Category Archives: Air and Naval Weapons

Common Sense on Syria from Commander Salamander

If you read Commander Salamander’s recent post on Syria, and the related post from the week before, you will know more about what’s happening in that country — and what’s likely to happen next — than anybody actually in a senior position in the political national-security establishment these days. They could have had the data, but they’re so mired in wishful thinking and determination to shape what they’re reporting to what the NCA wants to hear that they’ve lost their tenuous connection to reality on the ground.

These are last week's Russian airstrikes in Syria. They're on the fringes of Assad's control, and on pockets of resistance inside his lines -- including against US-sponsored rabbles.

These are last week’s Russian airstrikes in Syria. They’re on the fringes of Assad’s control, and on pockets of resistance inside his lines — including against US-sponsored rabble. Note the relative intensity compared to the desultory US strikes.

Yes, the Russians are engaged there. Yes, they’re ignoring ISIL and blasting the crap out of the supposedly, allegedly, “moderate” opposition to Boy Assad. Says Sal:

I know there is a bunch of worry-beads clinking over this, but really people – get a map and read some military history. This isn’t Russia’s first trip to this area, and they know their history and their national interests.

I would hope that no one is too worried about the non-IS forces they are hitting. They are, on balance, other radical Sunni Islamic fundamentalists. Those people are not our medium-term or long-term friends any more the IS is. The fact we may or may not be supporting al-Qaeda affiliates is our mistake. No reason to compound it.

Syria has never been our friend, but if we stayed out of their airspace, they have not been a direct threat either. Iran is a different matter, as is Russia. So, what we have in Syria today is a gaggle of entities, none of which are our friends, fighting each other.

A national leadership that was less captive to international wishful thinking and less committed to furthering a Cult of Personality might see that fact and make deft use of it. The current rulers of the USA are not the kind of national leadership that could do that.

We are in this spot because we let a window close a few years ago to have a non-Islamic-fundamentalist uprising against Assad. Something tells me that even if we had done things differently earlier, in a Popular Front political action, the Islamic fundamentalists – who would have been part of that anti-Assad movement – would have co-opted and taken over the opposition even if it started with a balance of non-sectarian quasi-secular leaders. In that case, we would have just wound up where we are now – though possibly with a smaller IS, but again – this is all speculation.

These are the ongoing US airstrikes against ISIL. Note how many fewer they are -- the US strikes have always been token attacks, enough to risk pilots' lives with zero prospect of defeating the Islamist groups.

These are the ongoing US airstrikes against ISIL. Note how many fewer they are — the US strikes have always been token attacks, enough to risk pilots’ lives with zero prospect of defeating the Islamist groups.

The mistake of weak, hesitant, vacillating Syria policy was called out by many at the time, and the calling-out was disregarded by the incumbent policy panjandrums, confident patrons of the current policy of ineffective pinprick gradualism.

There’s no percentage in whining about the bad prospects in hopping distance from today’s lily pad, or bitching about the lily pad we should have jumped to three hops ago. We are on the pad we’re on. Now what?

We need to accept Syria as it is now. Russia is being a good ally to Assad, and trying to pull his fat from the fire. If they succeed, then eventually they will run out of non-IS opposition. If they are smart, they will come to a political accommodation with the Kurds and use that to further inject turmoil in to Turkey.

“Being a good ally.” What a concept. Someone should explain it to Mr Obama, SecDef Carter, or National Security Advisor Rice, who is still trying to figure out how to blame Israel for the whole thing. If she was Captain Ahab, her white whale would have a blue six-pointed star on it.

If they do that, when they run out of non-IS opposition they will put the West in corner. You can support Russia and Assad, or support IS. That or you can just stay on the sidelines.

With this administration and an election year coming up – the sidelines is where the smart money is. It may also be where the smart realists are too.

We recommend that you Read The Whole Thing™. He also has some deep thoughts on the Russian SS-N-30 cruise missile recently used successfully in Syria. It leapfrogs the capability of our 1970s-airframe Tomahawks. The supersonic (in terminal mode, they cruise sub) attack cruise missiles were fired from the Caspian Sea and flew, by permission and arrangement, across Iranian airspace, then through undefended Iraqi airspace, to strike anti-Assad militias along the Syrian front lines.

Russia calls the missile Kalibr NK, and 3M-14T. It’s very versatile: unlike the Tomahawk, whose nuclear and anti-ship versions have been scrapped or converted to tent-busters as part of the ongoing Administration policy of unilateral nuclear and naval disarmament, Kalibr has nuclear and anti-ship variants. One of the ships launching the missiles is the frigate Dagestan, a modern frigate which has become something of a showboat for a renascent Russian Navy.

The Limits of Air Power

June 26 airpower summary: B-1Bs bomb enemy vehicles

Bombers have a perfect accuracy record with bombs, or at least, one good enough for the USAF: Every single one has hit the planet; we haven’t left a single one up there yet!

Nothing is quite as toothless as a powerful air force, alone.

We’re reminded of that again by the inept Coalition air strikes in the city of Konduz, which not only didn’t relieve friendly forces, but also managed to bomb Doctors Without Borders clean out of their Konduz hospital.

Now, supposedly there were US forces on the ground calling the shots, and supposedly they called the shots on the hospital.

Based on past experience on this, like when the USAF AC-130 decided to go to war despite losing all its navigation modes and zapped an SF team, or the time F-16s went fangs-out and blew up some Canadians on a range, or the time an F-15 pilot smoked a pair of Black Hawk helicopters because of an incompetent AWACS crew, it could just be that the Air Force is lying.

Or, it could be that the Taliban, which has more media savvy (not to mention, more media support) than all of  the US Armed Services put together, decoyed the USAF’s vaunted but easily spoofed electronic sensors into misidentifying the hospital as a target.

That’s the one we’d probably go with. Taliban leaders have forgotten more about media than the supposed media professionals of the military, who are selected like their broadcast media counterparts for looks and not brains, could ever hope to learn.

Meanwhile, in MIT Technology Review:

ISIS stands apart in the way it’s mastered online propaganda and recruitment. Using 21st-century technology to promote a medieval ideology involving mass killings, torture, rape, enslavement, and destruction of antiquities, ISIS has … lured 25,000 foreigners to fight in Syria and Iraq, including 4,500 from Europe and North America…..

“The ISIS social-media campaign is a fundamental game changer in terms of mobilizing people to an extremist cause,” says Amarnath ­Amarasingam, a researcher at the University of Waterloo who is co-directing a study of Western fighters in Syria. “You are seeing foreign fighters from 80 or 90 countries. In terms of numbers and diversity, it has been quite stunning.”

As Google’s policy director, ­Victoria Grand, told a conference…: “ISIS is having a viral moment on social media, and the countervailing viewpoints are nowhere near strong enough to oppose them.”

Well, it doesn’t help when air officers schooled in the tradition of Mitchell, Douhet and LeMay get outsmarted by goat-smellin’ illiterates in plastic shoes and mandresses.

Bombing, even by precision-guided munitions, without eyes on the ground, has always failed, and will always fail. We’re watching it fail in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Eyes on the ground without air overhead will also fail. But the current budget-cut climate in Washington — a bipartisan consensus just cut military retirements by 20%, and cut retiree health care, so that Congress can redirect the money to more direct cronies — means the services are jousting with one another while savvier enemies are mortaring the playing field.

Finally, high-tech electronic intelligence collection, and robotic unmanned weapons, are the weapons of the future. They were the weapons of the future a century past, and they will be the future a century hence. Precision Guided Munitions aimed without regard or respect for the ground truth delivered only by US or closely-allied forces’ eyes on the actual target are at best wasted, and worst decoyed onto friendly, neutral or noncombatant targets.

MSF — Doctors Without Borders — is calling the attack on their hospital a “war crime.”


According to the Washington Post, the Ghani government is taking a different tack than the previous Karzai government, which would usually use these opportunities to lambaste the USA and the US military. The Post takes the cynical viewpoint that the Afghans are so dependent on America they dare not offend us. Cynicism in Afghanistan is usually on point, but read also the quotes from Afghan military officers suggesting the Talibs were using the MSF hospital grounds as a sanctuary to attack from. Of course, Taliban, ISIL, and other mohammedan social media outlets are exploiting the hell out of this while the US’s counterparts dawdle.

US SOF are on the ground, but the bulk of the fighting falls to the Afghan National Army.

Some Rare Russian Patrol Plane Footage

One of the most thankless Jobs in World War II aviation was that of the maritime patrol pilot. No glory there, just long flights over water — usually, deadly cold water. And usually in airplanes that were sitting ducks for anything else in the air.

While there has been a little written in English about the RAF Coastal Command, and about American patrol pilots flying the Consolidated PBY, there hasn’t been much information about other nations’ patrol planes and their crews. The Japanese and Germans of course suffered defeat, which scattered their veterans and archives; and the Russians took military secrecy seriously, even though they were behind their peers in this particular field. Not only are there few stories, but few artifacts surviving from this unglamorous but vital field of warfare: most nations’ fighters are represented in museums, but all patrol planes left is grainy black-and-white pictures.

Russian crews too flew patrol flying boats on the nations Arctic and eastern coastlines. Their equipment, like the MBR-2 flying boats seen in this video (silent video with music dubbed over, unfortunately), and the 7.62mm single-mount DA machine guns that the flying boats’ defensive gunners used, was more dated than Russian fighters. They seemed to make up the difference with tough guys, hanging exposed in the cold slipstream.

It was only after the war that the Soviet Union would make an amphibious flying boat as modern as wartime American, British, German or Japanese planes, the Beriev Be-6 (Nato Madge). Its successor, the Be-12 Chaika (Nato Mail), continued to operate long after the Americans, British and Germans gave up on flying boats; indeed, a handful of Chaikas may still be in Russian service. They are, if so (and were, if not) the last conventional gear (tailwheel) aircraft operated by a superpower. (Japan and China, as well as Russia, continue to develop flying boats The sheer size of the Pacific encourages use of such machines).

Syrian Pilots in Russian Jets? Color us Skeptical.

Reportedly, air strikes are being flown by Syrian pilots in new aircraft, freshly delivered by Russia. This is an excellent opportunity to exercise our well-oiled skepticism.

Russian combat airplanes at Latakia, Syria. From The Aviationist, which also explains how stealthily they got there.

Russian combat airplanes at Latakia, Syria. From The Aviationist, which also explains how stealthily they got there. They retain Russian markings.

Another photo showing the Su-24s, also.

Another photo showing the Su-24s, also. Via the Aviationist, these pictures both embiggen. Russians are using a parallel runway for parking because of the poorly maintained and paved ramps in Latakia. The air-to-air fighters are parked for the fastest access to the active (presumably 17R). Token fighter cover suggests they don’t seriously expect to be attacked.

Why be skeptical? Well, one is reminded here of the history:

Fact: In Korea, Russian pilots flew jets with Nork markings. Over 30 Soviet pilots became aces flying, outnumbered, against the US Air Force. The US knew this and, inexplicably, classified it, helping the Russians keep their secrets.

Fact: In Vietnam, Russian pilots flew jets with PAFVN markings. (Russians also manned and controlled SA-2 Guideline sites, which was arguably much more important to the DRV). The US knew this and, inexplicably, classified it, helping the Russians keep their secrets. Interestingly enough, LBJ stopped American attacks on North Vietnam once the Russians showed up, something the US seems to have forgotten, but Russia evidently remembers. (Link) (Link).

Russian-language interview with pilot/advisor Vassily Kolot, with a little bit of period training video with a Russian instructor teaching a Vietnamese pilot:

No proof there that Russian pilots flew combat missions, but it’s hinted at.

Fact: The Syrian Air Force has never been effective. It lost every air fight to Israel, and unlike the Egyptians or Jordanians, without giving the Israelis much of a scare. In the present civil war it has been unable to conduct any precision attacks up to now; it has used discredited 20th Century tactics of carpet bombing and it has even done that ineffectually, despite complete lack of enemy air opposition or organized air defense.

So the Syrian Air Force, which is maxed out rolling a barrel of ANFO out of the tailgate of an AN-12 in a zero-threat environment, and which has a deep institutional history of failure and defeat, supposedly took the keys of late model Russian jets and suddenly started flying like Russians. Those are some really transformative airframes, huh? Except, the ground attack aircraft in Syria are Su-24s and -25s, good, solid planes, but not magical.

Fact: The Russians have warned the Syrian opposition that they had better treat prisoners IAW international laws and norms. Gee, why would they suddenly do that? It must be sheer humanitarian concern for the opposition’s Alawite prisoners (who have, it seems, been at least as badly treated as Assad treats his own non-Alawite captives, and maybe worse; and ISIL’s treatment of captives has set new records for barbarity).

The US Intelligence Community knows who’s sitting in those ejection seats. Right now, they’re helping somebody keep that secret. Or they think they are.

Frigate? “Frig it,” Says the Navy

USS Kaufmann, FFG-59, destined for the auction block or scrapyard.

USS Kauffman, FFG-59, destined for the auction block or scrapyard.

An entire class of ships is heading for sale — or scrap. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’s vision of a smaller, weaker navy includes eliminating the frigate, a class of ship that in US service was optimized for escort duty: mostly, anti-submarine warfare with a fairly good sideline in air defense. Even as rivals new (Iran) and old (Russia) send ever-quieter subs to sea, a shrinking Navy dumps sub-hunting as a secondary mission on other, general-purpose ships.

The frigates were one of the success stories of the 1980s Reagan rearmament, that under the leadership of then-SecNav John Lehman brought the Navy close to 600 ships. Over 50 of the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigates were built, and they were as comfortable shepherding tankers through the Arabian Gulf1, showing the flag solo in distant ports, or screening a carrier task force. They had missiles, guns, and not one but two multimission helicopters, which made them a sub-skipper’s bugbear.

Today, Mabus’s Navy seems headed for territory south of 200 vessels. A significant number of them will be soi-disant Littoral Combat Ships, so flimsily armed as to be noncombatants, with no escort capability, anti-sub capability, or anti-air capability to speak of — and hardly enough crew to stand in-port watch and tear up a port on liberty. Moreover, an OHP-class ship can take a hit and stay in the fight; an LCS can’t (not that it’s in the fight, anyway, but its inability to shoot back is unlikely to deter the sorts of people who take shots a Navy ships).

The penultimate frigate, USS Kauffman, has a noble name and a remarkable history. From the command information bulletin, the Stars and Lies:

The Kauffman, which now will be towed to the inactive ship yard in Philadelphia and offered for foreign sale, is the last Norfolk-based Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate. The Navy’s last frigate, the USS Simpson, will be decommissioned later this month in Mayport, Fla.

The ships, known for their anti-submarine warfare mission, are being phased out because the Navy has other ships capable of conducting multiple missions.

Fox and Hound: Kaufmann exercises with a diesel boat of the Peruvian Navy in 2009. (USN photo by Patrick Grieco).

Fox and Hound: Kauffman exercises with a modern diesel boat of the Peruvian Navy in 2009. (USN photo by Patrick Grieco).

That’s the party line. Since Mabus is trying to avoid sending any ships to sea — “Ships in port are safe,” as the saying goes, but wasn’t there another half of that? — it’s more nearly that the Navy has other ships capable of not conducting these missions. It’s not as if there are ships on the ways to replace Kauffman and her 29 scrap- and sale-bound sisters (and the 21 foreign-flagged or cut-up OHPs that preceded them).

uss kaufmann patchThe latest decommissioned ship has an honorable name, with connections to an ancient Naval family and to the history of Naval Special Warfare.

The Kauffman is named for Vice Adm. James L. Kauffman and his son, Rear Adm. Draper L. Kauffman. During World War II, Draper Kauffman was known for spending more time at sea than any other officer of his time, according to the Navy. He commanded several ships and shore commands and established the first Underwater Demolition Teams, forerunners of the SEALs.

You can see how an Admiral famous for spending time afloat might leave a legacy that doesn’t fit in with the Ray Mabus Navy.

His daughter, Kelsey, attended the ship’s commissioning in 1987 and couldn’t help but cry Friday morning as she watched the crew leave the ship for the last time.

We know what Ray Mabus would say. “Quit sniveling, lady. You can’t make a GLBTQWERTY omelet without cracking a few hulls.” Mabus has rejected historical ship-naming practices, preferring to name ships for minor living politicians of his party, often politicians that staked their careers on opposition to defense and Navy priorities, rather than Naval heroes.

Some other stories explain where social justice warrior Mabus is taking what’s left of the navy, and why he’s doing it:

  • State-controlled paper Stars and Stripes on the scrapping of the frigates as a class;
  • State-controlled paper Stars and Stripes on the cancellation of deployments because of lack of money (which is to say., fiscal mismanagement at Department of the Navy). So we have a smaller Navy, but we keep it in port more! The better for social engineering.
  • Mabus critics at the Daily Caller on Mabus’s recently-expressed contempt for Marine Corps leadership and determination to overrule them on women in combat. Marines involved in the study shot back that Mabus didn’t want the USMC to win future battles (which is probably true. Mabus is a scoreless-soccer kind of guy).
  • Mabus critics at This Ain’t Hell on Mabus’s dismissal of the USMC’s research and the Marine reax (suffice to say, Marines love Mabus as much has he loves them, and he loves them about as much as the Imperial Japanese Army did).
  • Mabus tied to the Antichrist in the Prophecies of Nostradamus. Okay, that’s nuts, but that’s really what the link tries to do. We’re just checking to see if you’re reading all this.
  • A screenshot of a since-disappeared comment in which a soon to be relieved Marine Sergeant Major who was directly involved in the study notes, “The senior leadership of this country” — and he is referring here to Mabus and the political leaders who appointed him — “does not want to see America overwhelmingly succeed on the battlefield.” That’s heresy, because it’s true and contradicts dogma. Sgt. Maj. Justin LeHew just showed a lot of folks what moral courage in a military leader looks like. A hearty hooah for him, and best wishes in his imminent post-USMC career.
  • The Washington Post on Mabus vs. the Marines. This article, which is scrupulously fair to both the Secretary and his Marine critics, is by former Marine Thomas Gibbons-Neff. (Maybe you Marines who told us to give TG-N a chance were on to something).

Maybe Nostradamus was right?

But hey, we have ships named for union organizers, ABSCAM corruption figures, and gun-control politicians now, so progress! And “Diversity is strength!” says Mabus. Indeed, he really says that slogan as if it were true, and not today’s equivalent of “Arbeit Macht Frei” — an evil slogan used to enslave people.


This post has been edited. The spelling of “Kauffman” has been corrected.


  1. We know it’s properly the Persian Gulf, but we’ll be damned if we concede anything to the Ayatollahs.

A Quick Review of US Coastal Fortifications (long!)

In the days ahead, we’re going to be looking at some historic fortifications around the East Coast of the United States, and their place in history. Before we get deep into fort design and history, we thought it would help to review the history of fortifications.

Until World War II, the greatest projectors of national power were fleets of warships. This was how nations figured their greatness; this was what earnest, quavering diplomats sought to negotiate reductions in. While the warships changed over the centuries, they still remained the same general “thing” They were vessels that could cross oceans, if need be in large groups, and then destroy enemy fleets, fortifications, and shore installations by fire from shipboard cannon, or by landing marines or soldiers embarked in the ships. Such seaborne ground forces could also, if strong enough, seize and hold ground. (Amphibious warfare didn’t begin with the Higgins boat; it had a history centuries old when a few guys met over a beer and started the US Marine Corps).

To prevent the loss of one’s harbors, cities (which tended, of course, to be at river mouths and harbors), and other goods and chattels, defenses were erected against these ships; frantically in wartime, and more lackadaisically in times of peace. (History is replete with cycles of construction, neglect, and panicked restoration, amongst all the coastal nations of the world). In time, shorelines came to be studded with fortifications that could take advantage of two native superiorities of ground-based versus shipboard armament: the ground doesn’t pitch, roll and yaw, and the ground can support an unlimited amount of weight. This meant that ceteris paribus the guns of forts had substantial range, accuracy and throw-weight advantages over ships’ armament, or could have, if the defenders spent on forts as they did on ships.

The ships had their own advantages: they could run, hide (make smoke, once steam became the motive power), and concentrate their forces to defeat the forts piecemeal, if the mutual support of the fortifications was weak. They could also land their marines or soldiers to flank the fortifications; defending against ships and ground-based infantry (let alone infantry, cavalry and artillery combined arms) was substantially more complex than defending against the land or sea attack alone. Indeed, the history of forts includes many more reduced by landward attacks than by cannonades from the sea.

Forts were not the only anti-ship defense available. Blockships, booms, chains, and other obstacles were popular, in part because they were cheaper than forts. They were effective, just like obstacles against infantry, only when covered by observation and fire. Mines (also called “torpedoes” until that term began to be applied only to self-propelled torpedoes in the 20th Century) were another vital type of sea defense. These “dumb” passive defenses sometimes get short shrift from historians, but they were very important defensive works, and you may be sure that they got careful consideration by the admirals facing them. Both contact and command-detonated mines were established as early as the 18th Century, and they and their controls were part of American minefields until after World War II.

These principles held all through the period from the discovery of the New World in the 15th Century and its settlement by squabbling colonists from Spain, France, Portugal, the Netherlands and England over the next two centuries. They continued to hold as the Europeans withdrew from the New World and new nations grew up there, and the first sign that the balance of power between ships and forts was going in a new direction was probably the demonstration sinking of the relatively modern captured battleship SMS Ostfriesland off the East Coast of the United States by primitive biplane bombers in 1923.

Just as weapons evolved, fortifications did also. There were earthen fortifications, then stone, then brick, then concrete. Military engineering was a highly developed science by the time of the founding of the United States.

The US inherited colonial fortifications from the colonial powers, and then developed its own seacoast installations. For the United States, fortifications were an economy of force proposition: as expensive as they were to build, they were dirt cheap compared to keeping a standing army or navy (something that was anathema to early Americans).

Colonial era forts were used by the US where practical. Some of these works still stand and may be visited. Because they tended to be placed on key terrain, they were often overbuilt or replaced by subsequent generations of fortifications.

Thanks to two brilliant engineers, Vauban who worked mostly in the 17th Century and Montalembert in the 18th, the language of fortification is French. The typical star-shaped fort comes from Vauban’s work, but so do many details. Here’s a section of a Vauban fort in plan view (source). Green represents earthworks above surface level, the side towards the enemy may faced with wood, brick or stone; brown the surface; tan represents excavations below surface level. Campagne is the field, outside the fortification; Ville is the town, inside:

vauban dessus

A: the level of the ground. B: the glacis, smooth rising earth designed to absorb shot or deflect it over the low-lying fortification; C: chemin couvert, a covered (from fire) and concealed path around the perimeter where musketeers may be positioned; D: a demi-lune, literally “half-moon,” an outlying position where guns may be emplaced; E: Fossé, a ditch to delay, collect and expose would-be breachers; F: Courtine, the main wall; G: a Bastion, or defensive protuberance on the wall. G1 Orillons provided flank protection to G2 Embrasures, holes or crenellations in the wall that permitted enfilading fire:

defending a bastion

Demi-lunes and bastions were modules that could be repeated as many times as necessary to complete a wall. The floor of the Fossé also had entrenchments and works that allowed defenders to fire from covered positions at any attackers that got in.

This is a section view along Axis 1 (axe 1) of the first sketch.

Coupe_fortification_vauban_(french).svgThere are many, many, details in the design as well, a design that followed careful mathematical models. A well-manned Vauban fortification was a tough nut to crack. Vauban, in his brilliance, addressed that too and wrote about reducing forts as well as constructing them. He had many able and imaginative followers in France and abroad who, for a century after his death, extended his ideas as far as they were able to go. This was the state of the military engineering art at about the time of the Revolution.

For an overview of the US implementation of these principles, overleaf, click “more.”

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Take a Trip Under the Arctic in a Typhoon (Akula) Sub

This documentary is a Russian one, expertly narrated in correctly translated English, that shows a little bit of the Russian submarine Severstal (Hull number TK-20), the last of the six Typhoons completed. In it, commander Bogachev takes his boat from the yards to the naval base at Severodvinsk, where it loads missiles and proceeds on a training mission. Great insights to Russian sub design, crewing (the crew includes draftees as well as long-service sailors and officers), and culture.

Russian OPSEC practices are considerably more stringent than Western ones — for example, crewmen don’t know the duration of patrols or when they start, and so their families never attend a sailing, and the film crew are careful not to image the propulsion end of the boat when it’s out of water — so it’s remarkable that a crew was able to film this documentary, even though the Typhoon class was getting long in the tooth at the time (the video dates to 2001) and is now being replaced by post-Cold-War Borei class boomers.

The similarities and differences from Western subs are fascinating. The triple pressure hull construction is unique to this class (although Japan built a sub with a double hull), as are the dual escape pods (although the successor boat, the Borei class whose individual ships are named after ancient Russian warrior-kings, has a single such pod that accommodates the whole crew).

Note: there are some audio cut-outs at annoying times, for instance in the cook/wardroom scene and during the torpedo launch.

Edited to add:

Here’s another one, one of the other Typhoons being dismantled. (Not the sub from the original video, which is scheduled for this treatment around the end of this decade).

This video ends about 12 minutes before the YouTube version ends. The real end is the toast by the decommissioning/dismantling crew. Enjoy.

Hawg: The Mission, the Men, the A-10

Here’s the story of the A-10, in Afghanistan, told by the guys who fly them and the guys who are supported by them. About 22 minutes long.

It’s a little weird, the way the wide-angle lenses make the planes look (from the on-dash pilot selfie-cam) like they have swept wings. They don’t, which may be why Big Blue hates on ’em so much, and wants to get rid of them.

The pilots are right about the plane’s unequalled CAS capability, but it was indeed designed as a tank-buster. Indeed, the whole plane is designed around the gun and its ammunition (something last done in the 1930s with the Bell P-39  and the Oldsmobile 37mm cannon). And the design was based, in part, on interviews and discussions with the top tank killer of all time, the Luftwaffe’s Hans-Ulrich Rudel.

A cynic might say that this is just one volley in the never-stilled War O The Budget, that it’s just propagada. Yeah, but if your a close air-support pilot, or a ground combatant, and this short film is propaganda, it’s propaganda for you and your side. It’s the good guys’ propaganda.

Navigation Error in a Submarine: USS Seawolf (SSN 575), 1968

We’re well conscious of the consequences of a navigation error in an airplane. Even in visual conditions, you can put yourself in a position where you have a fuel issue and no suitable landing spot, and in instrument flying conditions you can find yourself on the non-survivable edge of the airspace, where it meets mountains and things like that.

The protagonist in our tale -- USS Seawolf, SSN 575.

The protagonist in our tale — USS Seawolf, SSN 575.

Submarines are, in effect, flying on instruments all the time. While we’re probably the last generation of pilots to ever see “Elevation data unreliable but believed to be no more than 17,000 feet” on a grid square, the charting of subsea terrain is much less complete than that of terrain that juts out into the air. So even if a sub skipper never errs, he may thwack an uncharted wreck or seamount. And if he errs, well, submarines don’t do well at the edges of the water — they like to stay in the middle. Anything near the edges, whether it’s seabed, coastline, wrecks, fishnets and other bottom debris, not to mention the surface of the sea itself, is inimical to your boat’s stealth, if not your survival.

And while an airplane crew has many resources that can help them stay in the middle of the air, the sub crew is alone. They have no calm voice of traffic control, watching them on radar. (Sure, someone might be watching them on sonar, but they have no way to call). And when they’re operational, they can’t even use all the resources they have — when you’re engaging in an ASW exercise, you can’t really map the bottom with your sonar. The navigation tools used on submarine include an inertial navigation system, in which an error on any one waypoint ruins every subsequent waypoint.

Patch of Seawolf's 1957 commissioning crew, or "plankholders."

Patch of Seawolf’s 1957 commissioning crew, or “plankholders.”

It was a navigational error during a tactical exercise that nearly destroyed USS Seawolf (SSN-575) on 30 January, 1968. This Seawolf was the second sub to bear the name; the first was a fleet sub whose fate is unknown, but did not return from a 1944 war patrol. By 1968, Seawolf was old as nuke subs of the day went — laid down in the early fifties, launched in 1955 and commissioned in 1957, she was only the second nuclear-powered vessel in the world, and originally the only American sub powered by a liquid metal reactor.(pdf). Due to a shipyard cock-up,  the reactor never made full power and was replaced later by the spare pressurized water reactor from USS Nautilus (SSN-571)1; the Soviets would later use liquid metal reactors, although different ones (lead-bismuth rather than Seawolfs sodium).

Seawolf lacked the Albacore-tested hull streamlining and the noise reduction of later submarines, and she was, by 1968 standards, one of the noisiest nuke boats the US Navy had — which made her a good stand-in for the noisy Soviet boats of the day.

USS Sturgeon (SSN-637) crewman Gannon McHale remembered the mishap, which occurred when Seawolf was giving Sturgeon and other subs a sonar and fire-control system workout:

The idea was for the Seawolf to make high speed runs through the deep narrow canyon, which would pose a real test for our sonar men. A serious echo existed in Georges Basin, but our sonar guys were up to the task. Finding Seawolf was not a problem – she was noisy, and we were not.

… Seawolf made her high speed runs through the basin, and we tracked her. [XO Bruce] DeMars recalled, “I believe it was the third run. We had a very nice tracking solution, and I was about to recommend we shoot when the solution rapidly fell apart. I thought he [the captain of the Seawolf] could not have turned south, as that was shallow water, so he must have turned north.”

This spawned a dispute in the control room of Sturgeon, as the experienced ship-handlers, including the XO and the commander(Curtis B. Shellman) simply couldn’t believe that the skipper of Seawolf would have done anything that stupid, and Sturgeon’s sonarmen insisting that, stupid or not, that’s exactly what Seawolf did.

The dispute was resolved by what DeMars remembered as “the most horrendous sound on the sonar,” followed by the unmistakeable sound of an emergency ballast tank blow.

Seawolf had grounded at approximately 20 knots. Dealing with the emergency, the crew never sounded an alarm, but sailors and officers throughout the boat felt the impact — as a bounce, when the bow hit sloping ground, and then a shake, as the stern struck and slid. This was followed by the sound of the emergency blow and watertight doors slamming. For the crewmen dealing with the emergency, there was no time for terror; for the men in other stations, there was.

Seawolf took a huge nose-up bow angle and zoomed to the surface, bursting out of the water to 1/3 of its length, then plunged back down underwater before oscillating back to the surface again. It was grievously damaged; the sonar dome was gone, as was the sub-surface phone; the screws were ruined. Hydraulics were out. MM1 Chauncey Leach remembered:

All the main and the vital hydraulic oil was on the floor in the stern, and you could see the after bulkhead moving back-and-forth with the wave action top side. The rudder and the planes were hanging on by a thread. The whole turtleback section back there was just swinging.

Hasty repairs were made — Leach would be one of the sailors decorated for his actions doing that — and watches set, as the sub wallowed in the Atlantic for a day until a rescue ship arrived and took Seawolf under tow. Fortunately the mishap location was only 65 NM from the nearest point of the US Atlantic coast, which explains why the tug (USS Skylark ASR-20) was able to ge there so quickly.

Despite the severe damage to the sub, the blow was glancing enough that none of the crew received a serious injury. The Navy apparently reported the incident but numerous sites report erroneously that Seawolf made it back to her home base at New London or Electric Boat at Groton under her own power. That was, as we have seen, out of the question. Repairs took over a year and Seawolf now went to the Pacific Fleet.

Within a couple of years, the Navy decided to add a section of the hull enabling certain special projects. Its special operations included wiretap servicing in the Sea of Ohkotsk, and participation in attempts to recover material of intelligence value from the sunken Soviet sub, K-129. For the K-129 operation its noisy nature didn’t matter, but it is surprising to see it associated with Sea of Okhotsk operations, as the sea was (and is) considered to be home territory, and aggressively patrolled, by Soviet/Russian naval forces. Seawolf continued in service until 1986, and was scrapped in 1997-98, with her reactor section being buried (as is customary for retired US subs).

There were immediate consequences to this accident. An upcoming Med deployment for Seawolf was out of the question, so a new boat was substituted. As it happened, she would never reach the Mediterranean, either: USS Scorpion, which sank 22 May with 99 souls on board. (It was a hard year in the underwater racket: early 1968 also saw the accidental loss of French, Israeli, and Soviet boats)


It’s just been announced that the Glomar Explorer, formerly the Hughes Glomar Explorer, a ship that, like Seawolf, was involved in the CIA-managed K-129 salvage efforts, is now headed to the scrapyard.  It had a post-service career in oil drilling, but falling oil prices made it uneconomical.


  1. The original reactor and its components were dumped in the ocean on 18 May 1959, at
    38-30N, 72-06W. See:
  2. McHale, pages 53-54.
  3. McHale, page 55.


Loewen, Eric P. The USS Seawolf Sodium-Cooled Reactor Submarine. Retrieved from:

McHale, Gannon. Stealth Boat: Fighting the Cold War in a Fast-Attack Submarine. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008. (Page numbers are from the 2013 Naval Institute Press paperback).

Naval History and Heritage Command: Seawolf II (SSN-575). Retrieved from:

NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive: USS Seawolf SSN-575. Retrieved from:


That’ll BUFF Right Out!

The Air Force brings the FOOM with conventional precision delivery of dumb bombs on a tight island bombing range, from a 53 year old B-52 (B-52s still flying date to 1962).

This is what a smart plane can do with dumb bombs these days. It isn’t the (mythical) pickle barrel from 30,000 feet claimed by WWII bombers, but it’s accurate enough to drop dumb bombs danger close to US forces. (They don’t actually do that, but they can, and some day a JTAC will ask for it, and they will. And there will be DFCs for the crew if they hit in combat like this crew did in training).

Look at how loose-fitting the bomb bay doors are (and, for that matter, the bombs, which are dancing around the vibrating jet like Dervishes). Things like that really show you that this technology is half a century old.

Not enough FOOM for your room? Here’s a whole mission flown by the 96th Bomb Squadron from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana: preflight, takeoff, gas up at the tanker (provided by the Utah Air National Guard; you see both the B52 cockpit and KC-135 boomer views, plus a side view of another BUFF hitting the tanker), deliver 3 sticks of 9 dumb bombs to a range (which is, unfortunately, not shown), and then come back to land. Despite the copyright claim at the end, this appears to be 100% official USAF footage.

The old technology this video shows isn’t just the aluminum and aerodynamics of the B-52 itself, but also the primitive monochrome video screens and awkward interfaces of the defensive and offensive weapons operator stations. That awkwardness led to a B-52 dropping a JDAM on an SF element (parts of an ODA and ODB) in December, 2001; and that led to new and improved procedures.

The next time a B-52 dropped JDAMs for an SF team, in 2002, the first JDAM went wild and missed its target. The subsequent bombs were on target and allowed the team to break contact with warlord troops who were engaging the team.