Category Archives: Air and Naval Weapons

Ineffective Bombing is Worse than No Bombing at All

M64 bomb 2

In all history, about 99% of these have accomplished nothing but blind destruction, unrelated to war aims. Guernica myths notwithstanding.

We made the mistake of watching some Aspen Institute foreign policy luminaries (including ex-secretaries Madeline Albright, Condoleeza Rice, and Bob Gates) and then parts of the Sunday talking head shows. We’ve also read the Post and the Times on the pinprick airstrikes in Iraq, stories that seem to agree that they were made for the domestic political effect. (“We didn’t want another Benghazi.”) In time-honored Harvard-Yale-Georgetown Masters of the Universe™ fashion, these war-experts-from-the-campus-quad either endorsed or criticized the Obama policy of tiny strikes, as a fancied means for bringing the parties to the negotiating table, that Happy Hunting Ground of all diplomats.

We’re here to pickle off some precision-guided practical truth on that.

Here’s what bombs from the air can do:

  1. Kill people.
  2. Blow things up.

That’s about it. And to achieve that limited potential, they need to be dropped exactly on the people and things you intend to kill or blow up. Otherwise, they’re just wasteful fireworks, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Here’s some of what they can’t do:

  1. Kill specific people (unless there are friendly and reliable eyes on the ground).
  2. Send a message. No one ever successfully “sent a message” with bombing, unless the message was: “Bang. You’re dead.” You can send that message — if you have eyes on the ground targeting the bomb. Any other message you were trying to send is as likely to get across as the messages for the enemy that the ordies scrawl on the bombs. That is, not very.
  3. Weaken the resolve of those under the bombs. Yeah, that’s why England folded in 1940, Germany in 1944, the Norks in 1951, and the DRV in 1967. Oh, wait… looks like bombing stiffens resolve, except for the people it physically makes stiffs out of. Seriously, if some foreign air force blew up your house and killed your family, would you (1) Japan is the exception, and they still had to be nuked twice after some fire-bombings that made the nukes look mild, on top of years of sub-blockade starvation.
  4. Take and hold ground.

Over and over again, the lesson has been, bombing without eyes-on recon, terminal guidance, and eyes-on post-mission BDA, is wasteful and ineffective. For example, in the 1999 bombing of Serbia, the US killed — over and over again — obsolete jets wheeled out of museums, and broken-down tanks hauled into bait positions. What was lacking? This:


If we don’t have terminal guidance teams on the ground in Iraq, these missions are being set up for failure. If we do have them, and only give them two or four carrier strike fighters a day on a one-pass-and-haul-ass limit, we’re not going to succeed. We get that the President does not want to encourage Maliki, whose sectarian score-settling is a big factor in the current collapse of his country’s defense establishment.

Then, there’s the question of what we’re risking. 

ISIL (the enemy on the ground, even if Obama can’t bring himself to admit that the Kurds are friendlies) has modern AA weapons, and the F/A-18, the only arrow remaining in the Navy’s quiver, is no less vulnerable to AA gunfire and SAMs than its Vietnam and even Korean War counterparts. (It’s actually slower, on the deck with stores, than the Vietnam era F-105). So, if we keep exposing them we’re going to start losing them.

That means: remains of pilots, or live pilots, in ISIL hands, whether as hostages (given the big payoff the Taliban got for holding deserter Bowe Bergdahl, certainly a possibility) or as stars in a single episode of JihadTube each. Normally, SOF take responsibility for personnel recovery, but it’s very, very different to do without some kind of footprint on the ground, and it’s a rare PR that goes off without losing at least one helicopter, potentially compounding the problem.

Now, we have no doubt that the Navy and Marine strike pilots will fly whatever missions they get — that’s what they do. But sending them on symbolic, ineffective pinprick strikes, and exposing them to a high risk of capture, is not good policy. That it’s being done to “send a message” to Maliki (and that the message is the amorphous, “you need to form a unity government and be more diplomatic and inclusive”) is extremely troubling.

Bottom line: for bombing to be effective, we need CCTs, JTACs or equivalent on the ground calling the strikes. (True story: in the early part of the war — remember, the part we won?  — nobody sweated who had and didn’t have credentials or ticket punches. When we got friendly fire, it came from an Air Force ETAC and Air Force aircraft commanders who had all the requisite qualifications. But now, you gotta have a ticket punch). For bombing to be effective, there needs to be enough of it to kill lots of the enemy and break all his favorite toys. For bombing to be effective, it needs to be targeted by junior officers and NCOs on the groundwho can lay the Mark I eyeball on the enemy and direct the money shot all the way down, not by some committee of drones who attended all the right schools and never felt the chafe of a uniform collar.

Ineffective bombing is worse than no bombing at all. And that’s what we’ve got, so far.

So, these are the Navy’s priorities

Screenshot 2014-07-19 22.13.16The Navy, like traitor, felon and jailbird Bradley Manning, has a thing called a Transition Plan, and it may be proceeding towards the same end. We’ll provide the document as a .pdf for you, but we thought we’d highlight a couple of the lowlights.

First, get a load of the cover of this thing! Decide whether they wanted to publish the annual report of some Silicon Valley high-tech, or a brochure for some overpriced college. So they split the difference. It has the college brochure One Cool Looking Brother, the obligatory Action Shots, and the Meaningless Slogan some marketing department MBAs agonized and argued over, in this case, “MOVING FORWARD… MOVING FORWARD…

Given that ships generally suck at backing up, that’s probably not a completely bad choice, but you have to wonder whether it was an attempt to suck up to the Administration’s E Ring suits, or hosts of sparsely-watched MSNBC shows, two practically interchangeable demographics.

The plan begins with a grinning picture (we’ll spare you) Ray Mabus, who’s getting antsy now that he’s only got two years left to name DDGs for Sacco and Vanzetti, an LHA USS Jane Fonda, and maybe an SSBN USS Benedict Arnold. And the plan is a very curious thing. Maybe it’s that we don’t have a Distinguished Naval Personage around the Manor, although we have thrown the dog in the fountain on a slow day, for comic relief. But the plan makes no sense to us… we can’t tell what they’re transitioning from or to, it’s almost as if in Ray Mabus World “transition” is an intransitive verb.

Anyway, the document includes an absolutely shocking set of goals. These are the Navy’s priorities:

  1. Take care of our people The DON is committed to attracting, developing and retaining a diverse total workforce trained and equipped to meet our strategic readiness objectives.
  2. Maximize warfighter readiness and avoid hollowness The DON will effectively size our force to meet strategic demands, maintain a credible, capable and combat ready military force.
  3. Lead the nation in sustainable energy The DON continues to support alternative energy efforts, realizing that energy independence is vital to our national security and the safety of our Sailors and Marines.
  4. Promote acquisition excellence and integrity

The DON is improving the execution of every program and increasing anti-fraud efforts, and leveraging strategic sourcing to take advantage of economies of scale.

5. Proliferate unmanned systems

The DON will integrate unmanned systems across the entire department ensuring that we can operate in any environment. Our global presence will be sustained and enhanced with our continued investment in unmanned systems.

6. Drive innovative enterprise transformation

The DON will continue to transform our business enterprise, ensuring that available resources are directed to our Sailors and Marines. 

Screenshot 2014-07-19 22.12.59Apologies for any brain-dead formatting. (WordPress ^$^&#^I#$!! But we digress). Apart from the fact that those are a politician’s anodyne and empty statements, worthy of a game of Buzzword Bingo except that everyone has a winning card, the priorities they reflect are remarkable. (Mabus is an anodyne and empty politician; a former one-term governor who was defeated for a second term, he got rich as a revolving-door crony capitalist, and has served in several political appointments). Indeed, those statements look so stupid we’re putting a screen-cap of the document here for those of you disinclined to download the whole anodyne and empty Buzzword Bingo thing.

Of course, Mabus’s lodestone, “diversity,” gets mentioned in Goal 1. And “sustainable energy” gets mentioned a couple further on. Those terms come up a few times in the document. But the mention of “combat ready military force” in Goal 2 is the only place the word “combat” appears in the whole thing. That’s not what this Secretary is transitioning this Navy towards, apparently. Some things a Navy might do don’t show up, either: “battle?” “Superiority?” “Dominance?” Those all get “No Results Found.” There is, however, a mention of the Navy’s element, the sea. Exactly one mention, on Page 11 (which is page 13 of the .pdf, thanks to the cover letter). Here’s the only context in which Ray Mabus’s Navy is concerned about the freakin’ sea:

Institutionalize environmental sustainability on land and sea

Well, we guess we can’t say that the Navy has no priorities. It has priorities, all right. But we think we can be forgiven for the thought that they are all the wrong priorities.

Here’s the document, if these samples haven’t already glazed your glazzies: Navy Transition Plan-Fy14-16-Final.pdf

You want sustainable energy, Ray Mabus? Go to the Naval Academy where, in a tomb reminiscent of Napoleon’s, John Paul Jones’s remains lie in honored repose, returned to the US after a century in a restless foreign interment. Wrap the old Admiral in a winding of varnish-insulated copper magnetic wire and call him an armature. Add a pair of magnets and brushes to take off the power , and zowie! Sustainable energy, as he spins.

Possible Killshot in the Ventura-Kyle Trial

The Late Chris Kyle with his .338 Lapua Magnum.

The Late Chris Kyle with his .338 Lapua Magnum.

Chris Kyle wrote that “Old Scruff Face,” whom he didn’t then identify by name, bad-mouthed today’s SEALs at an informal frogman wake in 2006, and that Kyle decked him. It was obvious to insiders  that the old frogman he was referring to was SEAL turned pro wrestler turned actor (he’s in Predator, toting an M134), turned maverick politician, turned sometime reality-TV host Jesse Ventura, and Kyle later confirmed this during an appearance on a Los Angeles radio station — during which he also said it wasn’t anything special because the guy was “really old.” (Ventura is 63 now, so he was in his fifties when he and Kyle crossed paths in the bar).

Ventura insists that none of it ever happened: no bad-mouthing, no punch, none of it. Sure, he was at the bar, a SEAL hangout; he had been there as a VIP guest of a fresh graduating class. But he claims that the ridicule resulting from Kyle’s book has sunk his income, once millions a year, to less than what the VA pays people to mismanage vets’ treatment, and estranged him from the SEAL community, of which he was ever a proud member.

Naturally, the lawsuit, and the fact that he persisted in it after Kyle’s unrelated murder, with Kyle’s widow Taya standing in as plaintiff, has further estranged him. His name is mud in the SOF community, for certain values of “mud” that are highly organic in origin.

Everybody seems to have an opinion about the facts in the case, which seemed to be a classic “This guy said this and that guy said that” kind of case, complicated by This Guy being unavailable to testify. But the emergence of an eyewitness in the case, testifying for the Kyles in defense, seems to have shifted the balance of the case considerably. Here’s the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the testimony of Laura deShazo:

DeShazo, the sister of a Navy SEAL and an education specialist for Utah’s public schools, testfied that she was at the bar the night in question for the wake of Michael Monsoor, a slain SEAL.

DeShazo, the first witness called by the defense, said someone pointed out Ventura to her and that she, her sister and another woman posed for a picture with him. Otherwise, she said, she had little interaction with him.

Later that night, deShazo testified, she saw an altercation involving a group of people in the bar. Ventura was involved.

“I saw Mr. Ventura get hit,” she said.

But she didn’t know who hit him. She watched only for a few seconds, she said, before turning away because she wasn’t interested in a bar fight.

The Pioneer Press notes that some details of her recollection of the fight don’t gibe with Kyle’s (do Read The Whole Thing™; it also has some detail on Ventura’s finances). But deShazo’s description of the SEAL that punched Ventura does match Chris Kyle, according to a report at Fox News:

DeShazo said she later saw Ventura getting a scuffle with other people at the bar and saw a man punch Ventura. She said she doesn’t know who threw the punch but gave a description that was consistent with Kyle.

Reportedly, the defense team has other witnesses ready to testify they saw the big-mouthed former entertainer take one on the chin, but given that deShazo’s testimony was not perfect for the defense, and they led with her, the other testimony is probably weak. Still, the jury now has to disregard Kyle’s deposition and deShazo’s corroborating testimony, and accept Ventura’s testimony instead (he didn’t present on-scene eyewitnesses to his story). This seems unlikely, and the probable outcome is that the lawsuit will attaint Ventura’s reputation more than the bar fight story did.

You have to wonder why this wound up in the courts in the first place. It is nothing but a mess, and reflects badly on the SEALs in general and these two SEALs (yeah, technically Ventura was a UDT guy, but that hair-splitting distinction is of no consequence here) in particular. It’s unseemly.

Frankly, if Ventura really said the stuff Kyle wrote that he did, especially in that environment, he had the punch coming.

Of course, not everybody agrees with us. The Minnesota Post’s Jim Walsh clearly wishes the badmouthing was true, and wants Ventura to take it further:

[W]alk away… from the military industrial complex that brainwashed you into believing in fight not flight. Take those boxes of SEAL shirts and torch them in a massive purifying ceremony….

…true freedom, the kind that has nothing to do with America or the military’s narrow definition of it…

…Have a good cry … and become Jesse Ventura, new age man and leader of the feMENist movement who strikes a blow for compassion above all else.

Uh, not too likely. Walsh also describes both Ventura and Kyle as members of “Douchebag Nation.” Well, all we want to know is, as King of that dominion, did Walsh sign their passports?



Since this post was drafted (and not published) on 15 July, the trial has continued, and a parade of witnesses who were at the informal “wake” for SEAL Michael Monsoor MOH have followed deShazo — and their testimony has further damaged Governor Ventura’s case. They include:

  1. Rosemary deShazo, Laura’s sister, who testified that she heard Ventura say a disparaging remark about fallen SEALs: “They probably deserved it, they die all the time.” She admits she’s paraphrasing, but the statement is close to what Kyle recounted in the book, and like Kyle, she was angered and offended by it. 
  2. Former SEAL Jeremiah Dinnell remembers both Ventura saying that SEALs “deserved to lose a few in Iraq,” and Kyle immediately thereafter punching Ventura. That’s exactly the way Kyle told the story in the book and on KFI Radio in LA.
  3. Gold Star Mother (of SEAL Marc Lee) Debbie Lee, who found that instead of sympathizing with her (or the Monsoors’) loss, he wanted to brag himself up. She “lost all respect for the man.” Kyle admitted to her that he punched Ventura.
  4. Former SEAL Guy Budinscak saw something, although he did not testify it was the punch, but “a commotion,” saw Ventura depart looking like he’d been in a fight, and heard that same night that Kyle punched Ventura. He also remembers Ventura rudely dismissing wounded SEAL Ryan Job, and spouting 9/11 conspiracy theories.
  5. Job himself formed an opinion of Ventura from their brief meeting: “Fuck that guy,” he said, according to his friend SEAL Kevin Lacz (via video deposition). Job died from complications of his wounds in 2009. Lacz’s recollections otherwise support Kyle’s version of the story.
  6. SEAL SO1C John Kelly III didn’t see Kyle punch Ventura, but he did see Ventura down and apparently out, and then later, with blood on his lips. Kelly had initially admired Ventura, until the conversation turned political and Ventura began bashing both Bush and servicemen. The suggestion that SEALs like Kelly were in Iraq “killing women and children” stuck in his craw.
  7. Former SEAL Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Paul also did not see the punch, but saw Ventura down, and then come up threatening to kill Kyle. Kyle later admitted to Paul that he punched Ventura. He also remembers Ventura ranting about “very bizarre” 9/11 conspiracy theories.
  8. Former SEAL Bobby Gassoff saw “a commotion” and later that night “was told” that Kyle hit Ventura.

Kyle himself, appearing from beyond the grave by video deposition, expressed surprise that, of all the things in the book American Sniper, the three pages describing his encounter with Scruff Face were the part that went viral.


However this case ends — we all know that random stuff occurs in American courts all the time — Chris Kyle deserves to be remembered.


Minneapolis Red Star Tribune

St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Portland Oregonian (AP wire story).

Breaking: Civil Airliner Downed by Russian Missile

Two flags, one nation; we tried that 1860-65, didn't work.

Two flags, one nation; we tried that 1860-65, didn’t work.

This story is still breaking and developing, and it’s not good any way you slice it. Initial reports were that 279 are dead aboard the Malaysian airliner, and 29 of them American citizens; later media reports raised the death toll to 295, and said none were Americans.

The missiles were fired either by the Russian military or by Russian-controlled ethnic-Russian separatists in the so-called “Republic of Donetsk.” Russia’s cat’s paw in the region, a sheep-dipped GRU officer, initially claimed the shootdown then rapidly backed away and is disclaiming not only the now deleted tweet but the entire social-media account in question. The Ukrainians report that they have communications intercepts of both ethnic Russians involved in the shootdown and the commander they report to, a serving Russian Army officer.

Igor Strelkov, figurehead of the Donetsk Republic, in his best Hitler pose. Strelkov is a serving officer in the GRU.

Igor Strelkov, figurehead of the Donetsk Republic, in his best Hitler pose. “Strelkov” is Igor Girkin, a serving officer in the GRU. Far from being Ukrainian, he’s a Muscovite. He was caught on the audio track of a video celebrating the shootdown. Other serving Russian officers who participated in the mass murder include Igor Bezler and Vassiliy Geranin. 

Whether the shootdown was deliberate or accidental, it looks bad for Russia either way: if it was deliberate,  300 people have been murdered in cold blood, something redolent of Soviet days; if it was accidental, 300 people have died due to criminal negligence, something equally redolent of Soviet days. Likewise, whether the mongs at the switches of the system were actual Russian PVO members, or whether they were some kind of irregulars, it’s bad for Russia either way: on one side, their military looks incompetent and leaderless, and on the other, they’ve armed a lawless guerilla group, who promptly used their shiny new Made In Russia toy to commit a bestial mass murder. They’ve either misused missiles under their control, or they’ve put missiles into the hands of nut jobs they don’t control — making the Russians look teenage-arsonist irresponsible at best.

It’s not the first time this issue has come up. Consider this passage from a book on the history of the major organization that coordinates world airspace and airlines (ICAO: A History of the International Civil Aviation Organization by David MacKenzie). This passage, from p. 304, refers to the US reaction to the screwed-up shootdown of KAL Flight 007:

The incident also made the Americans uneasy in other ways. If the Soviets knowingly shot down a civil airliner then all the criticism was justified; but if the aircraft drifted in Soviet space for two hours without the Soviets knowing about it; and if it took them hours to track it down; and if they shot it down not knowing it was a civil airliner, then what did this say about the state of Soviet defences or their ability to act responsibly as a nuclear power? If this kind of mistake can happen, Reagan asked, “what kind of imagination did it take to think of the Soviet military man with his finger close to a nuclear button making an even more tragic mistake? If mistakes could be made by a fighter pilot, what about a similar miscalculation by the commander of missile launch crew?”

MacKenzie notes that the decision of both parties was to submit it to the toothless ICAO for investigation; as an international agency with no subpoena or enforcement powers, it was guaranteed to take months to produce an empty result. But in the meantime, “the main protagonists could… be seen to be doing something” and this would let the parties “avoid applying sanctions and provid[e]…. an opportunity for both sides to cool off.”

The Russians know their best bet is to brazen it out, hence the belligerent statements we’ve seen from Vladimir Vladimirovich. Plus, in 1983 a bold Reagan faced a weak, sick Brezhnev. In 2014, a weak, vacillating and disengaged Obama faces a strong, bold Putin — whose help he perseverates in seeking on such issues as Syria and Iran. Russian forces have reportedly stolen the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder from the crash site, and spirited them off to Moscow — just as they did in 1983, and for the same reason: guilty knowledge.

Enough about the geopolitics, what about the missile?

SA-11 System: Clockwise from top, "Snow Drift" surveillance radar, TELAR, Command Post vehicle, TEL.

SA-11 System: Clockwise from top, “Snow Drift” surveillance radar, TELAR, 9S470 “Ranzhir” Command Post vehicle, TEL.

However evil or stupid the hand that set them into motion in Ukraine this week, the the missiles in question are a highly developed product of Russian technology, and of nearly 70 years of Russian experience with guided missiles.

The system is known as “Бук” or “Beech” in Russian and as 9K37 in the Russian “Главное ракетно-артиллерийское управление” or GRAU, essentially Main Ordnance Directorate, nomenclature, but over the years system improvements have caused its DOD/NATO code designation and name to change from SA-11 Gadfly to SA-17 Grizzly. The system has largely replaced the SA-6 Gainful (2K12 Kub) in Russian service, but is also widely distributed worldwide, to Russian allies and rogue states alike.

The system has been used by Russians and Georgians against each other (both effectively) in 2008, and by these same Russians and/or Russian-controlled separatists to shoot down an Sukhoi Su-25 attack plane and an unarmed, but military, Antonov An-26 transport in Ukraine.  The system has been generally ineffective in Syrian hands, and a Russo-Syrian attempt to deliver Buk systems to Hezbollah ended in the destruction of the systems by Israeli air power in 2013.

It is extremely unlikely that the system was operated without support and control from Russia. It is even more unlikely that the shoot-down of an international airliner was anything but an error. Certainly we’ve seen these errors before, when Israel shot down a Libyan airliner in 1973, when Soviet jets shot down off-course Korean airliners that had flown over Soviet airspace in 1978 and again in 1983 (the KAL 007 downing), and in 1988 when an American ship shot down an Iranian airliner.

And the one that seems most interesting, under the circumstances: in 2001, a Russian airliner was shot down into the Black Sea, in a screwup committed by a Ukrainian military unit. Then-President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma apologized, and some air defense officers were sacked.

There are some differences in these cases. In at least one case, the Soviet pilot knew the plane was civil, but didn’t care: he was ordered to shoot it down, and a civil plane could certainly have been spying, so he did, no more a human in the loop than the Buk missile has. In the case of the USS Vincennes and Iran Air Flight 655, the American crew clearly lost situational awareness and panicked, mistaking the harmless civil jet for an attacking Iranian F-14; it was a shameful day for the US Navy.

The Ukrainian 2001 incident has never been clearly explained, but appears to have been a case of a missile preferring the jetliner to an intended drone target — a Range Control no-go event.

What seems to have happened in the Ukraine this time, is that the GRU/rebels weren’t deconflicting their radar tracking with civilian airliner flight plans and whoever the controller is for the area (Eurocontrol? Roscontrol?). So, after two successful shoot-downs of Ukrainian military aircraft, they were fangs-out for God and Vladimir Vladimirovich.

The Ukrainians know they can count on the EU. Not.

The Ukrainians know they can count on the EU. Not.

Now comes a Cold War replay of finger pointing, and evidence shifting and/or destruction. (In 1983, the Soviets clandestinely recovered the flight recorders of KAL 007, then hid them and destroyed the tapes when they found that they fit the American propaganda line, not the Soviet one. After the fall of the USSR only Russian translations of transcripts were found. They also conducted a false search and recovery effort miles from the wreckage, and made no attempt at search and recovery at the actual crash site). The area where the Malaysia Airlines jet came down is under Russian GRU control, so evidence hiding will probably take priority over investigation. (In 1983, the Soviets deliberately avoided recovering human remains).

In 1984, in its final response to the KAL 007 mass murder, the ICAO Council called on the contracting States to “abstain from the use of armed force on civil aircraft”. Two council members voted no: Russia and the then-puppet Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.

A New Capital Ship for the Royal Navy: HMS Queen Elizabeth

The story reads like a press release from the Admiralty and the Air Staff, maybe because it is. The signatories are the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, and the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford. But the op-ed in Britain’s daily Telegraph also gives some feeds and speeds of the freshly-christened HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest and most capable aircraft carrier to ever fly the White Ensign of the Royal Navy.


At 65,000 tonnes, HMS Queen Elizabeth will pack a heavyweight military punch.
In the years ahead, she will be equipped with the Lightning II. Placing the UK at the forefront of fighter jet technology, Lightning II will provide a true multi-role aircraft that will surpass the majority of weapons systems in production today, or envisaged in the foreseeable future.
A fifth generation, survivable, low observable, multi-role aircraft, Lightning II will be able to undertake a wide range of mission types from both Land and Sea. In addition to the Carrier Strike role, the new aircraft carrier also has a deck big enough to airlift one thousand Royal Marine commandos or soldiers ashore by helicopter.

The naming of the ship is one thing; her building is still far from complete, and then she must be armed, manned, and equipped. She is two to four years from being an effective unit in the Royal Navy, depending on how things go with the inevitable budget cuts.

The Lightning II is the jet we know in the States as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The RAF/RN version will be V/STOL capable, using technology roughly similar to that in the now-retired Harrier and Sea Harrier aircraft that were the technological marvels of the Falklands War over 30 years ago. (The USMC still operates Harriers, as do some other navies, but the British ). A mock-up of the aircraft was present at the christening.

HMS QE Christening

As well as military flexibility, HMS Queen Elizabeth and her embarked forces provide political and diplomatic choice, from a piece of independent, sovereign territory.

In disaster relief operations, she can be placed close in, to offer help in rebuilding shattered lives.

In times of crisis and tension, she can offer a visible coercive presence or position out of sight, a flexible means of escalating and de-escalating as the national or international will dictates.

And, able to roam across the international waters, she will offer a mobile sovereign air base.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will be the centre-piece of Defence’s Joint approach to warfare.

The air group which will operate from her 4-acre deck will be manned by both Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots. But her air missions will not be confined to fast jet carrier strike.

The embarkation of Army Apache attack helicopters in HMS Ocean for operations in Libya in 2011 already provides a blueprint for other types of inter-Service cooperation in the years ahead.

HMS Queen Elizabeth will not only host UK assets; we will work with our key allies to maximize our future capability.

The US long ago worked out joint maritime helo ops, initially in special operations, but increasingly across all services’ aviation arms. The British used V/STOL fighter-bombers and seagoing helicopters imaginatively and effectively in the Falklands, and they could get up to some quite interesting things with a powerful ship like this.


Indeed, HMS Queen Elizabeth will not only be the centre-piece of the nation’s maritime armada (named ‘the Response Force Task Group’), but the beating heart of the United Kingdom’s Joint Expeditionary Force.

And with her lifespan of 50 years she will enjoy a lengthy reign at the head of the nation’s future joint expeditionary capability.

During this long, value for money, working life she will be a platform for innovative technologies, both manned and unmanned. And, from a nation known for its inventiveness, this will include technology not yet imagined – after all, her last Commanding Officer has yet to be born!

HMS Queen Elizabeth is also serving as a turbocharger for deeper international partnership and coalition building.

Already Royal Navy and Royal Air Force personnel are being trained in ‘carrier skills’ in the United States. Our personnel are also serving within the French Carrier Strike Group.

These international exchanges — select American and French officers also serve exchange tours with allied air arms — serve the dual purpose of lubricating alliances with bonds of friendship forged on operations, and disseminating operational developments alliance-wide.

Of course, no British ship goes to sea without British traditions. In the case of HMS QE, this plaque shows that joint operations are built into her in the very shipyard:

HMS QE plaque

As part of the arrangements with the US, the first UK Lightning squadron will form up in the United States in 2016, prior to returning to the UK in 2018.

Not only is this generosity of partnership enabling the UK to regenerate its carrier strike capability, it is also laying strong foundations with our key strategic partners as we look to share responsibilities in the years which lie ahead.

via HMS Queen Elizabeth: The jewel in the crown of UK Defence – Telegraph.

The ship is the latest in a line of illustrious British capital ships to bear this name. The second carrier in the class, well under construction, also will bear a historic name: HMS Prince of Wales. The most famous prior Prince of Wales, of course, was the ill-fated King George V class battleship which survived a gunfight with DKM Bismarck (unlike her squadronmate, the weakly-armored battlecruiser Hood) only to be sunk in October December 1941 (Ugh. Embarrasing — Ed.) by Japanese land-based torpedo bombers.

The Telegraph also has a more technical description of the ship, likely to be of interest to us, linked in that article. Another excellent source of information on the ship is the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, an industry group of her builders.

While the ship is the first carrier of this size ever built by Britain (she is first of a class of two, and is approximately two to three years from commissioning and service), the USA has been building carriers this size or larger since the late 1940s, and the Russian Admiral Kuznetsov and former Russian carrier Liaoning (China, former Russian Varyag and Soviet Riga) are in this class.


Of course, not all the media is, shall we say, on board with HMS QE. The BBC irritated retired sailors and officers by referring to the HMS Queen Elizabeth as a “boat.” Well, that’s what you get with layers and layers of editors, one supposes.

One Giant Step towards Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament

This three-reentry-vehicle warhead was once standard on Minuteman III missiles. As part of a policy of unilateral disarmament, the MIRVs have been taken out of service.

This three-reentry-vehicle warhead was once standard on Minuteman III missiles. Each warhead could be aimed at a different target. As part of a policy of unilateral disarmament, the MIRVs have been taken out of service.

The United States has met a second strategic goal of the Soviet Union Russian Empire Federation. After giving them the unilateral cancellation of European missile defense, the United States has now unilaterally de-MIRVed its ground-based missiles. This serves no United States security purpose, but does please entities with one kind of relationship to the United States: enemies, foreign and domestic.

MIRVs are Multiple Independently Targetable (re-entry) Vehicles, multiple warheads on a single missile. They complicate a potential adversary’s defensive strategy and decrease his confidence in being able to execute a first strike without retaliation.

Eliminating the MIRVs is a political, not military, decision that makes the missiles less of a threat to any opponent or potential enemy (especially a sophisticated enemy), and is destabilizing, encouraging rogue states to attempt a first strike. But politically, this sets up for the third strategic goal, complete elimination of the now-obsolete single-warhead missiles. The Nuclear Threat Initiative, an anti-nuclear*, left-wing group, crows:

The United States this week finished altering its ground-based, long-range nuclear missiles to each carry just one warhead, the Great Falls Tribune reports.

Crews carried out the final modification of an intercontinental ballistic missile at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, the newspaper reported on Wednesday. The service implemented the alterations under a nuclear-arms pact with Russia.

The New START strategic arms-control treaty called for the change to the nation’s Minuteman 3 ICBMs, which were previously able to carry three “Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles.” The United States maintains roughly 450 of the missiles, deployed at the Montana facility and at bases in North Dakota and Wyoming.

“This was the last Minuteman 3 in the Air Force to be ‘deMIRVed,’ and this is a major milestone in meeting the force structure numbers to comply with the New START requirements,” Steve Ray, a member of Air Force Global Strike Command’s missile maintenance division, said in a released comment.

“This is historic because we’ve had MIRVs in the field for more than 40 years, since 1970 when the first Minuteman 3 came on alert,” Ray said.

In its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, the Obama administration said “deMIRVing” the weapons would “enhance the stability of the nuclear balance by reducing the incentives for either side to strike first.”

via U.S. Eliminates Multi-Warheads on All Ground-Based Nuclear Missiles | Global Security Newswire | NTI.

MIRVs do remain in service on submarine launched ballistic missiles, for the time being. But there are fewer missiles, and fewer subs, than there were five years ago, and there will be fewer still by the time a new president and national security team is sworn in.

Even if the incumbents don’t decide the SLBM MIRVs too must go, to please international counterparties and their domestic collaborationists and fifth columnists.

There may yet be political fallout from the executive decision to unilaterally disarm ground-based MIRVs. In 2012, Secretary of State Kerry promised at least one Senator that no further unilateral cuts would be made, but most Senators have been there long enough to have served with Kerry and already have no illusions about what his promise is worth.

*NTI is “anti-nuclear” as far as American nuclear weapons and nuclear allies. Not anti-war, just on the other side.

Impossible Helicopter Stuff

Obviously, it’s not impossible, because the guy did it… in that helicopter, a British Army Westland Lynx with a hingeless main rotor and monobloc rotorhead. In a Huey, it would be suicide. This Army training film explains why:

(It’s pretty dry if you’re not a helicopter pilot). Mast bumping is a serious threat to any teetering rotor rotorcraft, from a Bensen Gyrocopter through all the two-bladed Hiller and Bell helicopters. It’s less of a problem with a Sikorsky-type fully-articulated rotor (which was actually copied from Pitcairn, causing Sikorsky to lose a patent suit) or a rigid rotor.

Both the Lynx and the teetering Huey rotor are sometimes described as “semirigid,” but they’re very different animals. In the Huey, the blades are attached to one another and one central teetering hinge attaches them to the mast. When one flaps up, the other must flap down. In the Lynx, each of four composite BERP (British Experimental Rotor Program, the funny swept planform of the Lynx rotor) blades are attached to the rotor head by titanium root plates and a flexible arm.


Each blade flaps independently to deal with gust loads and the transition in forward flight of angle of attack and lead/lag from the advancing side to the retreating side of the rotor disc. Instead of hinges, the innate flexibility of the hub deals with asymmetric flight loads. The description is complicated, but the rotorhead itself is simple. It is an ingenious design and it gives the Lynx more aerobatic capability and greater speed than most other helicopters, while insulating the copter from mast bumping and other hazards that lurk in low-G flight.

“How do I become a Navy SEAL?”

tridentNot sure why we get that question. When we do, we try to hand the questioner off to someone who can answer it — like a real-deal SEAL. Because we’re Army guys, and while we have some occasional contact with our triphibious brethren of the sign of the trident, we’re not qualified to tell you how to join them. They are, by definition: after all, every single one of them pulled it off.

Lately, the SEALs have been buzzing about a book that dispenses useful advice for SEAL “wannabes” — the kind who get their wannabe on by going to the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL school, BUD/S (a rite of passage current SEALs are glad to have new young men attempt) rather than by just pinning a trident on an unworthy chest (something that has historically produced an epic beating, and removal of the unearned badge into SEAL safekeeping. Don’t even ask what happens to the cretins who have themselves tattooed with an unearned Budweiser).

That’s one of the cultural differences. Pretend to be SF, and we will taunt and mock you, and make you a laughingstock in a wide range of languages and cultures, and bring any of your plans which hinged on your pseudo-accomplishments down into ruination. Pretend to be a SEAL, and the frogmen are liable express their dissatisfaction with your course of action directly and robustly. It’s the frog way.

Anyway, the secret to success in SEAL training is not a lot different from that in Ranger RASP, SF Assessment & Selection, and other special operations forces’ selection processes: don’t quit. Or as Churchill might have put it, “If you’re going through Hell Week, keep on going.” But that simple advice is admittedly quite general in nature, and today’s candidates are seeking more-specific advice. And also, everybody knows that don’t quit is the answer, and also knows that it’s terribly hard to actually do. All the guys who dropped out, rang the bell and quit, knew don’t quit was what they needed to do, but somehow… they quit.

A SEAL officer thought that he would address both the desire for detail he sees in candidates, and the loss of human potential he sees over and over when young men who might have been SEALs drop out, often because they fell into behavioral ruts or traps.

If author DH Xavier has a single message, it’s that the young men who pass BUD/S are not supermen — that the average guy can, indeed, be a SEAL. If he mentally prepares himself for an arduous selection process that only seems physical, but is essentially mental, psychological, maybe neurological.

The book is, rather amusingly, called Breaking BUD/S. We bought a Kindle copy even though we’re not exactly in the demographic any more, and even though the Kindle edition is overpriced for an e-book.

Pentagon Blowing Billions on One Helicopter — and 20 Spares

When the President steps out of his helicopter on the South Lawn, he’s stepping out of a Nixon- or even LBJ-era helicopter that the Pentagon worries about every day. They would sincerely like to replace it, but, well, they’re the Pentagon, and they can’t buy anything without the whole procurement program turning to feces.

The logical answer, the V-22, isn’t that logical when you realize that only 100-odd have been built so far and some 30 have been written off, including this one that crashed (killing two crewmen) in Morocco on Exercise African Lion in the fall of 2012:

V-22 Down African Lion 2012 Morocco

It’s fine for Marines and our SOF guys, but President ain’t ridin’ that. And that means any President; one doesn’t reach that position by a willingness to risk life and limb any more.

The Pentangle’s last attempt, almost 10 years ago, blew over three billion dollars on European helicopters with a veneer of American badge engineering (and many layers of robustly-paid American middlemen). And they so micromanaged the VH-71 copters that the ones that they’d had built couldn’t even be fobbed off on an ally as airworthy helicopters: Canada took them, but only to part them out. (Bringing the project to airworthy-copter completion would have required handing over another $10 billion to Lockheed Martin… and hoping LockMart had no further cost overruns. What odds?). It did make a pretty artist’s rendering:

VH-71 artists impression

Canadian Forces, by the way, bought the same basic helicopter directly from its manufacturer, cutting out the great greedy gullet of Lockheed and saving billions. (Not that they don’t have fiscal problems with cost overruns by US defense manufacturers, too: they are staggered by the cost of 8 lighter helicopters from Bell, $200 million — Canadian loonies, close enough to par with $USD for our purposes).

The Washington Post sees the whole thing shaping up a second time.

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, replacing the helicopters — which fly under the call sign “Marine One” when the president is aboard — became a priority for the Pentagon. In 2005, a team led by Lockheed Martin won the contract, beating out Sikorsky, which built the helicopters currently used in the Marine One program.

But soon it became a case “study in how not to build a helicopter, analysts say. The design became so overloaded with new requirements — to be able to hover longer and at high altitudes, travel great distances without refueling, and defend against missile attacks — it essentially became an impossible task.

“Too many people had a seat at the table,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at the Fairfax-based Teal Group. “Everyone was chiming in for good measure. . . . Basically they were building something to survive a nuclear war. Literally.”

In 2009, the Pentagon killed the program and eventually sold the helicopters that were in production to Canada for spare parts.

Since then, the Navy has dramatically scaled back the ambitions for the aircraft, officials said, and will use existing, proven technologies instead of trying to build new ones specifically for the helicopter.

via Navy to award contract for Marine One helicopter despite previous failure – The Washington Post.

The Post quotes professional getting-quoted guy Aboulafia, and also someone from the Project On Government Oversight, a group that reflexively opposes all defense procurements because of its “let the Air Force hold a bake sale” and “better Red than dead!” values. But they have a point: this project is not going to be contained in its original budget projection, and its original projections are, frankly, insane.

The new proposal is based on the Sikorsky S-92, but it’s radically different from the production -92 (why?) and it’s being managed by that great steward of the public fisc, Lockheed Martin. (Wait! Didn’t they just… well, yeah).

The first helicopters will cost $3.2 billion, over $1 billion each, and the Pentagon imagines that by “mass producing” 21 helicopters, the unit cost will drop. Some of those 21 are probably “sacrificial tail numbers” that are intended to be cast aside in future phony budget-cutting, but there’s no need for such a big fleet of VIP aircraft: one aircraft is needed for a decoy, two more for operational and maintenance floats, and one or two for training of air and ground crews, since the Pentagon insists on buying a custom, bespoke helicopter for this purpose alone (previous Presidential helicopters have been ordinary military models with upgraded interiors and communications). And some of them are probably intended to push the VIP helicopter perk further down the ranks of the Washington political class.

burning-wasting-moneyThe Post tried to pin down Captain Dean Peters, USN, the guy leading this squanderathon, on what the whole project would cost. Peters was shifty and evasive and they got nothing out of him, which implies that Peters is either trying to hide the staggering project cost, or, more likely, has no earthly idea where the escalating price will finally stop. Neither possibility reassures.

And he’s the guy supposedly managing the project. If a PM can’t price his project, he’s at the point of epic fail already. No business would tolerate this, but DOD works no other way.

Peters was probably perfectly competent as a boat driver or air wing officer, and it’s probably not his personal fault that his project is failing. It’s deeply rooted in the DOD’s byzantine and corrupt acquisition culture, which has every incentive to gold-plate every contract, because neither the DOD acquirer, in this case the Navy, nor the manufacturer, in this case a consortium of Sikorsky and the previous project mismanager, Lockheed Martin, bear any cost risk in the program. It’s all laid off on the taxpayers.

After he’s bungled this project to failure, or completion at a shadow of the foreseen capability and a vast overshadow of the foreseen cost, Peters will step into a rich sinecure at one of the DOD prime contractors, if takes the usual procurement officer “retirement” route. Indeed, it will almost cerntainly be one he’s just been signing padded checks to. (Where’s Glenn Reynolds’s Revolving-Door Surtax (original proposal here) when you need it?)

There is no rational reason for a helicopter to cost a billion dollars. Indeed, there’s no rational reason for, and many strong arguments against, a Presidential helicopter that is its own custom, bespoke airframe not used on other military missions. What’s wrong with our current rotorcraft in the VIP role? Here’s what Peters’s office would tell you:

  • H-60: too small. President has to duck under the rotors, which is unseemly. And besides, it’s an Army, not Marine helicopter.
  • H-47: too big, and besides, it’s an Army, not Marine helicopter.
  • H-53: too big, even though the Navy and Marines fly lots of them. Plus, it’s not new.
  • H-65: too small, and only flown by the Coast Guard.
  • V-22: too small, and too dangerous for a President.

Most likely outcome of this Goldilocks helicopter quest: about the same as the VH-71 fiasco. We buy a handful of these specialty helicopters, for a unit cost higher than Air Force 1, which is where Peters’s project presently points. And the DOD struggles for a few years to maintain them with no spares commonality with any DOD helicopter fleet, before giving up. But a lot of DOD contractors will cash in, and that is, ultimately, what the hokey-pokey of DOD procurement is all about.

Hat tip, Ralph Benko at Forbes via Glenn Reynolds.

USMC Door Gun, Afghanistan

Marine Aircraft Group- Afghanistan helps retrograde last of personnel, equipment from Sangin ValleyThis is a great photo by a Marine photographer, taken this month in the sky above our forgotten expeditionary force in Afghanistan. Official caption below; we want to say a few words about the helicopter, and the gun.

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matthew Ghibaudi performs a weapons check from inside a UH-1Y Huey helicopter before providing aerial assault support for ground convoys in Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 3, 2014. Ghibaudi, a crew chief, is assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Frances Johnson

We came to this via BLACKFIVE.

The Aircraft: UH-1Y ‘Venom’

The Marines are the only service still flying the 1950s-vintage H-1 Huey and 1960s-vintage H-46. But their Hueys have been rebuilt, zero-timed in fact; the airframes born as UH-1Ns were a twin engines (the Sea Services always wanted this for over-water reliability) version, unlike the Army’s old single-turboshaft H-1s (the Army equivalent being the UH-1D/H). Supposedly, 100 or so of the Y models are rebuilt Ns but the Marines have found it more economical to buy all-new airframes than to pay for Bell to disassemble, evaluate, repair and restore clapped-out N airframes, so a lot of these are all-new birds.

The UH-1Y and its sister, the AH-1Z, also have a fully articulating all-composite four-blade rotor system in place of the much simpler two-blade teetering rotor of the H-1, which inherited its rotor system, conceptually at least, from the 1940s-vintage Bell 47. The new rotor eliminates some of the low-G limitations and safety issues (look up “mast bumping”) of the original Huey rotor system. The old bird was safe within its flight envelope, mind; the new one just has a larger envelope.

In the ones based on old airframes, the airframe is gone through, of course, to ensure that it is safe for many more strenuous combat hours, and the powerplant is something a Vietnam Huey driver can only envy.

The Gun: M3M/GAU-21/A

The gun is also an update of an old classic — the John Browning .50 machine gun. The “old” door gun was the M60D, and rather than go to the M240 the Marines stepped up and used the latest version of the WWII- and Korean-vintage ANM3 aerial gun. Gun guys in all services have long known that the parts of M2 and M3 Brownings, and aerial and ground Brownings, have a high interchangeability, making almost all imaginable crossbreeds, variations, and Frankenguns real possibilities — at least, once you get into the war zone and away from the ordnance and supply clerks.

The M3  was an improvement over the Browning M2 (blasphemy!) for aerial and counter-air use. The M3 made a number of changes to allow operation at much higher rates of fire than the M2 in its aerial or ground versions; these changes included a lighter bolt and recoiling parts, much larger and oil-less buffer, relocation of the depressors from the backplate to the sideplates, and an improved, and more positive, feed mechanism that grabs the round front and rear, and can accept belts or chutes. The nominal rate of fire for the WWII ANM3 was 1200 r/min — really rocking for a closed-bolt-firing machine gun. It was available in a flexible model and (more commonly) in a fixed model, where it armed aircraft like the P/F-51 Mustang, the P/F-80 Shooting Star, and the F-86 Sabrejet.

Sole-sourced from FNH USA, the M3M, or GAU-21/A as the Navy terms it, adds a sophisticated soft-mount for the gun and numerous improvements. It replaced an M2-derived gun, the XM218 or GAU-16/A, which had evolved towards the M3 and had a mount of its own. There are many small improvements in the gun, but the big one is that it fires from an open bolt, eliminating cooking off as a potential hazard. The barrel life is claimed to be 10,000 rounds. The  M3M soft-mount also recovers the fired brass, eliminating any risk of foreign object damage, and can be fitted with night vision equipment. The spade grips are attached not to the unsprung gun, but to the buffered mount, making the gun easier to control. The improvements of the M3M seem subtle over the XM218, but they add up to a far more effective weapons system. There is also a fixed version (the M3P) for use in gun pods; these pods are commonly mounted on, among other things, SOF H-60s.

The Rocket Pod: LAU-68

The UH-1Y in the photo also is armed with LAU-68 rocket pods. Each pod carries 7 70mm FFAR (Folding Fin Aerial Rocket) unguided rockets. This rocket, originally known in Imperial units as the 2.75″ Mighty Mouse, has an interesting history of its own, as it originally was intended as an air-to-air weapon for 1950s jet interceptors (F-86D, F-89, F-94, homely and forgotten things, generally) hunting large formations of large Soviet bombers. But it long outlived the Tu-4 threat. Sine then, several generations of 70mm rocket and pod have been used by the US and its allies. A very wide range of rockets are available for helicopter and fast-mover use, and guided rockets are in the final stages of RDT&E. The LAU-68 allows ripple or single fire, but probably will need to be updated or replaced to support guided rockets, if they’re ever actually fielded. And for those occasions where you need to talk to a crowd, and fear that seven rockets may not get your message across, there’s the LAU-61, with 19 of the little beggars to show how much you care.