Category Archives: Air and Naval Weapons

Can You Screw Up the Navy By Promoting a Great Admiral?

AOV-sub sceneJohn Lehman, Reagan-era SecNav of 600-ship-Navy fame, answers the question in the title in the affirmative. The great admiral in question is Adm. John Richardson, who just began a term as the Navy’s nuclear czar. The President has interrupted that 8-year term by naming him Chief of Naval Operations. It’s the top job, but his old job is as, if not more, important.

Stability and independence in that position has produced, in Lehman’s opinion, an effective nuclear program with an outstanding safety record (64 years, 300-something ships, zero nuclear accidents). Ask other nuc operators how easy that is.

This is more important than ever, in the hundred-something-ship Obama navy that struggles to maintain ships and project American power.

Unfunded overruns in other Pentagon programs total more than $400 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office. But the Navy’s nuclear submarine programs have been consistently on budget and on time. They have been protected from the 970,000 Pentagon bureaucrats whose paralyzing bloat has made a hash of most Army, Navy and Air Force weapon programs. The reason for Navy nuclear success is because there has always been one strong experienced person in charge and accountable, standing like a stone wall against the bureaucratic onslaught.

But by far the most important benefit from this unique arrangement is the fact that there hasn’t been a single nuclear accident in the seven decades that the U.S. Navy has operated hundreds of nuclear submarines, carriers and surface combatants.

via Obama Torpedoes the Nuclear Navy – WSJ.

Lehman continues:

[I]f the job is seen as a steppingstone, a fraying of the zero-defects culture may begin and the possibility of a nuclear accident within the U.S. Navy may increase. The consequences of a nuclear incident would be devastating and would threaten the Navy’s ability to continue to operate its current reactor designs.

…The Navy has 10 other superbly talented four-star admirals and many more vice-admirals of similar experience to choose from.

Of course, Lehman is assuming that the President, Congress, and that near one million Pentagon  payroll patriots want the navy to succeed.

If you can’t open Lehman’s article at this link because of the paywall, you can find it with this Google search.

Very Rare SEAL Taxi Offered on eBay

Before we get to the shell of a historic mini-sub that made a brief appearance on eBay last week, we should take a look at the history — always noting that We Are Not Frogs and, just as importantly, We Were Not There, so all this is subject to revision by those who do have inside information — if they ever feel like talking, which they haven’t, much, to date. (Contrary to popular opinion, not every SEAL gets a book agent’s contact info engraved on the back of his shiny new Trident. Most of them clam up as well as their fellow quiet professionals in other branches).

It all started when World War II ended, and the contracting Royal Navy shared its underwater technology with its American cousins. While the US had developed excellent combat swimmer units in the Navy’s UDTs, and early SCUBA gear of several kinds in the highly compartmented OSS Maritime Unit program, the UK had a capability the US couldn’t touch: machines that could deliver a swimmer, and more to the point, a very large high-explosive charge, over considerable distances — underwater. So the US accepted the gift of “chariots” (the British improvement on the Italian Siluro a Lento Corsa [SLC]“low speed torpedo” and Siluro San Bartolomeo), and of a quantity of “X-Craft,” miniature submarines. The chariots proved to be highly limited, and not very popular; but the frogmen loved the X-Craft.

Italian Siluro a Lente Corsa. The Chariot was a reverse-engineered and Anglicized version.

Italian Siluro a Lente Corsa. The Chariot was a reverse-engineered and Anglicized version.

Until Big Haze Gray officiated at a turf battle between what was then the UDT community and what was, and still is, the  Submarine Service. The Sub Service was massive, full of admirals, had been critical to WWII victory and had a vision of an all-nuclear fleet that would put the Navy back in the strategic-warfare game. Those sub admirals also had a profound jealousy of anything else that dipped under the waves, in what they considered King Neptune’s — and their own — personal territory. The UDT community was tiny and could maybe latch on to one Captain. An agreement was hammered out — that is to say, dictated to the nascent special warfare community — that limited the UDT (and their offshoot, the SEALs) forevermore to wet subs like the Chariot. The Navy promised to support the frogmen, but the submarine service would take charge of that.

One look at the Not-Invented-Here X-Craft, and the Submarine Service sent them to scrap. They also took over a minisub the frogmen had been developing — and scrapped it, too. The choices were: wait for the Submarine Service to support you with a dry sub, which was never going to happen, or develop your own free-flooding wet sub.

So UDTs spent significant time in the 1950s trying to develop a better wet sub. (Indeed, the SEALs are still trying to develop a better wet sub). This remains a major unforced limitation on SEAL capabilities — the problem is, any wet sub can either [1] operate in the tropics or [2] deliver hypothermic SEALcicles in the temperate zones, arctic or in areas of cold currents. Meanwhile, the subs built for general sub service have gotten ever bigger and more coastal-shy over the decades, meaning the frogs are looking at a longer ride in the wet sub at best, or leaving missions on the table for lack of clandestine infiltration capability.

The early Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDVs) were… well, we can charitably chalk them up as learning tools. Orr Kelly wrote in his SEAL/UDT history, Brave MenDark Waters:

Then, in the mid 50s, came the Mark 2, built by Aerojet General according to a design from General Electric. From the outside, the Mark 2 looked like a little airplane, with the two-man crew sitting side-by-side. Inside, it would very much like a 1956 Ford pick up. [Naval Coastal Systems Center ocean-engineering head WT “Tom”] Odum says the designers reasoned that the crew members would find the little craft extremely claustrophobic but that they would be more comfortable in familiar surroundings, so they modeled it after the interior of a popular truck.

Aerojet SEAL SDV Mk2 period photo

The Mark 2 was the Navy’s first effort at a sophisticated swimmer delivery vehicle. It was powered by silver zinc batteries, used a gyroscopic compass, and was equipped both with a hovering system and with thrusters that permitted it to maneuver left, right, up, and down.

Unfortunately, it was, as Odum says, “a hydrodynamic nightmare – it just didn’t have any stability.” The little craft never got beyond the experimental stage. It was so unstable that it could not even be towed through the water until it had been pulled up onto a large sheet of plywood.

At that point, Kelly drops the SDV program and picks it up in a paragraph or three with the Vietnam-era experimental Mark 6. Assuming the original dry sub that was sub-napped and sent to bureaucratic Davy Jones’s Locker by the Submarine Service was the Mark 1, the Marks 3, 4, and 5 were probably intermediate submersibles. This period photo shows numerous early SDVs including the Mark 2… some of the other experiments here may have been some of those little known intermediate numbers. The SDV Mark 2 is third from the left. The small pod on the far right may be a Mark 1 Swimmer Propulsion Unit, another experimental device that was not fielded in quantity. The three machines between the Mark 2 and the possible Mark 1 SPU may all three be a single kind of machine with different transparencies fitted.

Early SDVs

It is unknown how many SDV Mark 2s were manufactured — given its poor performance under test, there may have been only one. But, almost miraculously, one of these early efforts survived. It showed up on sale on eBay with the following blurb:

interesting 2 man wet submarine by defense contractor AeroJet General for Navy Seal use. It has been salvage non operating with missing parts. for years and it probably more of a collector or decorator item needing at least refurbishment or cosmetics. It is about 20 feet long and is pretty heavy Local pickup in central Indiana. sold in “as is where is” condition. Questions call xxx-yyy-zzzz. The black and white photos are from a rare book about seals.

Unmistakably the same craft.

Unmistakably the same craft.

One gets the impression that no naval architect or hydrodynamicist was let within many miles of this design effort. The sources of the instability seem obvious. It looks like the interesting interior fitments are gone, and it looks like there may have been some kind of thrusters on fins or dive planes forward of the doors.

SDV Mk2 03It’s pickup heritage doesn’t seem too occult in these pictures. How it got to Indiana is an interesting question — the SDV program remains today very sensitive, very close hold, and the Navy has not been above doing research in the desert, hundreds of miles from the sea. Maybe it passed through NAVSEA Crane?

SDV Mk2The seller has since withdrawn this old UDT bus from the eBay sale — perhaps a museum has expressed interest.

SDV Mk2 02


If some Dr Evil has visions of deploying the SDV Mark 2 in the sea again, all we can say is, good luck with that. The US Navy never got this thing going, and they have more money than God. You can’t spend your way around faulty design.

Of course, as this guy in Indiana shows, you can display it on your lawn.



Full Circle: The Telegraph Spitfire

In Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the desperate hours of 1940, the local paper began collecting money from loyal Ulstermen to buy the Royal Air Force a plane. And another… and another. In the end, the Belfast Telegraph and its readers’ Belfast Telegraph Spitfire Fund would finance no fewer than 17 Supermarine Spitfires for the RAF.

Of those war machines, only one served at home, in Northern Ireland, with 502 Auxiliary Squadron1. Like the other 16, it’s gone now…

The clock is being turned back at Long Kesh today as a full-scale replica Spitfire bearing the name Down (after Co Down) is unveiled in a poignant ceremony by the Ulster Aviation Society.

down belfast telegraph spitfire

The model will also carry the letter code TM-F and serial number P7823 on its side but, more significantly, the slogan Belfast Telegraph Spitfire Fund will be there, too. And thereby hangs a tale dating back to wartime 1941 at RAF Ballyhalbert in Co Down where the real Spitfires carrying those markings served until January 1942 with No 504 Squadron Auxiliary Air Force.

That plane was indeed called Down and was one of 17 Spitfires built for the RAF by donations from the people of Northern Ireland under the auspices of this newspaper.

The Telegraph tells the story with understandable pride; there’s a lot more information there if you’re inclined to  Read The Whole Thing™.

The Spitfire is a non-flying replica. Convincing-looking, it’s now on display in the Ulster Aviation Society hangar/museum.  The original P7823 crashed in 1942 with fatal consequences for its pilot.

Down spitfire dedication

The Ulster Aviation Society has an interesting website, with a page about this and other Spitfires in Northern Ireland (including US Spitfires, and Royal Navy Seafires), and a separate Facebook page with photos from the rededication this week of the Spitfire in its new, NI-related markings.

Why a replica? The demand for Spitfires exceeds the supply. Over 20,000 of them were built from the prewar to early post-war years, but according to Wikipedia2 only 54 survive in airworthy condition worldwide and another 68 on static display, plus 100-odd undergoing or awaiting restoration or stored as parts or wreckage. Of those 200-odd surviving airframes, about 1% of production, only 4 are confirmed Battle of Britain vets — most are later marks.


  1. The NI Spitfire unit, according to the Ulster Aviation Society, was 504 Squadron, Aux AF (the party-tine Auxiliary Air Force was not “Royal” until after the war). 502 Squadron was called the “Ulster” squadron, but had bombing types like the Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley, and a Coastal Command mission.
  2. Usual Wikipedia disclaimers apply… don’t spend money or take risks based on what’s written there.

Jets (and Vehicles) with Frickin’ Lasers on They Heads

Doctor Evil’s technological dreams, not to mention Auric Goldfinger’s and Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s, are inching closer to reality. That’s the only possible conclusion an avid movie-goer will draw from a fascinating Bill Sweetman article in Aviation Week. 

Today, on an armored vehicle as an air defense weapon that doesn't need to "lead" a target; tomorrow, an aerial precision-strike capability? (Bill Sweetman AWST photo).

Today, on an armored vehicle as an air defense weapon with a functional MV of infinity, so it doesn’t need to “lead” a target; tomorrow, an aerial precision-strike capability? (Bill Sweetman AWST photo).

In fact, Sweetman deploys a bunch of pungent prose that sounds like something out of The Strategy Page, but with the essential difference that Sweetman knows what he’s talking about and has been wired into defense RDT&E since the second coming of laser weaponry (and the first serious, non-Bond-villain one) in the 1980s. Sweetman starts with a dismissive swipe at US and USSR laser weapons programs of the 1980s (“The only thing of consequence that any of them destroyed was confidence in laser weapons”), and then leaps into “that was then, this is now”-ville.

New HEL [High-Energy Laser] weapons are smaller than the 1980s monsters, with a goal of 100-150 kw, and powered by electricity rather than rocket-like chemical systems. Modest power permits more precise optics and—in some cases—the use of commercial off-the-shelf fiber-laser sources, improving beam quality (that is, focus) and reducing cost.

Star Wars lasers were intended to hit things that missiles could not touch. The new generation exploits different characteristics: a magazine as deep and easily replenished as the fuel tank, and a low cost per shot (about $1, says Rheinmetall). The idea is to deal with targets that missiles cannot engage affordably.

A mini-UAV is a threat because it can target ground forces for artillery. It is cheaper than any surface-to-air missile, but a laser can blind it, destroy its payload or shoot it down. Rocket and mortar defense is another application. Rafael’s Iron Beam laser is a logical follow-on to Iron Dome, which is practical and affordable only because it ignores rockets that will fall on open ground; that will no longer work when weapons are guided.

Hmmm. Thinking about the implications of what Sweetman is saying here, there are several paths around Iron Dome which the Palestinian terrorists may choose to adopt: they could try overwhelming it with quality, overwhelming it with accuracy (by guidance, as he suggests, or simply by increased ballistic accuracy and precision of aim), or overwhelming it with speed by using gun artillery instead of relatively-slow rockets.

Wile-E-Coyote-Genius-Business-CardNo doubt the cagey Israelis (has any nation’s paranoia ever been more justified?) have already thought this through and have counter-countermeasures in development (one of which certainly is a laser system). The Palestinians, in their ongoing attempts to outsmart the smarter Israelis, are the Wile E. Coyote of weapons development.

Anyway, let’s return to Sweetman’s rundown of current and very-near-future directed energy weaponry.

Close behind the systems already shown by Rheinmetall, Rafael and MBDA—certainly not a technological leap away—is the new Gen 3 HEL being developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems to fit on an Avenger unmanned air vehicle (AW&ST Feb. 16-March 1, p. 30). If what we hear is correct, it combines an output as high as 300 kw with high beam quality; it can fire 10 times between 3-min. recharges; and a version might fit in the 3,400-lb. pod that Boeing designed for the Advanced Super Hornet (see photo). A bomber or a special-operations C-130 could carry it easily.

This is a tipping point, because what you can do with 300 kw also depends on what you are trying to protect. If the goal is to knock down a supersonic antiship cruise missile (ASCM), there are two problems: water in the atmosphere (which attenuates laser energy) and the fact that a damaged ASCM can still hit the target. But if the target is an evasively maneuvering aircraft, it will often be in clear, dry air; and it is enough to destroy the missile’s seeker, put a hole in the radome, even at well-sub-kilometer range or weaken the motor tube to cause a miss, even at well-sub-kilometer range.

This is one where you’ll find it rewarding, we think, to open the mind and  Read The Whole Thing™. Sweetman is no more infallible than any of us, but he is a more informed aerospace analyst than almost any of us, and bears close watching.

When Reverse Engineering goes to War, it’s “Technical Intelligence.”

Aviation Week is celebrating its 100th Anniversary over the next couple of years, and reprinting or blogging classic articles from prior years, and even from its various predecessor publications. This week they hit upon one that examines, and in part, reverse engineers, an ingenious weapons system we have mentioned before: the Japanese Type Zero Carrier Fighter.


Aviation expert Bill Sweetman sets the stage with a long and informative blog post, and then the 1945 article is broken into four .pdf files. Sweetman:

Newsprint rationing clearly wasn’t a big issue in the U.S. in May 1945, when our predecessor title Aviation published an ultra-detailed four-part dissection of Japan’s “workhorse fighter”, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, with detail that would put some homebuilt-airplane plans to shame. Neither was cultural sensitivity, as the cover wording shows.

The model examined here was the square-wingtipped, non-folding A6M2 Model 32 “Hap,” which had some tradeoffs designed to allow a more powerful engine. (It didn’t create enough speed to justify its extra weight, which shouldn’t surprise any aero engineers out there — aerodynamics are a much weightier influence on speed than horsepower).


The Zero was a design study in the combat multiplier of lightness in design, and is today a jewel worth studying and emulating by anyone who designs things and might like to make them lighter.

[T]he Navy’s requirement for speed and maneuverability comparable to emerging European designs… seemed impossible given the modest power of the biggest available engine.

What emerged was a highly refined design. Weight control was rigorous: Horikoshi wrote that “it was our policy to control anything heavier than 1/100,000th of the aircraft’s final weight”

Sweetman also notes one Zero advantage that we have mentioned before, the equivalent of 7075 Alloy, but he suggests that this wasn’t an oversight:

Aviation‘s story — quite possibly at the behest of the military — misses one key to the Zero’s success: its construction made use of high-zinc-content 7075 aluminum alloy, which had been secretly developed by Sumitomo and was significantly lighter than the 24S alloys used in the U.S. Better metals were not used worldwide until after the war.

Built-up rudder hinge bracket, where US engineers would have used a machined forging.

Built-up rudder hinge bracket, where US engineers would have used a machined forging.

US aircraft still use 2400 series alloys (as they’re numbered now, but they’re the same stuff) in skins and sheet structures, and 6061 in most things requiring plate, billet or cast parts. 7075 is used primarily in forgings. The clever Mitsubishi team under Jiro Horikoshi designed around the need for many forgings, substituting instead riveted assemblies of sheet aluminum alloy.

(Bill would probably be pleased, as he compares the sketches in the article favorably to homebuilt aircraft plans, to know that the rudder hinges and hinge brackets of our RV are built up from sheet and plate, much like some of the Zero’s brackets. So would Horikoshi, who passed away in the 1960s).

The full title and cutline of the original article is:

Design Analysis of the Zeke 32 Hamp: Presenting the 12th of our series, a profusely illustrated part-by-part examination of the Zero’s successor, showing how Jap engineers achieved unusually light structural weight without sacrificing strength.

All parts, .pdf

  1. Design Analysis of the Zeke 32, Part 1.pdf
  2. Design Analysis of the Zeke 32, Part 2.pdf
  3. Design Analysis of the Zeke 32, Part 3.pdf
  4. Design Analysis of the Zeke 32, Part 4.pdf

In addition to those four .pdfs, Sweetman’s post is definitely one where you’ll want to Read The Whole Thing™.

The scan has some issues, mostly at the edges and keeping the many figures straight and unwrinked, but it’s a great boon to everyone who studies How To Build Stuff.

And it’s a good look at a wartime case of digging into the enemy’s engineering.


Jimmy Stewart Handles a “Hustler”

Jimmy Stewart was known to generations of American movie-goers as a good guy. He seldom if ever played a villain; he usually played a good guy, the Western sheriff or marshal, or the Everyman thrust into a tough situation. Unlike many of his Hollywood peers, whose names came from the forebrains of producers and directors, his real name was Jimmy Stewart. He’s probably best remembered today for a movie that bombed on release — It’s a Wonderful Life, for which he was nominated for an Oscar, but which drove Frank Capra’s studio into bankruptcy. It became a television staple of Christmases in the United States thanks to the copyright having lapsed, either due to an error by studio clerks, or the dissolution of Capra’s firm (we’re not sure which).

But there was another side to Jimmy Stewart, for all that his modest on-screen character was close to his humble off-screen one. Like many young men inspired by Lindbergh, he learned to fly. He also felt called to service — both his grandfathers and his father were war veterans — and in 1941 enlisted in the Air Corps (he had been drafted in 1940, but rejected as underweight; the MGM physical trainer helped him bulk up). The war hadn’t begun yet, and Stewart was too old for aviation cadet training — he was 33. He was commissioned in due course. As a college grad, a relative rarity in 1941 America, this was almost inevitable. Then, he managed to winkle himself onto flying status. There are no records of flight training, and it seems probable that he, like inter-service transfers and other experienced pilots, was simply given a checkride for his rating.

He made several radio and movie promotional materials for what was then the Army Air Corps, but did not want to be an actor in uniform, like his Hollywood peers. Stewart wanted to just be treated the same as any other pilot. This was, for him, a constant battle, but he ultimately won and deployed to combat with a B-17 squadron.

Stewart flew on numerous missions and was promoted rapidly, serving as a squadron operations officer and commander, Group deputy commander, ops officer and XO, and Wing ops officer and commander. He rose, then, on merit, from private to colonel during the course of the war.

After the war, he remained commissioned in the Air Force Reserve (he would retire as a major general) and stayed current in bombing planes, the successors to the B-17s he flew over Germany. While many Hollywood luminaries served in World War II in some capacity or other, Stewart was an outlier in that he served in the Vietnam War also.

From time to time this Air Force career intersected with his acting career, either in films portraying Air Force characters (notably Strategic Air Command) or promotional shorts for the Air Force. In this one, circa 1960, he introduces the supersonic B-58 Hustler.

The Hustler, perhaps the most beautiful bombing plane ever, was designed for a high-speed, high-altitude mission, penetrating (had the balloon gone up) Soviet airspace. The plane was a technical triumph for designer Convair (later General Dynamics), but by the time this film was made, it was tactically problematic. While all the Allies had found German late-war surface-to-air missile developments interesting, the Soviets had taken the Germans’ ideas and developed them into a thorough air defense system, interlocking missile and fighter air defense.

Its crew of three — pilot, navigator/bombardier, and defensive systems operator — sat in three separate tandem cockpits, each of which contained a then-unique ejection pod which would enclose an ejecting crewman and prevent him from being exposed to the wind outside the aircraft, which might have been a Mach 2 blast. It was intended to carry a large pod, which could hold various combinations of fuel or weapons. It was the Air Force’s first aircraft with inertial navigation and a celestial navigation star-tracking system, and for low-level fight had a radar altimeter, then another novelty. But the Soviet air defense system rendered its mission profile extremely risky.

The high speed straight-line superiority of the B-58 was suddenly a vulnerability, as Air Force planners came to understand the capabilities of the Soviet SA-1 and SA-2 missiles. The high-altitude penetration mission was scratched. The Air Force’s fleet of B-47, B-52, and B-58 bombers was reevaluated for low altitude, under the radar penetration missions. And that was the delta-winged jet’s death knell: its lightweight structures could not stand the stresses of high-speed operation in dense, turbulent air down low, and its engines were wasteful of fuel at low altitudes. As no conventional capability for the B-58 was  ever developed, it’s only targets were nuclear strike targets.

Secretary of Defense Robert S. MacNamara ordered the plane cancelled in 1965, and the Air Force took five years to wind it down. While the performance problems were one factor, the fleet in being of 100+ B-58s, which could have been re-engined with more efficient turbofans, was something he considered a threat to his plan to put the widest range of all services’ air missions onto his preferred one-plane-for-everything, the TFX/F-111.

In the end, the Strategic Air Command operated an F-111 version, the FB-111, with little commonality with the Tactical Air Command’s F-111 variants. It would use some of the systems and technology that had been pioneered on the B-58. But it never did get a promotional film with Jimmy Stewart.

Battleship Musashi’s Resting Place Found

An expedition sponsored and led by investor Paul Allen has given a precise answer to a question only understood generally since 1944: where is Musashi? The general answer, of course, is, “at the bottom of the sea,” which is where most of Japan’s aircraft carriers (and naval aircraft, and naval aviators) were when the IJN’s surface combatants sortied to try to bring the US fleets to what Japanese doctrine always called for, “one decisive battle.” Japan wound up having four decisive battles, and losing all four, spectacularly.


Musashi under way in an artist’s rendering.

In retrospect, the sortie of Musashi, like the later one of her sister Yamato off Okinawa, seems lunatic — the Charge of the Light Brigade, armored and put to sea. But the men of her complement believed that if they just showed enough spirit, fortune had to break Japan’s way. No one will ever question whether they showed enough spirit.

Musashi, tied with her sister Yamato for largest battleship ever built, died hard, with her forest of 25mm AA guns and her heavier armament taking a toll on the American naval dive bombers and torpedo bombers that dove relentlessly at the ship. One compartment after the next flooded, one system after another went down, and still they fought. With the bow awash and the ship’s speed reduced to the single digits, they were still fighting.

A thousand heroes were made that day on both sides of the fight, and most of their heroism went unobserved by anyone who would survive the battle.

Starboard anchor of IJN Musashi. The port anchor was cut away as the crew fought a list during her last hours.

Starboard anchor of IJN Musashi. The port anchor was cut away by damage-control parties as the crew fought a list during her last hours.

Along with the most comprehensive air defense battery ever fielded, Musashi had new anti-aircraft fire directors for her secondary armament, and her gunnery officers figured out that the ship’s unprecedented 18″ (460mm) main armament could be effective against torpedo bombers, by shooting into the water and knocking the necessarily low- and straight-flying torpedo planes down with geysers of displaced water. Every time a plane fell the defenders cheered. But the new gun-director jammed, irreversibly.

And no matter what they did, they couldn’t get all the planes. And matching valor for valor, the planes kept coming, and the defenses could only slow their attack, not stop it. In the end, Musashi, her captain RADM Toshihira Inoguchi (posthumously VADM), and over 1,000 of her crew went to the bottom. 1,700 other crewmen were saved, some to return to Japan, and some to be fed back into the battles for the Philippines as ersatz ground troops. The luck of the draw determined who would live and who would die; very few of the sailors repurposed as infantrymen would see Japan again, except perhaps in spirit at Yasukuni Shrine.

Where the ship was remained a mystery, as American and Japanese records offered conflicting locations for the start of Musashi’s plunge, and previous attempts to fix her position on the seabed frustrated the explorers and scientists looking for the mighty ship.

Paul G. Allen, a Microsoft billionaire whose eclectic interests include investments, private space, World War II aircraft, promoting gun bans (unfortunately) and owning the Super Bowl-losing Seattle Seahawks,  sponsored and led an expedition to find Musashi.

This week, he did.

Mr. Allen and his team of researchers began their search for the Musashi more than eight years ago. Using historical records from four countries, detailed undersea topographical data and advanced technology aboard his yacht, M/Y Octopus, Mr. Allen and his team located the battleship in the Sibuyan Sea on March 1, 2015.

Despite numerous eyewitness accounts, the exact location of the ship was unknown. The team combined historical data with advanced technology to narrow the search area. Mr. Allen commissioned a hypsometric bathymetric survey of the ocean floor to determine the terrain. This data was used to eliminate large areas for the search team and also resulted in the discovery of five new geographic features on the floor of the Sibuyan Sea. In February 2015, the team set out to conduct the final phase of the search using a BlueFin-12 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). Because the search area had been so narrowly defined by the survey, the AUV was able to detect the wreckage of Musashi on only its third dive. A Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) with a high-definition camera confirmed the identity of the wreckage as Musashi.

“Since my youth, I have been fascinated with World War II history, inspired by my father’s service in the U.S. Army,” said Mr. Allen. “The Musashi is truly an engineering marvel and, as an engineer at heart, I have a deep appreciation for the technology and effort that went into its construction. I am honored to play a part in finding this key vessel in naval history and honoring the memory of the incredible bravery of the men who served aboard her.”

While we obviously part company with Mr Allen on his support for disarming those citizens who have the ill fortune not to be billionaires, we have long admired his other ventures, including the SpaceShip One effort (where he not only funded the whole thing, but then yielded any claim on the X-Prize his team won, so that there was more to be shared among the engineers and technicians who did the work), and several no-expense-spared restorations of rare wartime aircraft.


“Ding-dong! A bomb calling!”

That’s been the message that ISIL forces around Kobani have received from the US Air Force’s 9th Bombardment squadron, which is bombing enemy targets before the Kurds, using a plan that seems designed to impose as much friction and Fog of War as possible between the fighters on the ground and the guys toggling off the JDAMs and SDBs.


The Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. had established close communications with the People’s Defense Units, or YPG, a Kurdish secularist group that led the fight to defend Kobani. YPG fighters communicated with liaisons and air controllers in the operations centers set up by the U.S.

The Combined Air Operation Center in Qatar then took that information and sent bomb coordinates to the B-1s flying over Kobani.

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

During as much as eight hours flying over Kobani, the 9th Bomb Squadron would get targets called in to the air operations center from air controllers working with the Kurds. The B-1 crew would get the target, drop a weapon and then get confirmation from the fighters on the ground.

Get that? There’s some JTAC or some individual somehow insulated from being Boots On The Ground™ as designated by the Bugger-Outer-In-Chief. (Probably a non-US person who is employed by a non-DOD agency). He gets on the satcom horn and makes a call for fire, that includes his identity, and the famous “9 lines”:

  1. the initial point/battle position (something identifiable to the aircrew)
  2. heading from that IP/BP to the target or and/or offset;
  3. distance from that IP/BP to the target;
  4. target elevation in feet above Mean Sea Level;
  5. target description (“four enemy technicals in laager”);
  6. target location;
  7. type of target marking, and code if encoded;
  8. location of friendlies;
  9. egress (aircraft’s safest route out after weapons release).

That call arrives at the Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar. It’s received, and logged, and a checklist is run on it to make sure it’s not going to bomb friendlies, or otherwise cause embarrassment to Beltway princelings.

Then, the CAOC in Qatar transmits the targets to the bomber. The crew of the bomber (usually the Offensive Systems operator) transmits the target’s coordinates to the bomb, and the bomb is released to do its thing.


Now, this is better than doing nothing. Although not by great leaps and bounds. (In Afghanistan it worked like this: we called the aircraft. The fighter, for fighter-bombers, or offensive systems operator, for bombers, read back the coordinates. And the bomb landed on it within, really, two minutes).

But the guys are out there flying, and trying. We all know what risks the guys making these calls are taking: ISIL has no Gitmo. And the risks that the B-1B crews are taking are very real, making them rather unlike the Beltway princelings who award each other as Profiles in Courage for following the crowd. And the bomber crews’ story is worth telling — read the whole Wall Street Journal Thing™ — but this is not going to beat ISIL or win the war.

In all history, there has never been a war or campaign won by air power alone. Air power has never even degraded an enemy to the point where he was unable to fight, and every promise to do so — Italy in ’43, France in ’44, Korea in ’50-’53, Vietnam, Kosovo, Desert Storm — beat him up pretty good but certainly didn’t take the fight out of him. Using air power alone says one thing out loud: nobody on our side is really trying to beat ISIL or win the war.

Lesser Battles in the Press Offensive

Promoting the 9th Bombardment Squadron, which will dutifully bomb the grid coordinates given them, and has no doubt manufactured vast quantities of dust and smoke, and some amount of terror and death among the deserving, is one thing. Other parts of the Administration’s press offensive to rehabilitate the battered reputation of Strategic Simpering or whatever they’re hashtagging it this week haven’t gone so well. Spokeswoman Marie Harf, who peaked a couple of years ago as an undergrad when she was measured solely by her ability to replay professors’ shibboleths on demand, looks callow, shallow, and stupid every time she faces a real interviewer.

Probably because she’s actually callow, shallow, and stupid.

Confirming our view that nobody in the Beltway is actually trying to beat ISIL or win the war, Harf spouted endless, ill-formed nonsense about creating jobs and inspiring them to move on from jihad and similar rubbish, nonsense that does our sworn enemies the discourtesy of assuming that they are as callow, shallow and stupid as, for example, Marie Harf.

There is a conspiracy theory that Harf was added to the State Department payroll as a whipping child, to make the callow, shallow and stupid Jennifer Psaki seem statesmanlike. It’s just a reminder that A players hire A players, and John Kerry hires ZZZ players. (And it doesn’t say much for the cat that hired him, either).

But the Administration’s foreign policy rehab offensive, like Lindsey Lohan’s, has many twists and turns on its Nantucket sleighride to the depths of irrelevancy. This morning we caught a report from Iran by the state-controlled media outlet, NPR. NPR is doing a series about how wonderful Iran is, in order to pre-sell the upcoming Chamberlain deal with Iran to the last constituency still starry-eyed over President Selfie’s statesmanship: NPR listeners.

The subject of this installment? How good the Jews have it in Iran. They’re not all oppressed like they are in other countries, like the Zionist Entity. Lord love a duck.

ATGMs Go to War, Vietnam, 1972

In 1972, ATGMs had been in military inventories for 20 years, since France’s adoption of the SS-10 circa 1951. But they’d never fulfilled their original mission — destruction of enemy tanks in combat. Sure, some of the French missiles might have been popped off an insurgent sangars in Algeria, and Americans shot a couple of Entacs at bunkers in Vietnam. And a dozen missile models had blown hell out of obsolete tanks on a firing range. But nobody had shot one at a hostile tank containing a hostile crew.

1972 was the year that the wire-guided anti-tank missile got its cherry popped, in Vietnam conflict. Before the next year was out the missiles would prove almost decisive in tank-on-tank combat — and be employed on both sides. If the weapons world of New Year’s Eve, 1971, had its issues with anti-tank guided missiles — and the US had such gadflies as the Project on Military Procurement (whose funding and control was shadowy) and the Soviet-line Center for Defense Information trying to force cancellation of ATGM programs — the weapons world of New Year’s Day, 1974, had shaken off all doubts. Missiles were here to stay.

Those wars were the 1972 NVA conventional invasion of South Vietnam and the Yom Kippur War, both of which saw missiles used, in the first experimentally, and in the second in great quantities.  Here is an overview video of TOW missile attacks on North Vietnamese armor.

Click “more” for the details about Vietnam. The Yom Kippur War story will be told in the days ahead.

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