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So You Want to Steal a Frigate?

[ 93 ] September 19, 2014 |

In my latest at the Diplomat, I work through some of the details of the script of Ocean’s 14: Danny Joins Al Qaeda:

Ships are hard to steal in real life, but we do have a few examples. The crews of two Brazilian dreadnoughts mutinied in 1910, threatening to turn their guns on Rio De Janiero before giving up. In 1931 the Chilean Navy mutinied, with crews seizing ships and dockyard areas for about a week. Also in 1931, the Invergordon Mutiny briefly took control of four Royal Navy battleships. The Russian Navy, of course, suffered several mutinies in the early twentieth century.

Fictional thefts have enjoyed more success. In The Hunt for Red October, a small cadre of treasonous officers manages to steal a nuclear ballistic missile submarine. In Crimson Tide, the act is repeated under somewhat different circumstances.  In Under Siege and again in Battleship, small groups with inside knowledge manage to steal the USS Missouri.  In Star Trek III (oddly, probably the plot most similar to that of the Pakistani effort), a group of five officers orchestrates the theft of a Federation starship.

And so people have imagined stealing ships, and people have successfully stolen ships.  With this in mind, how outlandish was the Al Qaeda plot to seize a Pakistani frigate and use it to attack U.S. warships? How hard is it to steal, and operate, a modern warship? After discussing the question with several naval professionals, the short answers seem to be: It depends, and it depends, but under any circumstances hijacking a warship would prove almost absurdly difficult.


Five English Weapons of War the Scots Should Fear

[ 139 ] September 18, 2014 |
HMS Nelson during gunnery trials.jpg

“HMS Nelson during gunnery trials” by Priest, L C (Lt), Royal Navy official photographer. –
This is photograph A 9284 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 4700-01)
. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

If the Scots vote “yes” on today’s independence referendum, they will begin a process that will result, in eighteen months or so, in the creation of a new state and the separation of a union that has persisted for over four hundred years. Although we have some examples of peaceful national dissolution, many, and perhaps most, secessionist efforts result in horrific violence along the lines of demarcation.  If the rUK government determines to undertake what some have called the “Longshanks Solution,” what sort of terror might the English inflict upon their former compatriots?  This article examines five English weapons that could decide the outcome of a British civil war.

Astute class nuclear attack submarine: Displacing 7400 ton submerged, the Astute class nuclear attack boats are among the most advanced subs in the world.  They can make up to 30 knots, are reputed to be remarkably quiet, and can carry a large load of torpedoes and land attack missiles.  Astutes carrying Tomahawk missiles can strike any part of Scotland.  Scotland’s limited anti-submarine capability cannot effectively protect either Scottish commerce, or Scottish access to offshore natural resources.  In effect, the Astutes give the Crown the ability to strike anywhere, at anytime, without concern over effective defense or reprisal. Also, all seven of the boats have been or will be constructed in England.

English Electric Lightning: This high speed interceptor can make the skies over Scotland dangerous. The most advanced Lightnings, employing their unique stacked engine system, can reach in excess of Mach 2.  The restricted range of the Lightning will not prove a major handicap over Scotland, which is well within range of most English airfields.  Scotland flies no aircraft competitive with the Lightning, and appears to lack much of an effective, integrated air defense system.  The English Electric Lightning has only limited ground attack capabilities, but its ability to create deafening sonic booms over much of the country should prove deeply annoying to many Scots.

Nelson class battleship: Displacing 35000 tons and carrying 9 16” guns in three triple turrets, the Nelson class battleships Nelson and Rodney overmatch any warship operated by the non-existent Royal Scottish Navy.  The BL 16” Mark 1 can strike targets at up to 35000 yards, delivering up to 9 2000# shells per broadside. These guns can substantially outrange Scottish coastal artillery.  The mobility provided by the two battleships should give the English Crown the capacity to bombard Scottish coastal cities at will, without concern over retribution.  Most importantly, both Nelson and Rodney were constructed in English shipyards, and named after proper English admirals.

English longbow: Constructed mostly from yew, these 6’ long bows require years of training to master.  In the hands of an effective archer, however, an English longbow can penetrate the armor of most Scottish knights and clansmen at considerable range.  English efforts to maintain an experienced, well-trained cadre of archers remain uncertain, but then again rumor has it that the art of armoring has fallen by the wayside among the Scots. Recent evidence has emerged indicating the House Windsor’s renewed interest in maintaining an effective archery branch.

The Welsh:  Those motherfuckers are crazy.

Everyone hopes that the war between Scotland and England will be long, destructive, exhaustive, and entertaining.  If Scotland hopes to resist English power, it is best advised to seek assistance from the Northmen or the Gauls, or to try to raise an army among the Irish.

Early Link Day!

[ 9 ] September 17, 2014 |

Some links for your morning:

Scotchtoberfest Revisited

[ 71 ] September 15, 2014 |

Gotta love this:

I particularly enjoy it because I’ve always found the following exchange evocative of the kind of baroque post-nationalism that the Scottish referendum represents:

Groundskeeper Willie: Now the kilt was only for day-to-day wear. In battle, we donned a full-length ballgown covered in sequins. The idea was to blind your opponent with luxury. [Bart ties a set of balloon to his kilt, making it fly off with them and show his buttocks, which makes everyone gasp.] Aah, ’tis no more than what God gave me, you puritan pukes.

Principal Skinner: Congratulations, Simpson. You just fell for our sting and won yourself three months detention. There’s no such thing as Scotchtoberfest.

Groundskeeper Willie: There’s not? Ya used me, Skinner! Ya used me!

Airpower Over Vietnam?

[ 18 ] September 15, 2014 |

For the National Interest this week, a brief reappraisal of the promise and failure of airpower in Vietnam:

Effectively, the Obama administration has decided to rely on airpower in its efforts to limit the catastrophic, ongoing chaos caused by the Iraq War. Thinking about the operation against ISIS in these terms almost inevitably evokes similar thoughts about previous catastrophic wars. For example, could airpower have won the Vietnam War, or at least limited the extent of our defeat?

Certainly, lots of people believed so at the time. While the United States Air Force may have viewed the Rolling Thunder campaign as sub-optimal, given its desire to attack a much wider range of targets, the commanders at the time viewed it as an opportunity to show that the service could win a war on its own. Taking a look at the strategic, tactical, and joint aspects of the use of airpower in Vietnam, we can get to an answer of “Maybe, but…” with an emphasis on the “but.” The United States could have used airpower more effectively in Vietnam than it did, but even the most efficient plans likely could not have saved the Saigon regime.

Space: The Final Frontier of Inter-Service Conflict?

[ 20 ] September 12, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat thinks through some of the implications of autonomy for potential “space forces:”

On an international scale, how responsibility for space falls out in terms of military organizations has potentially large implications for the development of norms of appropriate behavior in space. Different services have different visions of the commons, and have powerful platforms for advocacy on what the “rules of the road” should look like. Services can also have strong attitudes about arms control. A service that owes its existence to a particular vision of freedom-of-action in space can provide powerful opposition to arms control agreements it finds threatening.

And so the configuration of services can have effects beyond the organization of military affairs in a particular country. But how does this configuration change, and how might a change in China affect how other countries design their defense bureaucracies? What we do know is that services and branches do not follow one single logic; the institutional framework of military organization depends on national interest, national resources, and the particular configuration of domestic politics existing at the point of decision.

Togo in Retrospect

[ 66 ] September 12, 2014 |

I have a piece up on the National Interest on the legacies of the Russo-Japanese War:

The Russo-Japanese War commenced 110 years ago this February, lasting eighteen months before a US-brokered truce mercifully put it to rest. The war killed upwards of 125,000 people, and sharply limited Russian influence in Northeast Asia. Japan gained control of Korea, and gained a long-term foothold for influencing events in Manchuria and China.

Writers have ascribed many legacies to the conflict, some of which we can set aside. Victory against Japan probably would not have prevented the collapse of Imperial Russia and the founding of the Soviet Union; the Revolution happened for other reasons. Moreover, the conflict did not give the Central Powers a “window of opportunity” for defeating Russia in Europe; we now know that Vienna and Berlin over-estimated, rather than under-estimated, Russian power in 1914. Defeat might conceivably have broken Japanese militarism for a time, but the weakness of China and of the European colonial empires would likely have proven too tempting for Tokyo in any case.

High Strung

[ 42 ] September 11, 2014 |

This is helpful.

And the tweet of the day…

Ugh Double Ugh

[ 203 ] September 11, 2014 |

Well, this just looks like a clusterfuck.

In Iraq, dissolved elements of the army will have to regroup and fight with conviction. Political leaders will have to reach compromises on the allocation of power and money in ways that have eluded them for years. Disenfranchised Sunni tribesmen will have to muster the will to join the government’s battle. European and Arab allies will have to hang together, Washington will have to tolerate the resurgence of Iranian-backed Shiite militias it once fought, and U.S. commanders will have to orchestrate an air war without ground-level guidance from American combat forces…

But defeating the group in neighboring Syria will be even more difficult, according to U.S. military and diplomatic officials. The strategy imagines weakening the Islamic State without indirectly strengthening the ruthless government led by Bashar al-Assad or a rival network of al-Qaeda affiliated rebels — while simultaneously trying to build up a moderate Syrian opposition.

The Syria side of the campaign remains a work in progress at the Pentagon, CIA and White House. The development of an operational plan is further complicated by a lack of intelligence — U.S. drones have not been flying over Islamic State-controlled parts of the country for long — and the absence of allied local forces that can leverage U.S. airstrikes into territorial gains.

And then we have this helpful group of assholes:

Progress has been encouraging. Arab states have scrambled to set aside differences to rally against the threat posed by the extremists, whose rampage through Iraq and Syria has unnerved rulers across the region.

On Thursday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry was to attend a meeting in Saudi Arabia with all of the major players in the Middle East, including the host country, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, to discuss ways to address the crisis.

Many of these countries are at odds over a range of issues and might not have been willing to send representatives to meet in the same room were it not for their urgent recognition of the new menace in their midst.

In common with their fear of the Islamic State, however, the region’s leaders also share a deep mistrust of the Obama administration, rooted in the past three years of increasing disengagement from the Middle East as the United States has sought to distance itself from the turmoil engendered by the Arab Spring revolts.

So, a group of countries that can’t agree on what should be done with Syria are deeply irritated that the United States has not sorted through what is to be done with Syria. Meanwhile, money pours out of the pockets of the Gulf states into the coffers of ISIS, which leaves everyone in the Gulf states deeply concerned that the US isn’t doing enough about Iran.

Japanese Flying Fortresses

[ 19 ] September 10, 2014 |

This is a fascinating picture:

Some more information here.

The first B-17 to come under Japanese control was an B-17D which was pieced together from the remnants of other destroyed B-17Ds on Clark Field in the Philippines. The same thing was done to to two B-17Es on Bandung Field on Java. At the time, this was the newest model of the B-17 available. The Japanese were impressed with the simplicity of the cockpit for such a large aircraft. One of the B-17Es was used for a test bed for a captured Norden bombsight, coupled to the Sperry automatic flight control system. Also of great interest was the B-17’s gunnery equipment, especially the Sperry automatic computing gunsight. The May 1943 issue of Koku-Asahi was devoted almost completely to the captured B-17s. Nearly every major component was shown in photos and drawings. Since the Japanese also had instruction manuals for the aircraft, no detail was overlooked.

Falklands to a Fault

[ 88 ] September 8, 2014 |

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at the legacy of the Falklands War:

The Falklands War ended with a decisive British victory over thirty years ago.  Nevertheless, the war remains alive in the imagination of analysts and historians. Although the conflict happened outside of the normal “zones of crisis,” it has long held the attention of students of warfare.  The war, which involved a conflict over territory between two established nation-states with large, capital intensive military establishments, seems almost quaint today.  However, the issues that brought about the war, the manner in which the war was fought, and the situation the war left behind continue to hold important lessons for practitioners of foreign policy today.

Foreign Entanglements: The Triad

[ 7 ] September 6, 2014 |

On this episode of Foreign Entanglements, I talk with Al Mauroni about the future of the nuclear triad:

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