Category Archives: Air and Naval Weapons

Nuclear Attack, for Real (Nagasaki)

"Bockscar" at the USAFM in Dayton, OH (it embiggens)

“Bockscar” at the USAFM in Dayton, OH (it embiggens)

This is Los Alamos National Labs’ archive film of the “Fat Man” atomic bomb as dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945. It comes to us via the Restricted Data1 channel on YouTube.

To us one of the most salient discoveries is that you can’t nuke a city without duct tape, or as we called it in the Army, “100-mile-an-hour tape.” Bockscar was probably traveling at well over 100 (over 200 in fact) indicated airspeed when it released Fat Man, but Fat Man still had the seam around his nose sealed with the ubiquitous tape. (At about 0:40 in the video).

The author of the RD Channel, Alex Wellerstein, describes it like this:

This silent film shows the final preparation and loading of the “Fat Man” bomb into “Bockscar,” the plane which dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. It then shows the Nagasaki explosion from the window of an observation plane. This footage comes from Los Alamos National Laboratory. I have not edited it in any way from what they gave me except to improve the contrast a little — it is basically “raw.” I have annotated it with some notes on the bombing and what you can see — feel free to disable the annotations if you don’t want them.

He also maintains an excellent blog, of the same title, at this location: Further details on the Nagasaki raid —  and this video — at the Nuclear Secrecy Blog. Do read the comments as, with a couple of exceptions, Alex’s blog, like this one, benefits from an informed and thoughtful commentariat.

Elsewhere on his blog, he also addressed a historical mysterywhy was Kokura, home to Kokura Arsenal known to every collector of Japanese firearms, and Fat Man’s primary target, spared; whilst Nagasaki, the secondary target, was destroyed?2

Terrain model of Kokura Arsenal, the primary target. Saved by 10/10 obscuration on the day of the raid.

Terrain model of Kokura Arsenal, the primary target. Saved by 10/10 obscuration on the day of the raid. (USAAF official via Nuclear Secrecy blog).

His cautious conclusion: while there’s a case for obscuration due to an earlier fire-bombing raid on an upwind city, and a case for deliberate obscuration by Japanese defensive measures, two of which possible measures he describes. Ultimately, he concludes:

In the end, it doesn’t really matter which of these things happened. The bare fact is that Kokura didn’t get bombed and Nagasaki did. But I find looking into these kinds of questions useful as a historian. Too often it is easy to take for granted that the explanations given in narrative works of history are “settled,” when really they are often resting on very thin evidence, thinner perhaps than the historian who writes them realizes. I don’t think we really know what happened at Kokura, and I’m not sure we ever truly will.

His first sentence reminds us of something we say to people who have disturbing memories or survivor’s guilt: “In combat, there’s no right or wrong, there’s just what happened and what you did.”

Alex’s is an elegant and responsible historical blog — much recommended.


Littoral Combat Ship Live-Fire Defense Test

First, the good: one of the embattled ships, USS Coronado, successfully defended itself against single and “swarm” attacks by inflatable boats using its only working onboard weapons, 57mm and 30mm guns. LCS is also supposed to mount defensive AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, of Apache helo and Predator drone fame, but as with almost all LCS capabilities, the Navy’s years behind schedule and millions over budget, with no schedule beyond “real soon now.”

Next, some early tests of the navalized Hellfire Longbow system, from last summer. Long way to go to integrate with LCS, but the missiles did hit and kill moving (but nonmaneuvering) speedboat targets.

Now comes the analysis. This post by Syd Freedberg should bring you up to speed on the Navy’s and Director of Test and Evaluation’s conflicting claims about a critical report on the nearly-defenseless ship’s ability to defend itself.

The largest “raid” that has been presented to LCS to date is three boats, of which one got through.

Of course, this is apart from the ship’s deficiencies in sensors and propulsion.

Of course, focusing on the US Navy as we do, we sometimes lose track of the fact that this stuff is hard to do and that our allies and competitors sometimes struggle with live fires, too. As this Russian ship demonstrated last Navy Day near the historic fortress of Sevastopol:

The ship is, despite her attractive lines, at the opposite end of her life cycle than the LCS. She is the Burvestnik (NATO: Krivak)-class frigate, Ladnyy.

Stay of Execution for the A-10 — Until 2022

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, making a virtue of necessity, has quieted a Congressional revolt by extending the final withdrawal from service of the A-10 Warthog (officially, “Thunderbolt II”), for about fifteen more years.

"But I'm not dead yet!"

“But I’m not dead yet!”

This also reflects the reality that the A-10 can deliver ordnance effectively today, and Carter’s preferred replacement, the F-35, can’t. Flight Global:

Carter confirmed that the US air force will also postpone retirement of the Fairchild Republic A-10 Warthog.

“[It] has been devastating ISIL from the air,” he says, referencing the terrorist organisation the American military is fighting in Iraq and Syria. “The budget defers the A-10’s final retirement until 2022, replacing it with F-35s on a squadron-by-squadron basis so we’ll always have enough aircraft for today’s conflicts.”

The budget proposal will also contain more money for combat operations in the Middle East, including $1.8 billion to buy approximately 45,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles to replenish stocks.

via DOD reveals ‘arsenal plane’ and microdrones in budget speech.

The A-10 news was buried deep in Carter’s budget speech; headlining it were two Hail-Mary approaches to countering the F-35’s CAS incapacity and general ground-to-air deficiencies.

The first, and more straightforward, was to use something like a C-130 or B-52 as a brainless bomb hauler to bring the ordnance, making the larger airplane essentially an extended-capacity magazine for the sparely-armed jet (and for drones with the same issue). This approach assumes that the USA will never again have to fight or deter a peer competitor, or a small nation with high-tech or saturation air defense, but that the USAF’s mission, forever more, is to bring Jesus to the heathen races, with the jet serving as a 21st Century analog of the 19th’s Maxim Gun. The “arsenal plane” would be of little use, not only against Russia, China, India or any European nation-state, but also against Third World powers with modern defense technology like Brazil, Iran, Egypt, or North Korea. (While it’s hard to imagine war breaking out with some of those nations, with others, it’s not so hard, and defense planning is — or should be — a matter of capabilities, not hopes). Carter:

It takes one of our oldest aircraft platforms, and turns it into a flying launch pad for all sorts of different conventional payloads. In practice, the arsenal plane will function as a very large airborne magazine, networked to fifth-generation aircraft that acts as forward sensor and targeting nodes – essentially combining different systems already in our inventory to create wholly new capabilities.

The second of these new technologies puts a premium on aircraft as launch platforms, and therefore arrives right at the problem the Arsenal Plane is imagined to solve: the all but absent offensive punch of the F-35.  This is the Swarm of Microdrones. These pilotless aircraft would launch from a fighter jet and then a group of them could, using their onboard artificial intelligence, team up and use swarm tactics to defeat an enemy.

Finally, the budget includes more money for R&D, and almost $2 billion to replace the 45,000 precision guided weapons that have been expended busting trucks and individual jihadis (or trying to) in the failed wars in Syria and Libya.

You might wonder, “Where do we find such men?” Carter is a Yale undergrad and Oxford PhD, who later taught at Harvard, and never considered military service because he considered it beneath him. Instead, he leveraged those educational credentials to start at the top as a political appointee. Of the previous Secretaries of Defense, he most closely resembles Robert S. Macnamara in his belief that merit is only to be found among those whose SATs or family connections got them into the Ivy League, although he lacks Macnamara’s leavening experience in the Dreaded Private Sector.

Among his other achievements, he midwifed that colossal waste of money and menace to Americans’ personal privacy, the Department of Homeland Security.

Crazy Ivan’s Back in the North Atlantic

In the 1990s, the US quit investing in its sub fleet, comfortable in its superiority, and cut its numbers back to token levels. After all, post-Soviet Russia, our principal competitor at sea, had been forced to cut back itself, and  many of its subs lay beached and waiting for scrapping.


What a difference two decades make. In the 21st Century, the Russians have emerged with new submarine designs, better than anything they’ve ever sent to sea, and the Russian Navy has reached new heights of professionalism, while the US kept cutting, both in numbers and in readiness.

We disbanded the Atlantic unified command, because some credentialed idiot in the beltway wrote a book that said there would never be wars or superpower confrontations, and the other credentialed idiots in the beltway believed him.

We now have old boats, a submarine and naval industrial base that’s become welfare-dependent and complacent, few and elderly surface and naval air antisubmarine platforms, and crews that are riven by backstabbing and near-random summary dismissals of commanders, and subjected to the cold and variable winds of social justice engineering. Our undersea capabilities have gone from dominant to nearly nonexistent, while we spend more than ever because of the inefficiencies of our top-down, politically-driven system — one more Soviet in conception and execution than that of the allegedly neo-Soviet Russians. Nicholas de Larrinaga in Jane’s Defence Weekly:

Not only are Russian submarines returning to Cold War levels of operational activity, but Russian submarines have made a major jump in technological performance, Vice Adm [Clive] Johnstone [Commander, NATO Maritime Command] said, with NATO seeing “a level of Russian capability that we haven’t seen before”.

Russia, he said, “through an extraordinary investment path not mirrored by the West” has made “technology leaps that [are] remarkable, and credit to them.” Russian submarines now “have longer ranges, they have better systems, they’re freer to operate”, he said. The alliance has also “seen a rise in professionalism and ability to operate their boats that we haven’t seen before”, noted Vice Adm Johnstone, adding, “that is a concern”.

A modern Russian sub puts to sea (MOD RU vis Jane's)

A modern Russian sub puts to sea (MOD RU vis Jane’s)

Frankly, if the Admiral remembers the 1980s, higher professionalism from the Russian Navy (than its Soviet predecessor) is probably a good thing for everyone, and it should simply inspire NATO navies to pursue professionalism also. Instead, however, we’ve been pursuing race and sex quotas with a singlemindedness that would get fiction’s greatest whaling captain to tell us to “lighten up, shipmate.”

Together, this meant that the level of Russian submarine activity NATO is currently seeing in the North Atlantic is “very different from the period of quiet submarine activity that perhaps we’ve seen in the past”.

But what is really torquing the Admiral, it seems, is that Russia’s silent service is, well, silent:

However he added, “I think none of that would worry us if we knew what the game plans were or we knew why they were deploying or what they were doing … we don’t understand what the strategic and operational objectives are of the Russian state.” This was because “a lot of what the Russians are doing at the moment we don’t understand, and is obscure and is shrouded in other activity which makes us nervous, and makes nations nervous”.

via Russian submarine activity topping Cold War levels | IHS Jane’s 360.

Uncertainty itself is an objective and force multiplier in war — cold or hot, dear Admiral. Like the ATF, which enjoys having vague laws it can enforce for arbitrary or whimsical reasons, or against arbitrary or specified individuals, Russia has everything to gain by keeping NATO guessing, and nothing to gain by providing the leaders and intel analysts of NATO with insight as to their intentions.

It sounds like the Admiral’s analysts have fallen into the trap of only analyzing the adversary’s capabilities in the light of his intentions, and now feel that it’s not fair that they have to return to first principles and see what these capabilities enable him to do.

Russia has a submarine service with a tradition of superior service and selfless sacrifice that goes back a century plus (although Soviet-era textbooks ascribed all submersible inventions of consequence, back to the eighteenth century, to various apocryphal Russian peasants and workers). Those WWI Russian submariners went up against the German and Austro-Hungarian navies in boats that didn’t even have watertight compartments.

The great-grandsons of those iron men in iron boats now put to sea backed by a nation that may have its own issues, but is free of the technical isolation that led Soviet-era submarine technology to lag the West. Of course they’ve gotten better; that’s what humans do, given half a chance. The cause of Admiral Johnstone’s problem is not that the Russians have use the last two decades to get better, but that his nations’ navies have not.

What were we doing? Figuring out how long a plug had to go into new sub designs, so that we could have ladies’ sanitary arrangements, because our lodestar was not the mission but the careers.

Some Early 1960s Jet Bomber Action

Here’s some classic black and white jet bomber videos, from a time before most of you guys were born.

First, a pilot who was a hero and a goat, all in the same mission. He overrotates on takeoff, blowing up his fuel pod — a gigantic tank for fuel and weapons that was aerodynamically integrated in the supersonic B-58. The fuel fire destroys one of his main gear bogies. He can take the plane somewhere safe and eject the crew — or he can try to bring it back to Carswell AFB, rolling the dice on survival, but saving the plane. If his skills are up to it. And he’s really lucky.

And yeah, that’s all fire on takeoff, in the YouTube splash screen:

Second, a pilot runs his B-52 out of gas. This happens only after every other conceivable problem occurs. The short (two or three minutes) briefing film includes color reenactments, and some black and white photos of what’s left of the plane. The crewmen escaped and survived, some with injuries. (For reasons known but to the guy that maintains the embed code, the link below will not embed the video, so we set it up as a clickable link instead).

A fellow could get hurt doing that. One wonders if there are Russian, British and French films of this era, just waiting to be found in a closet and declassified.

Ah, well, here’s one from 1976, when the Royal Navy had carriers and whacking great Blackburn Buccaneers (the first real precision all-weather low-level bomber, the prototype of them all).

First, scenes from the 1976 BBC documentary, and then, interviews with the pilot who was struggling to land his jet, and the squadron commander, that reveal a secret: the positive, upbeat debrief in the documentary was fluff for the cameras: the real debrief took place once the cameras were gone, and the pilot who boltered a half-dozen times before getting aboard apparently took quite a thrashing from his commander and peers!

Graphic Novel of A-10 Action — a Deserving Indiegogo Campaign

Ladies and Gents,

Here’s a draft of the cover from the second volume of Valerie Finnigan and Richard O’Hara’s forthcoming graphic novel of aerial action in Desert Storm.

A-10 Tiger on the Storm book page

Well, it’ll be forthcoming if enough people subscribe to Valerie and Richard’s Indiegogo campaign, which they haven’t yet. The video is pretty dreadful, and frankly, we’re a little bit old for comic books… but the description below makes it sound awfully interesting.

Based on the journal of the late Maj. Gen. David Sawyer, Tiger on the Storm is a comic book miniseries honoring the 23rd Tactical Fighter Wing and their service in Operation: Desert Storm. Two of the creators involved in Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan reunited to collaborate on this project- Valerie Finnigan (Korean War, vol. 2, Why Not? Presents….) and penciller/inker Richard O’Hara (Second Dawn, Futurians Return). Just in time for the 25th anniversary of Desert Storm, you can also join in, help cover the expenses of creating and printing these books, and see that this part of history is never forgotten.

Funds raised beyond what will cover those costs will go to Heroes Fallen Studios, a non-profit dedicated to providing a safe, nonjudgmental forum for veterans and their families to share their stories and educate the general public.

via Tiger on the Storm – An Illustrated War Journal | Indiegogo.

This sounds like it’s a worthwhile thing for the vet community to get behind, especially those vets of the US Air Force (a great alternative to military service!). But when we came across this, nobody had subscribed yet.

Why, we’re not sure. Maybe because by usual crowdfunding standards, the video’s kind of lame.

There’s now one supporter on the clock. Please forward this link to your Air Force and A-10 fan community friends.


Valerie and Richard were kind enough to submit to email interviews. We have no idea what to ask graphic novel creators, so we guessed. They answered, instead of blowing us off, so we can’t have been too far off.

First, before we get to the Q&A, Valerie has a correction:

The book is happening no matter what. Issue number one is in print right now. The difficulty is getting a quality print run when I’m pretty much self funding the project on the budget of a disabled former emergency responder.

And a comment:

There have been previous attempts at crowdfunding this book which have garnered various degrees of support from vets, history buffs, and even a few comic book fans. Setting a donation jar out at events like Salt Lake Comic Con has proven to generate a lot of excitement, too. But yes, everyone’s on a tight budget.

OK, here are our questions (if they’re lame, it’s because we really don’t know what to ask graphic-novel creators) and Val and Richard’s answers:

What got you interested in doing this kind of art in the first place?

Valerie: I’d been interested in writing as long as I was able to read, which is as far back as I can remember. My parents raised me on a steady cultural and literary diet full of heroes, adventures, and grist for the creative and intellectual mill. Comic books became my preferred medium for writing because envisioning how a scene is supposed to appear on a page poses a greater challenge to me than writing the same thing as a short story or novel. Besides, Spider-man, the X-Men, Sgt. Rock, and so forth look a lot better as comic book characters than as characters of a novel. I also enjoy the teamwork that comic book creation requires, especially since I do not draw.

Richard: I started reading comics in 7th or 8th grade. I started with John Romita Jr’s run on the X-men and collected back to the first Cockrum run.

Do you have a formal education in the arts? Or, more generally, how did you learn?

Valerie: I nearly obtained a degree in music with an emphasis in opera and musical theater before ditching all that for a career I found more useful and heroic in nursing care and emergency medical services. From my experiences in theater, I was able to get a pretty good understanding of the mechanics of script writing. Writing a script for a comic book is a little different than writing for stage or screen, but it wasn’t too big of a stretch for me to make.

I also learned about commitment to research, the importance of personal accounts in what could otherwise be very dry academic reading, and the impact simply listening to people and doing their stories justice  from one semester when the English Lit textbooks never arrived. Instead of book work, we were to conduct an ethnography study. I chose to write about homeless kids living in the Boise area, where I lived at the time. Up until then, I never felt prouder than when one of the kids I interviewed got on her feet and secured enough in financial aid to become a social worker and devote her life to helping other kids in the streets

Richard: Yes, I went to Clemson, and the Univeristy of North Texas.  I currently teach art to Middle and High school students in High Point, NC.

So what’s the balance between native talent and learned talent?

Valerie: Talent, whether native or acquired is like a muscle. Use it or lose it.

Richard: Talent helps, but without hard work, talent is meaningless.  One has to develop the skills and work at it.  Walt Simonson recently posted “I think I might have this hand thing down, almost.”  The guy is a master, but he still isn’t happy with it.  That’s what makes it work.  You always have to attack where you feel weak.

To what or to whom do you attribute your interest in our troops, vets and the war?

Valerie: Oh, where to begin? I’m an Air Force brat, and every branch of the military (including the Coast Guard!) is represented in my family and circle of friends. I have to confess, though, that I took them for granted until 9-11. The sound of those hundreds of PASS alarms in the rubble of the World Trade Center is the worst sound I’ve ever heard. As soon as I could after that, I tried to enlist. Nothing came of that but a medical DQ, but I’m not letting that stop me from trying to help by at least sharing true stories and educating the civilian public about our own history.

My own interest only increased after a particularly nasty emergency incident cost me full mobility, nearly cost me my life, and granted me some first-hand understanding of what PTSD can do to a person and how important it is to listen without judging and keep each other motivated on our often sleepless journeys.

How do you find collaborators to work with?

Valerie: I’ve been very fortunate. Social networking has helped, but oftentimes, mutual friends play an important part. If I see someone’s work- say, a page of sequential art- and I think it would suit a story I’m doing, I’ll ask them if they’d want a job. However, it helps to know something about them personally, like if they can turn in quality work on a tight deadline. Richard and I had both worked previously on Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan, and he came highly recommended by a mutual friend of ours, Paty Cockrum, who used to work in the Marvel Comics bullpen of old.

Richard: Valerie Finnigan I met through Paty Cockrum and Clayton Murwin.  We worked on Untold stories from Iraq and Afghanistan, 1, and the unpublished 2, as well as a start-up for untold stories from 9/11. But if someone were trying to break into the industry, I’d advise, go to cons.  Go to small presses there, talk to Artists, ask questions, get critiques.   Lots of critiques.

What question do you wish somebody would ask — and what’s the answer?

Valerie: What’s the answer to life, the universe, and everything? 42.

Richard: “What are you going to do with all those lottery winning O’Hara?” I’d start a comic press, a funny idea Paty Cockrum and I kicked around, ‘OFC’ comics, y’know, we’d say it meant ‘Official’ but it would actually be ‘Old Fart Comics’, and in so doing, we’d have a mag or two that was for old pro’s to do work in that they kept rights, sort of like Creepy or Vampirella used to be.

As far as we know, Richard has not yet won the lottery, so please go to Indiegogo and support this project.

Update: Come on, folks. They’re at 1% with 40 days to go. 152 of you have read this post (not counting the even larger number who read it on the front page, we think; we get ~6000 unique visitors a day). These are hard working artists, and there’s probably someone you know who would enjoy their graphic novel. (Maybe if it’s successful enough, there will be a “posable action figure,” for those of you guys… heh). Don’t make us go back and donate again!

The A-10 Survives, for Now

An A-10C of the 81st FS with an interesting ordnance mix. Click to embiggen.

An A-10C of the 81st FS with an interesting ordnance mix. Can’t do that with an F-35. Click to embiggen.

Hog Lives Matter — and the Warthog lives on, to the frustration of DOD beancounters and Air Force brass. They wanted the money they’d get by scrapping the ugly jets to offset a little of the soaring cost overruns in the F-35 program.

Popular Mechanics reports:

The U.S. Air Force has decided to indefinitely postpone the retirement of the legendary A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack plane. The venerable Warthog’s increased role in the air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was the Pentagon’s main reason for the postponement.

First developed in the 1970s, the A-10 was designed to kill Red Army tanks on European battlefields. Heavily armored and capable of flying low and slow, the A-10 was built to make devastating low-level attacks against Soviet armored columns with missiles, bombs, and its GAU-8/A Avenger 30-millimeter gun.

Although the old plane proved effective in Iraq and Afghanistan and stayed popular with troops on the ground—who loved nothing more than the site of a Warthog or two barreling into a combat zone—the Air Force had planned to replace the A-10 with the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Air Force contends that the A-10 can no longer survive on the modern battlefield against modern air defenses. It’s been trying to put the A-10 out to pasture for years, claiming the funds used to keep the tank-killers flying are needed elsewhere—particularly in the F-35 program.

So let’s see if we’ve got this straight, shall we? The justification for the attempts to can the A-10 is its inability to survive in the high-threat environment for which it was designed, a Soviet-style modern air defense environment. It may be great at delivering ordnance, goes this argument, but it can’t get there to do it. Meanwhile, we are to overlook the F-35s inability to deliver ordnance, period, because at least it could survive to get to where it would deliver ordnance.

If only it could deliver ordnance, period.

Cue all the procurement managers in the National Capital Area for a gaudy Busby Berkely production, singing and dancing “If I only had a brain.

The F-35 program seems to have the capability to absorb every resource the Air Force can get its Nomex gloves on, while delivering a downgrade in real-world capability, because of the tiny numbers (which are both cause and effect or its exploding costs) as well as the limited capability.

GAU-8The A-10 of course has the most awesome gun ever bolted to a plane, the 30mm GAU-8/A. Actually, the whole plane was designed around it, something that happened only once before (with the P-39 and the Oldsmobile 37mm cannon); the F-35’s gun, the 25mm GAU-22/A, is untested vaporware that can be carried in the airplane, but not fired at all due to deficiencies and incomplete modules in the software. The F-35 can’t deliver dumb bombs, either, and has no unguided rocket or air-to-ground missile capability, except perhaps in a fanciful artist’s renderings. The new jet is, then, functionally toothless in the air-to-ground department, although it will soon be able to carry a very limited load of mid-sized smart bombs (500-1000lb).

But that’s OK, because it doesn’t have the loiter time to deliver a significant load of bombs, anyway.

The GAU-22/A is the decontented and lightened 4-barrel version of the 5-barrel GAU-12/A Equalizer used in the Harrier and some AC-130U aircraft and in a couple of USMC ground-based applications. In its F-35 version, the deployed aircraft may be able to fire the new gun in 2019 if the schedule slips no further. Whatever they do, they won’t be firing it for very long. There is only room onboard for 180 rounds, and it fires at over 3000 rounds per minute, so the weapon can fire one 3.3 second burst and it’s done for the day (or the sortie, at least).

The A-10’s GAU-8/A Avenger fires at a slightly higher rate of 3,900 rounds per minute, but the Warthog carries a more practical 1,174 ready rounds.

The Air Force has resisted the Close Air Support mission since the dawn of the jet age, leading the US Army and USMC to evolve helicopter gunships to fill this gap. With the F-35, an even larger, yawning gap between promise and performance has turned into a credibility gap for the Air Force.

That credibility gap with the troops on the ground and with Congress back in DC has led the Air Force to where it is now — having to retain, however grudgingly, the air-to-mud capability of the Warthog.

The Challenges of Keeping Jet History Flying

Ars Technica seems to be on its way out as a tech site, as it’s getting converged into one more dull, technically ignorant SJW platform. But there are still writers like Lee Hutchinson, who parlayed a personnel connection with pilot and aircraft manager Rick Sharpe into fantastic article on what it takes to keep ’em flying. With “’em” being the key Western and Eastern fighter jets of the Cold War and its hot outcroppings in Vietnam, Korea and the Middle East.

Sharpe exists at the vital hinge of the Collings Foundation, the Lone Star Flight Museum, and the Vietnam War Flight Museum, in each of which he has an important role.

MiG-21 UTI in the hangar. It embiggens. Lee Hutchinson Photo.

MiG-21 UTI in the hangar. The one on the tail of which Polish markings are visible, on the left, is a spare, being cannibalized for parts. This one was made in Russian and flow in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic People’s Air Force. The picture embiggens. Lee Hutchinson Photo.

And Hutchinson is a writer with a great command of imagery. Consider this lyrical description of the VWFM’s Mig-21UTI “Mongol” 2-seat trainer:

The aircraft looks like the blunt instrument it is—rough, unfinished skin, creased with irregularly spaced seams and with its rivets and bolts grimed with soot, like pockmarks. But there is a utilitarian beauty in its lines—the beauty of physics, showing how even a hammer must be streamlined in order to fly (“This is like a John Deere tractor that does Mach 2,” Sharpe joked). And even though it’s about a meter longer and wider than the A-4 Skyhawk, the MiG-21’s low and squat landing gear makes it feel far, far smaller. Standing next to the MiG-21 feels almost like standing next to a large, winged car, while the smaller A-4 towers high above your head. The MiG’s compactness is due to its function: as a “home defense” aircraft, it was above all designed to be a fast interceptor that could race to meet incoming fighters and stand them off. This meant it needed a short and stubby delta wing to meet the Mach 2 design requirement. And as it turned out, the MiG-21 was exceedingly good at shooting down other jets.

via The slowly fading art of flying—and maintaining—Cold War fighter jets | Ars Technica.

Don’t you like that? He gets the technical information out there, but in an entertaining way. Delta wings were once the state of the art, but the art moved on, leaving them as a marker of a time in aviation history. (Although technically, the MiG and the A4 Skyhawk, another old jet that the Collings Foundation operates and that is covered in depth in the article, are “tailed deltas,” an aerodynamically distinct animal). Like faceted stealth designs, or, for that matter, like the strut-supported wire-braced biplane, the delta wasn’t needed when more science was in hand, enabling more sophisticated engineering.

Another Hutchinson image, of an F-100 instrument panel. This panel has been upgraded with some civilian gear.

Another Hutchinson image, of an F-100 instrument panel. This panel has been upgraded with some civilian gear, including a modern GPS navigator and HSI, and a back-up artificial horizon.

There are many challenges in keeping a 50s-design, 70s-construction jet in the air, and they differ by nationality and type: different things ground an F4, an A4, and the MiG, but they all seem to be grounded at the moment. Fascinating, well-written article, and a moment of brightness from a declining publication.

Iranian Capture of US Boats

Here’s a picture sent out by Secretary Kerry’s special friends, the Iranian government.

Navy Surrender3 It shows Navy sailors and officers surrendering to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. There is a dispute about what happened — one of their boats was disabled, and they say they were in international waters, the Iranians said they weren’t.

Navy Surrender8

The US boats (one of them on right) surrendered to small craft of the IRGC (left) with no attempt at self-defense.

The question could be answered by the several GPS devices on the boats. The Iranians, however, chose to retain them with the US State Department’s blessings, when it returned the crewmen. It’s unknown whether the Iranians returned the small arms and the cryptographic and communications equipment on the boats.

That the Iranians kept the GPS units suggests that our boats were in international waters. That no US ship or aircraft responded to defend them suggests that maybe they were not — or resources are just too thin in the region, after a decade of dismantling the Navy.

The two boats went together into Iranian captivity.  The boats appear to be riverine support craft, not Special Operations Combatant Craft. But we’re not experts in boat details… that’s the Navy’s department, the Frogs and the Boat Guys would know.

Tied up to the pier by their Iranian prize crews.

Tied up to the pier by their Iranian prize crews.

Prediction: some admiral, somewhere, is more worked up over the boat being dirty than he was by the boat being captured. 

Navy Surrender9

The next morning, the two boats were tied up alongside the Boston Whaler copies that outsailor’d ’em.

The Iranians gleefully displayed their trophies. Trophy weapons:

Navy Surrender5

The Elcan Spectre DR 1-4 power scope seen on the M4A1 is, or used to be, a special operations signature optic. But again, these do not appear to have been SOF sailors.

Navy Surrender6

More after the jump. The Navy and the nation should both hide their faces — neither covered themselves with glory here today.

Continue reading

A Russian Briefing on the Syrian War

We’ve seen a lot of US DOD briefings over the years, from the Five O’Clock Follies in Vietnam, where most of the Saigon press corps jeered at their military briefers and then went back to the hotel bar to make up whatever story advanced their side — the enemy side — to the masterful displays of Norman Schwartzkopf in Desert Storm, who did what no PAO will ever do, stand up to fabricating reporters.

Russia no longer has an independent press to any great extent, but likes to maintain the fiction that they do, and so they put on a show from time to time. Here’s one of December’s briefings (Russian language). [Update: in the time it took us to write the story, someone made a version with English subtitles. That’s the version we embed]. Afterward, we’ll look at some of the slides.

Any briefing begins with a splash screen.


This one says: Briefing of the Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Lt. Gen. S. F. Rudskoi. Each of the side illustrations illustrates one of the facets of Russian military power: strategic rocket forces, long-range aviation, air defense missiles, ground forces, surface navy, tactical air forces, frontal aviation, intermediate nuclear weapons forces, air defense artillery, and nuclear missile submarines. It is meant to convey an impression of raw Russian power.

The briefing begins with a rundown on airstrikes, by a combination of tactical aircraft and strategic bombers — what the Russians have long called Long Range Aviation.


“In the period from 30 September [to 15 December – Ed.] a total of 4,201 combat sorties have been carried out,  145 of them by airplanes of Long-Range Aviation.” The general military definition of the term sortie (in Russian Bilyot), is one aircraft, one mission, so a flight of four Su-24 jet bombers would count as four sorties. NATO would also count combat support aircraft like jammers and forward-deployed tankers as sorties; we don’t know if Russia does.

The general then goes on to show us some video of strikes on petroleum targets. These have the advantages of being unscathed till now (the US lawyers, supported by DOD suits, forbade strikes on this basis of ISIL finance, calling it “collateral damage”), and easy enough to hit with Russian technology. Russia has no such qualms and has hit storage, micro-refineries, and hundreds of tanker trucks that have been “off limits” to American and Coalition air.

This screenshot is from an attack on a petroleum storage facility in eastern Deir ez-Zor. province.


A Digression on Precision Bombing, Russian Style

The most-used Russian PGM systems do not work like American or NATO ones do. Indeed, they resemble such ancient (from our point of view) computers as the A-6E bombardier/navigator’s computer-intervalometer system, or the several generations of systems for accurate bombing that were rolled into the F-111F during its long service life. The pro of this system is that it allows smart bomb level of performance from dumb bombs. The con is that it puts a premium on precision airmanship. Putting the brain in the plane is the same concept as the World War II Norden bombsight (although given vastly more power by modern, digital electronics). Like the Norden sight (although to a lesser extent), the Russian system limits the pilot’s ability to maneuver defensively during the bomb run. The pilot has to put the plane in the right place at the right speed for the system to release the bomb (the navigator, or in single-pilot ships the pilot, commits the bomb, giving the system authority to drop it, but the system uses is own digital judgment on when to fire it off). If he’s maneuvering, accelerating in any direction when the bomb pickles, it may go somewhere unintended. This is probably the cause of the market and residential area bombings we’ve heard of — not, as some reports would have it, deliberate bombing of noncombatants by Russian forces. (They have enough combatant and economic targets to keep them loading bombs until the stockpile they built to run the Fulda Gap is exhausted. Let’s assume they’re intelligent men prosecuting the highest-value military targets first, as intelligent men do, shall we?) It is certainly one reason that the Russian attacks in Syria have been conducted at medium altitudes (~5,000-15,000 feet),

And Back to the Briefing

Much of the briefing was given over to video of aerial attacks. Here, a PGM strike is made on a tank farm.ru_briefing_attack_on_tank_farm_2

Closing in, a single storage tank is singled out as aim point.


We continue this analysis of the briefing after the jump, including some more comments on aerial operations and some slides on the ground situation.

Continue reading