Quotulatiousness

August 25, 2014

Want the coolest thing to hit the waves recently? $10 million will be the starting price

Filed under: Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:52

Slashgear‘s Chris Davies says this is just the ticket for up-and-coming Bond villains:

It looks like a half-submerged X-Wing, or maybe a Star Trek Shuttle, but it’s actually Ghost, one American start-up’s vision for what an attack helicopter designed for the navy might look like. Mustering 4,000 HP from two engines on the end of powered legs, Ghost promises to whip across the ocean in a supercavitation bubble, avoiding radar and with a silky smooth ride for the crew inside.

What makes the boat special is how it improves on hydroplane technology, more commonly used in racing boats. Hydroplanes increase their top speed by skimming across the top of the water, rather than burying their hulls in it, reducing drag in the process.

However, that also makes them relatively unstable and prone to flipping — so, Ghost’s manufacturer Juliet Marine Systems turned to supercavitation, which creates a bubble of gas around each of the legs and cuts drag by a factor of 900. Air is pulled down through the struts, while the propellers are at the front of the 62 foot long tubes, effectively pulling the vessel along.

August 10, 2014

QotD: Travelling by sea

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

A sea trip does you good when you are going to have a couple of months of it, but, for a week, it is wicked.

You start on Monday with the idea implanted in your bosom that you are going to enjoy yourself. You wave an airy adieu to the boys on shore, light your biggest pipe, and swagger about the deck as if you were Captain Cook, Sir Francis Drake, and Christopher Columbus all rolled into one. On Tuesday, you wish you hadn’t come. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, you wish you were dead. On Saturday, you are able to swallow a little beef tea, and to sit up on deck, and answer with a wan, sweet smile when kind-hearted people ask you how you feel now. On Sunday, you begin to walk about again, and take solid food. And on Monday morning, as, with your bag and umbrella in your hand, you stand by the gunwale, waiting to step ashore, you begin to thoroughly like it.

I remember my brother-in-law going for a short sea trip once, for the benefit of his health. He took a return berth from London to Liverpool; and when he got to Liverpool, the only thing he was anxious about was to sell that return ticket.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.

August 4, 2014

Who is to blame for the outbreak of World War One? (Part six of a series)

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Over the last week, I’ve posted entries on what I think are the deep origins of the First World War (part one, part two, part three, part four, part five). And yes, to be honest, I didn’t think it would take quite this many entries to begin to explain how the world catastrophe of August 1914 came about — putting together this series of blog posts has been educational for me, and I hope it’s been at least of interest to you. The previous post examined the history of the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, in some detail (yes, it matters). Today, we finally clear the Victorian era altogether and begin to look at the last decade-or-so before the outbreak of the war.

The Anglo-German naval race

Even after the creation of the German Reich in 1871, Germany was not seen (by the British government) to be a major threat to British interests: Germany had no significant presence beyond Europe to worry the Colonial Office, and instead was seen as a potentially useful balancing factor in the European theatre. That all changed with the accession of Kaiser Wilhelm II as explained by Christopher Clark in The Sleepwalkers:

The 1890s were [...] a period of deepening German isolation. A commitment from Britain remained elusive and the Franco-Russian Alliance seemed to narrow considerably the room for movement on the continent. Yet Germany’s statesmen were extraordinarily slow to see the scale of the problem, mainly because they believed that the continuing tension between the world empires was in itself a guarantee that these would never combine against Germany. Far from countering their isolation through a policy of rapprochement, German policy-makers raised the quest for self-reliance to the status of a guiding principle. The most consequential manifestation of this development was the decision to build a large navy.

In the mid-1890s, after a long period of stagnation and relative decline, naval construction and strategy came to occupy a central place in German security and foreign policy. Public opinion played a role here — in Germany, as in Britain, big ships were the fetish of the quality press and its educated middle-class readers. The immensely fashionable “navalism” of the American writer Alfred Thayer Mahan also played a part. Mahan foretold in The Influence of Sea Power upon History: 1660–1783 (1890) a struggle for global power that would be decided by vast fleets of heavy battleships and cruisers. Kaiser Wilhelm II, who supported the naval programme, was a keen nautical hobbyist and an avid reader of Mahan; in the sketchbooks of the young Wilhelm we find many battleships — lovingly pencilled floating fortresses bristling with enormous guns. But the international dimension was also crucial: it was above all the sequence of peripheral clashes with Britain that triggered the decision to acquire a more formidable naval weapon. After the Transvaal episode, the Kaiser became obsessed with the need for ships, to the point where he began to see virtually every international crisis as a lesson in the primacy of naval power.

The Royal Navy (RN) had been Britain’s most obvious sign of global dominance, and Britain’s fleets had gone through many technological changes over the century since Waterloo. What had been for centuries a slow, steady process of gradual improvement and incremental change suddenly became the white-hot centre of rapid, even revolutionary, change:

At the same time that you need to add armour to protect the ship, you also need to mount heavier, larger guns. Between placing your order with the shipyard for a new ship, the metallurgical wizards may have (and frequently did) come up with bigger, better guns that could defeat the armour on your not-yet-launched ship. Oh, and you now needed to revise the design of the ship to carry the newer, heavier guns, too.

The ship designers were in a race with the gun designers to see who could defeat the latest design by the other group. It’s no wonder that ships could become obsolete between ordering and coming into service: sometimes, they could become obsolete before launch.

The weapons themselves were undergoing change at a relatively unprecedented rate. As late as the mid-1870′s, a good case could be made for muzzle-loading cannon being mounted on warships: until the gas seal of the breech-loader could be made safe, muzzle-loaders had an advantage of not killing their own crews at distressingly high frequency. Once that technological handicap had been overcome, then the argument came down to the best way to mount the weapons: turrets or barbettes.

The RN’s international prestige invited envious imitators (like Wilhelm) and challengers (the United States Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy), but the RN was the supreme naval power against which all other nations measured themselves. In 1889, parliament passed the Naval Defence Act, which specified that the Royal Navy would be maintained at the “two-power standard”: that the RN’s fleet of capital ships would be at least equal to the number of battleships maintained by the next two largest navies (at that time, the French and Russian navies). The increased spending allowed ten battleships plus cruisers and torpedo boats to be added to the fleet … but the French and Russian navies added twelve battleships between them over the same period of time. “Another British expansion, known as the Spencer Programme, followed in 1894 aimed to match foreign naval growth at a cost of over £31 million. Instead of deterring the naval expansion of foreign powers, Britain’s Naval Defence Act contributed to a naval arms race. Other powers including Germany and the United States bolstered their navies in the following years as Britain continued to increase its own naval expenditures.”

In The War That Ended Peace, Margaret MacMillan describes the implicit power of the RN in peacetime:

In August 1902 another great naval review took place at Spithead in the sheltered waters between Britain’s great south coast port of Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, this time to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII. Because he had suddenly come down with appendicitis earlier in the summer, the coronation itself and all festivities surrounding it had been postponed. As a result, most of the ships from foreign navies (except those of Britain’s new ally Japan) as well as those from the overseas squadrons of the British navy had been obliged to leave. The resulting smaller review was, nevertheless, The Times said proudly, a potent display of Britain’s naval might. The ships displayed at Spithead were all in active service and all from the fleets already in place to guard Britain’s home waters. “The display may be less magnificent than the wonderful manifestation of our sea-power witnessed in the same waters five years ago. But it will demonstrate no less plainly what that power is, to those who remember that we have a larger number of ships in commission on foreign stations now than we had then, and that we have not moved a single ship from Reserve.” “Some of our rivals,” The Times warned, “have worked with feverish activity in the interval, and they are steadily increasing their efforts. They should know that Britain remained vigilant and on guard, and prepared to spend whatever funds were necessary to maintain its sovereignty of the seas.”

Admiral Fisher’s new broom

Admiral Sir John "Jackie" Fisher (via Wikipedia)

Admiral Sir John “Jackie” Fisher (via Wikipedia)

In 1904, Admiral Sir John “Jackie” Fisher was appointed as First Sea Lord (the professional head of the RN, reporting to the First Lord of the Admiralty, a cabinet minister). Fisher was a full-steam-ahead reformer, with vast notions of modernizing and reforming the navy. He was brilliant, argumentative, abrasive, tactless, and aggressive but could also be charming and persuasive. “When addressing someone he could become carried away with the point he was seeking to make, and on one occasion, the king asked him to stop shaking his fist in his face.” (Fortunately for Fisher, the king was a personal friend, so this did not hinder his career.)

Margaret MacMillan describes him in The War That Ended Peace:

Jacky Fisher, as he was always known, shoots through the history of the British navy and of the prewar years like a runaway Catharine wheel, showering sparks in all directions and making some onlookers scatter in alarm and others gasp with admiration. He shook the British navy from top to bottom in the years before the Great War, bombarding his civilian superiors with demands until they usually gave way and steamrollering over his opponents in the navy. He spoke his mind freely in his own inimitable language. His enemies were “skunks”, “pimps”, “fossils”, or “frightened rabbits”. Fisher was tough, dogged and largely immune to criticism, not surprising perhaps in someone from a relatively modest background who had made his own way in the navy since he was a boy. He was also supremely self-confident. Edward VII once complained that Fisher did not look at different aspects of an issue. “Why should I waste my time,” the admiral replied, “looking at all sides when I know my side is the right side?”

Fisher had been a maverick throughout his career (which makes it even more amazing that he eventually did rise to become First Sea Lord), as his actions when he took command of the Mediterranean Fleet clearly illustrate:

A programme of realistic exercises was adopted including simulated French raids, defensive manoeuvres, night attacks and blockades, all carried out at maximum speed. He introduced a gold cup for the ship which performed best at gunnery, and insisted upon shooting at greater range and from battle formations. He found that he too was learning some of the complications and difficulties of controlling a large fleet in complex situations, and immensely enjoyed it.

Notes from his lectures indicate that, at the start of his time in the Mediterranean, useful working ranges for heavy guns without telescopic sights were considered to be only 2000 yards, or 3000-4000 yards with such sights, whereas by the end of his time discussion centred on how to shoot effectively at 5000 yards. This was driven by the increasing range of the torpedo, which had now risen to 3000-4000 yards, necessitating ships fighting effectively at greater ranges. At this time he advocated relatively small main armaments on capital ships (some had 15 inch or greater), because the improved technical design of the relatively small (10 inch) modern guns allowed a much greater firing rate and greater overall weight of broadside. The potentially much greater ranges of large guns was not an issue, because no one knew how to aim them effectively at such ranges. He argued that “the design of fighting ships must follow the mode of fighting instead of fighting being subsidiary to and dependent on the design of ships.” As regards how officers needed to behave, he commented, “‘Think and act for yourself’ is the motto for the future, not ‘Let us wait for orders’.”

Lord Hankey, then a marine serving under Fisher, later commented, “It is difficult for anyone who had not lived under the previous regime to realize what a change Fisher brought about in the Mediterranean fleet. … Before his arrival, the topics and arguments of the officers messes … were mainly confined to such matters as the cleaning of paint and brasswork. … These were forgotten and replaced by incessant controversies on tactics, strategy, gunnery, torpedo warfare, blockade, etc. It was a veritable renaissance and affected every officer in the navy.” Charles Beresford, later to become a severe critic of Fisher, gave up a plan to return to Britain and enter parliament, because he had “learnt more in the last week than in the last forty years”.

One of his first changes was to sell nearly one hundred elderly ships and move dozens of less capable vessels from the active list to the reserve fleet, to free up the crews (and the maintenance budget) for more modern vessels, describing the ships as “too weak to fight and too slow to run away”, and “a miser’s hoard of useless junk”. Between his reforms as Third Sea Lord (where he had championed the development of the modern destroyer and vastly increased the efficiency and productivity of the shipyards) and his new role as First Sea Lord, Fisher was able to get more done even on a budget that dropped nearly 10% in the year of his appointment than his predecessor had managed.

HMS Dreadnought and the naval revolution

Fisher was not a naval designer, but he knew how to push new ideas to the front and get them adopted. The one thing that most people remember him for is the revolutionary battleship HMS Dreadnought, the first all big gun, fast steam turbine powered battleship, and when she went into commission, she signified the obsolescence of every other capital ship in every navy from that moment onwards.

HMS Dreadnought underway, circa 1906-07

HMS Dreadnought underway, circa 1906-07

Dreadnought was the platonic ideal of a battleship: she was faster than any other capital ship in any other navy, her guns were at least the equivalent in range, rate of fire, and throw of shot, and her armour was sufficient to allow her to take punishment from opposing ships and still deal out damage herself. She was the first British ship to be equipped with electrical controls allowing the entire main armament to be fired from a central location. Thanks to Fisher’s earlier efforts with the shipyards, Dreadnought took just a year to build — far faster than any other battleship had been built.

The “entirely crazy Dreadnought policy of Sir J. Fisher and His Majesty”

The Kaiser was not happy with the new British battleship, as it had been German policy since his accession to build up the German navy to at least provide a tool for pressuring Britain (if not for actually confronting the Royal Navy in battle). Now his entire naval plan had been upset by the Dreadnought revolution. Margaret MacMillan:

As far as the Kaiser and [Admiral] Tirpitz were concerned the responsibility for taking the naval race to a new level rested with what Wilhelm called the “entirely crazy Dreadnought policy of Sir J. Fisher and His Majesty”. The Germans were prone to see Edward VII as bent on a policy of encircling Germany. The British had made a mistake in building dreadnoughts and heavy cruisers, in Tirpitz’s view, and they were angry about it: “This annoyance will increase as they see that we follow them immediately.” [...] Who could tell what the British might do? Did their history not show them to by hypocritical, devious and ruthless? Fears of a “Kopenhagen”, a sudden British attack just like the one in 1807 when the British navy had bombarded Copenhagen and seized the Danish fleet, were never far from the thoughts of the German leadership once the naval race had started.

German fears of British attack increased almost in lockstep with British fears of German attack (William Le Queux had his equivalents among the German press and popular novelists). The thought had actually occurred to Fisher himself, who outlined a possible coup de main against the German fleet. The king responded “My God, Fisher, you must be mad!” and the suggestion was ignored, thankfully.

The popular worries about an attack from Britain fed the support for the German Navy laws, which funded dreadnought and battlecruiser building programs. In direct proportion, the increased German support for their naval expansion worked to the advantage of British politicians who wanted to build more dreadnoughts of their own. And, in fairness, Britain risked far more by allowing an enlarged German navy than Germany risked by stopping their building program … but in either case, the fear of popular unrest kept the shipyards humming anyway. As Churchill later wrote, “The Admiralty had demanded six ships; the economists offered four; and we finally compromised on eight.”

There we go, finally getting within striking distance of the triggering events of the First World War … and I’m still not sure how many more posts it will take to get us there! More to come this week.

July 20, 2014

QotD: The Kaiser and the genesis of the High Seas Fleet

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The 1890s were [...] a period of deepening German isolation. A commitment from Britain remained elusive and the Franco-Russian Alliance seemed to narrow considerably the room for movement on the continent. Yet Germany’s statesmen were extraordinarily slow to see the scale of the problem, mainly because they believed that the continuing tension between the world empires was in itself a guarantee that these would never combine against Germany. Far from countering their isolation through a policy of rapprochement, German policy-makers raised the quest for self-reliance to the status of a guiding principle. The most consequential manifestation of this development was the decision to build a large navy.

In the mid-1890s, after a long period of stagnation and relative decline, naval construction and strategy came to occupy a central place in German security and foreign policy. Public opinion played a role here — in Germany, as in Britain, big ships were the fetish of the quality press and its educated middle-class readers. The immensely fashionable “navalism” of the American writer Alfred Thayer Mahan also played a part. Mahan foretold in The Influence of Sea Power upon History (1890) a struggle for global power that would be decided by vast fleets of heavy battleships and cruisers. Kaiser Wilhelm II, who supported the naval programme, was a keen nautical hobbyist and an avid reader of Mahan; in the sketchbooks of the young Wilhelm we find many battleships — lovingly pencilled floating fortresses bristling with enormous guns. But the international dimension was also crucial: it was above all the sequence of peripheral clashes with Britain that triggered the decision to acquire a more formidable naval weapon. After the Transvaal episode, the Kaiser became obsessed with the need for ships, to the point where he began to see virtually every international crisis as a lesson in the primacy of naval power.

Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.

June 9, 2014

Australia gets sensible about military shipbuilding

Filed under: Economics, Military, Pacific — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:51

Australia has similar military issues to the ones Canada faces, but unlike our own government (who view military spending primarily as the regional economic development variant of crony capitalism), Australia is amenable to economic sense when it comes to building the new support ships for the Royal Australian Navy:

The RAN is about to bring 3 large Hobart Class destroyers into service, but it’s the new LPD HMAS Choules and 2 Canberra Class 27,500t LHD amphibious assault ships that are going to put a real strain on the RAN’s support fleet. Liberal Party defense minister Sen. Johnson didn’t mince words when he announced the competition, early in their governing term:

    “With the large LHD’s [sic] – 28,000 tonnes each – we must have a suitable replenishment ship to supply and support those vessels going forward, the planning for this should have been done a long, long time ago.”

The Australian government is explicit about needing “fuel, aviation fuel, supplies, provisions and munitions on these ships,” and they’ve short-listed 2 main competitors to build the ships outside of Australia:
SPS Cantabria entering Sydney harbour in October 2013
Cantabria Class. The Cantabrias are an enlarged 19,500t version of the Patino Class replenishment ship. Fuel capacity rises to 8,920 m3 ship fuel and 1,585 m3 of JP-5 naval aviation fuel. Throw in 470t of general cargo, 280t of secured ammunition, and 215 m3 of fresh water to round out its wet/dry capabilities. These ships also carry a crew medical center with 10 beds, including operating facilities equipped for telemedicine by videoconference, an X-ray room, dental surgery, sterilization laboratory, and gas containment.

Spain already uses this ship type, and Navantia S.A. is already building the Hobart Class and Canberra Class, giving them a deep relationship with Australian industry and the Navy.

Aegir Class. The government named Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME), who are currently building Britain’s MARS 37,000t oiler/support ships based on BMT’s Aegir design. The concept is scalable, and Australia’s government sized the variant they’ve shortlisted at around 26,000t. BMT’s Aegir 26 design offers up to 19,000 m3 of cargo fuel, and 2-5 replenishment at sea stations for hoses and transfer lines. The design itself is somewhat customizable, so it will be interesting to see what the offer’s final specifications and features are.

Recall that HMAS Sirius was also built in South Korea, albeit in a different dockyard. That isn’t surprising, because South Korea arguably has the world’s best shipbuilding industry. Norway and Britain have each purchased customized versions of the Aegir Class ships.

Both the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy are willing to buy ships from Korea. Why not the Royal Canadian Navy’s next ships? Because the government would rather spend many times more money and get smaller, less capable ships as long as they get to spread the money around to cronies:

They won’t be built in Australia, because the government doesn’t believe that the industrial infrastructure and experience is in place to build 20,000+ tonne ships locally. Britain has made a similar calculation, while Canada provides a cautionary example by building smaller supply ships locally at over 5x Britain’s cost.

H/T to Mark Collins for the link. Mark also posted this back in 2013:

To add insult to injury, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the civilian-manned support ships for the Royal Navy, are purchasing 4 replenishment vessels under the MARS tanker program to be built in South Korea by Daewoo (arguably the foremost shipbuilder in the world). These ships are slightly larger than the Berlin-class. What is the British government paying for these 4 vessels? £452M or about $686M USD. Not per ship but for all four. The per unit cost is around $170M. If we somehow manage to keep the cost for the JSS at $1.3B per unit, that will still be over 7.5x what the British are paying. If the cost goes up to ~$2B per JSS, we’re looking at almost 12x the cost [though the RCN's JSS is supposed to have some additional capabilities (already much reduced from 2006 to now, and see the very optimistic timeline here) — but how many of them can the government afford?].

June 2, 2014

The naval revolution and HMS Dreadnought

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:42

BBC News Magazine looks back on the launch of the first modern all-big-gun battleship, HMS Dreadnought, in 1906.

HMS Dreadnought underway, circa 1906-07

HMS Dreadnought underway, circa 1906-07

HMS Dreadnought “really transformed naval warfare rather like the tank did on land warfare. In fact Dreadnought was described at the time as ‘the most deadly fighting machine ever launched in the history of the world’”.

Dreadnought brought together for the first time a series of technologies which had been developing over several years. Most important was her firepower. She was the first all big-gun battleship — with ten 12-inch guns. Each gun fired half-ton shells over 4ft tall and packed with high explosive. They weighed as much as a small car. Standing next to one today, it is easy to see how a single broadside could destroy an opponent — and do so at 10 miles’ distance.

These great distances caused problems of their own — in controlling and directing the fire — and Dreadnought was one of the first ships fitted with new equipment to electrically transmit information to the gun turrets.

For potential enemies on the receiving end this was a terrifying prospect. Admiral Lord West, a former head of the Royal Navy, calls Dreadnought “a most devastating weapon of war, the most powerful thing in the world”.

Potential adversaries would also have trouble outrunning her. New steam turbine engines gave her a maximum speed of about 25mph. They made her more reliable than previous ships, and able to sustain a higher speed for much longer.

But there was something else, too. Dreadnought had been built in just one year — a demonstration of British military-industrial might at a time when major battleships generally took several years to build. This, says Roberts, was an “enormous achievement which made the Germans sit up because their shipbuilding capability just could not match that”.

HMS Dreadnought (1906) diagram

Despite the Royal Navy’s reputation for being tradition-bound and stodgy, they had quite an interesting history of experimentation and innovation in ship design. The launch of HMS Dreadnought was a good example of the navy being willing to take risks — specifically the risk of making the rest of the battlefleet obsolete overnight.

May 19, 2014

South Korean coast guard to be “dismantled” after ferry disaster

Filed under: Asia, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:53

K.J. Kwon, Paula Hancocks and Jethro Mullen report for CNN:

South Korea’s President made an emotional apology Monday over the ferry disaster that killed close to 300 people last month and said she would dismantle the country’s coast guard.

“As the President who should be responsible for people’s life and security, I am sincerely apologizing to the people for having to suffer pain,” said President Park Geun-hye in a televised speech. “The final responsibility for not being able to respond properly lies on me.”

The Sewol ferry sank en route to the resort island of Jeju on April 16, leaving more than 304 people dead or missing. Most of the passengers were high school students on a field trip.

“As a President, I feel a sense of sorrow for not being able to protect them during their family trip,” said Park, whose approval ratings have dropped significantly in the weeks since the sinking.

The Sewol disaster caused widespread outrage in South Korea over lax safety standards and the failure to rescue more people as the ship foundered.

[...]

“After serious consideration, I’ve decided to dismantle the coast guard,” Park said. “The investigation and information roles will be transferred to the police while the rescue and salvage operation and ocean security roles will be transferred to the department for national safety which will be newly established.”

April 22, 2014

Half the fleet is in for repair

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:50

As I’ve pointed out before, navies require more ships to do certain jobs because naval vessels require extensive service, repair, and upgrade work such that up to a third of a given ship’s working life will be spent in port and out of service. The Royal Canadian Navy is at a very low point in vessel availability right now:

Of a total of 33 main ships and submarines, 15 are being repaired or undergoing upgrades, while another four are at a lesser state of readiness as they conduct tests on recently installed and modernized systems.

“This is our most challenging year but we have a plan to make sure we have ships available all the time,” Commodore Brian Santarpia, director general, navy strategic readiness, said in an interview with the Citizen. “We’re still quite confident we can fill all the tasks given to us.”

The navy’s 12 frigates are being upgraded as part of the Halifax-class modernization program. Involving $5 billion worth of work, the project will see engineering, radar and weapon systems upgrades, as well as other improvements made to the vessels, Santarpia said.

As part of that process, five frigates are unavailable for operations because they are either in dry-dock or being prepared for the upgrade process.

The Halifax-class frigates are considered the backbone of the navy.

As vessels come out of the modernization process, they go through various stages of readiness as the new systems are being verified and tested and the crew conducts training. “They are available for operations, just not at the very highest levels,” Santarpia explained.

Defence analyst Martin Shadwick said the situation is a result of having a “compact” maritime force and a large number of aging vessels that had to be modernized.

“The navy has known this period was approaching but in the short term they don’t have much choice but to live with it,” said Shadwick, a strategic studies professor at York University in Toronto.

He said a further crunch time for the maritime force will come in the next four years. That is when three aging destroyers, which provide command and control as well as overall air defence for naval task groups, are removed from service.

At that point, the navy goes from the 15 frigates and destroyers, which are the mainstays of the service, down to 12 frigates. In addition, the navy will be without supply ships to provide fuel and provisions at sea. Those two aging ships are to be retired before 2019 and their replacements will not be ready in time.

Under normal circumstances, the RCN would have about 10 frigates and two destroyers available, with the other ships in varying stages of refit, maintenance, and repair. With the recent engine room fire on board HMCS Protecteur, the navy is far more restricted in the kinds of activities it can undertake (only one support ship, HMCS Preserver is available). And let’s just not talk about the state of the RCN’s submarines.

Halifax-class frigate HMCS Vancouver (FFH 331) and Iroquois-class destroyer HMCS Algonquin (DDH 283). Tugboats assist HMCS Vancouver (FFH 331) in departing from Pearl Harbor to participate in exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2006.

Halifax-class frigate HMCS Vancouver (FFH 331) and Iroquois-class destroyer HMCS Algonquin (DDH 283). Tugboats assist HMCS Vancouver (FFH 331) in departing from Pearl Harbor to participate in exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2006.

April 10, 2014

Chiles, peppers, and world trade before globalization

Filed under: Americas, Economics, History, India — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:53

ESR linked to an interesting discussion of the spread of chile peppers and other exotic spices from the Roman empire onwards:

Can you imagine a world without salsa? Or Tabasco sauce, harissa, sriracha, paprika or chili powder?

I asked myself that question after I found a 700-year-old recipe for one of my favorite foods, merguez — North Africa’s beloved lamb sausage that is positively crimson with chiles. The medieval version was softly seasoned with such warm spices as black pepper, coriander and cinnamon instead of the brash heat of capsicum chile peppers — the signature flavor of the dish today.

The cuisines of China, Indonesia, India, Bhutan, Korea, Hungary and much of Africa and the Middle East would be radically different from what they are today if chiles hadn’t returned across the ocean with Columbus. Barely 50 years after the discovery of the New World, chiles were warming much of the Old World. How did they spread so far, so fast? The answers may surprise you — they did me!

I learned that Mamluk and Ottoman Muslims were nearly as responsible for the discovery of New World peppers as Columbus — but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The global pepper saga begins in the first millennium bce with the combustible career of another pepper — black pepper (Piper nigrum) and its cousins, Indian long pepper and Javanese cubeb. Although Piper nigrum was first grown on the Malabar Coast in India, the taste for it enflamed the ancient world: No matter what the cost — and it was very high — people were mad for pepper. The Romans, for example, first tasted it in Egypt, and the demand for it drove them to sail to India to buy it. In the first century, Pliny complained about the cost: “There is no year in which India does not drain the Roman Empire of fifty million sesterces.”

In one sense, the whole global system of trade — the sea and land routes throughout the known world that spread culture and cuisine through commerce — was engaged with the appetite for pepper, in its growth, distribution and consumption.

Dried chiles shipped well worldwide. From top-left: New World Capsicum annuum varieties include guajillo, ancho and New Mexico; a smaller Capsicum frutescens variety called “birdseye” chiles spread wild in Africa after birds spread their seeds from early gardens, and they are now common also in Southeast Asia; “Indian” chiles are among the most common varieties in India, which today grows and exports more chiles than any other nation. Bottom-left: Three popular capsicum peppers that took root in the Middle East—Maraş, Urfa and Aleppo, shown below in their flaked form—are used in dishes throughout the region. Bottom-right: Fresh serrano, poblano and ripe jalapeño peppers.

Dried chiles shipped well worldwide. From top-left: New World Capsicum annuum varieties include guajillo, ancho and New Mexico; a smaller Capsicum frutescens variety called “birdseye” chiles spread wild in Africa after birds spread their seeds from early gardens, and they are now common also in Southeast Asia; “Indian” chiles are among the most common varieties in India, which today grows and exports more chiles than any other nation. Bottom-left: Three popular capsicum peppers that took root in the Middle East — Maraş, Urfa and Aleppo, shown below in their flaked form — are used in dishes throughout the region. Bottom-right: Fresh serrano, poblano and ripe jalapeño peppers.

ESR said in his brief G+ posting:

More about the early and very rapid spread of capsicum peppers in the Old World than I’ve ever seen in one place before.

I also didn’t know they were such a nutritional boon. It appears one reason they became so entrenched is they’re a good source of Vitamin C in peasant cuisines centered around a starch like rice. My thought is that moderns may tend to miss this point because we have so much better access to citrus fruits and other very high-quality C sources.

The bit about paprika having been introduced to Hungary by the Ottomans was also particularly interesting to me. This was less than 30 years after they had reached the Old World.

March 8, 2014

RCN’s Joint Support Ships behind schedule and over budget

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:07

Terry Milewski reports on the state of Canada’s shipbuilding program for the Royal Canadian Navy, and it’s not pretty:

An internal government memo obtained by CBC News shows that all four parts of the government’s huge shipbuilding program are either over budget, behind schedule, or both.

Written Oct. 7 last year by the deputy minister of national defence, Richard Fadden, the memo shows that three of those four programs also face “major challenges” of a technical nature, as well as difficulties lining up skilled manpower to get the ships built at all.

The memo, released to the CBC following an Access to Information request, leaves little doubt that Canada’s crippled supply ship, HMCS Protecteur, won’t be replaced before the year 2020.

The spectacle of the 46-year-old Protecteur, Canada’s only supply ship in the Pacific, being towed into Honolulu after an engine-room fire has thrown the lack of a replacement into sharp focus. Although there’s a plan to build two new supply ships, there’s no sign the work will even begin until late 2016. That means a new one won’t enter service until the end of the decade.

JSS and AOPS building status March 2014

A chart summarizing the state of the shipbuilding effort uses green and yellow squares to indicate where those problems are — the green meaning, on track, and yellow meaning, trouble — and there’s a lot of yellow.

For the Joint Support Ships — that’s the pair of supply ships — the chart shows trouble with both the schedule and the price. The memo explains that this means the program is up to 20 per cent behind schedule and up to 10 per cent over budget.

As I’ve said many times before, the Canadian government is managing to get the least possible bang for the buck on shipbuilding because they view the shipbuilding program as a regional economic development scheme (and a way of funneling money to marginal constituencies) rather than as an essential part of keeping the RCN properly equipped. It’s pretty obvious in this case:

Take the supply ships. “Yellow” suggests they’re over budget, but doesn’t indicate what the budget should be. But comparisons with Canada’s allies could raise eyebrows even further.

Britain, for example, opted to build its four new naval supply ships much more cheaply, at the Daewoo shipyard in South Korea. The contract is for roughly $1.1 billion Cdn. That’s for all four. By contrast, Canada plans to build just two ships, in Vancouver, for $1.3 billion each. So Canada’s ships will be roughly five times more costly than the British ones.

But there’s a twist. Canada’s supply ships will also carry less fuel and other supplies, because they’ll be smaller — about 20,000 tonnes. The U.K. ships are nearly twice as big — 37,000 tonnes. Canadians will lay out a lot more cash for a lot less ship.

February 16, 2014

Winter ice approaching modern record on the Great Lakes

Filed under: Cancon, Environment — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:43

In USA Today, Eric Lawrence talks about the ongoing cold weather’s impact on the Great Lakes:

“In the last one to two weeks, we’ve seen rapid accumulations on Lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan,” said Jeff Andresen, an associate professor in Michigan State University’s geography department who also is the state climatologist.

The ice cover on the lakes increased from 79.7% to 88.4% just in the past week, putting the region close to the record of almost 95% set in February 1979, according to data compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.

The extensive ice cover has had some interesting and positive effects, like shutting off lake-effect snow, making it sunnier in portions of states near the lakes and limiting evaporation, which could help boost lake levels.

And the ice cover could help delay the spring warm-up — good news for farmers as it helps keep certain crops, like fruit trees, dormant longer and less susceptible to freezing early in the growing season — Andresen said.

Conversely, it’s bad news for the shipping industry, whose vessels can’t go anywhere when the ports are frozen solid.

The winter of 2013-14 also is shaping up to be one of the five coldest, at least in Michigan’s recorded history, Andresen said, although it’s still early to say for certain.

“We haven’t seen many winters like this that are cold from beginning to end,” he said, noting that this is the fourth consecutive month that is colder than normal. “It has been an extraordinary winter, and the ice cover is a manifestation of that unusually cold winter.”

He cautioned that temperatures forecast in the 40s next week could hurt the chances to break an ice-cover record.

January 24, 2014

A Danish solution to the high cost of modern warships

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:47

Developments like this should be of great interest to the Royal Canadian Navy:

… constrained budgets in America and Europe are prompting leading nations to reconsider future needs and explore whether new ships should be tailored for what they do every day, rather than what they might have to do once over decades.

The solution: extreme flexibility at an affordable price for construction and operation.

Here the Danes have emerged as a clear leader by developing two classes of highly innovative ships designed to operate as how they will be used: carrying out coalition operations while equipped to swing from high-end to low-end missions.

The three Iver Huitfeldt frigates and two Absalon flexible support ships share a common, large, highly efficient hull to yield long-range, efficient but highly flexible ships that come equipped with considerable capabilities — from large cargo and troop volumes and ample helo decks for sea strike and anti-submarine warfare — in a package that’s cheap to buy and operate. The ships come with built-in guns, launch tubes for self-defense and strike weapons, and hull-mounted sonar gear, and they can accept mission modules in hours to expand or tailor capabilities. The three Huitfeldts cost less than $1 billion.

The ships also are coveted during coalition operations for their 9,000-mile range at 15 knots, excellent sea-keeping qualities and command-and-control gear, plus spacious accommodations for command staffs. That’s why the Esbern Snare, the second of two Absalon support ships, is commanding the international flotilla in the Eastern Mediterranean that will destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.

Wikipedia has this image of the HDMS Iver Huitfeldt:

HDMS Iver Huitfeldt during a port visit in Århus, 20 January 2012

HDMS Iver Huitfeldt during a port visit in Århus, 20 January 2012

The class is built on the experience gained from the Absalon-class support ships, and by reusing the basic hull design of the Absalon class the Royal Danish Navy have been able to construct the Iver Huitfeldt class considerably cheaper than comparable ships. The frigates are compatible with the Danish Navy’s StanFlex modular mission payload system used in the Absalons, and are designed with slots for six modules. Each of the four Stanflex positions on the missile deck is able to accommodate either the Mark 141 8-cell Harpoon launcher module, or the 12-cell Mark 56 ESSM VLS.

While the Absalon-class ships are primarily designed for command and support roles, with a large ro-ro deck, the three new Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates will be equipped for an air defence role with Standard Missiles, and the potential to use Tomahawk cruise missiles, a first for the Danish Navy.

For contrast here is the HDMS Esbern Snare, the second ship in the Absalom class:

Danish Navy Combat Support Ship HDMS Esbern Snare in the port of Gdynia, prior to exercise US BALTOPS 2010.

Danish Navy Combat Support Ship HDMS Esbern Snare in the port of Gdynia, prior to exercise US BALTOPS 2010.

That’s not to say that these particular ships would be a good fit for the RCN, but that the approach does seem to be viable (sharing common hull configurations and swappable mission modules). However, the efficiencies that could be achieved by following this practice would almost certainly be swamped by the political considerations to spread the money out over as many federal ridings as possible…

H/T to The Armourer for the link.

January 7, 2014

Fortunate wind shift helps free trapped Antarctic vessels

Filed under: China, Environment — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:19

AntarcticaBBC News updates us on the situation:

The Russian research ship Akademik Shokalskiy and Chinese icebreaker Xue Long have broken free from Antarctic ice where they had been stranded for several days.

The Russian ship’s captain said a crack had appeared in the ice after a change in wind direction.

The Akademik Shokalskiy got stuck on 25 December. It has a Russian crew of 22.

On Thursday, the Xue Long‘s helicopter ferried 52 passengers from the stranded Russian ship to an Australian vessel.

The Xue Long then became stuck itself on Friday.

[...]

A US Coastguard icebreaker, Polar Star, is heading towards the two ships, responding to an earlier request for help. It left Sydney, Australia, on Sunday and will take a week to get there.

The Akademik Shokalskiy got trapped by thick floes of ice driven by strong winds about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart in Tasmania. It was being used by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) 2013 to follow the route explorer Douglas Mawson travelled a century ago.

January 6, 2014

US icebreaker dispatched to assist Chinese icebreaker in Antarctic

Filed under: China, Environment, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:02

AntarcticaThe Australian is reporting that the US Coast Guard’s Polar Star is enroute to assist the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long and the chartered Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy:

The US Coast Guard’s Polar Star accepted a request from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) to help the Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been marooned since Christmas Eve.

It will also aid the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, which was involved in a dramatic helicopter rescue of the Shokalskiy’s 52 passengers last Thursday before also becoming beset by ice.

AMSA confirmed the Polar Star, which was on its way from Seattle for an Antarctic mission, had diverted course and was on its way to help.

It will take about seven days for the icebreaker, with a crew of 140 people, to reach Commonwealth Bay after collecting supplies from Sydney today.

The AMSA spokeswoman said the Polar Star had greater capabilities than the Russian and Chinese vessels.

“It can break ice over six metres thick, while those vessels can break one-metre ice,” she told AAP on Sunday.

“The idea is to break them out, but they will make a decision once they arrive on scene on the best way to do this.” AMSA will be in regular contact with the US Coast Guard and the captain of the Polar Star during its journey to Antarctica.

Twenty-two crew remain on board the Shokalskiy, which sparked a rescue mission after a blizzard pushed sea ice around the ship and froze it in place on December 24.

A U.S. Coast Guard HH-52A Seaguard helicopter landing on the icebreaker USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10).

A U.S. Coast Guard HH-52A Seaguard helicopter landing on the icebreaker USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10).

January 4, 2014

Antarctic climate researchers still not home-free

Filed under: Environment, Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:59

AntarcticaRemember the story about the Australian climate researchers trapped in the Antarctic ice? The good news from a few days back — that all the passengers of the MS Akademik Shokalskiy (including researchers, tourists, and journalists, but not the crew) had been successfully transferred to the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis is now overshadowed because the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long which also responded to the SOS call is now itself also trapped in the ice:

The saga just keeps going. The Chinese Icebreaker is now also stuck, and has asked for help so the Aurora Australis with 52 extra passengers rescued from the Russian Charter boat have to stay nearby to help. Twenty two Russian sailors are still trapped on board the Russian boat — the Akademik Sholaskiy. Plus other scientists in Antarctica still don’t have their equipment. Costs for everyone involved are continuing to rise.

In The Australian, Graham Lloyd‘s paywalled article begins with this:

TAXPAYERS will foot a $400,000 bill for the rescue of a group of climate scientists, tourists and journalists from a stranded Russian research vessel — an operation that has blown the contingency budget of Australia’s Antarctic program and disrupted its scientific work. The Antarctic Division in Hobart said it was revising plans and considering airlifting urgently needed scientific equipment that could not be unloaded from Aurora Australis before the ship was diverted from the Casey base to rescue the novice ice explorers just before Christmas.

The Sydney Morning Herald posted this short video earlier in the week, before the Aurora Australis had gotten close enough to take on the passengers from the Akademik Sholaskiy:

Update: The head of French antarctic research is unhappy with the tourists’ disruption to actual science work:

The head of France’s polar science institute voiced fury on Friday at the misadventures of a Russian ship trapped in Antarctic ice, deriding what he called a tourists’ trip that had diverted resources from real science.

In an interview with AFP, Yves Frenot, director of the French Polar Institute, said he had no issue at all with rescuing those aboard the stricken vessel.

But, he said, the trip itself was a “pseudo-scientific expedition” that, because it had run into difficulties, had drained resources from the French, Chinese and Australian scientific missions in Antarctica. “There’s no reason to place Antarctica off-limits and to keep it just for scientists, but this tourism has to be monitored and regulated so that operators can be sure of getting help if need be,” he said.

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