Monday, May 22, 2023

A Sea of White.

I received my first copy of "The Roving Saint."   And reading the article "A Not so Typical Midshipman Cruise."  It brought me back to 1977...

<fade out, queue harp music>

It was May, and I had just finished FTM school for the Talos missile system radar, the AN/SPG-49.  I had orders to the USS Oklahoma City, CG-5, then the current flagship for ComSeventhFleet.

But first, a final training for damage control and fire fighting.  

After 3 major carrier fires in the late 60's, it was decided every sailor would attend fire-fighting school so everyone would be useful in case a major conflagration takes out the main fire fighting teams.  Which happened in one of the carrier fires.  So before my flight to Japan, I had to first go to the training center in San Diego.

On the flight down from Mare Island, I met a newly minted DS-3, also attending fire-fighting school and also destined for the Oklahoma City, KC Van Hingle.  Some people get all the luck with names...

After breakfast, we headed for where we thought the fire-fighting school was.  There was a large open air building, with a  cavernous opening large enough to accommodate several trucks passing through simultaneously.  We made a left face and came to a full stop.  In the compound was a sea of white uniforms.  About 2-300 ensigns, all in their dress whites.  After a second or two, I realized we were looking at the graduating class of Annapolis, 1977.

And in every right hand, a cup of coffee.

I muttered to KC, "I want to salute."

He whispered back, "They'll kill you."

"We have too.  Its the rules.  No cover, first meeting of the day,  enlisted meeting an officer."

A whole class who, for 4 years, had beaten into them, military etiquette.  The thought of reflexive muscle memory driving hundreds of return salutes, and gallons of coffee staining uniforms was proving a difficult to resist.

With a heavy sigh of what could have been, we approached the mass of gold and white.  

Though our decision to forgo the salute was met with some disapproval, there were ensigns who acknowledged the unusual circumstances we found ourselves in. And understood that adhering strictly to protocol might have resulted in a coffee-stained cascade of returned salutes. Respect for safety superseded the requirement for a formal salute in this particular scenario.

Then something better occurred.  Through the wide opening drove the roach coach.  The driver cleared the crowd in a wide arc before coming to a stop.

The side window of the food truck opened.  A large black woman leaned out, her voice resonating with an echo that captured everyone's attention exclaimed, "LOOK AT ALL THE BABY ENSIGNS! OH, YOU LOOK SO SWEET, I COULD JUST PINCH EVERY ONE OF YOU!"

KC and I just tried to look anywhere else at that point.  This kind of embarrassment does not need to be observed.  But by then, we were surrounded by the sea of white, each with a punctuation mark of red.

It was an interesting class.  The officers were sent back to don their khaki's, and class began.  Just 5 enlisted and over 200 officers.  All of us nubes to the fleet.

And I got to see the new movie, "Star Wars!"

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Russo-Ukraine War, a Wargamers Perspective

The Russo-Ukraine War, a Wargamers Perspective

As a wargamer, I have conquered Russia a hundred times, and have repelled the Nazi's about the the same number of times. In the 80's, I built a corps level computer game on the topic, Road to Moscow. In the 90's I spent years working on the remake, down to the detail of company level. What is the attraction? Some say because it was the largest war ever. Others say because no matter which side you play, you get to beat up on the bad guy.

So I thought I knew what was going on with the latest war in Ukraine. And I was totally wrong on just about everything.

The size of the land hasn't changed, but the numbers of troops fighting are an order of magnitude smaller. 

Russia started WWII with about 2.2 million men in the army. They started the Ukraine war with about 850,000 men under arms, but only 300,000 for the army, deploying 200,000 for the war. And with the level of corruption being revealed, these numbers may be overstatements. Ukraine started the war with an army and air force of around 200,000 men.

In a game of Russian Campaign, this would be like having 8 units fighting 6.

When the war was launched, the Russians attacked with 10 Armies.

Too many words. There has to be a picture.

While the propaganda kept promoting the Russian failures at this time. For the most part, the 49th, 58th and the 8th Combined Arms Armies (CAA) and were successful in south Ukraine at achieving their objectives. One reason I have read for this was the 49th and the 58th had a large percentage of experienced troops, and performed competently. Once they achieved their objective, they pretty much were allowed to dig in. The 8th CAA, however is a relativity new formation, recruited from Separatists elements from the Donbas region. It performed poorly. Taking 3 months to capture it's main objective of the city of Mariupol, losing 6,000 dead in the process.

What is a Russian Combined Arms Army?

In WWII, an army would have from 5-12 divisions. 6 being pretty normal, plus supporting structures like supply, artillery and communications battalions. Today, to deal with asymmetric warfare, throwing divisions at a problem is just a waste of resources. The divisions still exist, and are fairly recognizable in formation to their WWII equivalent, but their purpose has changed. Their purpose now is to supply and support 1 or more Battalion Tactical Groups to an area. The BTG will be mostly mounted infantry, with integral support of armor and artillery. A tidy little package designed to take on insurgents over a wide area. In theory, a division could supply 9 of these into combat, but over the last decade, they were hard pressed to supply even 2.

In response, divisions were being decommissioned and replaced with brigades. Brigades will have from 2-6 battalions in total, and in theory could create 4 BTG's, though 1-2 in practice. But still represented less overhead than divisions, providing practically the same bang.

The first obvious problem with this is what if you run into a real division? How long will your BTG last in face of a regiment backed by a battalion of artillery? It's a bad accident waiting to happen.

And over the last few month's that is what I am reading. A Ukrainian brigade mauling BTG after BTG.

There is several reasons why the Russians have not been totally routed so far. One is that the Ukrainian Army, despite all the propaganda, is pretty much equipped as the Russians. And they don't have all that many brigades to fight with, and so pretty much have to split them up in battalions just to cover the ground. The second reason is, that for all its incompetency, the Russians have overwhelming numbers of artillery. And are fairly competent in it's use.  This cannot be overstated. From the Ukrainian perspective, they cannot hold ground. If they do, the Russians will pound them. The Ukrainians have difficulty exploiting gaps in Russian lines. Because artillery can pound those gaps. Ukrainians are sensitive to casualties, the Russians are not.

Also, it seems, that while Russia seems to feel the need to need to attack, Ukraine does not at this time. Russian logistics are beyond their breakpoint for the little ground they have taken. Ukraine really is holding much the ground with trip wire defensive's. Many Ukrainian Brigades have been pulled out for reasons unknown. Probably training and up equipping. And when they show up, it will be bad for the Russians. Russian equipment losses are being made up for by digging ever deeper into the Soviet stockpile. Which has been poorly maintained over the decades.

Evidence of this is the missiles fired by their aircraft are sometimes 50 years old. The recent Ukrainian offensive has offered another hint at how deep the Russians have dug. A captured T-62 tank. Produced from 1961 to 1975. Implying they have worked their way through all the operational T-72's in their inventory of around 20,000.

A couple of months ago, Russia started running out of 122mm shells for their medium guns. And had to commission their 152's. With ammunition being now supplied by North Korea.

On Training and Conscription.

The latest call by Putin is to increase conscription by 300,000 men. But what will he get for this call up? Even before the war, the training cycle for conscripts was deceptive. Every six months, Russia would draft about 130,000 men, but only about 100,000 would actually be drafted, and according to one article I read, only about 70,000 complete the training and serve their year.

The Russian training system involves newly trained officers from school to train the platoon, 20-30 men, which they would command. This system has totally broken down due to the high officer casualties. Assuming Russia gets the 300,000 conscripts called for, there are not enough academy grads to train this flood of recruits. The answer of course is to pull veterans from the front lines to train the recruits. But the front lines are already greatly decimated and I am sure commanders would be unwilling to give any up.

How decimated?

For once, the word decimated seems a radical under statement. Some areas have battalion tactical groups (BTG) reporting only a 100 effectives out of 800. The good news is the BTG's were probably never up to strength. Instead of around 800, they may have started at around 500. And in dealing with realities on the ground, the official strength from captured documents has been down sized to around 340. See Here.

The total KIA's the Russians have suffered is subject to debate.  Last month, Russian acknowledged 5,900 dead.  Ukraine's estimate of Russian dead is 50,000.   This is somewhat validated by this document that surfaced earlier in September:

It's in Russian of course.  I am told it is an synopsis of the amount of money paid out to Russian families for killed members.The math is 361.9 billion rubles total, 7.4 million per fallen soldier, for 48,900 KIA's.  The document may be real, but it is still suspect, not because it is falsified, but because of the layers of corruption in the whole system.  Each layer can benefit for padding the numbers here.  Where someone can add to the casualty list, and pocket the 7.4 million per.  This document came out before the latest offensive by Ukraine.

The Ukrainians have claimed to have killed about 50,000 Russians.  But that can be propaganda as well.

Estimates on Ukrainian dead range from 5,500 to 11,000.

Wounded estimates would be from 1 man invalided per dead and at least 2 men wounded, but recoverable per dead.

The War in the Sky

In theory, the Russians should have dominated the air war.  This is again, applying western doctrine to an air-force that is not a western nation.  The Russian doctrine in the air evolved in WWII, and frankly, has not altered much.  In WWII, they would mass fighter bombers over the battlefield, supporting the troops.  Casualties be damned.  Their methods of dealing with German fighter aircraft relied on numbers.  Their main tactic to defeat the Luftwaffe was to never stop fighting, wear it down, and eventually, drive a tank down the runway.  Overall, the single purpose of the Russian Air force is to support the army. 

Western air evolved concepts of trying to defeat the enemies structures supporting the air force.  Be it industry, radars, air fields, etc.  Why they evolved differently is environmental.  The Soviets were nose to nose with the Germans.  And if they drove two hundred miles, they would be in a position to put a tank on the end of a runway.  The need for deep penetration bombers, and supporting long range fighters was simply not there.  

In the west, for two years, the German bases were not vulnerable to ground attack, so different methodology evolved.  When the Western Allies finally got to grips with the Wehrmacht, the doctrines of ground support for the troops had to be evolved whole cloth.  While the Russians had been doing it for 3 years.

It's been 80 years since then.  And frankly, neither side has changed their views on how to fight the air war.  For the Russians, this means ground support.  Occasionally, they send a bomber armed with "Less than precision" guided missiles to bomb a strategic target.  Mostly striking things that couldn't possibly be the intended target.  Of course, we only have the Ukrainians word on what was hit, and the Russians word of what the intended target was.  But the point is, Russian deep penetration strike performance on Ukrainian infrastructure is lack-luster at best.  Because that is not their doctrine.  And the quality and the number of missiles seem to be limited.

In the initial phases of their offensive, the Russian air force was fairly active over the battlefield itself.  Doing what they were trained to do, supporting the troops.  YouTube is full of videos of Ukrainian missiles shooting down Russian craft in the early periods.  About a hundred manned air craft in total.  Mostly lost in low altitude strikes on Ukrainian positions.  The difference between WWII and today is in WWII, the Soviets were producing Sturmoviks by the gross, while today, a single SU-35 costs 60 million dollars.  Every loss is felt.  

Rumor has it, that Russia needs to cannibalize civilian commercial products to get the IC chips needed to build their jets.  Specifically Bosch dish washers looted from Ukrainian homes.

Ukrainian air losses are about the same as Russians in numbers.  But for all the news of this-or-that country donating new Soviet equipment, little has been reported in actually showing up.  Ukrainian fighters seem to be dedicated to air defense.


The details on the drone war will be the most interesting read when this war is over.  Every country will study the results, most of which is still secret.  

In reconnaissance, drones have proven invaluable.  To be able to target real time, over the horizon targets cannot be understated.  From interdicting supplies with a drone, a M777 howitzer at 18 miles, landing a shell on truck crossing a bridge.  Or distracting a Russian flagship, allowing a couple of missiles blind side it to oblivion.  

Ukraine has an indigenous drone company, formed by veterans of the 2014 War in the Donbas.  They have been turning out "Punishers".  Small, stealthy, carrying only 4.4 pounds of bombs, transportable in small boxes, but in the right location, have blown up helicopters, and ammo dumps.  The unit cost is about $200,000. It is the weapon of choice for Ukrainian special forces.

Then there is the Bayraktar, medium-size drones, made in Turkey, costing about 2 million each.  They can carry 300 pounds of munitions, and have been battle tested in Syria.

Russia has fallen behind so far in drone capability, they are buying them from Iran.

On Corruption

The effects of corruption has come to has been brought to light throughout this war.  Tanks without reactive armor, supply deficiencies, reserve equipment left to rust, missiles that should have been combat worthy, were not, communications equipment not working, divisions only able to send 1 battalion into combat at 75% strength, training commands only training 53% of their yearly muster.  

All evidence that if you were Putin's friend, you had a license to steal.  If you were a friend of a friend of Putin, you could steal, but had to pay your share up the chain.  

Creating an army, when put to the test, is failing badly everywhere.

The Putin Effect

Much is being said of Putin's interference in the war.  More and more it is being said he is directing the army to do this or that.  And this may be true.  But there is a more subtle, and probably more pervasive problem of Putin's interference.  Generals are not taking actions they know need to be done, without Putin's orders.  An example is during the Ukrainian offensive earlier in September.  All of us arm chair strategists looked at what was going on, and seeing disaster for the Ukrainians at every step.  Their penetrations were too deep, not leaving troops to cover Russians they bypassed.  The Russians need only leave their bases and close the door, trapping the Ukrainians behind enemy lines.

And that did not happen.  The shock of the attacks paralyzed the Russian high command.  They waited for orders from on high, and got nothing.  So they hunkered down, and hoped for the best.  

Today, Sept 27, Putin, apparently channeling Hitler from 1941, issued a no step back order for his army.  He is relying on sending reinforcements to the front to stabilize things.  One Russian soldier, was mobilized on the 21st, captured on the 27th.

How is it that Ukraine has not won the war yet?

First, no one expected Ukraine to go the distance.  Probably they themselves are surprised.  So in the beginning, the war was a desperate attempt to stop what Russian juggernaut with what equipment they had on hand.  While dealing with mass migrations, and keeping the lights on against random Russian missile strikes.

It took time for the realities of the Russian army to manifest.  But they still kept moving forward, and had to be responded to.  The Ukrainians got real good at defensive warfare.  As things stabilized, some Ukrainian units disappeared.  Some still have yet to make an appearance.  Others were cycled for rest and reequip, like the 92nd Mech Brigade.  When the war movies are made, the 92nd will be center piece in them.  That unit has been the bane of several Russian armies.  It's commander will be their Patton.  

But the question is, can Ukraine attack?  And we had our answer this month, yes.  But they still have to cautious.  Ukraine is sensitive to casualties, and Russian artillery is still the key player to beat in this game.  

But also, is Ukrainian success on the attack this month an indicator of their effectiveness?  Or of Russian incompetence?  Frankly, the force multipliers of Russian corruption, Putin's interference, and poor training levels is making Ukraine look like supermen.   

The End Game:

What is the end game?  Dangerous ground here to make predictions here.  At this point, I think Ukraine is going to go for recovering all lost territory, including that lost in 2014.  And not one square foot more.  Crossing the Russian border would be a propaganda coup that Putin could capitalize on to legitimized full mobilization, and possibly authorize nuclear strikes.  He is already trying to make claims of Ukrainian agents operating in Russia.  No one believes him, but to provide actual proof is a different matter.  Regardless of how well Ukraine is doing right now, they cannot conqueror Russia. 




Sunday, July 17, 2022

On Hypersonic Missiles

On Hypersonic Missiles

Hypersonic is classified as something traveling faster than 5 times the speed of sound. 3,800 MPH at sea level, about 2,700 MPH at 30,000 feet. Roughly a mile a second. All the great nations are researching hypersonic weapons to some degree or another, and have been for many decades. 

The task is daunting. First, you need an engine capable of generating the thrust. Then the materials capable of withstanding the heat. The thrust of a large rocket engine is more than enough, providing the materials can survive the atmospheric friction. Any of the rockets sent to the International Space Station has to go 5 times that fast. The missiles require exotic materials to survive the heat generated during reentry. But these technologies are decades old, and a secret to no one. 

Both Russia and China are making claims of having Hypersonic Weapons. There is no doubt that they do. China has officially deployed a system, the DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV). Russia has deployed the Avangard. Both of these systems launch from an ICBM rocket to speeds up to mach 20, where they then glide at hypersonic speeds towards their targets. The Russian weapon is more problematic, as it is a strategic weapon, it's target of choice are cities. It probably can do what it is advertised it can do, since it carries a nuke and only needs a to get within a mile of it's target.

The Chinese weapon, has been labeled a carrier killer. And the propaganda is that it can kinetic kill a US aircraft carrier out to 1,800 miles. They have tested the HGV about 7 or so times, each with the propaganda deluge in western press about it's ability to destroy a carrier, at range. It is clear, that this is an attempt to put the fear of this weapon and cause our navy to keep it's distance, as China expands it's influence into the Pacific, and they do not want the competition.

DF-17s on display. Image stolen from the internet without permission

And the USN's response is usually nothing. No denials of enemies capabilities, no counter arguments as to "Well we have...". The propaganda trolls in the east are facing a wall of nothing in response to their claims. It is almost like the USN doesn't really care.

It could be they don't. The USN certainly understands the problems involved with fielding such a weapon, and the threat it imposes. The USN, like it's Chinese counterparts, also understand The Fire Control problem. I was a Fire Controlman 1976-1982. At that time there were 72 variables required to put a shot on the target. This was just a simple ballistic program. Beyond certain ranges, you cannot know all the variables. For long range shots, you have to rely on Mid Course Guidance. Beyond that, Terminal Homing. Without these, all you are going to do is make a big splash in the water.

As an example. The Nimitz is steaming at 20 knots at a range of 1,000 miles. The HGV's time of flight is 8 minutes. If the HGV hit it's precise targeted position, the Nimitz will have moved on 3 miles. Even if the HGV leads the target by 3 miles, the Nimitz will only need to change it's course by .1 degree to avoid being hit. Frankly, the prevailing current will be enough of a jink to cause a miss.

The HGV will need some way to upgrade it's course along the way, referred to as Mid Course Guidance. This will require something putting their eyes on the target, provide feedback to the control systems, which will update the missiles targeting computer. I requires that something is tracking the target. It could be satellite, which would need to be overhead at just the right time. Or a drone. or a high value target like an AWACS.

One thing the current war between Russia and Ukraine has revealed is that drones are going to receive a much high priority in getting destroyed. Any AWACS is going to have a very limited life span when it breaks the radar ring what would be circling Carrier task force in a hot war situation.

Even if there are "eyes on target", getting a guidance signal to an HGV will be difficult as well It's surface temperature will be exceeding the melting point of steel, see Scientific American. This will have the effect of creating ionizing radiation "noise" across a universal spectrum. Getting a signal to update the HGV course becomes problematic. Especially if it is over the horizon.

Accuracy further degrades as the HGV has to deal with being jostled due to it generating random atmospheric vortexes from it's own heat, as well as from the pressure wave in front of it.

Another question is what is the minimum range of these weapons? At ranges where ground systems can provide the guidance updates may be too close for the missile to climb to altitude, then glide back at the speeds necessary to be effective . All missiles have a minimum effective range. For these weapons, that range is going to be excessive. I truly don't know what the minimum range of the HGV is. I have seen Intermediate Ballistic Missile minimum ranges between 240 and 500 miles.

There are estimates that the surface temperature of these missiles will be heated to at least 2,000K, the electronics for this missile will have to be well insulated. Possibly sealed in a Dewar flask. Which also means it is effectively isolated electronically, like in a Faraday cage. The electronics would be vulnerable any break in the control wiring, be it from melting wires, violent shudders, or stretching hull. All of which could disable the mid course guidance systems.

I think the only way this missile works, is they fire and pray the terminal seeker will pick up a signal in the last 15 seconds of flight. The terminal seeker will have to be shielded for most of the flight, and uncovered just in time. It has to be able to "see" the target through the shock wave of compressed, heated gas in front of it, before extreme temperatures destroy the delicate sensors required. Then they have to hope their aileron surfaces didn't weld together, or their electronics didn't fry. Because at these speeds, this missile cannot maneuver too much, because it could come apart from the forces involved.

I have some experience with near hypersonic missiles. In the late 70's, I was a Fire Controlman for both the Talos and Terrier Surface to Air missile radars. Both of these missiles are capable of speeds in excess of mach 2. In 1980, the USN was retiring the Talos system. And it was decided to spend the Talos missile inventory as targets for other ships and planes. 

Talos missiles are powered by ramjets, and could travel at mach 2.5. There were at least 3 such "Buzzard Ex's". In total, about 4 of these missiles were shot down. Two by the Terrier Mod 8 systems on the the USS Jouett, CG-29 and the USS Dale, CG-19. A third was shot down by the Norton Sound, the test ship for the future Aegis system. For a more humorous sides of these operations, see Buzzard Ex and Spontaneous Teleportation.

Admittedly, Talos is only half the speed of what is considered hyper sonic, but this was also over 40 years ago, using equipment designed in the 50's, later updated in the late 70's.

In 2008, using a SM-3, an Aegis equipped ship, the USS Lake Erie, intercepted a satellite with a kinetic kill warhead. The satellite USA-193 was traveling at 4.8 miles per second, about mach 23, when intercepted.The actual target was not the satellite, but a specific spot of the satellite that would fragment the fuel tank. Causing it to fragment as to vaporize the hydrazine in the upper atmosphere.

The US Navy is now deploying 30 kw lasers, capable of shooting down sub sonic missiles. There are higher powered lasers, planned, up to 300kw. The 300 kw probably would be powerful enough to shoot down an HGV. Hypersonic missiles cost many millions to produce. The lasers are a buck or two a shot.

It could be the Chinese weapon system is only effective as a propaganda weapon. designed just in time to be obsolete. Such is rapidly advancing technology.

Monday, April 18, 2022

The Sinking of the Moskva, Part 2

 The Sinking of the Moskva, Part 2

There is nothing like making a posting and wake up 8 hours later and have new evidence to look at. There are photos of the damaged ship before it sunk. It is showing about a 15 degree list to port, and damage to the port side superstructure.

It does not show damage to the Vertical Launch SAM system midships. Between the stacks and the nippled radar dome. So I was wrong predicting a hit occurred there. I do see a little damage to the hull aft, and under the radar dome. Possibly that is fire water runoff. It looks too intact for a missile strike.

Going to the close up. In the area still smoking you can see flames deeper in the interior. This photo is in the daylight, and sunrise is around 6 am local. So this is at least 5 hours after the strike.

I see two dark circular patches in the smoke, which could be the impact sites. Ukraine said that there were two missiles fired. I do not see any structural damage from those strikes. Which implies the warheads exploded on the surface, and most of their energy was diverted around the superstructure. Ukraine should take note and make the missile semi armor piercing. If it wasn't for the fuel fire, the Moskva would have gotten off light.

Which takes us to the Vulkan, surface to surface missile canisters. They are gone. Their warheads did not explode, or this would be a very different picture. But it does seem like their fuel caught fire and burned, about 24 tons of of it.

Then I see a lot of rectangular spots on the hull which looks like hull plates have been blown out. Many are at the main deck and look too regular to be accidental. They may be blow out plates for some munitions stored there. Oh for some blue prints. But two are larger and below the waterline. This is probably why she is listing to port.

Moskva in pristine condition. Note there are no black rectangles below the main deck. 
I did see two videos of one impact. One was an obvious forgery. The other looked real, but I couldn't find it again. It looked real because after the impact, the smoke trail upward was a characteristic mushroom cloud, and yes, normal explosions do that, but in addition, the churning upward smoke was bright in spots, evidence of a fuel fire from the Vulkan's jet fuel.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

The Sinking of the Moskva

The Sinking of the Moskva, Part 1

This is part 1.  For part 2, go here...

As a wargamer and a former member of the US Navy, the sinking of the Russian Black Sea's flagship Moskva, is of extreme interest to me. A US Sailor has many jobs on a ship. My primary job was to maintain and operate anti-aircraft missile radars. The slew of secondary jobs included security watches, damage control, fire fighting (which is not the same thing as fire control), hull preservation and of course, cleaning.

Other than the Internet, warships are the most complected machines built by man. And they require countless man hours to keep the ready to fight. As such, the US Navy has extensive schools to train their personnel. In my case, I was trained in their advanced electronics program, and from boot camp to stepping onboard my first ship was 20 months. And after that another 27 weeks on other equipment and logistics. My example was higher than normal compared to the average sailor, but it offers an insight on how seriously the US Navy regards training to keeping their ships operational. But a machine can only take so much, and regardless of the quality of the crews, ships have to be retired.

The sea is a harsh environment. The salt air is corrosive, and choppy water is constantly vibrating the equipment, causing loose connections and breakages. And in high seas, both man and machine take a battering. I have a lot of stories my tenure in the Navy, from 1975 to 1982, and I wrote them up in a blog called, Stories of the Cold War at

My time in the navy has given me an insight into the sinking of the Russian Cruiser, Moskva, née Slava. When I was in, the Slava's were the Soviet's latest and greatest achievements. They were described as "Fleet Killers." Their specifications were amazing. 16 Vulkan missiles. Each missile weighs over 5 tons, carrying a 1 ton warhead at mach 3 to a range of 300 miles. And as impressive as that is, their fire control was amazing as well. The Vulkans were designed to operate in swarms, in order to overwhelm the defenses of their targets. One missile would go to altitude and scan the target area, and try to pick out the carrier in the fleet, and assign the targets to its mates that were traveling at 50 meters. If the targeting missile was shot down, another of the swarm would rise and take its place. In theory, half the swarm would target the carrier, the other half in 1's and 2's would target the carrier's escorts. Would it have worked? No one knows. If it had worked as designed, a single Slava would ruin the day for a carrier task force.

When the Slava was designed and built, this is what we Americans would have to defend a carrier. A couple of cruisers with twin Terrier AA missile batteries, a couple of destroyers with a single terrier or tarter missile battery. The Phalanx Close in Weapon System existed, but was not widely deployed. The Aegis system had not yet been deployed.

What does a Terrier or Tarter battery look like? Terrier was a mid range missile, official range was 40 miles. Tarter was 20 miles.  Officially Terrier had already been renamed Standard Missile Extended  Range, SM/ER

Two Terrier missiles on the rails.  Terrier has been renamed Standard Missile, Extended  Range, SM/ER for short, while Tarter, was the same missile, sans booster was renamed Standard Missile, Medium Range.

Terrier and Tarter were "Beam Riders", meaning they were launched into a radar beam that was pointing at the target. They had enough intelligence to stay in the beam until they got a signal to go active. The beam and the signals were radiated from their fire control radars.

The Fire Control Radar AN/SPG-55B for Terrier.  FYI, these were my babies for a couple of years.

Fire control radars are designed to point exactly at the target. Right out that white Teflon dot in the middle of the lens. As long as they were pointing at the target, the missile was pretty assured of hitting it. In the final seconds before contact, the radar would send radiate a continuous wave signal, lighting up the target like a search light, and the missile would guide in on it in what was called, "terminal homing".

Why am I telling you this? This is to give you an idea of what it takes to defend against an incoming missile. There are a lot of steps involved.

It goes like this:

The search radar, the kind you may be familiar with, sweeps the sky at about an 8 second interval. If the target is high enough, they could see it at up to 300 miles away. A very comfortable distance. After a couple of sweeps, they get a vector and speed and decide if there is a need to assign a fire control radar to it. Remember, the range of the Terrier missile is 40 miles. Lots of time.

Once assigned, the fire control radar points in the area where the search radar saw the target, and does some pattern searches until it finds it, then "locks on", meaning the electronics of the radar will keep the target in the center of the radar beam. Assuming speeds of mach 1, and the target is heading straight at the destroyer, we have about 12 minutes before the target is range.

The missile men pull a missile out and put it on the rails and point the launcher at target and wait.

The missile house has room for 4 missiles to be "Ready", the remaining missiles are stored in missile rings of 20 each deeper in the ship. It takes time to bring the missiles from the rings to the ready room. So the destroyer can fire 6 missiles fast, but after that, the rate of fire slows down somewhat.

Which is not really a defect, as the missile battery can only have 2 missiles in the air at the same time. One per fire control radar.

If swarmed, it was judged that a single battery could destroy 6 targets before being hit. Assuming they are at altitude, and traveling at a stately speed of mach 1.

But the Vulkan missiles are traveling at mach 3, and that changed the math of the game.  Most of the Vulkan swarm is only 50 meters off the waves, where they are visible only at 20 miles. From the time they show up on radar to impact is now 33 seconds. Search radar has to pick it up, assign fire control, point the fire control radar, it begins to search for the target.  By then, the first Vulkan hits, but the missile launcher is now synced with the fire control radar and another Vulkan hits, and we are done here. Time for damage control.

So even if you are ready, this was an impossible shot for the equipment of the day.   

The answer was in the near future, with Aegis and Phalanx.  But Aegis would require new hulls.  Phalanx could be put anywhere, but was always the last defense  It is always better to shoot things down "out there", rather than "right here.".  As a stop gap measure, older ships were upgraded with New Threat Upgrade, or NTU, where the missiles could be fired in the general direction of the incoming threats. 

Mid course guidance was handled by 4 receivers that were placed around the superstructure, through which the missiles updated the computers about every 4 seconds or so.  The fire control system was then be used to send an uplink to the missiles if necessary, and during the final phases to illuminate the targets.  This allowed for Terrier systems to engage 8 targets at a time, vice 2.

Fast forward to now. Aegis radars scan the entire sky at a sub second rate vice 8 second sweeps. The search and tracking radars are now one and the same, so no time lost for lock on. No missile launcher to point. The missiles just launch straight from their canisters. Targets that are missed are subject to SeaRam short range missiles, and if that fails, the Phalanx CWIS system.  Providing 3 layers of defense that can effectively negate the swarm.

So why have I subjected you to 3 pages explaining fire control systems?  To provide some insight as to how many pieces have to work together for a successful, and timely intercept.  I hadn't gotten into command control, the computers or the 78 variables of the fire control problem.

All this brings us back to the Moskva. Remember the Moskva? This is an article about the Moskva. As built in the 70's, with the latest Soviet technology.  So about equal to USA's late 60's tech.  It's main function is to take out enemy fleets, it's secondary function is to serve as a flagship, its tertiary function is to provide anti aircraft missiles to defend the Black Sea fleet. For this it has an 64 SAN 6, "Grumble", missiles in canisters, not unlike the Aegis vertical launch system. They are mid to long range missiles, about 100 miles. And like the Terrier/Tarter missile systems, they have a low rate of fire, limited by their single fire control radar. Possibly they can have several missiles going in the same direction but different targets. But I doubt it.  It also is armed with Anti-Submarine mortars and Anti-Ship torpedoes, both of which are not useful in a war with Ukraine, a nation without a fleet. 

For short range, they have 40 SAN 4 missiles. The launcher is in what has been described as a "Pop-up Trash Can" launcher. With two fire control radars, one port, one starboard, and like the Terrier/Tarter systems of the day, probably can only have one salvo of missiles in the air per battery.

The nippled dome, upper left is the fire control radar for the long range SAN 6 anti aircraft missiles. The round can in the lower center is the pop up missile launcher for the short range SAN 4 AA missiles. Just forward of the SAN 4 launchers are their FC radars.

Lastly, they have 6, 30mm, Close In Weapon Systems, like US Navy's Phalanx. If turned on, they have the short reaction time required to shoot down incoming missiles.

Regarding the Russian crew.  As I mentioned earlier.  Western navies are crewed by well trained men and women.  Some do come nearly straight from boot camp.  But not many.  The core of the service are the enlisted Petty Officers.  The Officers are largely in the role of business managers.

In the Russian system, a fair portion of the crew is straight out of boot camp.  Enlisted men that are trained on the systems get that training only after serving a period of service, and that training is offered as an incentive to reenlist.  It is the Officers that provide most of the technical expertise, when their time as managers allows.  It was said that the Alpha Class submarines, the worlds deepest diving and fastest subs, with titanium hulls, had a 100% Officer crew.  Someone will correct me if I am wrong.

Whoever was crewing this ship, they were not as well trained as their western counterparts, and this has been blamed for the loss of the ship in the news media, most of which are just repeating themselves. 

I have written much about the threat the Moskva poses to an enemy fleet. But for this war, it is not going to use those hypersonic missiles for shore bombardment. The main reason for that is the Vulkans just too expensive, and they probably don't have many of them to reload with. There is no mention that the admiral was on board, so being a flag ship is out.  So it's mission seems relegated to what technically, is what the Moskva does third best, providing anti aircraft protection for the Black Sea Fleet.

Lets look at the Neptune Anti Ship Missile.

Image stolen from the Washington Post without permission.

This missile weighs in at about a ton, one fifth the size of the Moskva's Vulkans. It carries 330 pound warhead at  a speed of about mach 1. For comparison, a French Exocet is about 350 pounds, and a Harpoon, 500 pounds. In WWII, most anti-ship bombs were in the 500-1000 pound range. While a tidy little package, it is a bit on the light side.

The Neptune travels about 50 feet above the water line, and so only becomes visible to radar at about 9.5 miles. From there to impact is about 50 seconds. 

For the Moskva's missile batteries to even have a shot, they would have to be radiating and pointing in the correct direction. For the long range SAN-6, no. Because the missiles launch vertically, and then have to roll over towards the target. By the time the radar was assigned, locked on, missile launched, rolls over, the Neptune would be within the minimum range.

The SAN 4 could have a shot, just one, if everything is working correctly.

Their AK 630's, 30mm Close In Weapon Systems should have been able to handle the engagement though. They have 4 on a side. If they were turned on. And probably they were not.

How do I know they were not on? Because there is no report of the Moskva defending itself. They would have at least shot at the incoming Neptune's. They didn't, so they must not have been turned on. The Soviets had a policy of leaving equipment off when not needed. Because equipment that is off, doesn't break. They never had enough trained men, or parts, to keep their equipment functioning. Corporate culture is a hard thing to change, and the Russian Navy seems to be still run like it did with under the Soviet rule. 

I have some experience here. In 1981 I was onboard the USS King, and we had an encounter with the flagship of the Soviet Mediterranean fleet, the Leningrad. She was the sister ship of the Moskva's predecessor. We snuck up on the Leningrad one morning.  And during that encounter, the Leningrad broke down!.  The details I wrote up in my blog post, A Bad Day For Communism.

Once hit, the Moskva is nothing but exposed fuel and explosives. That it went down fast was not surprising. Where it took it's hits is conjecture. The Neptune's seem to just go straight into the ship at an altitude of about 50 feet.  It doesn't seem to have a fancy curve at the terminal homing phase for a straight down shot into the engine room, like Harpoons do. Also they do not hit below the waterline. But the Moskva did take on water, so the hull had to be cracked by the fires that ravaged her.

Along the side of the Moskva is a lot of space dedicated to weaponry. Note the large missile canisters from midships to the twin 4 inch gun mount near the bow.  They each contain a Vulkan missile.  These missiles are liquid fueled and have a 1 ton warhead, and there are 8 on a side. I don't think they took a direct hit, because ship would blown up and just gone down.  The captain of the Moskva is reported KIA from the initial explosion, and he was likely in his sea cabin behind the bridge.  So a hit near the Vulkans is a strong possibility.  Causing the casings and missiles to crack, spilling tons of volatile fuel waiting for a the spark that would doom the ship.

The explosive power of the fuel cannot be ignored.  I worked with Talos Missiles, at 4 tons each, and were close to the size of a Vulkan and also liquid fueled. At Talos school, there was a picture of a target ship that took just one hit from a Talos. Above the waterline was a bow, a stern, and nothing else. And that was mainly from the fuel, as Talos had only a 60 pound warhead.

I'm pretty sure the Neptune's did not hit the bow or stern. Because damage there would have been easily contained. I think one of the hits occurred just behind the engine funnel. Where the SAN-6's are stored in their canisters. It's about the right altitude. There are 64 missiles there, and once they start cooking off, the fire would be inextinguishable. The US vertical launch systems have a quenching system that violently fills the containers with water. I don't know if the Moskva had a similar system, or if it just didn't work.

Setting off the solid fuel rocket motors could be violent enough to crack the hull. There is evidence of this in a satellite image of the Moskva that night where the brightest point is in the center of the ship.

One report had the Moskva on it's side within 90 minutes. That would require a couple of thousand tons of seawater. So the hull had to have been cracked.

The Moskva is not the first Russian warship sunk by a fire. In 1981 a Krivak class destroyer was lost in the Black Sea when it caught fire and sank.

This is one of the reasons EVERY sailor in the US Navy goes to fire fighting school.

But the indescribable hell that that kind of missile storm would cause wasn't going to be put out by any crew, no matter how well trained. This is evidenced that a Turkish ship was already picking up survivors at 2am, a little more than an hour after the strike.

So what sank the Moskva?  Much blame is placed on the lack of a well trained crew.  I contend that no amount of training was going to save this ship.  They had 50 seconds, maximum, warning of an incoming missile to impact.  For systems designed in the 70's, that is just not enough time.

Their CIWS could have made the shot, but how many of them were operational?  The number could be zero.  They would have to have been up and running before missile detection.  If they were off to keep them from breaking, then they are not a factor.  This ship has been war time steaming for 6 weeks.  So what equipment they did have running in February was probably having issues.  

What sank the Moskva was a design philosophy emphasizing weaponry over survivability, followed with decades of corporate culture that relegated maintenance to the lowest priority.  The ship had no escorts, had no warning, was assigned a mission it was not prepared for, or even capable of performing.  The crew quality at this point is irrelevant to the equation.  It was clearly and upper management issue.  

I blame first the design bureau for designing what can only be described as a glass cannon.  Then upper brass in the 90's for keeping the ship when it was going to be sent to the scrap yard.  And finally the Russian Admiralty for deploying a ship, alone, for a mission it was technically unprepared for (providing AA cover for the fleet) when all it was designed to do was make one large bombardment strike, then run home for more ammo.

How many sailors died here?  Reports are across the board.  Russian propaganda has stated all were rescued.  The Turks pulled about 50 out of the water. So the number is between 0 and 450.  

But then consider where did those two missiles hit?  Warships do not have a lot of spaces that are not either occupied by crew, or occupied by flammable liquids and or explosives.  Yes there is the chain locker, and a couple dozen fan rooms, or the laundry room was unoccupied, but then if strikes hit those spots, there would not have been the catastrophic fire that was in evidence.  We know how catastrophic it was because a Turkish ship that was first on the scene about an hour after the hit, was pulling sailors out of the water.

But for a warship to go from wartime steaming to abandon ship, within an hour, and not take casualties in an attempt to save the ship, defies credulity.  I will say, unequivocally, that a sailor will go into cold water, at night, only when he knows for certain he will die otherwise, and probably has proof that his death is imminent. 


This is not the first Moskva to have been sunk by enemy action in the Black Sea. On June 26, 1941, the Soviet destroyer Moskva was sunk while bombarding the oil storage facilities in Romanian city of Constanta.  It and its other ships were successful in their mission, but the Moskva was lost during the bombardment.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Shock of Impact

Naval Station Great Lakes, 1976.  The temporary home of almost all United States Navy sailors at one time or another.  The training center is huge.  From boot camp on one side of the base to advanced training in engineering and electronics on the other.

I was filtering my way through Great Lakes taking Basic Electricity and Electronics (part II) and was assigned to the 200 Barracks.  At the time, the 200 Barracks was the oldest barracks on the base.  I'll describe it for the benefit of other branches, and the younger sailors, as I don't think it exists anymore.  Designed in WWII, they were made out of cinder blocks, with an "Open Bay" architecture.  This meant 4 men to a bay that had no doors.  And one common bathroom per floor.  There was next to no privacy.  It was where the fresh out of boot camp personnel were assigned until they proved worthy to be promoted to their "A" schools, for technical training.  Then they would be assigned to one of the more modern barracks, 300, 400, 500 or 600.  

This may sound awful, but since we all just got out of boot camp, with 80 men to a room, it was actually a step up in the world.

Command building, built in 1906
I lived on the third floor.  One night, after taking an after midnight pee, I observed a late to bed, staggering, and obviously very drunk squid stumbling down the hallway.  He paused next to the water fountain, and passed out.  Slamming his head on the fountain with a resounding crash.  I started to run to his aid, when he got up, and staggered down the hall, where I lost him in the darkness.  

"Well, if he can do that, he must be all right", I thought.

The next morning, I went to get a drink, and saw from the paint lines, that the fountain had moved 4 full inches downward.  It was amazing he walked away for that!

A week goes by, and I was standing the barracks watch, which involved roving around the floors and reporting to the front desk every now and then.  

The second floor fountain had also moved downward, 4 full inches.

My first thought was, "Oh my god, he must have fell on this one too!" 

The second thought was a bit more rational, and I confirmed it a minute later on the first floor.

4 inches.  Yes he moved the plumbing in whole building with his head.


Saturday, December 7, 2019

Pearl Harbor Day, From the Family Oral History

Pearl Harbor Day, From the Family Oral History.

Every Dec 7, I think about this story passed on down to me via my family.

It is around 3 PM, Sunday afternoon.  4 (out of 5) of the Ramsay boys and their wives have gathered at Ginna and Charlies house for a game of pinochle and dinner in Paoli, Pa.  The game is moving along, the ladies working on dinner, and the radio is playing music. 

"We interrupt this broadcast to bring you this important bulletin. . . The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor Hawaii by air, President Roosevelt has just announced. The attack also was made on all military and naval activities on the principle island of Ohau." 

Silence around the table.  Finally broken by a bid, "23", then "24", followed by a couple of passes.

The game continued and was concluded, the winning score announced.  Then, the four men got up, and put on their coats.

Elanor, Howard's wife, asked "Where are you going?"

Howard replies, "We are at war.  We're are going to enlist."  And with that, the men went out the door.

Upon reflection, I cannot imagine what went through the ladies minds, as all their husbands just up and left.

And about two hours later, returned.  

"What happened", asked Mame? 

With some chagrin, Charles replied, "It's Sunday, everything was closed."

Over the next few weeks, all 5 of the Ramsay boys enlisted.  Howard was rejected as too old.  Of the remainder, Arthur fought in the Pacific onboard a nameless PT boat, while Robert served onboard a Pearl Harbor survivor, the USS Phoenix,  Charles in the coast guard, and "Babe" in the Army, marching across France.  All came back.

The Greatest Generation.