been bused out were bused back in… to homes that were still there, thanks to the stability of old British bombs, and the courage and effort of the EOD officers.

China: We can so nuke you… and win

Every picture tells a story:


This story is one China’s state-controlled media is telling its people — with its new submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and its several generations of IRBMs/ICBMs, it has a single integrated operations plan that Chinese generals expect would produce victory in a nuclear war with the United States.

Chinese ballistic missile submarine with crew manning the rail. CCTV.

Chinese ballistic missile submarine Type 094, Jin-Class, with crew manning the rail. It is armed with 12 to 16 JuLang-2 missiles. CCTV.

The red, orange and yellow shaded areas depict areas in which population would be utterly exterminated, largely killed, or merely decimated, respectively, by the effects of JL-2 SLBMs striking West Coast and western States targets. The black dots represent priority targets reachable by land-based ICBMs.

Considerations of collateral damage don’t enter into it — Chinese strategic thinkers have planned their attack to kill the maximum numbers of Americans.

As the black dots show, the generals may talk a good game about busting metropoli, but their real aim seems to be to destroy those strategic military sites China can actually hit. Some targets are out of the range fan of Chinese rocketry as of 2013. Others are too small for the Chinese systems’ CEP to guarantee a knockout.

This Chinese military photo shown on China Central TV (CCTV) is said to be the control room of a nuclear missile sub.

This Chinese military photo shown on China Central TV (CCTV) is said to be the control room of a nuclear missile sub.

An analysis of this round of Chinese saber-rattling in the Washington Times drew our attention. It cited but did not link the Chinese government-controlled website Our visit to Global Times found it thick with nuclear-submarine stories, which have never been so prominent in any of our visits before.

Not all the articles are as bellicose as the one examined in the Times. For example one GlobalTimes article, originally from the People’s Daily, reiterates a longstanding Chinese no-first-use pledge, and strikes a conciliatory tone: the Chinese developed the 094 because “the United States, Russia, Britain and France all possess modern strategic nuclear submarines as a symbol of their status as ‘Great Powers’; it is natural that China should be unwilling to lag behind.”

China nuke sub timelineBut others reverted to Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward era propaganda themes — and verbiage. Of course, if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to get Chinese people riled up, it’s hints of Japanese militarism. This report of Japanese vessels shadowing Chinese exercises hit a number of ropagandistic high points:

China’s defense ministry has lodged a solemn representation over a Japanese warship’s entering of waters where the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy was holding live-fire drills, noting the provocative move may have led to unexpected emergencies.

“The deeds of Japanese warships and aircraft not only interrupted our regular drills, but also posed safety hazards to our ships and aircraft. They may have even caused unexpected emergencies such as miscalculations and accidental damage. This is a highly dangerous provocation,” [Chinese MOD spokesman] Yang [Yujun] said.

Rear Admiral Yang Yi, former head of the Institute for Strategic Studies at the PLA National Defense University, told the Global Times that although monitoring another country’s exercise outside the drill zone is not rare, breaking into the zone goes against international common practice.

[Rear Admiral Yang Yi, former head of the Institute for Strategic Studies at the PLA National Defense University, said] “Japan intended to detect our radar frequencies and observe our techniques and tactics. Normally, if the Chinese navy accidentally hit the Japanese ship, Japan would have to take the blame, because it violated international practice by breaking into the drill zone.”

China demands Japan reflect on the incident and take concrete steps to correct its wrongdoing, said the spokesperson. “Or else, Japan should accept all the consequences,” he warned, adding China reserves the right to take further action.

Indeed, the saber-rattling may be because China is unsettled by the assertiveness of Japanese PM Shintaro Abe. This op-ed at Global Times — which is, remember, an official, government publication — explicitly threatens war:

Should one drone of China be fired upon, hostility between Beijing and Tokyo will be fully activated and the situation of Northeast Asia will topple like dominoes. The outbreak of a regional war is possible. ….

China has not been involved in war for a long time but a war looms following Japan’s radical provocation. China’s comprehensive military power, including the navy, air force and the Second Artillery Force of the PLA, is stronger than Japan’s. Once a war breaks out, China will also be able to bear the economic blow better than Japan.

Chinese Type 094 boomer under way

The Second Artillery Force is what the Chinese call their strategic missile service. Its land-based ICBMs, like China’s seagoing SLBMs, are believed to be targeted primarily on the USA. And this Sino-Japanese saber rattling might just explain the Chinese media’s sudden interest in discussing the previously camera- and microphone-shy nuclear missile submarines. Here’s the lines we cut from the above quote (where the ellipses are):

Although the US’ support to Japan is obvious, it’s uncertain how the US will interfere. There is too much variance concerning where a China-Japan military clash will go.

It’s hard to read this as anything but a brush-back pitch to try to keep the USA paralyzed while China deals with its ancestral enemy across the South China Sea.

Is China bluffing?

Before we get to that question, there’s another. Will the US act in support of an ally that gets in a jam? Mr Abe might find some insights in a discussion with Hosni Mubarak.

Another scandal with security information and Lady Gaga

Misiewicz aboard shipYou may remember that Bradley Manning, the swishy, troubled intelligence analyst now doing a long sentence in Leavenworth,  copied classified files for distribution while lip-synching to Lady Gaga. We don’t know what it is with the autotune star and blowing off one’s oath of office, but it looks like fandom is not working out well for another serviceman, this one in the Navy.

A high profile U.S. Navy commander has been charged with accepting paid travel, the services of prostitutes and Lady Gaga concert tickets from a Singapore-based defense contractor in exchange for classified information according to federal prosecutors.

Commander Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz, who was born in Cambodia during the Vietnam War and gained media attention for his rise to captain of a U.S. Navy destroyer, has been arrested on federal bribery charges – in what some are calling the worst scandal to hit the Navy in decades.

Also taken into custody and charged in criminal complaints unsealed in U.S. district court in San Diego were Leonard Glenn Francis, the CEO of Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd, and John Bertrand Beliveau II, a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

via Navy hit with bribery scandal as high profile commander charged with accepting Lady Gaga tickets and prostitutes in exchange for classified information | Mail Online.

Whatever happens to Misiewicz, he’s unlikely to end up like Manning, who is now acting out his Lady Gaga fantasies underneath some axe murderer in Leavenworth. BEcause if there’s one principle that’s the foundation of military justice system, it’s “different spanks for different ranks.” But Misiewicz’s career is over. Even if it’s all some collossal mistake, he has Brought Bad Publicity, which is the nearest thing to an unforgivable sin the Naval Service offers.

The investigation could be much larger. Glenn Defense Marine Asia is the company accused of bribing Misiewicz; its CEO Francis, and manager for government contracts Alex Wisidigama, are in custody after being lured to a bogus San Diego meeting that turned out to be a pretext for their arrest. Glenn Defense seems to have charged much higher than market rates for its services to the US Navy for 25 years, suggesting that other officers — perhaps including Misiewicz’s predecessors as deputy ops officer of the Pacific-spanning 7th Fleet — have also been doing the “pro quo,” which has to have NCIS looking for the “quid.”

Speaking of NCIS, despite the incredibly phony TV show, it doesn’t exactly have a reputation for investigative excellence, a situation that will not be helped by the presence of one of its own in the dock.

The Washington Post explained how that came to happen:

Court documents allege that Francis was receiving regular tip-offs from inside the agency about the state of investigations. The information, prosecutors say, was being supplied by John B. Beliveau II, a onetime NCIS agent of the year, who was arrested at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Southeast Washington on the same day that Misiewicz was taken into custody.

[H]e fed Francis confidential information about pending criminal investigations into Glenn Defense Marine….

In return… Francis supplied Beliveau with prostitutes and free travel, including a three-week trip to five Asian countries.

The Post also identified at least one other officer who may be involved in the long-running scheme:

Court papers make references to other, unnamed Navy officers who accepted favors from Francis, an indication that the investigation remains in its early stages.

Navy officials have identified Capt. Daniel Dusek, former commander of the USS Bonhomme Richard, as another target of the investigation. He has not been charged, but the Navy relieved him of command Oct. 2, citing the investigation.

Dusek, who remains under suspension, declined to comment through a Navy spokesman.

No word on what Dusek’s connexion to Lady Gaga is. If there isn’t one, he’s probably not guilty.

FMI: Daily Mail story.


Air-to-air combat drones?

This image, from Tom Cooper's collection, purports to show a North Viet MiG in the camera of an AQM-34.

This image, from Tom Cooper’s collection, purports to show a North Viet MiG-21F captured up-close by the camera of an AQM-34, from an interception other than the ones discussed here.

Supposedly, the armed services are working hard to make air-to-air and air-to-ground capable drones. There’s a lot of futurism, sponsored by a lot of defense contractors, talking about the day some drone will down a manned plane.

That ship, it turns out, has already sailed. In a 2003 online article by Tom Cooper at the Air Combat Information Group, we learn:

In May 1970, an AQM-34L was on a mission over Hanoi area, acting as a manned reconnaissance aircraft. Finishing its photo-run, the drone turned toward the Tonking Gulf, where it was to ditch after spending its remaining fuel. Almost everything was going according to plan – down to one detail: the drone was intercepted by an MiG-21 of the 921st FR. The fighter closed and tried to shot it down by two K-13/AA-2 Atoll air-to-air missiles. Both malfunctioned however, and the Vietnamese continued the pursuit, trying to down the drone by tackling its wing. By doing so, the SRVAF-pilot forgot to control his fuel reserves: after the drone fell harmlessly into the sea, he found out that he had not enough fuel to return to base. The Vietnamese ejected while flying back toward the coast. This was the first air-to-air kill scored by an unmanned aircraft in the history of air warfare.

AQM-34L on display in the USAFM, now closed to punish Americans for not voting for more Democrats. This one was damaged by a SAM and recovered by the Navy.

AQM-34L on display in the USAFM,  closed right now to punish Americans for not voting for more Democrats. This one was damaged by a SAM and recovered by the Navy.

The AQM-34L was an advanced (for the day) reconnaissance version of the Ryan Firebee, which had been designed as a target to emulate fast jets. It had no landing gearl; it was usually launched by a modified C-130 and deployed a parachute at the end of its flight. It could be snatched in the air by a helicopter with a special trapeze that snagged the chute, and winched aboard; or it touched down on land or water, where it deployed flotation bags and waited patiently for pickup.

A CH-3 has recovered an AQM-34 after a successful flight. Note mission markings and long-range fuel tanks.

A CH-3 has recovered an AQM-34 after a successful flight. Note mission markings and long-range fuel tanks.

There’s no word on whether the North Vietnamese jet jockey in question survived (always a question with the MiG-21′s seat, which often saved a pilot’s life but broke his back). Unlike the MiG, the jet drone recovered safely and flew again. Further to bedevil the Sons of Ho Chi Minh and their MiGs:

This drone was salvaged and it continued its interesting carrier. On 9 March 1971 it was on a photo-run, most probably over the SRVAF’s Tho Xuan AB, when intercepted by two MiG-21s. Manoeuvring behind the drone, one of Vietnamese pilots „finally“ acquired the target and fired an K-13/AA-2 missile. A direct hit was scored – however, not on the drone but on the leader of the Vietnamese section, flown by pilot Luong Duc Truong, who was killed. Only several weeks later the same drone flew straight into fierce Vietnamese air defence fire and was simultaneously intercepted by an MiG-21 of the SRVAF. While the drone came away the unlucky MiG-pilot experienced the excellent marksmanship of his colleagues on the ground: he was shot down. By the end of 1971, the same drone „scored“ two further „kills“, becoming the actual first US air-combat „ace“ of the Vietnam War!

SA-2 Guidline (Dvina) in action.

SA-2 Guidline (Dvina) in action.

The drones were also sent on suicide missions to draw enemy SAM fire. The SA-2 Guideline, high-tech workhorse of the People’s Army of Vietnam Air Defense Forces, was a two-stage missile evolved from late WWII German experiments, and was the scourge of air attacks on North Vietnam and, later, Laos. (Here’s a technical report on the missile from Air Power Australia). The fighter-bombers and Wild Weasels (special aircraft for what is now called the suppression of enemy air defenses) evolved many tactics for dealing with them, and the B-52s, once then engaged in 1972, used electronic countermeasures. The SAMs could be defeated by nap-of-the-air flight, but that put aircraft into range of the heaviest concentrations of flak ever assembled. So it seemed like a natural idea to get the North Vietnamese and their Russian SAM donors to waste their missiles on relatively inexpensive drones instead of expensive jets stuff with priceless crewmen.

Some of the drones of the AQM-34 series finished the war packed with ALQ-51 „Shoehorn“ ECM-system and acting as baits for Vietnamese SAM-defences. One of them supposedly managed to drew – and avoid – no less but eleven SA-2 before being shot down. It’s log book was finished with words: „Success! The drone didn’t came back from the mission!“

Drone missions continued past the end of US involvement in Vietnam. Almost 600 of them were lost on operations (more than half to known shootdowns or simple disappearance). The Chinese on Hainan Island were particularly keen on intercepting and shooting down the drones, and appear to have had better luck than their communist cousins across the Gulf of Tonkin.

The operations themselves were hazardous to the drones, even without interception or missiles. Over 80 of that 600 were lost during recovery operations, after completing their mission but before delivering their data, which might have been photographs ,radar traces, radio intercepts, or any imaginable combination of sensors. One unlucky drone had completed its mission and was forming up on its control aircraft (a DC-130) when a pair of Navy F-4 crews got a bad case of buck fever and shot it down, mistaking it for a MiG attacking the Hercules.

But almost 3,000 drone missions over denied areas in Southeast Asia were successfully completed.

These feats were all accomplished on a drone platform with 1950s aeronautical technology and 1960s electronics: all analog, no digital. They used Doppler radar and LORAN for navigation and could fly a preset route or be controlled by pilots aboard the launch aircraft.

End of the Line: F-111 Aardvark/Pig

Australian F-111C in burner

Australian F-111C in burner

Once one of the most controversial aircraft to grace the sky, the last operational variant of the first variable-geometry warplane went out of business back at the start of this month, with the very last flying example being cut up to be shipped to a museum.

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has bid a final farewell to its last remaining F-111, which is being taken from Amberley base, west of Brisbane, to Hawaii.

The much-loved fighter bomber had its wings clipped ahead of its last journey to the Pacific Air Museum at Pearl Harbour.

Wing Commander Clive Wells has managed the disposal of all the Air Force’s F-111s.

“It’s quite an historic day from an Air Force perspective particularly for the guys who’ve worked on the F-111 … to see the last one just about to depart,” he said.

The RAAF originally purchased 43 F-111s.

Fate of most Australian F-111s. Due to asbestos content, they were only available to on-base museums.

Fate of most Australian F-111s. Due to asbestos content,  only a few were given to museums, and only on-base museums. The rest of the fleet? Wings and engines were sold for scrap, the fuselages buried.

Eight crashed, 23 were buried, and the remainder have been put on display in defence establishments and museums around Australia.

via Air Force bids farewell to final F-111 as it leaves for Pacific Air Museum – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

The F-111 was the plane which flew for the halting and jerky development of the precision-guided-weapon tactics that would win the initial phase of the US Afghan war. While its own night and all-weather bombing equipment was state of the art in the 1960s, by the 1980s F-11F crews, and their Australian F-111C and later -G counterparts, were working on beacon bombing and hitting targets marked with ground laser designators.


‘Dump and Burn’ — a RAAF airshow stunt, not a Federal Reserve policy….

There was nothing quite like having an Aardvark go over your head at Mach .9+ and nought feet, on its way to pickle on your beacon or GLD paint. Its mighty turbofans shook the earth, and as it came off the target in burner it left streaks in the sky — these missions always took place at night. With relatively crude Paveway laser-guided bombs, and dumb bombs dropped on a beacon offset, the F-111 was a vital long-range, precision-strike weapon. The Australians one-upped the plane’s American inventors with a flaming fuel-dump display at airshows.

The office -- state of the art, circa President Kennedy. (This is an RAAF plane, photographed circa 1978). Pilot sits left, WSO/Navigator right

The office — state of the art, circa President Kennedy. (This is an RAAF plane, photographed circa 1978). Pilot sits left, WSO/Navigator right.

The F-111 had a troubled gestation, forced down the services’ throats by Robert S. Macnamara. The General Dynamics (ex-Convair) version of the design flunked every competitive evaluation against a Boeing competitor, but was selected, reportedly because Macnamara wanted to curry favor with LBJ: the President and General Dynamics were both Texans, after all. The jets’ first combat rotation in Vietnam ended in ignominious withdrawal after two ships lawn-darted fatally due to a terrain-following-system glitch. The jets went through several different intake designs, each one solving some old problems and introducing new ones. But in time, the plane became a reasonably successful combat ship, particularly in the 1986 strike on Libya (Operation El Dorado Canyon, see also Walter Boyne in Air Force Magazine) and in Desert Storm.

One of the plane's Rube Goldberg features was its Escape Module -- the entire cockpit was capable of blasting off and saving the crew.

One of the plane’s Rube Goldberg features was its Escape Module — the entire cockpit was capable of blasting off and saving the crew.

Australia is in a bit of a jam without the ‘Varks, as they had a 3500-mile range on internal fuel. It’s somewhat academic, perhaps: unlike the well-blooded American ‘Varks, the antipodean ones never saw combat. The RAAF is going to develop aerial tanking capability to get a sort of feeble simulacrum of the lost 111 capability with its sole remaining combat type, the F-18 Hornet. The Hornets are scheduled to be replaced with F-35 Lightnings, but the Australians are watching the F-35′s spiraling cost with dismay. Neither the Hornets nor the Lightnings can match the 111 for range and armament payload; but the 1960s-vintage jets were too costly to maintain.

Whose German Scientists?

The dean of our German scientists, Dr Ing Wernher von Braun.

The dean of our German scientists, Dr Ing Wernher von Braun.

In the Alistair MacLean novel Ice Station Zebra, and indeed in one of the scenes preserved in the necessarily snappier film adaptation, the British scientist (portrayed by Patrick McGoohan, not playing a spy for a change) observed:

The Russians put our camera made by our German scientists and your film made by your German scientists into their satellite made by their German scientists.

The Cold War thriller assumed facts that everybody suspected to be true, but nobody without a security clearance really knew: that Russian technology had gotten a similar boost from captive Germans as American had from acquiring Walter Dornberger and Wernher von Braun and their rocket team.

Over the years, it became possible to guess from Russian advances that we’d gotten the head start in rocket guidance and program management that led to manned space and surface-to-surface missiles. The Russians had gotten some real talent in rocket engine, jet turbine, and turboprop design (to this day, their engines generally have more thrust than their western equivalents). They also got a jump in air-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles; the Germans had operationalized the first (with which they sunk a number of Allied ships) and were close to operational on the latter at war’s end.

Fortunately, it’s no longer that necessary to guess. The National Security Agency has declassified an internal magazine article about German contributions to the Russian missile effort. Some ideas that we took away from this:

  • Ivan didn’t really trust his Germans much, and the ones taken to Russia were soon frozen out of design work and shipped home, except for guidance men, who probably took longer to develop good Russian understudies.
  • As far as we can tell, none of the Germans became naturalized Soviet citizens.
  • The use of these scientists was completely covert; the soviet public never heard their names.
  • The scientists were of more help in shaking down processes and overcoming specific logjams than in overall design. The Soviets had their own talent.

But you don’t need to take our word for it. Read The Whole Thing™: early_history_soviet_missile [.pdf]

One would assume — and the writer of the undated NSA document assumes — the the Soviets’ German scientists were pressganged into service. In fact, they seem to have been recruited, using a blandishment that the US ARmy had taken off the table for its Germans: the ability to stay in Germany. In 2003, Anatoly Zak, in Air and Space magazine, explained:

When I met [former Soviet officer Boris] Chertok in Moscow last year, …. his memory of events that took place half a century earlier was still vivid. He recalled the scramble in 1945 as he and his colleagues tried, with little success, to lure top German talent to the Soviet side. His emissaries made risky dashes into the American zone, approaching the rocket specialists with offers of hefty salaries, food rations, and—most importantly—the opportunity to stay in Germany. That was one of the few battles von Braun and his colleagues had lost in negotiating with the Americans, and the Soviet recruiting campaign appealed to the Germans’ longing to remain in their homeland.

Few took the bait. One who did was Helmut Gröttrup, a physicist by training and a top expert on the V-2’s flight control system. Historians have debated why Gröttrup turned down the offer to work in the United States, suggesting that it was a combination of his leftist views and his refusal to become a bit player on von Braun’s team. Chertok thinks the primary reason was Gröttrup’s wish—and the even stronger desire of his wife Irmgard—to stay in Germany. He doesn’t discount, however, the scientist’s left-wing politics. “He was what we would call a social democrat—definitely anti-fascist,” Chertok recalls.

The deal wasn’t kept on the Russian end, and Gröttrup and his colleagurs were spirited off to the USSR the next year. It’s interesting to compare Anatoly Zak’s post-Cold-War take to the NSA’s in-progress-look on the establishment of an institute in Belicherode (which the NSA report identifies as Institut Rabe).

At the end of World War II, German military technology was in several fields the most advanced in the world. They had world-leading small arms, tanks, aircraft, and entire new categories of guided weapons and missiles that the Allies were far from operationalizing. It did them almost no good at all. The Allies had vast quantities of stuff that was, in many cases, not as good; the German innovations were not enough to stem the logistical tide that buried the would-be  thousand-year empire. (Not that that outcome is a bad thing, considering the nature of the empire; but we’re prospecting for lessons learned here).

And what happened to the inventions? And even the inventors like Gröttrup and von Braun? If you lose the war, your enemies get them. QED.


Even if it weren’t Friday, it would be just plain wrong to mention the good Herr Doktor without sharing Tom Lehrer’s musical character study:

Air Force snubs Vietnam KIAs; vets and civilians step up

James Sizemore, RIP

James Sizemore, RIP

James Sizemore and Howard Andre were either busting trucks or supporting a SOG recon team along the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos on 8 July 1969 — the records aren’t clear — when their B-26 was hit by ground fire and went straight in. Over four decades later, their remains came home. Then came the snub: the Air Force, playing along with DC political budget games, helped the President make a few points against Congress (or is it the other way round?) by denying the two fallen heroes a fly-over at their funeral.

So, eight civilian pilots stepped up, putting up $24,000 of their own money, not to mention their own aircraft and time. And the two recovered men, once carried as MIAs, got something even the Air Force couldn’t give them now: a flyover by the same type they flew in combat, died in, and were interred in for 44 years: a B-26.  Fox’s Jennifer Griffin explains:

Howard V. Andre. That's a B-26 behind him (and Sizemore).

Howard V. Andre. That’s a B-26 behind him (and Sizemore).

[O]nce the burial was scheduled at Arlington, the Air Force told their families the U.S. government could not afford to honor the men with a traditional flyover due to budget cuts.

“Following numerous requests to volunteer units, the Air Force is unable to support the flyover request for Major Sizemore due to limited flying hours and budget constraints,” Air Force spokesman Captain Rose Richeson wrote in a statement.

Is it actually the same Air Force that produced a James Sizemore (who has several relatives who became distinguished combat aviators) and Howard Andre, that now coughs up a hairball named Rose Richeson? But some guys didn’t just bitch about it like we do around here: they did something.

This is the plane in which Sizemore and Andre lost their lives (exact tail number).

This is the plane in which Sizemore and Andre lost their lives (exact tail number). Pics from Bill Paisley’s blog, Instapinch.

That’s when a group of volunteer pilots from the non-profit Warrior Flight Team ( stepped in and agreed to fly in formation above the Arlington ceremony in their own planes, on their own dime.

Eight civilian pilots honored the veterans, arranging permission from the Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service, and FAA with an aerial tribute above Washington.

They even flew a Douglas A26 Invader – the same plane that the two friends from Georgia were flying when they were shot down 44 years ago. It was flanked by 2 P51 Mustangs.

The estimated fuel cost: of fuel alone for the ceremonial flyover is more than $24,000.

“We’re here today to honor some fallen veterans,” said retired Air Force Brigadier General Jeff Johnson, who flew over Arlington as part of the ceremony. “Do I feel like those two heroes deserved a flyover? Yes, I do, and that’s why we did what did today.”

“I would hope somebody would come after me,” said [Retired Marine Lt. Col. art] Nalls [who flew an L-39 in the tribute]. That means a lot to the individual service member to know that you’re not going to be left behind.”

via Vietnam-era fliers buried side-by-side at Arlington | Fox News.

The pilots were all veterans themselves.

This is the flyover B26, painted as a WWII A26 but the same airframe.

This is the flyover B26, painted as a WWII A26 but the same airframe.

Sizemore and Andre’s wreck site was excavated, and their remains recovered, last year. A previous analysis of MIA and KIA/BNR cases prepared by the Joint Personnel Recovery Center and widely reproduced on the net tells the tale of their loss:

On 8 July 1969, Major James E. Sizemore, pilot; and Major Howard V. Andre, Jr., navigator; comprised the crew of an B26A that departed Nakhon Phanom Airfield in a flight on an evening armed reconnaissance mission. After spotting enemy personnel on the ground deep in enemy held territory, the Invader made a strafing pass on a communist target entrenched in the rugged jungle covered mountains on the north side of a mountain range. The aircraft was struck by ground fire, continued downward and exploded immediately upon impact with the ground. This region was a hotbed of communist activity with rich rice fields to the north of the enemy target. The area of loss was also surrounded by various sized villages nestled in the mountains in Xiangkhouang Province, Laos.

The crash site was located approximately 2 kilometers southeast of Ban Chaho, 3 kilometers south of Phou Khe, and 13 kilometers southwest of Ban Thuang. It was also 20 miles northeast of the major CIA facility at Long Tieng Airfield, 45 miles west of the closest point on the Lao/North Vietnamese border and 99 miles north-northeast of the Lao capital of Vientiane.

Because of the location of loss in an area under total enemy control, no ground search was possible. An electronic search, however, commenced immediately. At the time the B26A was downed, no parachutes were seen. Likewise, no emergency beepers were heard. When the formal search was terminated, both Howard Andre and James Sizemore were listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

That’s our military these days — bottomless funds for in-Beltway SES drones, for Assistant Diversity Coordinators and PR flacks, and not a dime to pay respects to the combat dead. But it’s not the first time vets have had to step up and do it ourselves.

A note on terminology: during World War II, the Army Air Corps (later Army Air Forces) distinguished between medium bombers and lighter “attack” aircraft used in such tactical roles as close air support and lines-of-communications interdiction. In the last years of the war, the Douglas A-26 Invader replaced the same company’s lighter, slower A-20 Havoc as the Army’s main twin-engine attack plane. Another airplane made by the Glenn Martin company on the other side of the country was called the B-26 Marauder. After the war, the Army (later Air Force) simplified and rationalized its fleet even as it downsized. All the Marauders, a powerful but hard-to-fly airplane, were scrapped, and the A-designation was dropped for a while. The A-26 was renumbered B-26 and served under that name in Korea and Vietnam. (It was actually brought back from the boneyard for Vietnam). As a result, even official documents are often wobbly on the nomenclature of the Douglas Invader. – Eds.