Friday, January 30, 2015

Behold! World's first submarine to sink an enemy warship

  • Conservator Virginie Ternisien works at removing the encrustation from the hull of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley at a conservation lab in North Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 27, 2015. Scientists say that after six months of work, about 70 percent of the encrusted sand, silt and rust from the outside of the first submarine in history to sink an enemy warship has been removed. Scientists hope that when the entire hull is revealed, it will provide the clues as to why the Hunley sank after sinking a Union blockade ship off Charleston, S.C., in 1864. 
  • Conservator Virginie Ternisien works at removing the encrustation from the hull of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley at a conservation lab in North Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 27, 2015. Scientists say that after six months of work, about 70 percent of the encrusted sand, silt and rust from the outside of the first submarine in history to sink an enemy warship has been removed. Scientists hope that when the entire hull is revealed, it will provide the clues as to why the Hunley sank after sinking a Union blockade ship off Charleston, S.C., in 1864.

Futurist proposes undersea "aircraft carrier" as key to Navy's sub fleet

The current issue of The Diplomat magazine includes an interesting take on the future of submarine warfare -- large submarines with a host of new electronic systems, unmanned vehicles and weapons -- akin to an undersea aircraft carrier:

The U.S. Navy’s dominant position in undersea warfare can no longer be taken for granted. “Emerging technologies present a serious challenge in that they may empower development of potential rival undersea forces and erode the stealth of U.S. submarines,” concludes a new report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA). The report, entitled “The Emerging Era in Undersea Warfare,” lays out the rapid changes occurring in the technological realm and how they will affect future combat under waters.
While the report’s author, Bryan Clark, notes that the United States will have the opportunity to be the “first mover” and establish itself as a leader in this emerging new field within undersea warfare, he also unequivocally points out that the U.S. Navy will have to give up its current undersea warfare concepts due to the “vulnerability of today’s principal undersea platform, the manned submarine.” The U.S. must develop “a new family of undersea vehicles,” Clark argues
He singles out the rapid increasing in computer processing — big data –to be one of the biggest game changers (e.g., in helping to run sophisticated oceanographic models) and permeating all aspects of a new form of undersea warfare. He cites three technological advancements in particular:
New ASW capabilities to find and attack undersea platforms;
Undersea platform improvements that will enhance their endurance and stealth; and
New undersea weapon, sensor and communications systems.
From an operational point of view, the report notes that “manned submarines will likely need to shift from being frontline tactical platforms like aircraft to being host and coordination platforms like aircraft carriers.” This would be a big change from how large portions of the U.S. submarine fleet are used today.  The aircraft carrier comparison would also imply that future submarines would need to be bigger than today’s Virginia-class submarines, in order to accommodate a host of new systems, as well as an array of unmanned vehicles and weapons.

Ohio SSBN replacement design

Nuclear reactors to last 40-plus years for largest subs ever to be built

Stew Magnuson, National Defense Magazine, Feb 2015

The Navy hopes to have the first replacement for the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine on duty by 2031. When that vessel is launched, the onboard nuclear power plant is expected to last its entire 40-year service life.
That is seven years longer than the current reactors aboard U.S. submarines. 
“Our goal for the new submarines is to have a life-of-the-ship reactor,” said Frank G. Klotz, National Nuclear Security Administration administrator and the Department of Energy’s undersecretary of nuclear security. NNSA is responsible for developing government-owned nuclear power plants.
There are two primary reasons the NNSA is undertaking the new core design, he told reporters in November.
“It is extraordinarily important on cost because one of the largest elements of the total operational cost of a submarine over its life has been replacing the core when that has come due. It is very expensive,” he said.
“The other aspect is that when you go into the deep overhaul that is necessary to replace the core, you’re taking a submarine out of service for a long time. So if you have a life of the sub or a life of the ship core, then you avoid both cost, and you avoid both extensive downtime as you refuel the reactor,” Klotz said.
The savings could be substantial.
Olivia Volkoff, a spokeswoman for the program, said: “Eliminating the refueling through insertion of a life-of-the-ship core allows the Navy to meet the strategic deterrent mission with two fewer SSBNs and saves about $40 billion in ship acquisition and lifecycle costs over the life of the program.” 
The Virginia-class attack submarines were the first to have a core reactor designed to last the life of the vessel, which for it, is about 33 years.
The Ohio-class replacement submarines, which will carry the nation’s sea-launched nuclear missiles, will be 60 percent larger than the Virginia-class ships. 
The NNSA and the Navy are facing a tight deadline for developing the new power plant. Fiscal year 2031 is when the fifth Ohio-class SSBN retires, which will leave the Navy with a force of nine ships. If the lead replacement is not ready to take over by that date, it would leave the Navy one below its mandated requirement to have at least 10, Rear Adm. David C. Johnson, program executive officer for submarines, said in a speech last year.
It will take seven years to build the lead ship. That is an aggressive schedule given the Ohio-replacement will be the largest submarine ever built in the United States. That time frame is shorter than the previous three lead ship submarine builds: the Ohio, Seawolf and Virginia. The lead Virginia-class ship  took 86 months to build, Johnson noted.

Japan to join India sub construction race?

Prashanth Parameswaran, The Diplomat, Jan 29

India has forwarded a proposal to Japan asking if it would be interested in a multi-billion dollar project to build six submarines in India, Indian media sources reported January 29.
Since 2007, India has been trying to add six new submarines with foreign collaboration under Project 75I in order to replace a fleet that has been depleted by aging and accidents. But the move has been repeatedly delayed due to bureaucratic wrangling.
The plan has now once again gained steam under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. Last October, the Defense Acquisition Council approved the proposal to build the six diesel-electric submarines indigenously at a project cost of around $8.1 billion dollars. All six of them will be built in an Indian shipyard in the country under the “Make in India” initiative, and they will be equipped with both land-attack missile capabilities and air-independent propulsion for greater underwater endurance.
Now, Indian media outlets are quoting sources as saying that New Delhi has asked Tokyo to “consider the possibility” of making its diesel-electric Soryu-class submarines, manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation, in India. The condition, of course, is that Japan will have to form a joint venture with an Indian shipyard.
The media reports suggest that the move is in line with closer security cooperation between India and Japan, as evidenced by Modi’s meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last year. The potential sale of Japan’s Soryus overseas is also not difficult to fathom, given both its reputation as well as the attention lavished on a potential sale to Australia, which we have recently covered here at The Diplomat.
Even if this is true, it is unclear at this point whether Japan would throw its hat in the ring. And even if Tokyo does, it would be only one of several candidates in the Indian submarine race, which includes the string of usual suspects in France, Germany, Russia and Spain. The Soryus are widely-regarded as one of the world’s most advanced diesel-electric submarines, and they have several notable traits including their size and long submersion times. But the decision may come down to a range of other factors, including compatibility and the fact that several of the other candidates already have experience building submarines for India.

14 honored for development of virtual training for sub sailors

Dolphin News, Jan 29

NEWPORT, R.I. - Fourteen employees at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division in Newport, R.I., were honored Jan. 20 by Capt. David A. Roberts, commanding officer of the Submarine Learning Center (SLC) in Groton, Conn., for their work in developing a virtual schoolhouse for the training of U.S. Navy submariners.
Roberts emphasized NUWC Newport’s critical collaborative role in developing and testing the use of virtual technologies to train fleet Sailors in submarine skill areas.  He stressed the need for employing innovative concepts, software and hardware to increase training efficiency while reducing costs.
“Virtual world [learning] is very important to the future of the Navy,” said Roberts. “This is a critical piece to bring in that technology.”

Pentagon military wish lists: Will they move forward or step back in funding?

Inside Defense gave this rundown of weapon systems to watch when the Dept. of Defense rolls out its Fiscal 2016 budget requests. The DOD next week will ask Congress for $534 billion for the FY-16 base budget, $34 billion above the statutory spending caps.

New Bomber. The Air Force planned to ramp up development spending in FY-16 to $1.6 billion, a $676
million increase for the classified program. Has the outyear funding profile changed?
Sixth-Generation Fighter. The Air Force last year secured $15.7 million in seed money for a sixth-gen fighter program, but funding was slated to dip to $3.9 million in FY-16 and be zeroed in the outyears.What is the new funding profile? Also, will the Navy advance a plan to begin work on an F/A-18 replacement, and what are the plans for the two services to coordinate their early analytical work on this capability, as top Pentagon officials have directed?
Aircraft Carrier Replacement Program. Will the Navy seek advanced procurement funding for CVN-80, the third-ship of the Ford class, as planned in FY-16? Does the Navy believe the first two ships can be built without lifting current statutory cost caps? If not, how much more does the program require?
MH-60R. Will the Navy restore FY-16 funding for Romeo helicopters? The FY-15 budget terminated the Navy buy in FY-16, a move that would place at risk $1.6 billion in planned Defense Department savings and breach separate major multiyear procurement deals with Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin.
Tomahawk. Will the Navy reinstate 1,100 missiles cut from the procurement plan last year in the wake of congressional objections to ending production of the high-profile cruise missile?
AH-64E New-Build. The Army's FY-14 budget deferred plans to buy newly built AH-64E attack helicopters; will the service stick with plans to reinstate purchases beginning in FY-20 with seven new-built aircraft?
Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare: The Navy last year announced plans to buy Lockheed's Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles beginning in FY-17 as an OASuW Increment I capability; Lockheed last year extended the development contract. Is that schedule holding, and does the service have new details on the Increment II capability -- of keen interest to Raytheon's Tomahawk shop?
SM-3 Block IB. Will MDA seek multiyear procurement authority for the Raytheon-built guided missile interceptor? Has the redesign of a critical subcomponent further delayed full-rate production?
Indirect Fire Protection Capability-2. The Army plans a 60 percent increase in FY-16 for the project, with plans to transition to engineering and manufacturing development in FY-16. Will that plan hold?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

70 years ago today, submarine USS Char (SS -328) risked all to save pilot

On 29 Jan 1945, Char Cmd. Francis D. Boyle daringly remained at anchor on the surface only a mile from the Indochina coast for four hours while a team of two men went ashore, via a rubber boat, to rescue a downed PBY Catalina airman; luckily neither the sub nor her crew attracted enemy fire. Boyle remained in the area for next few days looking unsuccessfully for the remaining members of the aircraft's crew.
In Feb 1945, on the boat's second war patrol under Cmd. Boyle, Char sank an enemy cruiser and later rescued a P-51 pilot afloat after bombing raids on Taiwan.
Below is Char en route to the Pacific from New London where she was built.
USS Charr underway from New London, Connecticut, United States to Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii, 7 Nov 1944

Awesome heavy lift crane arrives at sub refit base in Kings Bay, Georgia

Inch-by-slow-moving-inch, contractors from Northcliffe Shipping and Trading out of Saint Simons Island, Ga., converged on the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay waterfront to safely transition a 120-foot tall, 60-ton heavy lift portal crane from a waterborne barge, across a temporary bridge, and to its new home at Refit Wharf One last Jan. 22.
Acquiring this re-appropriated crane was a collective effort between Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Naval Sea Systems Command, and Trident Refit Facility. 
It was brought in to replace the previous K2 that was damaged beyond repair during a rare micro-burst storm in June 2009. Violent winds pushed K2 120 feet down its track directly towards another crane, K4, where their booms became entangled.
Since the loss of K2, TRIREFFAC has relied upon three vice four cranes, only one of which was a heavy lift portal type, for all heavy lift operations on the waterfront supporting submarine refits and maintenance periods. 
Capt. Lawrence Hill, commanding officer of Trident Refit Facility, was on hand to see the awesome spectacle of moving the massive K5 from a floating barge to the pier. 
Below is a photo of the new crane leaving Jacksonville on the voyage north to Kings Bay.

Joint Chiefs: $40 billion spending cuts this fall to hamper recruitment, retention

Leo Shane, Navy Times, Jan 28

The Joint Chiefs emphasized a potential casualty if lawmakers don't fix the budget issue in coming months: troops' trust.
"As they see we're not going to invest in them, [our soldiers] begin to lose faith," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno. "Sometimes we take for granted the level of ability of our people, and the level of investment we've made in their training, which is central to everything we do. With sequestration, we are going to have to reduce that for sure."
All four service leaders said they expect to see major retention and recruiting problems in coming years if the sequestration cuts scheduled to start this fall go into effect. 
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh hinted that military pilots could be poached by private airlines as their training flight hours are reduced. 
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert predicted fewer ships, submarines and interested sailors.
 Under rules passed by Congress in 2011, defense spending is scheduled to be slashed by about $40 billion in fiscal 2016 unless lawmakers can amend the 3-year-old Budget Control Act.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Russian threat exposes Europe's military cutbacks

Ari Shapiro, National Public Radio, Jan 27

An international cat-and-mouse game played out in the waters of Stockholm a few months ago.
The "mouse" was a foreign submarine - Russia is the main suspect - that got away.
And as Russia's military becomes more aggressive, European leaders fear they do not have the military power to deal with this new threat.
Take Sweden, for instance. Its days of military might are long gone.
The numbers tell the story, says Karlis Neretnieks, who used to run Sweden's National Defense College and has had a long career in the military.
"The army has been reduced by 90 percent, from approximately half a million men to, today, 50,000 [troops] including the home guard, 25,000 if you just count the regulars," he says.
The story is similarly dramatic with the navy - which has been scaled back by some 80 percent - and the air force, which has slimmed down by 70 percent, according to Neretnieks.
After the Cold War, Sweden and the rest of the continent believed they had entered an era of European peace and unity. Lately, Russia has proven them wrong - and not only by seizing part of Ukraine.
Last month a Russian military aircraft flying in stealth nearly crashed into a commercial passenger plane taking off from Copenhagen. In April, Russian fighter jets carried out a simulated bombing raid on Stockholm. And nobody seems able to do anything about it.
Adm. Jan Thornquist, chief of staff for the Swedish navy, worries that with tensions this high, a small slip-up could turn into an international crisis.
"The situation around us has dramatically changed in a very negative way," he says.
"If you're doing an exercise close to a border of another country, you could easily pass that border by mistake,"
he says. "You point out another ship with a radar system, that could easily be interpreted as a threat."
Suddenly, armed conflict in northern Europe seems plausible, and the region is not prepared. Sweden, for instance, is trying to find foreign submarines in its waters even though the country retired its last submarine-hunting helicopter in 2008.
And as Jan Solesund, the secretary of state for Sweden's Ministry of Defense, notes, it's not just his country.
"Europe as a whole, of course, downsized their forces," he says. "We tend to forget that things can change quicker than we thought."

Chinese man-made islands seen as way to assert control in South China Sea

David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times, Jan 28

Man-made islands in disputed waters add to worries

China is rapidly building five man-made islands from tiny reefs and shoals in the South China Sea, U.S. officials say, sparking concern that Beijing is growing more assertive in the disputed waters even as the United States boosts its own forces in the western Pacific. 
Dredging around Fiery Cross Reef, a former outcropping in the Spratly Islands, over the last year has created a new island nearly 2 miles long and several hundred yards wide. 
U.S. officials say it is large enough for China to build its first airstrip in the remote archipelago, one long enough for most of its combat and support aircraft. Satellite photos also reveal a small port under construction. 
U.S. officials worry that the buildup indicates a Chinese push to establish de facto control over the resource-rich waters and islets also claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and Vietnam.

Sea Hawk, Fire Scout prove worth in deployment

Michael Fabey, Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, Jan 27

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) 3 Fort Worth’s MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter and MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV are proving to be the stars during the ship’s Western Pacific deployment.
The MH-60R brings search-and-rescue capabilities as well as communication relay, and can carry a potential payload of Hellfire missiles and a crew-served 50-cal. machine gun to LCS vessels, Navy officials note.
The MH-60R is equipped with multi-mode radar that includes Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar and a forward-looking infrared electro-optical device, which was used recently during the search for AirAsia Flight QZ8501, Navy officials say. Throughout the ship’s 13 days on station in the Java Sea, HSM 35, Det. 1 conducted more than 90 hr. of search operations using the helicopter, covering more than 2,500 sq. nm.
The unarmed MQ-8B’s primary sensor is a forward-looking infrared camera (FLIR). The MQ-8B complements the MH-60 by extending the detachment’s range and endurance capabilities.
The two aircraft belong to the "Pathfinders" of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35, Det. 1, the Navy’s first composite expeditionary helicopter squadron, which is currently deployed aboard the Worth during her first 16-month rotational deployment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
"The H-60 platform is a tried and true maritime asset with primary missions of surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare," says Lt. Cmdr.

25 issues in coming Dept. of Defense budget fight and likely outcomes

On Feb. 2, the Pentagon will submit its fiscal 2016 budget request to Congress. Defense News reporters teamed up with budget analytics firm VisualDoD to highlight the most important issues to watch.
Issue: Return of the caps
Context: The Ryan-Murray budget agreement kept 2014 and 2015 funding fairly stable. But without a new deal, DoD's 2016 budget will revert to the 2011 Budget Control Act sequestration caps. The question is: how will DoD prepare?
Possibilities: Be on the lookout for proposed force structure changes, discrete personnel reductions, major program delays or deferments, and plus-ups in specific areas in anticipation of multi-year sequestration.
Issue: Living without OCO
Context: As the overseas contingency operations (OCO) budgets shrink, recent attempts to fund base requirements out of OCO will be increasingly difficult to pull off, even as the growth of operations and maintenance (O&M) and personnel costs puts pressure on investment.
Possibilities: Look at the percentage of the procurement, research and development, personnel and O&M. Are there changes in composition by service or account? What are the possible changes in the composition of R&D by budget activity and/or defense technology area? How will OCO be used?
Issue: New program starts
Context: In the 2014 budget request, DoD added about 60 new budget lines. The 2015 version added around 100 lines back into the budget. Based on comparisons with previously anticipated new starts (the budget documents identify about 30 future procurement programs), most expected programs were funded, but some at reduced levels and some not at all.
Possibilities: New funding lines might reflect a particular focus. How well will they track with new starts anticipated in the 2015 budget? Look for whether future procurements in the 2016 budget show a shift in some plans to the right. Also watch for patterns or emphasis in the types of programs funded.
Issue: UAV funds
Context: The last fighter pilot has not been born yet and the services have tried to pare back UAV spending in recent years. The Navy has taken some heat for a relatively unambitious set of requirements for the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program. Will that continue – or will cost and personnel pressures push the services to expand existing UAV programs or shift to the next generation of tactical combat-capable drones?
Possibilities: Look for changes in the mix of types or numbers of proposed UAV procurements and R&D. That includes the fate of the Global Hawk and the mission for the UCLASS. Will other unmanned underwater and ground programs receive increased focus?
Issue: Cyber, IT spending
Context: Rapid growth in cyber spending has been a market mantra. The coming "IT New Entrants" has been talked about relentlessly.
Possibilities: Look for major increases or decreases, overall or internal shifts (by line item, service or title) into discrete cyber/IT lines. Are there clear purchasing priorities in technology or delivery terms, such as buying equipment or services? Do non-traditional DoD players gain share by virtue of evolving DoD requirements?
Issue: Classified spending
Context: According to VisualDoD analysis, DoD classified spending has steadily grown as a percentage of the DoD budget, from about 5 percent in 2001 to a steady state around 10 percent projected in 2019. Classified budgets contain the seeds of future technological leaps. However, they also represent long-term, high-overhead contracts that are generally tilted toward entrenched players instead of newcomers.
Possibilities: Watch the absolute classified amounts by service and title and budget authority, along with growth as a percentage of overall spending.
Issue: Tactical aviation changes
Context: Delays and cost overruns in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program have fueled a debate about the affordability of 5th- versus 4th-generation fighter aircraft. Debate remains vigorous about the F-35's suitability for various missions, such as close-air support and air dominance.
Possibilities: DoD might hedge fighter inventories with further 4th-generation buys, following Congress' inclusion of EA-18G advance procurement. Will increasing plans for F-35 buys stay on track or get hindered by recent technological issues? Will A-10s be put on the chopping block again only to be revived late in the year?
Issue: Missile defense
Context: Despite general technical progress, missile defense investments remain politically contentious. How will missile defense budgets – particularly for ground-based missile defense – fare versus previous congressional priorities?
Possibilities: DoD could incorporate congressional changes from 2015 or propose new initiatives. Ground-based plans could be affected by the overall budget environment.
Issue: Long Range Strike-Bomber
Context: Little is known about the bomber, largely a black program. The Air Force intends to procure 80 to 100 bombers at a price of $550 million each.
Possibilities: Will we see more budget details revealed in the "white" portion of the budget this year? And if so, will it be enough to give confidence that the program is protected as the Navy ramps up the Ohio-class replacement program?
Issue: KC-46A Tanker
Context: After a brutal fight in the latter half of the 2000s between Boeing and Northrop, the Air Force finally selected the KC-46A design for its next-generation tanker. The first flight of a full-up tanker model is expected in the spring.
Possibilities: There have been technical delays, and Boeing's margin is shrinking. Costs on the program are going to be very closely monitored by Congress.
Issue: A-10 Warthog
Context: A venerable plane best known for its 30mm cannon, the A-10 is beloved by troops on the ground for its ability to get in close during firefights. However, the service spend most of last year trying to retire the plane in the face of Congressional opposition.
Possibilities: The Air Force is expected to move to retire the plane once again this year. But with Congress keeping it afloat, that simply may not happen.
Issue: Global Hawk and U-2
Context: The U-2 spy plane and the Global Hawk high-altitude unmanned system have been at odds for the last several budget cycles. After years of the Air Force trying to end work on Global Hawk in favor of the U-2, the service flipped last year; Congress has allowed neither plane to be retired.
Possibilities: Does the Air Force stick with its plan to retire the U-2, or does it flip again and support the manned plane? Or does it try and find money enough for both in the budget?
Issue: Navy Department's topline
Context: The department's 2016 budget request was scheduled a year ago to rise to nearly $159.5 billion, or $11.5 more than the $148 billion asked for in 2015.
Possibilities: That $159.5 billion figure could change.
Issue: Navy shipbuilding and aircraft plans
Context: These always see some year-to-year tweaking, but the service is expected to stick to last year's 2016 plans: two submarines, two destroyers, and three littoral combat ships.
Possibilities: Congress provided money in 2015 to buy about half another LPD amphibious transport dock – a ship the Navy did not request – and the remainder could be included in the 2016 request. Year-to-year aircraft procurement figures are likely to be altered to some degree, but no major changes are expected.
Issue: Aircraft carrier George Washington
Context: The 2015 budget envisioned canceling the carrier's nuclear refueling overhaul and inactivating an air wing, but Congress vehemently denied the requests, instead directing the Navy to refuel the carrier and keep the planes.
Possibilities: The restored funding is likely to appear in several areas, including ship overhauls and aircraft requests. Procurement in 2016 of MH-60R multimission helicopters from Sikorsky, for example, was canceled, blamed on the air wing being dissolved, so look to see whether those aircraft have been restored.
Issue: Navy weapons procurement
Context: These accounts also took a big hit in 2015, when the Navy dramatically reduced buys in favor of supporting the ship and aircraft accounts. Congress took note, however, and restored some of the weapons funding.
Possibilities: Look to see whether the Navy again reduces its requests – possibly figuring Congress will add them back in – or asks for the weapons straight up.
Issue: Navy five-year plan
Context: The new future years defense plan (FYDP) now extends to 2020, and several new programs could begin to appear – chief among them the LX(R) amphibious ship replacement program. Research and development funding for the Ohio-class replacement program also is expected to have an increasing effect on the budget, as construction funding for first ship is expected to be included in 2021.
Issue: Army and Marine force structure vs. vehicles
Context: Despite budget turbulence, the Army and Marine Corps have pledged their commitment to the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program, with buys of 49,000 and 5,500 respectively.
Possibilities: Congress could opt to compare the JLTV requirements and proposed Army and Marine force structure cuts to determine if JLTV requirements have decreased proportionally.
Issue: Army active-reserve force structure and aviation
Context: Shrinking budgets and continued mobilization of reserve troops have fueled debates over a greater role for reserve units, which are cheaper, replacing active units, which respond quicker to crises. Meanwhile, the Army – to reach sequestration funding levels – wants to move attack helicopters from the reserve to the active component to replace retiring armed reconnaissance helicopters and send utility helicopters to the reserve.
Possibilities: What budget language will be included in relation to force mix? How will the budget requests for aviation programs have changed?
Issue: Congress and cyberspace
Context: Some argue the military lacks what it needs to fight and win in cyberspace, and that it should be given jurisdiction domestically or new authorities to lure cyber talent from the private sector.
Possibilities: Will Congress provide DoD with new authorities to aid its acquisition of cyber talent? Will it create ways for Cyber Command teams to legally coordinate with civilian agencies during peacetime? Could it create an entirely new service dedicated to cyber?
Issue: Congress and sequestration
Context: Unless Congress acts this year, tens of billions will be cut from all non-exempt accounts within the budgets of the Defense Department and other national security agencies next year.
Possibilities: A few weeks into the new congressional session, only members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees are even talking about sequestration. The next move resides with the leaders of the House and Senate Budget committees, who will craft a 2016 budget resolution that could raise spending caps.
Issue: GOP priorities
Context: No one doubts Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairs of the Armed Services committees, and their allies want to increase defense spending. But what about House and Senate leaders?
Possibilities: Just a few weeks ahead of the next Pentagon budget request, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are talking about a list of issues. But not defense spending. GOP sources say the leaders care more about deficit reduction than increasing defense spending.
Issue: Congressional powers
Context: There was much shock and debate last year when the congressional defense panels blocked just about every major budget-cutting plan the Pentagon and White House proposed.
Possibilities: Expect a sequel. Thornberry last week delivered a meaty defense of the legislative branch's constitutional powers, arguing the country's founders wanted Congress to judge the executive branch's plans – and, oftentimes, change them.
Issue: Regular order
Context: Due to partisan squabbling over amendments and process in the Senate, annual defense spending bills haven't exactly sailed to passage before the start of recent fiscal years.
Possibilities: McConnell says that squabbling will end under his leadership. But Democrats already are complaining about his handling of their amendments on the Keystone XL Pipeline bill. These disputes have escalated quickly and taken down other bills before.

Arms control advocates: "No need for new ICBM"

Dave Majumbar, The Daily Beast, Jan 28

Arms control advocates say that the Pentagon is looking for something it doesn't need. "There is no need to build a new ICBM," Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, told The Daily Beast. "RAND did a report last year showing that the United States can maintain the ICBM leg of the [nuclear] triad [of bombers, ballistic missile submarines and land-based missiles] for decades to come by simply pursuing refurbishment," Reif said. "That would be much cheaper."
The counter argument is that though the Minuteman III has been refurbished many times, the older the weapon gets, the harder and more difficult it is to maintain. That means that the Pentagon would have to spend ever increasing sums of money to keep the 40-year-old Minuteman III viable. The Air Force wants to field the new ICBM "in the 2027 timeframe" due to Minuteman's rocket and guidance ageing-out and not having enough spare missiles lying around.
Yet the missiles aren't quite the creaky old machines they appear to be. In recent years, the missiles' engines, guidance systems, and other parts have been replaced.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, it costs about $2.6 billion per year to maintain the ICBM force. That sounds like alot-it is a lot-but it's a relative pittance, compared to the cash needed to maintain the other legs of the nuclear triad. And building replacements from scratch could cost much more. Further, the Pentagon could save a lot of money by reducing the number of existing ballistic missiles. "The ICBM force is the least important leg of the triad," Reif said.
The Air Force's ICBM force is largely designed to be a sponge to absorb part of a massive hypothetical Cold War-style Soviet nuclear attack. "An adversary would have to fire hundreds, if not thousands, of missiles to eliminate that leg of the triad," Reif said. The only potential adversary capable of doing so is Russia-China only has about 100 missiles that are able to hit U.S. territory.

Pentagon seeks $350 billion for nuke upgrade; aggressive Russia cited

Tara Copp, Washington Examiner, Jan 27

The Pentagon is asking for $350 billion to upgrade its nuclear deterrent capability to handle growing aggression from Russia.
"Russia and U.S. cooperation has ground to a halt," retired Navy Admiral William Fallon told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. Updating aged nuclear deterrent capabilities, he said, "should be a top consideration."
Fallon, who retired in 2008 after commanding U.S. Central Command, is part of a week-long visit by defense leaders to Congress to push funding for the Pentagon before the federal budget is released next week. With both wars winding down, defense officials are seeking funding for initiatives that have been pushed back.
For the Air Force and the Navy, moving nuclear modernization higher up the funding chain is a priority after more than a decade of deferred spending to afford the nation's two wars.
Fallon's testimony came on the heels of the commander of U.S. Global Strike Command, Gen. Stephen Wilson, telling reporters Tuesday that none of the elements of what is known as the nuclear triad - the air, land and sea-based ballistic warheads that deter aggressors from launching a first strike - can afford to wait to be modernized.
But the same can be said for the command, which has patched and sustained and deferred for years as other war spending took priority. Now, even as sequestration has come to a head, the triad has come to a point where if it is not modernized, it will fall behind, Wilson said.
"If you look around the world, you see lots of people modernizing their force. We see the Russians, specifically, modernizing all of their legs," their submarines, their missiles and their mobile missiles, Wilson said. China is a concern too, with a rapid development of its own missile and submarine capabilities.
The Minuteman ICBMs under Wilson's command were built between 1965 and 1973. The B-52s currently in the command's wing have 1960-61 tail numbers. The almost two dozen B-2 stealth bombers are younger, fielded in the 1980s and '90s but are not as easily mobilized due to their operations and maintenance needs.
The Navy is no better off. It has asked Congress to find a way to fund its Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines for years - because the 30-year-old submarines, which would be retiring from the fleet except for a refueling that extended their lives for about another decade - will meet the end of their serviceable lives in the next 12 years. To field a new fleet in time to replace the now 40-year old subs, shipbuilding must start now.
The Air Force is pursuing a new ICBM and later this year is expected to select the designs to pursue in a new long-range bomber. The Navy is pushing hard to get funding for the Ohio-class replacement.
The projected price tag of all this, from the Congressional Budget Office: $350 billion.

Long Range Strike Bomber to be unmanned? Directing drones?

Comment from Colin Clark of Breaking Defense yesterday in talking to the head of the Air Force's bomber and ICBM fleets, Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson:

Finally, I asked Wilson whether the Long Range Strike Bomber would command fleets of drones. He reconfirmed that the bomber itself would be "optionally unmanned". When I pressed him about the bomber directing other aircraft, he very politely declined to answer. The lid remains on.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Vietnam's 5th Russian-built sub to begin sea trials

Thanh Nien News, Jan 27

The fifth of the six Kilo-class submarines that Vietnam has agreed to buy from Russia is scheduled for a trial run this May, according to the manufacturer, the Admiralty Shipyards in St. Petersburg. The submarine codenamed HQ-186 Khanh Hoa is a Project 636.1 diesel-electric submarines.

New India/U.S. partnership squarely aimed at China

Peter Baker and Gardiner Harris, New York Times, Jan 27

NEW DELHI – When President Obama landed here for a three-day visit, he brought a long list of issues to discuss, like energy and trade. But when he and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India sat down to talk, the first 45 minutes were dominated by just one: China.
Mr. Obama and his aides discovered to their surprise that Mr. Modi’s assessment of China’s rise and its impact on the greater strategic situation in East Asia was closely aligned with their own. Just as they did, Mr. Modi seemed increasingly uneasy about China’s efforts to extend its influence around the region and interested in a united approach to counter them.
He agreed to sign a joint statement with Mr. Obama chiding Beijing for provoking conflict with neighbors over control of the South China Sea. He suggested reviving a loose security network involving the United States, India, Japan and Australia. And he expressed interest in playing a greater role in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, where India could help balance China’s influence.
For years, American presidents have tried to enlist India, the world’s largest democracy, in a more robust partnership, partly to offset China’s rising power. India has had a long history of suspicion and rivalry with China, which allied with New Delhi’s archenemy Pakistan during the Cold War. But it has long insisted on being an independent actor in world affairs and resisted aligning itself with the United States against its giant neighbor.

Navy switching gears from "Global Force for Good" to "Bad-Ass" defenders

Jeanette Steele, San Diego Union-Tribune, Jan 26

Navy marketing going more tough-guy, less 'global force for good'
Now that the Navy has dropped its longtime “Global Force for Good” slogan, it appears to be moving toward a more aggressive – you might even say bad-ass – image.
The Navy’s newest recruiting commercial debuted Friday night on ESPN and Youtube.
Called “Pin Map,” the minute-long version features each piece of the diverse Navy – ships, submarines and jets, but also SEALs, bomb disposal techies and unmanned drones. The idea is that the Navy is deployed around the globe – all these pins on a map.
The tagline at the end is, “Around the world, around the clock, in defense of all we hold dear back home.”
This commercial follows a similarly tough-sounding spot released a month ago.
Called “The Shield,” that piece shows a couple holding hands with a small girl. One by one, Navy personnel in various uniforms form a series of circles around the family.
The tagline there is “To get to you, they’d have to get past us.”
The switch has to do more with retaining enlisted sailors than recruitment, according to the Navy.

U.S. spends $500 billion on conventional weapons while giving little attention to the biggest threat: cyber attack

American experts view the biggest threat to the United States is the wholesale disruption of the digital fabric that allows American society to function – such as the networks that undergird the financial system, power grids, the air traffic control system, and energy flows. A sophisticated attacker could severely damage a number of these vital webs simultaneously. And the sustained damage may far exceed any immediate disruption. Such a massive attack could quickly erode citizen confidence in our entire system of trade, records, and transport – interrelated events we take for granted every day, but upon which our society depends. This central nervous system of the nation is now at catastrophic risk.
Yet the United States continues to spend a staggeringly large part of its national security budget on traditional threats. The 2015 Department of Defense (DoD) budget tops $500 billion, but most of its capabilities investments are still squarely aimed at building more effective conventional warfare tool sets – bigger and better bombers, fighters, armored vehicles, and warships. The F-35 fifth generation jet fighter program alone has an expected lifetime cost of nearly $1 trillion, an unprecedented investment in high-end warfighting hardware. DoD cyber spending has increased
in recent years, but even defense experts often fail to realize that these efforts focus primarily on DoD networks and cyber warfare. They are not designed to address the broad societal vulnerability to digital threats.
In 1999, two colonels in China’s People’s Liberation Army, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, published a little-noticed volume called “Unrestricted Warfare.” They argued that a rising power like China would have little chance of competing militarily with an established dominant military power like the United States. They recognized that China could only prevail in a conflict with the United States by thinking and acting asymmetrically – fundamentally bypassing American strengths and striking at U.S. vulnerabilities.
Qiao and Wang listed a number of areas where concerted action against the United States would be immensely more effective in achieving China’s political objectives than military attacks would be. These included economic warfare, financial warfare, telecommunications and network warfare, resource warfare, information and media warfare, and international law warfare, to name but a few. Some of these ideas have already been incorporated into official Chinese military thinking. In 2015, it takes little imagination to see how many of these domains embody the core strengths and profound vulnerabilities of the United States. And yet the Department of Defense has at best a peripheral role in protecting Americans from the disruption and the collapse of vital functions should even one of these areas be successfully attacked and effectively upended – and the coercion such painful attacks could enable.

Is era of manned U.S. submarines coming to an end?

Bryan Clark, The National Interest, Jan 26

"The last 25 years of unrivaled U.S. undersea dominance may be coming to an end unless U.S. forces adapt to the changing undersea operating environment."

U.S. defense strategy depends in large part on America’s advantage in undersea warfare. Multiple Quadrennial Defense Reviews, National Military Strategies, and Congressional hearing statements highlight how quiet submarines, in particular, are one of the American military’s most viable means of gathering intelligence and projecting power in the face of mounting anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) threats being fielded by a growing number of countries.
America’s superiority in undersea warfare results from decades of research and development (R&D), operations, and training. It is, however, far from assured. U.S. submarines are the world’s quietest, but new detection techniques are emerging that don’t rely on the noise a submarine makes, and may make traditional manned submarine operations far more risky in the future. America’s competitors are likely pursuing these technologies even while expanding their own undersea forces. To affordably sustain its undersea advantage well into this century, the U.S. Navy must accelerate innovation in undersea warfare by reconsidering the role of manned submarines and exploiting emerging technologies to field a new “family of undersea systems.”

New generation Navy attack sub to have torpedoes with 200-nautical-mile range, Jan 27

The U.S. Navy is starting early preparation work to design a new nuclear attack submarine to replace the Virginia-class boats (SSN-774) in the 2030s. The new attack SSN(X) boats would become operational in 2044 after the last Block VII Virginias are built.
Future Virginia boats and the SSN(X) can employ networked, extremely long-ranged weapons. A torpedo propulsion system concept from the Pennsylvania State University could allow a torpedo to hit a target 200 nmi (230 mi; 370 km) away and be guided by another asset during the terminal phase. Targeting information might also come from another platform like a patrol aircraft or an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) launched from the submarine.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sanctions, collapse of oil prices taking toll on Russian shipbuilding

Two authorities on naval fleets say crippling sanctions by Europe and the U.S. imposed on Russia for its Ukraine incursion and the collapse of oil prices driven by U.S. ally Saudi Arabia are accelerating a decline in Russia's defense industry.
That's what I surmise from an article in Defense News over the weekend.
 "Putin doesn't have that much money. And with the drop in oil prices, they have very bad problems," according to naval analyst and author Norman Friedman,
The shipyards have lost much of their submarine-building expertise.
"A lot of people quit the yards" when construction all but ended, he said. "If they lost a lot of their smarter people, there's a difficulty in recreating what they had. Coming back 15 years later and trying to recreate it is kind of dubious."
development," said Bryan Clark, a former U.S. Navy submariner and strategist, now an analyst with the Center for
Bryan Clark, former U.S. Navy submarine strategist and analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, agrees.
"Their industrial base is weakened from two decades of not being used. You've got a significant reduction in the number of skilled engineers, the aging out of people who otherwise would be part of the Russian design base.
"While Russian engineering and technology development is top-notch, they don't necessarily have the people to be able to do all the legwork necessary to take an idea into a reality. That's why you see things like submarines taking 10 or more years to construct, because they just don't have the design and construction base to support high-rate production."

Used parts going into new generation of Russian ICBM submarines

The most lethal new subs in the growing Russian submarine arsenal are those of the Yuri Dolgoruky class, also known as the Project 955 Borey class. Construction of the Dolgoruky has been a protracted affair – the ship was laid down at the Sevmash military shipyard in Severodvinsk in 1996 but not launched until 2007. Sea trials began in 2009, but development of the ship's primary weapon, the Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), itself has been fraught with problems. It was only in 2014 that the submarine submerged with a full load of 16 ICBMs, according to Russian media.
A second Borey, the Alexander Nevsky, was laid down in March 2004 and began sea trials in 2011. Like the Dolgoruky, the ship and its missiles have experienced numerous problems, and trials continued at least through 2013. Vladimir Monomakh, the third Borey, was commissioned last December after eight years of construction and trials.
Three more Boreys are under construction, and Russian Navy chief Adm. Viktor Chirkov said in December two more would be laid down in 2015, for a total of eight, all expected to be in service by 2020.  They will carry 128 nuclear tipped missiles within range of anything in the world.
The design of the Dolgorukys uses many features of earlier submarines. In fact, the first units used pieces and components built for earlier submarines that were either scrapped or never finished. Russian media reports indicate the Vladimir Monomakh used significant hull components of the decommissioned Akula-class attack submarine Ak Bars.
"I get the feeling for all the big talk from the Russians about building a new fleet, they're probably having trouble getting stuff," Norman Friedman, naval analyst and author, told Defense News. "For the first subs, they used pieces from earlier subs."

4 types of subs under construction in Russia; experts differ on why

Christopher P. Cavas, Defense News, Jan 24

Despite Numbers, Experts Question Combat Effectiveness

WASHINGTON – The Russian Navy's submarine force is on a roll.
Four different kinds of submarines are under construction and more are coming. The country expects to lay down five new nuclear submarines in 2015.
The Navy is accepting Borey-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, Yasen-class nuclear attack submarines, and Kilo- and Lada-class diesel electric attack submarines. Six Kilos are being built for Vietnam and more are offered for export.
This rate of construction is beginning to look more like Cold War days rather than the lethargic shipbuilding rates prevalent since the 1990s.
By comparison, the U.S. only recently returned to building two nuclear attack submarines per year, and industry is gearing up to begin construction of a new class of ballistic submarines in 2021 – a three-subs-per-year construction rate not seen since the Reagan era.
Combine the revived Russian submarine construction rate with President Vladimir Putin's aggressive stances of the past year, along with the steady drumbeat of Chinese naval expansion, and the question might be asked – is a submarine race going on?
"I know a lot of folks like the term arms race, but I think it's more complicated than that," said Thomas Mahnken, a former U.S. defense official and now a professor at the Naval War College. "There's definitely competition going on – with the U.S., other NATO navies, China – but there's also modernization going on. An increasing portion of what Russia is doing is replacing aging systems or systems that already have been retired."
"I would be skeptical," cautioned Norman Friedman, a longtime naval analyst and author. "There's a history in that country of laying down things that don't get finished for a long time. No question they'll lay down the subs, but actually building them after that is a more interesting question."
The Russians frequently issue proclamations that they intend to increase naval construction, including statements about building a fleet of aircraft carriers. But ship construction remains modest, and the Navy remains largely a collection of Cold War relics. Yet Russia has a long tradition of building tough and innovative submarines.
"The Russians have put their money where their mouth is with regard to submarine construction and development," said Bryan Clark, a former U.S. Navy submariner and strategist, now an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "They see that as a way to generate an asymmetric advantage over U.S. forces. If they can develop a really high-end submarine force like they did in the Cold War, it would create a problem for U.S. naval planners and strategists thinking through how to deal with a potential Russian threat – one that could emerge without a lot of warning."

Swedish media suspects 4 mystery subs were searching for damaged Russian sub

Russia Today, Jan 25

The Swedish military now believes that not one, but up to four foreign submarines were operating in the Stockholm Archipelago in mid-October last year, a source within the country’s armed forces said.
An unidentified sub was allegedly spotted in Swedish waters on several occasions, October 17-19, 2014.
This led to a two-week submarine hunt, the Swedish military’s largest operation since the Cold War, but it turned out fruitless, despite the media hype.
Earlier this month, the Swedish military said it spotted another foreign sub in its territorial waters on October 31 and organized a search operation, which also proved futile.
The Swedish media alleged the operation in mid-October could’ve been a hunt for a “damaged Russian submarine,” but Moscow has repeatedly denied the claims.

U.S. aids India in tracking Chinese subs in Indian Ocean

India Today, Jan 26

The United States is regularly updating India on Chinese submarine deployments in the Indian Ocean. Last month, a US drone picked up a Chinese nuclear-powered attack submarine on the surface off Yemen. The information was relayed to the security establishment in New Delhi's South Block. China's deployment of submarines-three in the past year-in the Indian Ocean have worried Indian planners.
This intelligence cooperation with the US assumes significance in the light of the first-ever US-India joint strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region unveiled in New Delhi by President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Modi, on January 25. China was not mentioned, but the vision document alluded to it by affirming 'the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.'
Indian intelligence officials say they are keen on intelligence relating to terrorism emanating from Pakistan on its western borders and Chinese military activities.
Defence officials in New Delhi said that the Type 091 Han-class was 'running on the surface' accompanied by an escort which appeared to be a replenishment ship. The elderly 1970s vintage Han class attack submarine, is believed to be part of the 19th anti piracy task force that has been in the Gulf of Aden since December 10. This is the third such deployment

Cost of new Ohio-class subs being pared down to goal of $4.9 billion each

Lee Hudson, Inside Defense, Jan 23

The Navy slashed $360 million from the original $5.6 billion cost estimate for each Ohio-class replacement ballistic missile submarine, which is over half the amount needed to achieve a $4.9 billion cost target that was set in 2011 by the Pentagon, according to a top official.
Rear Adm. David Johnson, program executive officer for submarines, said Jan. 15 during a presentation at the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium in Arlington, VA, the service recently completed a 2014 cost estimate that revealed ships two through 12 will be $5.2 billion each in 2010 dollars.
In January 2011, the cost estimate for the next-generation ballistic missile submarines two through 12 was $5.6 billion in 2010 dollars per copy.
"I'm confident we'll get to the $4.9 billion number that we have, we just have to keep working at it and we'll need the help of Congress with multiyear authorities in how we'll actually fund the ships," Johnson said.

Whale threat cited as Navy plans to increase soar-emitting buoys

Phuong Le, Associated Press, Jan 25

SEATTLE – The U.S. Navy is seeking permits to expand sonar and other training exercises off the Pacific Coast, a proposal raising concerns from animal advocates who say that more sonar-emitting buoys would harm whales and other creatures that live in the water.
The Navy wants to deploy up to 720 sonobuoys at least 12 nautical miles off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and Northern California. The devices, about 3 feet long and 6 inches in diameter, send out sonar signals underwater so air crews can train to detect submarines.
"It sounds drastic in numbers, but it's really not drastic in its impact," said John Mosher, Northwest environmental manager for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. "Anti-submarine warfare is a critical mission for the U.S. Navy."
The Navy's training range is home to endangered whales such as orcas, humpback and blue, as well as seals, sea lions and dolphins.
Critics say the noise from sonar can harass and kill whales and other marine life. They worry the Navy is expanding training exercises without also increasing efforts to reduce the impacts.
Steve Mashuda, a lawyer with the public-interest law firm Earthjustice, said they're not asking the Navy to stop training in the area.
"But it's a big ocean out there. You don't need to have all of those square miles of training available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," said Mashuda, whose group previously sued over permits issued to the Navy.
The Navy needs authorization from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, since explosive detonations, sonar and vessel strikes have the potential to disturb, injure or kill marine mammals. Its current five-year permit expires this year.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Looks like North Korea preparing to put nukes on submarines

Kyle Mizokami, War is Boring, Jan 22

North Korea is attempting to put nuclear weapons to sea, according to a longtime regime watcher.

Joseph Bermudez—an expert on North Korean weapons—believes the evidence is commercial satellite imagery showing a submarine with possibly two vertical launch tubes. The regime also appears to have constructed a test stand for launching sea-based ballistic missiles.
The two revelations may not be directly related.
For one, the vessel might not end up carrying nuclear-capable missiles. But Bermudez’s evidence is highly suggestive. And if the North is planning to put nukes aboard submarines, this would make Kim Jong Un’s atomic arsenal more survivable in case of attack.
In October 2014, Bermudez observed an unidentified submarine at North Korea’s South Sinpo Shipyard. The shipyard conducts research and development for naval weapons and warship construction.
According to Bermudez, the submarine appeared to weigh around 900 to 1,500 tons in displacement. The analyst tentatively nicknamed the still-under-construction vessel the Sinpo, and noted a resemblance to former Yugoslavian submarines.
Intriguingly, satellite imagery from July 2014 revealed an empty space near the conning tower. Pyongyang could install one or two vertically-launched missiles in this space. The shipyard also has a nearby test stand for the development of long-range ballistic missiles.
The stand is “the right size and design to be used for the research, development, and testing of the process of ejecting a missile out of a launch tube as well as evaluating its compatibility with submarines and surface combatants,” Bermudez wrote.
That’s probably not a coincidence.

Defense Secretary nominee aiming to pare down U.S. nuclear arsenal

Tom Z. Collina, Defense One, Jan 22

If Ashton Carter is confirmed next month as defense secretary, as appears likely, he will face a dilemma: the Pentagon’s trillion-dollar plans to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal are excessive and unaffordable. As the Air Force and Navy admit, their nuclear shopping lists outstrip their budgets. This gives Carter an historic opportunity to bring the nuclear weapons budget in line with U.S. security needs.
There are real advantages to scaling back the nuclear enterprise. Carter will presumably want to start new projects and expand others, such as cybersecurity (think Sony hack and North Korea) and anti-terrorism (Paris terror attacks), and he will have to find the money from within his own budget.
The good news is that the nuclear piggy bank is over-stuffed and ripe for a withdrawal.
At first look, Carter may seem an unlikely candidate to tackle this challenge. He served as the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer and second-in-command from 2009 to 2013, meaning he had a hand in this drama. And, in 2013, Carter said nuclear weapons “don’t actually cost that much.”
But Carter was talking mainly about the cost of the current arsenal, not the looming modernization. More recently, senior Pentagon officials have begun to appreciate how expensive this will be. As Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall said, “We’ve got a big affordability problem out there with those programs.”
Others are more blunt. A recent commission co-chaired by former Defense Secretary William Perry, Carter’s former boss, and retired Gen. John Abizaid called current plans for the arsenal “unaffordable” and a threat to “needed improvements in conventional forces.” They estimated that the nuclear arsenal could cost up to $1 trillion over 30 years.
How did the nuclear budget get so plump? Primarily through neglect. Instead of leading a thoughtful review to determine how much of the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal needs to be rebuilt for the post-post-Cold War era (some but not all), the Obama administration let the military services decide what they would like (everything).
So we now have an out-of-control nuclear shopping list that includes a dozen nuclear-armed submarines, up to 100 long-range bombers, hundreds of land-based ballistic missiles, air-launched cruise missiles and rebuilt nuclear warheads to go with them.
This is excessive—and dangerous. The Cold War ended 25 years ago. Russia may be rattling its sabre in neighboring Ukraine, but this does not call for a nuclear buildup. Instead, the United States needs to support its NATO allies with conventional forces, such as fighter jets and surface ships, which are also competing for scarce defense dollars. Overinvesting in nuclear weapons just starves the programs we really need.

New House chairman wants complete review of U.S. strategic defense and threats

Otto Kreisher, Seapower Magazine, Jan 22

WASHINGTON — The new House Armed Services Committee (HASC) chairman appeared open to providing a separate funding source for the expensive Ohio replacement program Jan. 22, but was opposed to the Navy’s request to put 11 of its 22 Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers into a phased modernization program in order to keep some of these crucial combatants in the fleet beyond their expected service life.
However, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said that before deciding how to pay for the next generation of ballistic missile submarines, he wanted the full committee to delve deeply into the entire strategic deterrence issue and the role the new missile boats would play in that mission.
That review would be part of a dramatic revision Thornberry announced in the way the HASC will deal with the fiscal 2015 defense budget and the defense authorization bill that is the committee’s way of influencing defense spending.
In a breakfast session with the Defense Writer Group, Thornberry said he would postpone testimony from the defense secretary and the service leaders on the administration’s proposed budget until after about two months of full committee hearings on the national security “threats and challenges.”

The unstealthy future of submarine warfare

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., Breaking Defense, Jan 22

WASHINGTON — Submarines have been America’s invisible advantage since World War II. But the oceans are getting more transparent. 
New detection technologies from low-frequency sonar to flashing LEDs — plus the big data computing power to enhance the faint signals they pick up — are making submarines much easier to detect. The same water-penetrating wavelengths, however, will also make it much easier for submarines to communicate with each other.
The net result should be radically new tactics, Bryan Clark, a career submariner and former top aide to the Chief of Naval Operations, says in a new study for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments out today. Instead of submarines operating alone and unafraid, he writes, they could operate together in underwater networks. Manned submarines would lurk out of missile range, 200 nautical miles from hostile shores, and serve as motherships for unmanned mini-subs and even aerial drones that push ahead into enemy “anti-access/area denial” defenses.
This networked force — a new wolf pack? — would take advantage of America’s lead in computing, communications, and autonomous systems — just as adversaries like Russia and China are starting to catch up on numbers and sophistication of submarines. If Clark’s approach to underwater warfare also sounds a lot like the mix of drones, stand-off, and wireless networks that’s come to characterize US operations in the air, that’s not an accident.
“The advent of improved sensors and processing will make below-water warfare more like warfare above the water,” Clark told me in an email. “In some ways [detection] may be easier — for example, a contact can be detected ‘over the horizon’ underwater because sound bends with the curvature of the earth,” unlike radar waves.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Study: Almost all U.S. arms programs vulnerable to cyber attack

Nearly Every U.S. Arms Program Found Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks
Andrea Shalal, Reuters, Jan 21

WASHINGTON - Nearly every U.S. weapons program tested in fiscal 2014 showed "significant vulnerabilities" to cyber attacks, including misconfigured, unpatched and outdated software, the Pentagon's chief weapons tester said in his annual report released Tuesday.
Michael Gilmore, director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E), said program managers had worked to resolve problems discovered in previous years and security was improving, but this year's testing had revealed new vulnerabilities.
"Cyber adversaries have become as serious a threat to U.S. military forces as the air, land, sea and undersea threats represented in operational testing for decades," Gilmore wrote in the 366-page report.

Navy to begin assigning enlisted women to sub force

Kevin Copeland, Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic Public Affairs,, Jan 21

NORFOLK -- Following the successful integration of female officers onboard submarines, the Submarine Force will be immediately opening service on submarines for enlisted female Sailors. The Chief of Naval Operations detailed the enlisted women integration plan in Naval Administrative (NAVADMIN) message 19/15 entitled, "Opening Submarine Force Billets to Enlisted Women." The plan was formally approved in December 2014 for federal funding by Congress.
With Congressional approval, Vice Adm. Michael Connor, commander, Submarine Forces, can begin implementing the plan which was first submitted and approved by CNO, June 30, 2014, and Secretary of the Navy, July 1, 2014. The plan includes opening all submarine ratings and Navy enlisted classification codes to enlisted women in Fiscal Year 2015 for a two-phase integration onboard the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines (SSBN) and Ohio-class guided-missile submarines (SSGN), and the Virginia-class attack submarines (SSN). 
"We are the most capable submarine force in the world," said Connor. "While we have superb technology, the ultimate key to our success is our people. In order to continue to improve and adapt in a rapidly changing world, we need to ensure that we continue to recruit and retain the most talented Sailors. Today, many of the people who have the technical and leadership skills to succeed in the Submarine Force are women. We will need them. Integrating female officers into the submarine force has increased our talent pool and subsequently the force's overall readiness, ensuring that we will remain the world's most capable force for ensuing decades. Following our successful and smooth integration of women officers into the Submarine Force, the Navy's plan to integrate female enlisted is a natural next step."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

South Korean shipyard to build 6 subs for India to counter China in Indian Ocean

Lee Soo-Ki, Kwon Sang-Soo, Korea JoongAng Daily, Jan 20

The world's largest shipbuilder, Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), has established an agreement to build submarines for India as part of a 40-year program to strengthen the nation's naval forces.
The financially struggling company said it signed an MoU with Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL) last week stating that the Korean shipbuilder will work with the Indian company to build six submarines that the nation's navy is preparing to order.
"Since HSL wants to be a part of the submarine manufacturing project by the navy, they asked us for help," said a spokesman for HHI. "Because they are the largest shipbuilder in their country, the possibility that they will win the order is big."
The Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade said India's recent expansion of its military force is a matter of survival, especially after China has been aggressively strengthening its navy recently to expand its influences in the Indian Ocean, a transport route for about 80 percent of the world's oil.
Last year, China sent two submarines to run a combat simulation in the Indian Ocean, saying it was necessary to protect the nation's businesses from pirates.
According to military sources last year, China has a total of 52 submarines in operation, three of which are nuclear powered. India, however, has 14 submarines and only one is nuclear powered, which it borrowed from Russia in 2012. About half of the 14 submarines were built in the 1980s, according to the industry.

Russia offers to sell Kilo sub to Thailand

Jon Grevatt, Bangkok, IHS Jane's Defence Weekly, Jan 18

Russia has offered for sale to Thailand its Kilo-class Project 636 diesel electric submarine as part of expanding defence technology ties between the two countries.
IHS Jane's understands that officials from Russian export agency Rosoboronexport met with counterparts from the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) on 16 January to highlight the capabilities of the Kilo-class submarine in meeting an emerging RTN requirement.

Russian Navy on verge of collapse, according to Harvard expert

David Axe, War is Boring, Jan 18

The Kremlin has announced that Russia will hugely boost its naval operations in 2015.
But that’s an empty promise – or threat, if you will. In fact, the Russian fleet is on the edge of a precipitous decline in ship numbers and combat power, owing to huge industrial shortfalls that have been decades in the making.
“As for missions of Russian naval ships, there will be 50 percent more of them than in 2013,” Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian general staff, told a TV audience in December.
But Gerasimov’s vow belies a bleak future for the Russian navy. Even if the fleet is busier in 2015 than it was in 2013, in coming years it will have fewer and fewer ships to be busy with – and those that remain will be progressively smaller and weaker than rival vessels.
Today the Russian navy possesses around 270 warships including surface combatants, amphibious ships, submarines and auxiliaries.
Of the 270 ships, just 125 or so are in a working state. And of those 125, only around 45 are oceangoing surface warships or submarines that are in good shape and deployable.
All the above figures come from Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University.
By comparison, the U.S. Navy possesses some 290 warships. Pretty much all of them are well-maintained, deployable, oceangoing vessels.
All the same, a force of almost 50 large warships is no insignificant thing, and outguns the fleets of all but the most powerful countries. The problem, according to Gorenburg, is that today’s Russian navy is old ... and won’t last much longer.

Bell from lost Argonaut used to memorialize submariners, subs lost in January in WWII

MC1 Steven Khor, Submarine Force Pacific Public Affairs, Jan 16

PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII – A special bell tolling ceremony was held at the Submarine Base Chapel on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Jan. 14, in memory of both submariners and submarines lost in the month of January during World War II.
Submariners past and present gathered to honor and remember those sacrifices for the nation, sponsored by the Submarine Veterans Bowfin Base, and the chaplain's office at Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC). 
Lieutenant Bill Gritton, chaplain from Naval Submarine Support Command, said the importance of the ceremony is the remembrance of what the submarine force has done in the past, and what they are still doing today. 
"The idea is to remind people of the interconnectedness of the submarine force," said Gritton. "It is to remind people that the submarine legacy has extended back to 1900, and to remember the sacrifices that individuals have made during that time period." 
The bell tolling ceremony is held every month to honor and pay respects to the 52 submarines and crews lost during the war. 
The month of January honored five submarines and their crews that were lost, as well as 10 Sailors that were lost while the submarines themselves made it home. 
Pictures of the submarines and their crews were displayed on a large screen as Sailors spoke of accomplishments and sacrifices. 
One submarine in particular honored at the event was USS Argonaut (SS 166). 
A V-class submarine, Argonaut was the largest submarine built until the nuclear era. A mine layer and troop transport, she was launched on Oct. 10, 1927. While engaging a Japanese convoy, she was sunk by direct fire and depth charges from Japanese destroyers. The sinking of Argonaut and her crew of 102 personnel was reported as the worst loss of life for a wartime submarine.
The bell that hangs in the steeple of the Submarine Base Chapel, and tolled in remembrance for the fallen each month, was donated from the crew of USS Argonaut right before her last patrol, from which she never returned.

USS Boise attack sub returns from remarkable 37,000-mile deployment

Kevin Copeland, Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic Public Affairs, Jan 16 

NORFOLK – The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Boise (SSN 764) returned to its homeport at Naval Station Norfolk from a deployment, Jan. 16. 
Boise, under the command of Cmdr. Scott C. Luers, is returning from the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility where the crew executed the Chief of Naval Operation's Maritime Strategy in supporting national security interests and maritime security operations.
"Boise steamed more than 37,000 miles conducting operations in challenging high contact density, shallow water environments spanning the U.S. 5th, 6th and 7th Fleets," said Luers. "We completed three missions vital to national security, 14 strategic strait transits in support of time sensitive operations and key theater commander tasking. The ship provided operational commanders a unique indication of submerged and surfaced threats, giving additional support and protection to high value units in theater operations."
Port visits were conducted in Duqm, Oman; Manama, Bahrain; Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates; Souda Bay, Greece; and Rota, Spain.

Monday, January 19, 2015

My column for Calkins Media (Phila. suburbs) this morning:

I distinctly recall my visit to Raiford Prison in the aptly named Starke, Florida. The class purpose: View the state’s electric chair. Infamous “Old Sparky” had wide leather straps that lashed each leg, the waist and upper torso of a prisoner to the oak giant. The doomed man, with an electrode hood lowered over his head, faced a large rectangular window. Behind it were seats for 12 to 32 witnesses. I came away with a shudder. Who would want to be a witness? I had to remind myself that once upon a time executions were a public spectacle — even in Bucks County. Families toting picnic baskets would settle in on the green to see a prisoner die.
Mina was a petty criminal in his native Cuba before being exiled to the United States. After doing time for theft in Philadelphia, he slipped aboard a Delaware River boat. In mid-transit to Trenton in May 1831, he could not produce a ticket and was put ashore in Andalusia. Destitute, he knocked at the first house he encountered, that of Dr. William Chapman and his wife, Lucretia. Mina, a handsome, slender man with curly black hair and an engaging personality, convinced Chapman he was the son of the wealthy Mexican governor of California who would repay the couple for their kindness. Lucretia, vivacious with long auburn hair, had grown apart from her husband, described as lazy and obese. She was drawn to the energetic newcomer, and he seduced her.
Within a month, Chapman began to suffer severe stomach cramps and nausea. Chicken soup made by Lucretia made him sicker. On June 22 he died. Two weeks later, Lucretia and Mina wed in a secret ceremony in New York. While she visited her sister in Syracuse, he returned to Andalusia, where he sold the Chapmans’ household valuables and split for Washington. There he swindled a businessman, initiating a search for him. Authorities located him in Boston and he was arrested.
Meanwhile, a Philadelphia newspaper speculated that Mina and Lucretia conspired to kill Dr. Chapman. His body buried in Hulmeville was exhumed. A medical examiner suspected arsenic poisoning from the odor in his stomach. First-degree arrest warrants were issued. Lucretia took flight but was apprehended in Erie.
In February 1832, her trial got underway in Doylestown, drawing crowds of spectators and wide press coverage. Top Philadelphia defense attorney David Paul Brown, hired at Lucretia’s expense, convinced the jury Chapman died of cholera. A physician buttressed that idea, testifying it was impossible to differentiate between death by arsenic and cholera, a common illness of the time. His star witness was Lucretia’s 10-year-old daughter who testified she ate the same soup as her father and never got ill. The jury freed Lucretia.
The following April, Mina’s trial began. Two court-appointed lawyers represented him and called no witnesses. The attorneys leaned on Lucretia’s acquittal. Evidence that Mina had purchased arsenic, however, swung the jury. Guilty.
On June 21, 1832, the condemned man stood on the gallows before a throng in Doylestown Township. Newspapers compared the scene to “Philadelphia on the Fourth of July.” The prisoner’s last words before the trap was sprung: “Farewell my friends. Farewell, poor Mina, poor Mina. He die innocent. He die innocent.”

Friday, January 16, 2015

Help wanted to build submarines in Groton, CT.

General Dynamics Electric Boat President Jeffrey S. Geiger told the Providence Journal this week that the work force is aging at the corporation's nuclear submarine factory in Groton, CT, He expects to hire about 1,100 people this year, about half of them to replace workers who leave. He also anticipates hiring several thousand in the coming decade to build replacements for the Ohio class of ballistic missile submarines.
“We’ve got a very experienced and skilled work force, but it’s a very senior work force,” Geiger said. “We’re going to see a number of retirements over the next five years.”
And that’s where the problem lies.
“The thing that kind of outweighs everything else is: can we get the human resources that have the skill and background” to build submarines, he said.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Deregulation in U.S. helping drive global arms market

It appears that the 2008 financial crisis has aided the export of arms from western nations to global conflict areas.  Why?  To soften the downturn among military contractors at home.  Check out this latest post....

Matthew Ribar, The Diplomat, Jan 14

Balancing alone does not explain the build-up of Conventional Military Assets in Southeast Asia.

The ongoing proliferation of submarine capabilities among Southeast Asian states is a hot topic in international politics. Arms races have been sparse since the end of the Cold War, so any series of events that appear to have those characteristics is widely studied. Most scholars have explained the arms build-up as a balancing of forces; however, such demand-side explanations overlook an underlying supply-side explanation, which is the global buyer’s market for arms.
The navies of Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam all boast submarine forces, with the Philippines announcing plans in December to acquire similar capabilities. The submarines are foreign made, and often second hand. The submarines range from Swedish Challenger-class (for Singapore), French Scorpène-class (Malaysia), German Type-209 submarines (Indonesis), and Russian Kilo-class (Vietnam). Most of these acquisitions have been recent, and this flurry of activity is what observers have called a force build-up.
Naturally, scholars have set about providing explanations for this force buildup. A particularly common explanation is that these states are balancing their military capabilities against various states. Some commentators have speculated that Southeast Asian states are balancing against each other, citing an inter-ASEAN naval arms race. But military balancing activity within a strong regional organization is rare behavior. Even though ASEAN’s focus on security cooperation is secondary, it would still be strange for states within such a well-institutionalized regional organization to be squaring off against each other in the manner suggested by the rate of naval acquisitions.
More commonly, observers link a naval buildup to the desire to balance aggressive Chinese actions in the South China Sea and more generally. Vietnam specifically had engaged in a naval stand-off with China in the summer of last year over a Chinese oil rig placed in waters claimed by Vietnam, but nearly all of these Southeast Asian states have maritime disputes over China’s claimed “nine-dash line.”
Asia expert Gerhard Wills, however, argues that “While Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia can deploy up to six submarines, China alone has more than 60 of them; so this can’t seriously be an attempt to strike a military balance.” The argument continues that these states are not interested in achieving military parity with China – clearly none of these states has anywhere near the resource base of China. Rather, these states are interested in increasing their asymmetric capabilities vis-à-vis China, such that any offensive act would entail extremely high costs.
Moreover, the branch of theory from which the idea of balancing comes argues that these power stand-offs occur when one states is challenging another states for dominance. The classic example of this is the Cold War nuclear arms race, when the United States and the Soviet Union were completing for international hegemony. But Southeast Asian states do not share this relationship with China – even a regional power like Indonesia is not about to eclipse China on the world stage. So describing this action as “balancing” against China fails to give the whole story.
Those explanations for the naval buildup that come purely from the demand side of the phenomenon are clearly insufficient. An increasing ability to resist Chinese aggression plays a role in explaining the acquisitions: Chinese actions in the Spratly Islands were specifically mentioned in the recently
announced Philippine plans to purchase a submarine force. But by themselves, such accounts are insufficient. An alternative explanation centers on the global “buyer’s market” for arms.
Arms, including naval assets, are increasingly easy to procure. And when supply goes up, it follows that more arms will be bought. Data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows that military expenditure in the region has been consistently on the rise since 1992.
The shift to a global buyer’s market for arms started with the end of the Cold War, but intensified with the 2008 global financial crisis. Western states, with traditionally high defense acquisition budgets led to new purchases being curtailed. So arms manufacturers turned to countries that were less troubled by the financial crisis, such as the BRICS and ASEAN states. Exporting to these non-traditional markets was a coping mechanism for reduced domestic demand.
A program of arms export deregulation accompanied the market shift. To take the example of the United States (since according to SIPRI it is the world’s largest arms exporter), oversight of arms exports has been moved from the Department of State, to the more business-oriented Department of Commerce. Though the submarines that have been purchased in Southeast Asia have come from European states, the American deregulation of arms still promotes a buyer’s market mentality for the global arms trade.

1st female officer reports to submarine USS Minnesota; more than 60 serving in Navy subs

Steven Beardsley, Stars and Stripes, Jan 14

The first woman to serve aboard a Navy fast-attack submarine has reported to the USS Minnesota. She is one of six officers expected to join fast-attack crews in the months ahead.
Two more women will report to the Minnesota by the end of January, with three more slated to join the USS Virginia in the spring, said Lt. Cmdr. Tommy Crosby, a spokesman for the Navy's Submarine Force Atlantic.
Integration of Virginia-class submarines comes three years into the Navy's effort to gradually bring female officers and enlisted into its undersea service. Female officers first came aboard Ohio-class submarines in late 2011. As of last summer, more than 60 women were serving in 14 submarines.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Technology that found AirAsia black boxes

Patrick Tucker, Defense One, Jan 13

Last week, authorities in Indonesia confirmed that rescue crews had located the tail from AirAsia flight QZ8501. Grainy images of the submerged plane soon appeared on Australian and then American television. The black boxes were quickly recovered. But how were they found?
The pictures that have emerged from early media reports – green monochrome images of the missing plane – come from what’s called side scan sonar. Whereas radar uses electrical pulses to locate objects, sonar sends sound pulses that reflect off of objects like submarines or the sea floor to provide the operator with a picture based on acoustic reflection.
At very low frequencies, in the 300 to 900 khz (kilohertz), range, sonar can send sound waves out to cover wide areas. At higher frequencies, 600 to 1800 khz, the sound waves create incredibly detailed pictures of the objects that they encounter.
The specific sonar system that the United States military is using in its effort to help the search, in part by ruling out areas where wreckage is not, is the Sea Scan HDS, manufactured by a Virginia-based company called Marine Sonic, recently acquired by Atlas North America. Police departments around the world use it to hunt for evidence that people throw into bodies of water.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Formidable U.S.undersea arsenal gives pause to any enemy

Interesting commentary from Walter Pincus in the Washington Post Tuesday:

"Thanks to a 2010 arms control treaty with Russia, beginning in 2018 only 12 Ohio-class SSBNs with 20 of their missiles loaded will be deployed at one time. Each missile will be limited to four or five warheads.
"That means the United States will still have more than 1,000 sub-launched warheads available, with some 320 on ready-to-fire, 24-hour alert on the four subs normally on patrol in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Each warhead is at least five times as powerful than the bomb that hit Nagasaki.
"What’s the threat? "

Fed budget cuts force Navy to privatize nuke sub maintenance

Risky situation, it seems to me....

 (Portland, N.H., Press Herald), Jan 12

The nation's four naval shipyards, one of which is in Kittery, are understaffed following automatic Pentagon budget cuts and a civilian hiring freeze.

GROTON, CONN. – With U.S. attack submarines sidelined by extended delays at government shipyards, the Navy is turning to private companies to perform more of the maintenance work on the nuclear-powered vessels.
The commander of the Navy’s submarine force, Vice Adm. Michael Connor, said routine overhauls that once took 19 months have been taking 28 months because of staffing shortages at U.S. shipyards brought about by federal budget cuts.
“That has a significant impact on the force,” Connor told The Associated Press in an interview.
The companies expected to bid on new contracts for overhaul work are Electric Boat, a Groton-based division of General Dynamics, and Virginia’s Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, Connor said. He said the work could help protect the industrial base as the two private submarine builders prepare for work on a new class of ballistic-missile submarines.

Monday, January 12, 2015

My column this morning for Calkins Media...

LaVO: Here's hoping there's no repeat of the mother of all blizzards

Posted: Monday, January 12, 2015 1:00 am | Updated: 9:58 am, Mon Jan 12, 2015.
It’s that time of year for Mother Nature’s winter furies — blizzards. Generator in working order? Check. Snow blower starts? Check. Gasoline stored for both machines? Check. Stabilizer fluid added to the gasoline? Check. Snow shovel found? Check. Electric lantern? Check. Portable radio? Check. Supply of fresh batteries? Check. Power pod for the cellphone? Check. I’ve learned from my knucklehead past to be prepared when cold and snow are in the forecast. Mysterious things can happen. It was a few years ago that Mary Anne suggested I get a generator in case the power went out. I stalled and stalled. And then that freak storm hit with a vengeance. Hundreds of thousands were left without electricity. In our neighborhood, a transformer blew up, disabling power to just six homes. Ours was one of them. “So, where’s that generator?” frowned my dear wife, who proceeded to uncork a not-so-playful swat.
Bucks County struggled to return to normal. We dialed PECO. But since only six homes were affected by our outage, we’d have to wait. For days. Getting a generator became mission impossible for me. The stores were sold out. Fortunately, a neighbor with a recreational vehicle was able to string an electrical line that brought in enough power for the fridge and the oil burner. I learned my lesson well. Today, we’re ready for whatever the heavens can throw at us.
The forecast is for lots of snow. Both the Farmer’s Almanac and the Weather Channel agree we’re in for a doozy. Paul Pastelok,’s forecaster for long-range weather, goes a step further: Snow totals will be “bigger and heavier” than the 67 inches we received last year. “I think, primarily, we’ll see that happening in mid-January into February,” he said.
Chances are the elements will produce a classic blizzard along the way, perhaps akin to the 2010 “snowmagedden,” which layered 35 inches of snow on Pennsylvania over 48 hours in early February. Or maybe it’ll rival “the storm of the century” of March 12, 1993. That blizzard-cyclone combo wreaked havoc from Cuba to Canada, causing $6.6 billion in damage and taking 310 lives. Thoughts also drift back to “the blizzard of 1996” that plopped nearly 2 feet of snow from Jan. 6 to 8, followed by tropical warmth that melted it all and resulted in a record flood on the Delaware River.
Hopefully, we’ll avoid a repeat of the worst blizzard to ever strike the Northeast. That was well before super Doppler radar, before Al Roker took his first breath, before radio — and even before the Wright Brothers took flight from a coastal dune in North Carolina. Historians still look back at the blizzard of 1888 as a storm for the ages. It lingered over the region for two days in early March. High winds and 50 inches of snow paralyzed the region, burying homes and cities and claiming more than 400 lives — the worst toll ever from a winter storm. Off the coast, towering waves sank 200 ships. And trains trying to make their way between cities were blown off the tracks.
We tend to forget those lessons of the past, tend to let down our guard in the day-to-day humdrum of life. Then, Mother Nature taps us on the shoulder to remind us who’s in charge. This year, my powerful generator and snow blower give me an air of confidence. Oops! Do we have de-icer salt on hand? And what about the car batteries? Got to go.