Archive for January, 2009


Recommended Reading

January 2009


From the January 2009 issue of Naval Institute Proceedings Advice for the SecDef (or, What You Won’t Hear at a Brookings Seminar) by Harvey M. Sapolsky. Any article that offers up “What DOD needs is a management-fad timeout.” and points to TQM or Lean Six Sigma (and most of us could name many others) is worth a read, but there is much more to the article.

In fact, the entire issue is pretty good. And I am not a paid shill.

In the provocative spirit of boyish charms and youthful inexperience, allow me to suggest an idea that is sure to boil your blood and sizzle your sailor soul. The Iowa class battleship is NOT the greatest battleship in American naval history.

Heresy you say? To many Americans, naval history began the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Most Americans know little about Lord Nelson and to many worldly American travelers, Trafalgar is a square in London where the protesters demonstrate. Stephen Decatur has become a footnote in American history, even though forty-six communities in the United States have been named after him. History has a way of shaping perceptions, and the emphasis of WWII history in the American education system explains why the term battleship calls forth the image posted on the right in our minds.

When one even uses the term battleship, the mind is filled with the strength of the nine 16″ guns, the mass of armor plate, the speed of a race horse, and the glory of victory in the fall of ’45. The word has become an icon that represents naval strength, and in the minds of most Americans an image of American military power.

But the term battleship predates World War II and has a meaning that transcends the iconic image of American naval supremacy. “Battleship” was a word coined around 1794 and is a shortened form of the phase “Line of battle ship”. The term became a description given to the age of sail ships-of-the-line in the Royal Navy and later came into formal usage during the late 1880s to describe the new type of Ironclad ships produced at that time. By the time naval scholars and strategists like Julian Corbett and Alfred Thayer Mahan began writing historical and strategic observations about the Age of Sail period, the term battleship had been adopted and thus etched into the rhetoric of naval conversation.

More important than the history of the term was the nature of the ship the term defined. In 1677 the Secretary to the Admiralty Samuel Pepys developed a ship rating system for administrative and military use within the Royal Navy. The rating system was used to determine the size of crew needed on a ship based on the number and weight of the guns on the warship. Revised a half dozen times over a period of 150 years, the rating system as it was during the Napoleonic Wars became the most widely used system by scholars and historians. Below is that rating system, from Wikipedia:

Type Rate Guns Gun decks Men Displacement in tonnes
Ship of the line 1st Rate 100 to 120 3 850 to 875 2,500
2nd Rate 90 to 98 3 700 to 750 about 2,200
3rd Rate 64 to 80 2 500 to 650 1,750
4th Rate 48 to 60 2 320 to 420 about 1,000
Frigate 5th Rate 32 to 44 1 or 2 200 to 300 700 to 1,450
6th Rate 20 to 28 1 140 to 200 450 to 550
Sloop-of-war Unrated 16 to 18 1 90 to 125 380
Gun-brig or Cutter 6 to 14 1 5 to 25 220

Observe the ratings system is simple with only a single metric: guns. The thickness of the armor, ship survivability standards, the speed of the vessel, the volume of space the ship had, the crew size, the displacement of the vessel, and any additional technologies carried by the vessel had no influence whatsoever on this simple system of rating surface combatants. The only standard that mattered was offensive capability as defined by the prominent weapon system of the era.

I believe a similar standard can be applied today for surface combatants to suggest the relevant strength of a naval vessel in context for comparison with another naval vessel in the current naval era. I also believe a modern rating system allows naval scholars to place today’s vessels in context for comparison during strategic discussions across different naval era’s.

A few years ago Bob Work of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments produced a modern rating system for warships (PDF), and with his permission I have adopted this modern rating system when discussing surface combatant force structure in the context of strategy. In the spirit of Samuel Pepys, Bob Work classifies ships in this modern rating system by the single standard of the prominent weapon system in the modern era: the precision guided missile.

Bob Work’s Battle Force Missile Ship Rating System For Surface Combatants

First-rate battle force ships (battleships): Ships armed more than 100 battle force VLS cells, and/or more than 100 battle force missiles;

Second-rate battleships: Ships armed with 90-99 battle force VLS cells, and/or 90-99 battle force missiles;

Third-rate battleships: Ships armed with 60-89 battle force VLS cells, and/or 61-89 battle force missiles;

Fourth-rate battleships/frigates: Ships armed with 48-59 battle force VLS cells, and/or 48-60 battle force missiles;

Fifth-rate frigates: Ships armed with 20-47 battle force VLS cells, and/or 20-47 battle force missiles;

Sixth-rate frigates: Ships designed specifically for the protection of shipping role, armed with either VLS cells or legacy missile systems, and armed with local air defense SAMs and anti-submarine and anti-ship cruise missiles for convoy defense; and

Unrated Flotilla: Warships optimized for a single role, usually either anti-submarine or anti-surface warfare, or for general-purpose naval missions. The distinguishing feature of these ships is that they carry only terminal missile defenses—either in the form of rapid fire guns or short-range terminal defense SAMs.

The following range break points are used to distinguish between SAMs: area air defense SAMs have ranges greater than 48 kilometers (km; approximately 30 miles); local air defense SAMs have ranges between 16 and 48 km (10-30 miles); and a terminal defense SAM has an effective range of less than 16 km (10 miles).

A “battle force missile” is a missile approximately 13 inches in diameter or greater, which covers area SAMs, ASCMs, anti-submarine rockets, and land attack missiles. As PVLS is 28 inches in diameter, for the time being PVLS cells count as 1.5 battle force missiles for purposes of highlighting the combat power of ships with PVLS. Under those terms, the DDG-1000 would be a first rate battle force ship with 120 battle force missiles. AGS and other weapon systems are not rated at this time. Under this model, missiles like ESSM and PAMS do not count towards a “battle force missile.”

So let us apply the rating system, shall we?

There are currently 23 first-rate battleships today including the 22 Ticonderoga (CG-52) class in the US Navy and the Russian nuclear powered Peter the Great. The US Ticonderoga (CG 52) class have 128 strike length VLS cells, six of which are not operational, and 8 Harpoon missiles for a total of 130 battle force missiles. The Russian Peter the Great has twelve, eight-cell revolver VLS launchers, 20 SS-N-19 anti-ship missiles, and 20 SS-N-16 anti-submarine missiles for a total of 136 battle force missiles.

The Japanese Atago class has 90 strike length VLS cells (1×61-cell and 1×29-cell) and 8 Type 90 (SSM-1B) missiles scoring it as a second-rate battleship.

While this is all interesting, I am sure you are wondering why I am claiming how the Iowa class battleship is NOT the greatest battleship in American naval history. The reason is because I believe the Arleigh Burke class second-rate battleship is by far and away the greatest battleship in American naval history… and the numbers suggest it.

To put the Arleigh Burke class into perspective, if the Navy builds 8 more as is currently being discussed, DDG-123 commissioned around 2022 would be expected to serve in the US Navy until 2062 to meet a 40 year service life, meaning the entire Arleigh Burke class would be expected to span at least 70 years of service in the US Navy. That would be longer than the Iowa class battleships that served in WWII and fought in Gulf War I.

Greater longevity is only half the story though. The Arleigh Burke class is more flexible and more capable in the current era of naval warfare than the Iowa class was during any naval era it participated in. The Arleigh Burke class, 62-70 strong, represents greater AAW capability, greater ASW capability, greater land attack capability, and greater ASuW capability than the sum total of all surface ships that make up any other single Navy in the world. We even reconfigured a few of our Burkes to deploy unmanned vehicles for MIW, you know, like the cherry on top. That is before we add ballistic missile defense capability, making this class of battleships not only the master of the seas, but we intend to give the entire battleship class military reach into space.

The comparisons are not close, indeed they can be extended beyond comparisons to just the Iowa class. Has any single class of “Line of battle ship” ever represented as high a percentage of the total global naval firepower at sea in any era? Even during the glory days, the Royal Navy never had a single ship class constitute as much authority of global naval firepower as the Arleigh Burke class does today.

But while you embrace the sense of strength and national pride that the Arleigh Burke class battleship should give every American, we should ponder the strategic warnings of Julian Corbett regarding fleet constitution; in no case can we exercise control by battleships alone. With the LCS falling into the category of an unrated ship, the United States Navy is in full blown pursuit of a ‘battleship only’ fleet constitution.

It is no wonder the fleet is too expensive to maintain, as Julian Corbett warned it would be for all battleship Navy’s, or that we cannot cover the necessary ground, as Corbett also warned. Corbett is still right when he statescruisers are the means of exercising control;…the true function of the battle-fleet is to protect cruisers and flotilla at their special work.” Too bad we don’t have any cruisers in our fine fleet, as per the definition applied by Corbett (or Nelson).

The US Navy today is an all battleship Navy intent on building more battleships and an unrated flotilla of Littoral Combat Ships, and both our nation and Navy enjoys all the perks and pitfalls that comes with this force constitution strategy.

…in a single frame:


090115-N-9758L-620PACIFIC OCEAN (Jan. 15, 2009) Guided-missile destroyers USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60), USS Hopper (DDG 70), and USS Russell (DDG 59) sail in formation during the Commander, Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific Surface Combatant Group Sail. The group sail supports the Pacific Fleet MIDPAC Surface Combatant Operational Employment program, which calls for nine of the 11 Hawaii-based surface combatants to focus on the western Pacific Ocean by conducting intermediate and advanced training and regular deployments in the western Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael A. Lantron/Released)

Why is the U.S. Commerce Department trying to quash South African re-exportation of Ice Marine’s fast (65-80 mph) Bladerunner 51 to Iran? From International Trade Law News:

“…the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued a Temporary Denial Order (TDO) in an effort to prevent a powerboat containing U.S. engines and other components from being reexported from South Africa to Iran for possible use by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps navy.

The parties named in the TDO included the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) and Tadbir Sanaat Sharif Technology Development Center (TSS), both based in Tehran, Iran, and Icarus Marine (Pty) Ltd. of Cape Town, South Africa…”

At first pass–and as I wrote on my blog yesterday–it is easy to dismiss this as just another effort by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to move beyond their old fleet of Boston Whalers. Taken at face value, the complaint is an overly-fearful request to keep some U.S.-made Caterpillar C18 engines and Arneson surface drives out of Iranian hands. Woo. Big deal.

But…In the details of the complaint, there’s some personal contact info, that, in part tie this to the Revolutionary Guard and background on the transport arrangements–the boat will get shipped on a suspect vessel that goes by the name “Iranian Diplomat” or IMO 8309701. Dig a little, and the whole deal starts smelling like the go-fast is just an ancillary goal for the Iranians. Icing on a bigger [yellow] cake, so to speak. Our response is disproportionate, too. All this for 51 foot go-fast? Gimme a break.

So let’s take a closer look. First, note that the order was signed on January 22, 2009. So, if we’re peering at the political tea leaves, this order suggests that the Obama Administration is taking an uncompromising approach with things Iranian. The White House has long signalled their intent to move fast to engage in direct nuclear proliferation-related diplomacy with Iran, yet this request from the Commerce Department and our recent stop-and-search of an Iranian-owned vessel, suggest we’re not giving any ground, either. The Obama Administration may be moving–amazingly quickly–to roll back Iranian nuclear aspirations. To have all this going down within days of coming into office…quite the feat if it’s all being orchestrated.

Now, chest-thumping aside, what’s the big deal with this go-fast? Why are the Iranians looking to get this 51-foot asset from South Africa? Isn’t there lots of cross-gulf smuggling going on? Plenty of big, roomy fast boats transit from UAE to Iran every single night! Why go through all the trouble of shipping something from South Africa? In a big Iranian ship, a known proliferation tool? Wouldn’t it be easier to look closer to home? Nab a cigarette smuggler and take ownership from there? Or find some nearby disenfranchised recipient of oil proceeds and encourage the fellow to, ah, buy and transfer his fine vessel?

Just seems odd that Iran is reaching so far afield, when there are plenty of go-fasts within easy reach. But then, if we note that South Africa holds 7 percent of the worlds economically recoverable uranium reserves and is the eleventh biggest producer of uranium, alarm bells start ringing. Maybe there’s something else afoot? Perhaps. The UK Times drops a few hints of what might be at the root of our interest:

“Diplomatic sources believe that Iran’s stockpile of yellow cake uranium, produced from uranium ore, is close to running out and could be exhausted within months [Note–Iran got yellow cake from South Africa in the Shah era]. Countries including Britain, the US, France and Germany have started intensive diplomatic efforts to dissuade major uranium producers from selling to Iran.”

Ah ha! So, with all the usual caveats that come from tea-leaf-reading, I think there might be something happening here. Are we arranging a casus belli? Setting the stage for another high seas search and seizure?


While I was researching a post about the 49th anniversary of the Trieste’s dive to the deepest part of the oceans (here), I came across this:

Swimming six feet above the bottom were a shrimp and a jellyfish, neither of them bothered by the enormous pressure on their bodies. The very fact that these creatures were living and healthy proved that the water had oxygen in it. Therefore it must circulate, because if it were stagnant in the trench, its oxygen would long since have disappeared. One immediate conclusion: ocean trenches are not safe places for dumping radioactive wastes, since their water does not stay put.

Here’s a question for those of you concerned about the Navy’s media image – should the Navy be doing a better job of reporting on all the vital work it has performed in weather forecasting, environmental studies, nuclear safety, oceanography and other vital issues of the day?

Who should lead the effort and what platforms should they be using? Is the Coast Guard doing this better than the Navy?

Any Vice Admirals with opinions should feel free to respond, along with anyone else, of course.

With the Marines working to make Afghanistan their fight, Afghanistan was bound to find its way onto the USNI blog. From USA Today comes a report that Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are getting more lethal and more frequent:

“Last year, 3,276 IEDs detonated or were detected before blowing up in Afghanistan, a 45 percent increase compared with 2007. The number of troops in the US-led coalition killed by bombs more than doubled in 2008 from 75 to 161. The Pentagon data did not break down the casualties by nationality. Roadside bombs in Afghanistan wounded an additional 722 coalition troops last year, setting another record.”

The anti-IED fight in Afghanistan is far more complex than the largely flat-land mine-like anti-IED struggles in Iraq. Rather than come from below, IEDs can come from the side-slopes, even from above. After spending billions to build vehicles able to withstand blasts from below, are we gonna need to re-orient and cover the vulnerability of, say, a blast from the side? What about an IED-induced landslide? What vehicle foils gravity–or, to be precise, IEDs aimed at collapsing the road-bed rather than penetrating armor? Making matters worse, we’re starting to discover our countermeasures–built to confront the Iraqi IED threat–aren’t up to the complex task ahead, too. The USA Today article continues:

“Devices useful in Iraq to counter roadside bombs may have to be “ruggedized” to work in parts of Afghanistan, Navy Capt. Vincent Martinez, deputy commander of Task Force Paladin, said in an interview at Bagram Air Base last month.”

“Ruggedized” is putting it mildly. How much Iraqi anti-IED work has been done in the snow? Mark my words, the IED fight in Afghanistan is going to be far harder than the work in Iraq. What was a solution in Anbar may not translate to Kandahar. Here’s a photo sampler, from


A neat story if you are interested in ships that have a connection to the State of Wisconsin. I sure wish the US Navy reverted back to the way they used to name ships….

Malavika Jaganathan of the Green Bay Press Gazette writes,

The USS Green Bay — commissioned by the Navy in Long Beach, Calif., on Saturday — is the latest in a long list of ships to bear the names of Wisconsin cities, counties and tribes.

Full article and a list of ships that have had ties to the state of Wisconsin can be found here.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in History, Navy | 2 Comments

Dave Dilegge points out an analysis by Dr. Leonard Wong that should be embarrassing to Army guys and worrisome to us if anybody goes a-lookin’…

The number of days required by all mandatory training directives literally exceeds the number of training days available to company commanders. Company commanders somehow have to fit 297 days of mandatory requirements into 256 available training days.

More at the link.

Inquiring minds would like to know. In the comments section of an earlier post on a slightly different topic, Sid suggested “Morill’s “South from Corregidor” and any or all of DV Gallery’s books.”

Sid, got any more suggestions? Loyal readers, what say you? Thanks!

Rachel D’Oro of the Associated Press writes from Anchorage, Alaska,

The Army has decided to cut off retirement pay for veterans of a largely Native militia formed to guard the territory of Alaska from the threat of Japanese attack during World War II.

The change means 26 surviving members of the Alaska Territorial Guard — most in their 80s and long retired — will lose as much as $557 in monthly retirement pay, a state veterans’ officer said Thursday. The payments end Feb. 1.

Full story here.

What do you think? Should the U.S. Army reverse its decision? Why or why not?

If you are interested in joining the Facebook group “Pay the Alaskan Territorial Guard”click here.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Army, History | 7 Comments
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