Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 In Review

This list is taken from Strategy Page. Unfortunately, I have been out of the loop for most of the year, and missed a lot of what happened this year. Thus, the use of this list. 

That was the year that was and here are the top ten (in no particular order) military events that defined (or defiled) 2013.

1. The Arab Spring Turns Rancid. In 2011 spontaneous uprisings in most Arab countries overthrew several long-standing dictatorships (Tunisia, Egypt, Somalia and Libya). But most of those uprisings failed. Some did so quietly, as in Saudi Arabia where the aristocrats passed out more gifts and made more promises. Others took longer or suffered continued violence and the growing presence of Islamic terrorist groups. This was not the way it was supposed to be and the Arab world is rethinking its options.

2. The Syrian Civil War Does Not Turn Out As Everyone Expected. Unwilling to risk supporting Islamic terrorists as in Libya the West refuses to provide support (especially air support) to the Syrian rebels who then squander their initial advantage by fighting each other. The government is now on the offensive and the rebels appear doomed. The rebels might still turn it around, but at the moment it doesn’t look good.

3. Iran Fools Everyone, Again. Unwilling to lose its only Arab ally in Syria, Iran hires mercenaries and convinces Russia to join in a series of unlikely adventures that saves the pro-Iran Syrian government. Iran also undertakes another clever campaign to sabotage the 2012 international sanctions (against the Iranian nuclear program) that have crippled the Iranian economy and made the religious dictatorship even more unpopular inside Iran. All this is yet another example of why Iran has been the regional superpower for several thousand years and why their Arab neighbors are very, very worried.

4. China Rolls On, One Tiny Victory After Another. The Chinese campaign of conquering real, or imagined, nearby “lost territories” by winning many little victories in battles none of the victims is willing to go to war over continues. China has, in the last few years, taken control of sizable chunks of India and large swaths of the South China Sea one tiny piece at a time. The victims are organizing, but have yet to come up with a workable defense against the Chinese tactics.

5. Iraq Finds A Way To Squander Democracy. When the American left in 2011 Iraq had a shrinking terrorism problem and bright prospects. Since then the terrorism has increased and the prospects have dimmed. One reason for that reversal could be seen when the Iraqi ambassador to Afghanistan recently advised the Afghans to not make the mistake Iraq made by forcing all U.S. troops out in 2011. Iraq now wants the Americans to come back, but there is little enthusiasm in the United States for that. Iraq faces the usual massive corruption that cripples so many Arab states and that makes it difficult to crush the Sunni Arab Islamic terrorists who want Sunni minority rule restored.

6. France Finds Glory In A Distant Desert. France unexpectedly takes the Islamic demon by the horns in Mali by leading a January invasion of northern Mali. That area had been turned into a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists in early 2012 and while the West and Mali’s neighbors dithered, France acted. Nevertheless, a year later France is telling Africans that they cannot expect France to always come clean up situations like this and that Africa has to form more peacekeeping forces to deal with the endemic violence and unrest in Africa.

7. North Korea Proves Again Why It Is Better To Be Feared Than Loved. With the economy continuing to crumble, despite Chinese efforts to prop it up, North Korea switches to using firing squads to discourage people from leaving the “workers’ paradise” or watching videos of life in more prosperous China and South Korea. Even senior officials and dictator Kim Jong Un’s own uncle have been executed, in an effort to inspire more discipline and less corruption and entrepreneurial spirit. China is not happy with all this, especially since the uncle was considered their man (and the number two guy in North Korea) but is willing to look the other way if it works. China is, many tend to forget, still a communist police state.

8. The UN Again Finds That Fighting For Peace Works. For years Congo was the largest UN peacekeeping operation, and also the least successful. Finally desperate enough to try the anything, the UN accepted the advice of many military experts (and military history) and resorted to a little ultra-violence. This meant forming a brigade trained and equipped for combat. This largely African brigade was sent after the most troublesome rebel militias and destroyed them in short order. Now the UN is considering trying this approach some more.

9. Russia Discovers That The Legacy Of The Soviet Union Is Poisonous. More than a decade of reform attempts have left the Russian military not much better off. This effort did reveal that the corrupt practices that were created during the Soviet era (including some inherited from the czars) were surviving and thriving in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. Russia is having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that the corruption that helped bring down the czarist government in 1918 survived that revolution and grew to bring down the Soviet Union. Now it threatens the quasi-democratic Russia that could, if there were enough will, actually do something about it.

10. The Death Of Secrecy. China and political activists inside the U.S. government have made it clear that keeping secrets is a lot harder than it ever was before. Cheap and powerful computers plus over a century of new marketing and data management ideas has produced vast amounts of data about where most people are and what they are doing. This didn’t cause much commotion when it was just commercial firms collecting and using it. But the government was a different matter. A side effect of all this technology was growing difficulty in keeping secrets. China has spent most of the last decade plundering the world’s computers for all manner of commercial and military data. In the last year a lot more of the details of this effort became public knowledge.

Have a happy New Year, and God bless in 2014.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau: Germany's Last Battlecruisers

     The Scharnhorst-class was a class of battleships or battlecruisers, depending on one's definition, produced by Nazi Germany during the 1930s immediately before WWII. They were meant to serve as a counter to the French Dunkerque-class which was being be built around that time. Built to fight in the North Sea, their armament was limited by the political need not to anger Britain or France. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 banned Germany from building new battleships, but allowed "armored vessels". However, the Anglo-German Naval Agreement (AGNA) allowed Germany 35% of the total tonnage of the Royal Navy, and new battleships or battlecruisers. This agreement would pave the way for the construction of the Bismarck-class and the H-class.
     Three days before the signing of the AGNA on 15 June 1935, the keel of the Scharnhorst was laid down in Wilhelmshaven. One month before the keel for the Gneisenau was laid down in Kiel on 16 May. The designs for these ships had been completed long before, with an armament of 9 28cm/54.5 SK C/34 guns in three triple turrets (one the few German ship classes to be equipped with tripe turrets) being selected. Armor consisted of a vertical 350mm belt tapering off to 170mm at the outboard slope of the armor deck, and deck armor ranging from 50mm to 105mm. The secondary armament consisted of 12 15cm/55 SK C/28 guns mounted in 4 twin and 4 single turrets (these are not be confused with the 150mm AA guns the Scharnhorst-class carried). The armor on the 28cm turrets was 360mm on the face, 200mm on the sides, 150mm on the roof, and a range of 350mm to 200mm on the barbettes*. Displacement was 37,100 tons. One interesting point about their armor is that generally on battleships, the armor corresponded to the main battery (e.g. guns of 406mm, armor of a thickness that would defeat a 406mm shell). This was not the case with the Scharnhorst-class which carried far more than necessary to defeat an 283mm shell.
     The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were considered by the Kriegsmarine to be battleships, but were viewed by the Royal Navy as battlecruisers. Their armor listed above compares very favorably to Britain largest battlecruiser, the HMS Hood. The Hood had a 305mm belt (the belt on the Hood was angled at 12 degrees, whereas the Scharnhorst-class had vertical belts), which tapered off to 127mm and 152mm at the ends of the ship. Turret armor on the Hood was slightly heavier than the Scharnhorst-class, the face of the Hood's turrets was 373mm, 299 to 274mm on the sides, and 124mm on the roof. 
     The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were built for combat in the North Sea against French battleships which is why they carried battlecruiser thickness armor. The 28cm guns were selected for their high rate of fire and the fact that the Dunkerque-class was thought to mostly lightly armored. However, when faced with vessels with a greater armament and armor the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were unable to return any meaningful damage.
     The operational history is the Scharnhorst-class is excellent with both ships serving well throughout their service lives. During the Invasion of Norway the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sank the carrier HMS Glorious and two escorting destroyers. During this engagement the Scharnhorst was hit by one torpedo launched by one escorting destroyers which did serious damage to propulsion and flooded four watertight compartments. From the sinking of the Glorious for about six month the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were inactive while the Scharnhorst underwent repairs. In January of 1941 both ships sortied from Kiel to attack British convoys. They escaped detection and came upon the convoy HX 106 which was escorted by the HMS Ramilles, causing the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau to break off their attack. The ships returned to Brest where, after undergoing repairs, participated in the infamous Channel Dash in February 1941.  Both the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sustained mine damage off Holland during the Channel Dash and were forced to undergo repairs in Kiel. From February 1941 to March 1941 the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau would remain in German waters. In March 1943 the Scharnhorst was deployed to Norway where she was to link up with the Tirpitz and attack convoys sailing to Russia. The Gneisenau was also supposed to sail with her, but took heavy bomb damage from RAF bombers in late February 1942, and was slated to be reconstructed. This reconstruction would have included an upgrade to her armament with 6 380mm guns similar to those carried on the Bismarck-class. From here the ships separated. 
     The Scharnhorst arrived in Norway on March 22nd. From April 1943 to September 1943 the Scharnhorst and Tirpitz were inactive due to a fuel shortage. Then on September 8th the Scharnhorst and Tirpitz sortied to Spitzbergen where they bombarded shore installations. On December 22nd the Scharnhorst sortied for her final mission (the Tirpitz did not sail with her because she had been damaged by British midget submarines soon after the Spitzbergen operation) to attack convoy JW 55B. 
     Convoy JW 55B was escorted by three British cruisers, the light cruisers Sheffield and Belfast as well as the heavy cruiser Norfolk (these were known as Force 1). The King George V-class battleship Duke of York was also in the area providing overwatch for JW 55B and another convoy, RA 55A. The Scharnhorst was unable to make contact with JW 55B, but did find the three escorting cruisers. Force 1 detected the Scharnhorst at a range of 33,000 meters from Force 1, 60,000 meters from the convoy. The Scharnhorst was unaware of the British presence since her radar was off to avoid detection. The British opened fire at a range of 8,600 with star shells to illuminate the Scharnhorst at 0840 on December 26th. During this encounter (from 0925 to 0955) the Scharnhorst sustained two 203mm hits, one of which destroyed the forward rangefinders and crippled the Scharhorst's radar capability (the shell sheared off the radar antenna and killed all personnel in the radar receiving room). The Scharnhorst was now blind in the forward sector, as the aft radar had a limited sweep over the forward sector. At 0955 the Scharnhorst was able to break away from Force 1 and escape. 
"The sinking of Scharnhorst"
     At 1200 the Belfast was able to reestablish radar contact with the Scharnhorst. From this point till about 1315 the Scharnhorst fought with Force 1, scoring a serious hit on the Norfolk around 1223. Around 1315  broke contact and made for Norway. However, in making for Norway the Scharnhorst had to cross the course of the Duke of York. At 1617 the Duke of York made radar contact with the Scharnhorst at a range of 42,500 meters. At 1650 the Duke of York opened fire on the Scharnhorst after she had been illuminated by star shells from the Belfast.  
Map of the Battle of North Cape (click to enlarge)
     This began the last surface engagement of German and British capital ships of WWII. The duel that began was highly unequal because the Scharnhorst 283mm guns simply could not penetrate the Duke of York's armor at any point. The Scharnhorst was able to  damage the Duke of York's superstructure, and temporarily knock out her fire control radar. However, between 1650 and 1842, when the Duke of York ceased firing, the Scharnhorst took at least 13 356mm hits. At the end of the gunnery duel the Scharnhorst was still making around 22 knots, leading to a British torpedo attack around 1850. 4 torpedoes hit, slowing the Scharnhorst to 12 knots, though the chief engineer reported he could still produce 22 knots. At this point a second torpedo attack was made because of the apparent inability to sink German capital ships by gunfire (this was learned from inability to sink the Bismarck by gunfire). At 1900 all confidential papers were burned by order of the Scharnhorst's captain. At 1945 the Scharnhorst sank bow first with her propellers still turning. Out of a crew of 1968 officers and enlisted man, only 36 enlisted men survived the engagement. Thus, ended the Battle of North Cape.
     As to the fate of the Gneisenau, work was eventually stopped in early 1943 at the order of Hitler, who was angry at the failure of German surface raiders. The 283mm turrets that had been removed to make way for the new 380mm turrets, were shipped to Norway. There they were installed as coastal defense guns, where one remains there to this day. From 1943 to till 1945 nothing happened to the remains of the Gneisenau. In March 1945 the Gneisenau was towed into the entrance of the harbor of Gotenahfen where she was sunk as a block ship to delay the Advance of the Red Army. Her hull was scraped by the Polish government from 1947 to 1951.
        The Scharnhorst-class was never able to fulfill it's mission of fighting in the French or British in the North Sea. They were forced into a commerce raiding role which they were not optimized for, and when faced with superior opponents were unable to deal damage back. Their armor was excellent for their displacement, but they did not have the survivability of German WWI battlecruisers. Germany packed a lot of punch into relatively small hulls, an they would have performed well in a hypothetical North Sea engagement. However, when forced into a commerce raiding role or engaging more heavily armored ships, they simply could not do the job.

* All turret armor numbers are taken from Naval Weapons of World War Two by John Campbell.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Flashback Friday: O-class Battlecruisers

     Part of Plan Z was the construction of three O-class battlecruisers. The design originated from a proposal to increase the armament of the proposed P-class to 380mm guns.The O-class was designed for commerce raiding and their specifications show this. By mid-1939 all work on the P-class had stopped and was redirected into the O-class. 
     O-class specifications*:
Displacement                       31,142 tons
Full load displacement          35,367 tons
Waterline length                    246.0m
Waterline beam                     30.0m
Draft (design)                        8.0m
Draft (full load)                      8.8m
Armament                              six 38cm/52 SK C/34 paired
                                             six 15cm/48 Tbts KC/36T paired 
                                             eight 10.5cm/65 SK C/33 paired (AA)
                                             eight 3.7cm/L83 SK C/30 paired (AA)
                                             twenty 2cm/65 C/30 in five quads (AA)
                                             twelve 533mm torpedo tupes in four fixed triple mounts
                                             four Arado-196 floatplanes
Speed                                  33.5 knots at designed displacement
Shaft horsepower                 176,000
Endurance                           14,000 nautical miles at 19 knots
Protection                            90mm upper belt
                                            190mm  main side belt
                                            30 mm upper deck
                                            60mm armor deck
     Let's start with protection. In comparison to the numbers listed above for the O-class, the HMS Hood had a a side belt of 203mm, a 127mm upper belt, an upper deck of 32mm, and a lower deck of 48mm. The O-class had lighter armor than the Hood. On 24 May 1941 the Hood was sunk by a single hit from the Bismarck which penetrated to her magazines, which detonated. The loss of the Hood directly confirmed the insanity of lightly armored capital ships engaging hostile capitals ships. The protection scheme of the O-class was obsolete the second it was designed. The lack of armor may have saved weight, leading to a greater speed, but the cost in staying power was tremendous. For further examples of lightly armored battlecruisers being lost to magazine explosions, look no further than the Indefatigable, Queen Mary and Invincible. All lost to magazine explosions at Jutland. The O-class would have been dead the moment it engaged a battleship.
The explosion of the Queen Mary at Jutland
     Moving on to the armament, this is a spot where the O-class wasn't as bad. The O-class was armed with 6 38cm guns. Though while this armament would have been excellent for sinking merchant vessels, in an engagement with hostile battleships the O-class would have been heavily outgunned. However, the O-class had the advantage in speed over almost every class of battleship that served in WWII (the Iowa-class being the exception). Assuming a hostile battlecrusier had been able to catch an O-class, the gunnery duel would have been almost equal. For comparison the Repulse-class battlecruisers carried six BL 15in MK 1 guns, and the French battleship Dunkerque carried 8 330mm guns. As to the secondary anti-aircraft armament, the O-class would have had very light defenses against air attacks. Only 36 guns of varying calibers. This was light even for German vessels. The Bismarck carried 16 10.5cm AA guns, 16 3.7cm guns, and 20 2cm guns in comparison. 
The Tirpitz firing her main battery
     The power plant for the O-class were eight 24 cylinder MAN diesel engines (V type), arranged four to a shaft. The diesels generated 13750 horsepower each continuously, and had a maximum rating of 15000 horsepower each. The centerline shaft (the O-class would have had three propellers) was driven by a steam turbine and four high temperature and pressure boilers. The operating temperature for the boilers would have been 460 degrees celsius (and could be superheated to 960 degrees celsius), and the operating pressure would have been 55kg per square cm. The steam plant was rated at 55,000 horsepower normally, and 60,000 at maximum. The use of mixture of diesel-steam powerplant allowed a relatively low fuel consumption rate, and an endurance of 14,000nm to 15,000nm at 19 knots. Though, this range would only have been attained with only the diesels in operation. 
     The method in which these ships were to be used, was commerce raiding. It was planned that a task force made up of 3 H-class battleships, an aircraft carrier, with cruisers and destroyer as escorts, would engage convoy escorts. Allowing the battlecruisers to strike the undefended merchant vessels. How this proposed task force would break out of the North Sea, or the English Channel has not been shown. Had such a force attempted a breakout, the British would have undoubtedly sortied the Home Fleet to engage the force. Any O-class vessel attached would have almost assuredly been lost in an such an engagement. It must be remembered that the British were able to keep the Geramn High Seas Fleet bottled up in the North Sea for the duration of WWI. The location of Germany would have precluded the effective use of an O-class battlecruiser as a commerce raider simply because of the gauntlet that would have had to be run to reach the British convoys.
     The O-class is an interesting mental exercise, in what a Bismarck with no armor would look like. However, in combat the glaring lack of armor would have doomed them to penetrating hits to magazine and machinery spaces. The armament was passable, but lacking in the AA role. The mission that was planned for the O-class was, while feasible, do not take into account the location of Germany or the possibility of an encounter with better armored and/or armed opposition. The O-class as designed was a floating coffin, nothing more, nothing less.

*Garzke, William and Dulin, Robert. Battleships: Axis and Neutral Battleships in WWII.
Painting at top by Richard Allison.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Japanese PM Abe Visits Controversial Shrine Honoring WWII Dead

     From the Wall Street Journal:

TOKYO—Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's surprise visit to a shrine linked to the country's militarist past threatens to damage ties with the U.S. and has raised concerns that he may be shifting the spotlight to a nationalist agenda from a focus on the economy.
Mr. Abe visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday, triggering strong criticism from Beijing and Seoul, but also a rare disapproval by Washington, which has pushed the Asian neighbors to mend ties that are strained by territorial disputes and differences over wartime history.
Many Asian nations that suffered from Japan's wartime actions view Yasukuni as a symbol of Tokyo's past militarism because it honors not just Japan's war dead but also some convicted World War II war criminals, including Hideki Tojo, who was prime minister for most of the war.
"The United States is disappointed that Japan's leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan's neighbors," said the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on its website, in an unusual direct criticism of Japan's leader by its main ally.
Mr. Abe has repeatedly said he regretted not visiting the shrine during his first tenure as prime minister from 2006 to 2007 and said his critics misunderstood his intentions. "I offered my respects to those who lost their precious lives for our country, and prayed that their souls may rest in peace," he told reporters after the visit. "I have no intention at all of hurting the feelings of the Chinese or the South Korean people."
Although a well-known conservative who has stated that changing the pacifist constitution drafted by the occupying U.S. forces was his "life's work," Mr. Abe had adopted an economy-first policy after taking office in December 2012, putting his nationalist agenda on the back burner.
Read the rest here.

     This is not good. The fact that this shrine honors bastards like Tojo, is only the surface of this issue. What we are seeing here is one of the precursor events to the return of Japan as a military power in the Western Pacific. Abe's government has already proposed a spending increase for defense, and Abe himself has advocated amending the Japanese constitution to allow for war. A well armed Japan is not a bad thing, rather it is a very good thing. However, a Japan that returns to a militaristic version of the Shinto religion, is a very bad thing. It was the Shinto religion that gave Japan the basis for it's perceived racial superiority in WWII and Bushido, and was instrumental in fueling popular support in Japan for WWII. To have a state endorsement, even a tacit endorsement, of this religion would allow it eventually to seep back into mainstream Japanese culture. This spread could be fueled by tensions over China's aggression with the establishment of their new ADIZ, tensions over the Senkakus, and tensions with South Korea over various small islands.
     Abe stepped over a major line with these actions, not only symbolically spitting in the face of South Korea, but also angering China (though that's not necessarily a bad thing). It is interesting to note that Abe's grandfather on his mother's side (Nobusuke Kishi)was a member of Tojo's WWII cabinet, and made some remarks implying his condoning the actions of Tojo in WWII. In other words, Abe's grandfather supported Tojo and Tojo's actions in WWII.
     Watch Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party over the next few years. Expect rearmament, a possible amendment to the Japanese constitution revising Chapter 2, Article II, and more power given the national government.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Movie For Christmas Eve

A true classic. Gather the family 'round and watch the British Empire at it's peak. A story of victory in the face of almost impossible odds.

Russia Facing A Sub Crunch

From Strategy Page:

December 23, 2013: In late 2013 the Russian navy announced that plans to refurbish its nine Akula class SSNs (nuclear attack subs) would take longer than expected. In fact, the first Akula will be out of service for three years for the upgrade. The other eight subs will get done more quickly, but the entire job will take at least a decade and probably closer to fifteen years. The refurb involves replacing most if the wiring and electrical systems as well as the missile handling equipment. Many mechanical systems will be replaced of upgraded. The end result will be a much quieter sub and that’s very important in undersea warfare.

In early 2013 the Russian Navy announced more optimistic plans for upgrading its nine Akulas. The first of these entered service in 1984, and fifteen were built. Several were cancelled after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and some have been retired already. The latest Akula entered service two years ago and was then leased to India.
These 8,100 ton boats were to be replaced by the new Graney (Yasen) class subs. That has not worked out so far because of problems with the Graneys. Moreover, the Russian Navy is not getting enough money to replace their rapidly aging nuclear subs, so it was decided to invest a year or two and over $100 million each for the existing Akulas to be upgraded and refurbished so they can remain in service for another decade or two.

The refurb on the first Akula will take at a lot longer (at least three years) because since the end of the Cold War in 1991 a lot of technical documents on the Akula have been lost and many of the skilled engineers and technicians for this sort of work have retired or gone to work in more lucrative non-defense jobs. This was not fully appreciated when the initial upgrade plans were announced earlier in 2013. So recruiting sufficient skilled staff and sorting out how to take apart an Akula and put it back together again will mean more time will be required to upgrade all nine of the Akulas.

Meanwhile, the Graney SSGNs (nuclear powered cruise missile sub) were delayed twice in 2012. Sea trials revealed that the nuclear reactor did not produce the required power and that the ability of the boat to remain quiet while under water was not what it should be. An underpowered and noisy sub is not acceptable, and the navy is demanding that the builder make it all better before 2014. That was not possible because of the shortages of qualified people to do this sort of work. This problem has produced a growing list of embarrassing failures.

Earlier, undisclosed problems with the first Graney have postponed it from entering service for at least a year. That will mean, if the latest delay is the last one, the first Graney will enter service twenty years after construction began. These problems are not restricted to the Graney, as other new subs are also encountering numerous construction and design problems.

In early 2011, the fifty man crew of the first Graney took their boat to sea, or at least around the harbor, for the first time. Sea trials were to begin three months later but first the sub took baby steps to ensure that everything worked. These harbor trials were seen as a major progress. Things went downhill again after that, with a growing number of delays as more and more problems were encountered.

Read the rest here.

     The short and sweet of the story is that Russia is have a problem with getting enough money to replace the Akula-class boats. Thus, the Russians are going to upgrade the existing Akulas to be useable for another ~20 years. However, the Russians are having trouble finding the technological know-how to make the upgrades. Not only that, but supposedly a lot of documentation of the Akulas was lost in the collapse of the USSR.
     This is indicative of how things are going to look for a lot of countries through the next few decades. All the ships that were built in the 1980s and 1990s to fight the Cold War are going to reach the end of their lifespan, leaving a gap in fleets. Some ships might have the potential to be modernized to get a few ore years out of them (like the Akulas), but the industry memory from their construction is gone. And, the money to build replacement will be unavailable as it gets put into other areas of government. Expect what the Russians are going through to be repeated here in the U.S.  in the near future as the defense budget is cut, and the deficit grows.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Mikhail Kalashnikov Dead at 94

     From Defense News:

MOSCOW — Mikhail Kalashnikov, the designer of fabled AK-47 automatic rifle, died Monday, the office of the presidency in the Udmurtia region where he worked said. He was 94.
Kalashnikov designed a weapon that became synonymous with killing on a sometimes indiscriminate scale but was seen in the Soviet Union as a national hero and symbol of Moscow’s proud military past.
“He died about one-and-a-half hours ago,” Viktor Chulkov, the spokesman for the Udmurtia leader Alexander Volkov, told AFP.
Lavished with honors including the prestigious Hero of Russia prize for designing the iconic rifle, Kalashnikov has said he had never intended for it to become the preferred weapon in conflicts around the world.
“I created a weapon to defend the fatherland’s borders. It’s not my fault that it was sometimes used where it shouldn’t have been. This is the fault of politicians,” he said during an award ceremony at the Kremlin to mark his 90th birthday.
Read the rest here.

The AK-series has been in pretty much every flare up since Vietnam. It's been used to kill a lot of Americans. But, a man cannot be faulted for defending his country. And to give credit were it is due, the AK is probably the most reliable weapon every produced. RIP Kalishnikov, you earned it.

Poland Picks Up 119 Leopard 2s

     From Strategy Page:

Poland has agreed to buy 119 more German Leopard 2 tanks for about $2 million each and the deal includes lots of spare parts and support equipment. Most of these are 2A5s although 14 are older 2A4s. Back in 2003 Poland obtained 128 of these tanks from Germany for the bargain basement price of $21.6 million along with 23 MiG-29 fighters for only $30 million. The tanks were selected by Polish tank experts from among the three hundred Leopard 2s recently placed in storage after being taken out of service by the downsized German Army. The original 128 Leopards still had at least 75 percent of their operational life remaining. That deal includes 8 Buffel armored recovery vehicles, four Biber bridgelayers, four Keiler mine-clearing tanks, and ten M577 command post vehicles.

Read the rest here.

This is a major upgrade for Poland, currently they are using upgraded T-72s known as the PT-91. Not only that, but this is a further effect of Poland arming up to warn off Russia. Relations between Russia and Poland are not exactly the warmest Europe at the moment. Keep an eye on Poland for more arms buys in the near future.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Opinion: EDC Kit Basics

     I don't usually talk about myself or my life, they simply don't fit with the purpose of GQ! most of the time. However, today I'd like to talk about what I view as the key essentials for every man and woman to have on their person at all (or almost all) times. 
1. The first and most important of all is a wallet. Your wallet contains ID, a CHL  (if you have one), and money. All three of which are key to daily life, or identification if forced to deal with law enforcement. This should be the foundation of a person's EDC kit. I use an old leather Columbia tri-fold and it serves quite well.
2. Phone. A phone is ranked for the sole purpose of communication. If cut off from home for whatever reason a phone allows you to contact family or friends to secure aid or see how they are doing. It also allows you to contact law enforcement if something is going on that shouldn't be going on. Make sure whatever phone you have is durable, has good battery life, and you have a carrier with good coverage. 
3. Knife. A sturdy pocket knife can be invaluable. Good steel, good edge retention, and quick deployment. Make sure any knife you carry is legal in your area. My personal choice for a pocket knife currently is a Kershaw Brawler, with an SOG Trident as backup. I carried a Kershaw RJI for years before I messed up the Speedsafe mechanism when I opened the knife up. I really like Kershaw's combination of their Speedsafe system in tandem with a liner lock. The combination allows one handed use (if you know what your doing, it takes some practice not to cut yourself) and speed in deployment. But, it really is a matter of personal preference. Do your research and find what fits your budget.
4. Flashlight. A flashlight can be used in working on a car, crawling around in the attic, or anything in a low light environment. I like Four Sevens lights a lot, but they can be a bit pricey. Find a light with a good output, varying brightnesses, durable, and batteries that be easily found. 

These four items are the basics of my personal kit which I carry daily. Here are a couple more items which I have found are excellent additions, but are not essential.

A multitool. A solid multitool can be a major asset in doing anything from making minor car repairs to fixing a door hinge. There are a lot of good multi-tool makers out there, Gerber, Leatherman, Victorinox, and others. I carry a Leatherman Wave, which I like a lot. It's a bit on the pricey side though. 60 on Amazon. The thing that sealed the deal for me on Leatherman was the ability to use a bit kit and an extender with it. A bit kit is a set of 20 double sided 1/4in bits ranging from a 1/4in hex bit to a Torx #25 bit. It allows you to carry a miniaturized set of screwdrivers with you.  Regardless of what model or maker a multi-tool is a great addition to an EDC kit.
Fixed blade knives. I don't always carry a fixed blade simply because I am unable to conceal it satisfactorily with what I'm wearing. I generally carry them more to use as a box cutter or something innocuous like that. I carry a CS Kobun and a S&W HRT7T in my boots, and occasionally a SOG Seal Pup on my belt under a jacket. These tend to be the least used items on my person, but they are good to have just in case. 
A pistol. If you have a CHL I highly recommend you use it. If you have jumped through the hoops to get a CHL you probably know the legal implications and rules governing your actions using a pistol. So, I won't bother going there. I don't have a CHL at the moment. I intend to get one when I have the funds to so. I won't give my opinions on what make a good carry piece, because I don't have any experience conceal carrying (if someone does have experience, recommendations on a carry piece would be greatly appreciated in the comments). Regardless, if you have a CHL, use it. A pistol is a game changer in self-defense and allows you to go on the offense against most assailants. 
     I write this post to give my opinion on what I think an EDC kit should look like, and my opinions on certain tools. These are my opinions and mine alone. Take what you see here and do your research. If you buy a knife, multitool, flashlight, hell even a wallet, research the item. Find out about problems this or that item may have had, find a solution, see what people are saying about that piece of kit. Learn from what others put out there and make your decisions wisely. 
     Finally, with whatever you carry, be sane, be normal, don't attract attention, and don't do any thing stupid. Keep your mouth shut about what your carrying unless asked by a police officer, don't flip out a knife in public unless you really have to, and keep you kit concealed. Thanks for reading this, and be safe out there.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Flashback Friday: Plan Z

     This week's Flashback Friday is an overview of Nazi Germany's Plan Z. In January of 1939 Adolf Hitler ordered a build up of the Kriegsmarine, which by 1945 would have looked something like this:
  • 2 Aircraft Carriers
  • 10 Battleships (Six H-class,  2 Bismarck-class, and 2 Scharnhorst-class)
  • 3 O-class battlecruisers
  • 12 P-class Panzerschiffe (pocket battleships)
  • 3 Deutschland-class Panzerschiffe
  • 5 Heavy cruisers
  • 36 M-class light cruisers
  • 24 Spahkreuzer (large destroyers or reconnaissance cruisers)
  • 68 Destroyers
  • 90 Torpedo boats
  • 249 U-boats
     A few things stand out from this plan. First, the emphasis is on surface ships which fits with Hitler's intent on challenging the Royal Navy. Second, too few destroyers are planned compared to the number of cruisers and battleships. Only two destroyers for every BB and cruiser, in comparison the U.S. had about four destroyers for every BB or cruiser. Third, few U-boats. Plan Z did not plan for the massive U-boat campaign in the Atlantic, and the planned U-boat numbers show this. Finally, there is a distant emphasis on surface commerce raiding in the form of the 12 P-class pocket battleships in addition to the 3 Duetschland-class vessels.  
     Plan Z had the sole mission of giving Nazi Germany the ability to challenge the Royal Navy for control of the North Sea, the North Atlantic and nearby waters. Had the plan the plan been completed it would have easily broken local Royal Navy control*. However, had the two fleets met in battle a la Jutland the outcome is debatable. The Royal Navy would have had all the KGVs, Lion-class, and the Vanguard. 12 new BBs in addition to the Hood, Nelson, Rodney, and 12 other WWI-era BBs. 27 battleships, of which 14 of which were modern, against 10 modern German BBs of varying capabilities (the Scharnhorst-class was more of a battlecruiser design). This also leaves out the question of escorts and the influence of naval air power which was instrumental in the Pacific and in sinking the Bismarck.
     In the end Plan Z was another Nazi pipe dream because of the titanic economic costs and British naval and shipbuilding superiority. It provides fodder for what-if scenarios today, but was of little practical value in WWII.

*Clarification, the German Navy would have been able to break out of the North Sea and Bay of Biscay (assuming France would have fallen if the war had started in 1945) with relative impunity.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Brazil Goes Swedish

From International Business Times:

After a decade of discussion, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff announced Wednesday the acquisition of 36 Gripen NG fighter jets, from Sweden’s Saab (STO:SAAB-B), for the FX-2 program of the Brazilian Air Force.

Defense Minister Celso Amorim and Gen. Juniti Saito, the air force's chief of staff, said at a press conference after the official announcement that the planes will be delivered in 4 years. The total cost of the deal will be $4.5 billion.
"The choice took into account performance, technology transfer and cost, not only for acquisition but also for maintenance. The decision was based on the best balance of those factors," Amorim said. 
The decision puts an end to 10 years of speculation and delays on the transaction, which started as a plan under former President Luiz Inácio (Lula) da Silva. Three contenders stepped up to the bid: France’s Dassault (EPA:AM), with the Rafale model; Boeing Co. (NYSE:BA), with the F/A-18 e/F Super Hornet; and the eventual winners, with the smaller Gripen. In the early stages of the negotiation, Lula expressed preference for the Rafale, but the French contender fell out of favor at the end of Lula's second and last term in 2010, and was finally rejected on Tuesday due to its high cost.
The article goes on to cite the NSA scandal as the reason for Brazil picking Saab over Boeing who was offering the Super Hornet. Regardless, congratulations to Saab as this decision is a decade in coming and is well deserved in my opinion. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

I Am Still Here

     This picture has been GQ! for the last four months. Run aground, spilling oil, and not doing much in general. For that, I apologize. Work and family commitments have kept me away from Blogger. However, I will begin posting this week, expect the first Flashback Friday in a very long while with some other odds and ends. For the long term posting will not be daily, but will be something like every other day.