Monday, October 26, 2009

Lack of Sleep

I generally try to stay away from current affairs in this blog and stick to the old days of the steam Navy, but not for this post.

There is an article in Navy Times concerning the lean manning of ships and the effect of lack of sleep on the crews. And it's not just ships that are feeling the pinch.

This may be a concern because of fewer sailors, but as a matter of fact, in the ranks of watchstanders, this has always been a serious problem for officers. It was routine to stand 3-section underway watches, which means that you are on watch for roughly eight hours a day and then, in the off-time, you have to do your job. One day out of three you get the luxury of coming off watch at midnight and then being able to sleep until 0600, when you then have to get up, grab a quick shower, and go on watch at 0700. When you stand a forenoon watch (on deck at 0345), you were previously on watch until 2000 the evening before. The midshitter is the cruelest watch; you go on at 2345 and you're there until roughly 0400. You are damned fortunate if you can get two hours of sleep on either side.

All that is if there is nothing else going on. You might have a night refueling, which calls you to a refueling station. I know of one OOD who damn near ran a ship around on Sardinia because of exhaustion; that particular OOD was on refueling station from 2100 to 0130 (the ship was in waiting station for hours because the ship ahead of her had a fouled rig or something and could not disconnect) and then stood the rev watch from 0345 to 0700. The OOD was dog tired and could not think at a much higher level than "fire bad, tree pretty". That was, by far, not the only example I can think of. I've seen some hairy-ass shit happen because sailors and officers were overtired.

I knew of one refueling ship over 20 years ago (an AOR, I think) whose captain refused to obey an order to take her to sea because the ship was so undermanned in boiler techs. It was the talk of the waterfront for awhile, the captain probably killed his career, but everyone knew that he had made the right call.

The problem is only going to be exacerbated on the new littoral combat ships, which are supposed to be operated with a very small crew. That means that it will be operated with a very tired crew that will make mistakes. That also means that the ships will wind up looking as rusty as a Russian Navy destroyer; First Division on a 1052 had about 20+ sailors to do topside maintenance and that would be half the crew of a LCS. Computerization is nice, but computers can't chip paint, swab decks or paint shit. And unless the ships have halon fire-suppression everywhere ("evacuate the compartment, shut the doors/hatches and pump in halon"), I do not see how a ship with 40 people will be able to fight a serious fire.

I suspect that the Navy is asking for some serious problems beyond the grounding of the USS Port Royal.

Monday, October 12, 2009

AAW Part V- the Weapons, Chapter 2

(Part IV)

(N.B. I am not considering 5" and 76mm guns in this discussion. Nothing has fundamentally changed there since the development of the VT fuze) during the Second World War.

Very short range defense against incoming missiles, or "point defense", was initially a crash program within the Navy, which became very interested in point defense in 1967, following the sinking of an Israeli destroyer after it was hit by a number of Styx missiles.

The first system was pretty slapdash, but it worked. It was the "Basic Point Defense Missile System" or BPDMS. It was a system that would have made McGyver proud and it was developed and implemented at near-record speed for a non-hot war procurement situation.

BPDMS took eight Sparrow missiles, straight from the stocks for F-4s, and put them in a trainable box launcher.[1] It took two of the nose radars from an F-4 and mounted them on a separate hand-slewed mount. There was a little CRT in the mount with an eyepiece so the operator could press his face to it (avoiding showing light at night and keeping rain off it). When it was turned on, the operator would be told, by sound-powered telephone, where the target was. He would slew his radar rig to that and elevate it as necessary. The missile box would automatically train and elevate to follow the radar director. The operator would both acquire the target and fire at it.

The disadvantages were obvious. BPDMS relied on a man, standing outdoors, to work it. At night, in the rain, in the cold, whatever the weather, somebody had to be at the director in order for it to function.

NATO Sea Sparrow got rid of the human-operated director;

NATO Sea Sparrow also began the process of "navalizing" the Sparrow missile to make it better suited for shipboard requirements. BPDMS,as I mentioned, had taken the issue Sparrow as used by fighters. That was fine for a crash program, but it was not optimal, so a naval variant was developed.

NATO Sea Sparrow, however, was not suitable for ships much smaller than a destroyer (though BPDMS had been installed on frigates). The Phalanx Close-in Weapon System, CIWS, was developed for smaller ships, though it has been installed on everything up through aircraft carriers. The idea of CIWS[2] was to have a system that could be welded to the deck in short order, if necessary, with only lines run to it to provide for electricity and command capabilities.

CIWS can be fully autonomous, though it can also accept designation from CIC. CIWS has its own tracking and acquisition radars in the white dome. The gun is a 20mm gatling gun which when loaded for wartime, fires sub-caliber (saboted) depleted uranium projectiles which are supposed to smash into an oncoming cruise missile and cause it to blow up.[3] CIWS was often referred to as "R2D2".

CIWS worked. Some navies went for a larger gun, such as Goalkeeper, but the larger systems require penetrating the deck to mount part of the works below the deck, which limits where the mounts can be placed.

The last line of AAW defense is, of course, damage control.

[1] You may see references that say that BPDMS used a modified ASROC box launcher. Those reference are full of shit. The BPDMS launcher box system was a lot smaller than ASROC.
[2] CIWS is also a generic term for any close-in defense system.
[3] There is a potentially serious problem with this idea. A CIWS kill will take place between 300 and 500 yards. Eastern-bloc antiship missiles were designed to disable large ships and it is highly likely that they use some type of shaped-charge. Detonating one a few hundred yards from a destroyer might still sink it. Even if the thing blows up omnidirectionally, the shrapnel has a good chance of fucking up the ship's radars.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Victory at Sea

The music, in MP3 format, from the 1952 TV series. If you have never seen the series, it is worth trying to track down a copy of the DVD set. (I found mine in the $5 bin at Wally-World.)

Or you can watch them here.

Monday, October 5, 2009


This past weekend, I had lunch with a friend who lives in a smallish city. That city has a Navy-Marine Corps reserve center. We went to a Chinese buffet and sat in a booth. Sitting in the next booth behind me were two naval officers; from their ranks and age, I guessed that they were both mustangs.

An elderly man walked by their booth. He appeared to be old enough to have been in either the Second World or Korean Wars and asked: "How's the navy?"

"The Navy's doing fine," was the reply.

"I was in for four years," the old man said. "I hated it."