On Oct. 29, 1814 The U.S. Navy launched its first steam powered warship, designed by Robert Fulton.
Naval History Magazine, August 2011
After inventing weapons for foreign powers, Robert Fulton built the world’s first steam warship for America, a vessel that might have transformed naval warfare if fate had allowed.
The outpouring of public mourning when Robert Fulton died, on 23 February 1815 at age 49, was unprecedented for an American private citizen. The passing of a mind that was considered a major national asset caused The New York Evening Post to lament, “His is the only loss for which the public has no indemnity.”
Fulton’s best-known achievement, the development of steamboat travel, largely centered in his last decade after he had spent nearly 20 years in Europe. Leading a sometime unconventional life overseas, Fulton developed and employed naval armaments for France and Britain at a time both countries posed threats to the new nation. Fortunately for his reputation and ambitions, it was an age when private lives of the famous mostly stayed private and citizens could negotiate deals with foreign nations that now might be considered treasonous. Redeeming himself during the War of 1812, Fulton built the world’s first steam warship to defend New York City. However, events prevented a demonstration of the vessel’s unique qualities in battle and an opportunity for Fulton to revolutionize naval warfare as he did transportation.
Influenced by his father’s bankruptcy and family hardship after the father’s early death, Fulton avidly pursued material success all his life. An early ambition was to win fame and fortune as an artist. To obtain training and exposure at the center of the art world, Fulton journeyed to London in 1787 armed with a letter of introduction to noted American artist Benjamin West. Generous in his support of young American artists, West was just one in a succession of influential people who, charmed by the handsome, diligent, and self-assured Fulton, helped to advance his career. Commissioned to paint the portrait of Viscount William Courtenay, a flamboyant young homosexual, Fulton stayed with him a year and a half, winning further commissions from Courtenay’s companions. Although little else is known about that time, Fulton probably participated in his host’s activities to some extent, which might help to explain his unconventional lifestyle later.
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral George W. Anderson Jr. was part of the inner circle of military officers advising President John F. Kennedy on how to deal with the Soviet Union’s shipping missiles to Cuba.
In October 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and the Soviet Union perched precariously on the brink of nuclear war. At this time of extreme challenge for U.S. leadership, there were serious disagreements within that echelon. In the event, the United States prevailed.
In 1983, the U.S. Naval Institute published The Reminiscences of Admiral George W. Anderson , an oral history in which the former Chief of Naval Operations reflected on his role in the crisis and on the controversial nature of his one-term tour as CNO. Excerpts from those recollections presented here are of enduring value.
President John F. Kennedy and a new generation took office in January 1961. If there were hopes for improved relations at the outset, Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev soon found themselves on a road turning rocky. In April, the U.S. move to oust Fidel Castro from Cuba in the Bay of Pigs invasion failed miserably. In June, during their summit talks in Vienna, Austria, Khrushchev measured Kennedy as weak and pushed ahead on three fronts: strengthening the Soviet strategic nuclear arsenal; cutting off East and West Berlin with the Berlin Wall; establishing a stronger presence in the Western Hemisphere; and introducing a growing array of arms to Cuba.
On 1 October, the President appointed Army General Maxwell Taylor, center, to take over for General Lyman Lemnitzer as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Taylor had been serving in the White House as military representative to the President. Flanking Taylor, left to right, are Army Chief of Staff General Earle Wheeler, Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral George Anderson, and Commandant of the Marine Corps General David Shoup. Navy History and Hertigae Command
Naval History Magazine October, 2012
From manning quarantine lines to flying reconnaissance missions to preparing for an invasion, the U.S. Navy played instrumental roles during the Cuban Missile Crisis 50 years ago.
On a tense day in October 1962, the USS Allan M. Sumner(DD-692) was about 500 miles off the northern shore of Cuba, trailing a Soviet freighter. President John F. Kennedy, after learning that the Soviet Union was sending ballistic missiles to the island nation, had proclaimed a quarantine against ships carrying offensive arms there. The Cuban Missile Crisis had moved from the White House and the Kremlin to the sea, and suddenly the crisis was focused on the Sumner .
“I was in the wheelhouse,” Quartermaster Third Class Bob Bourassa remembered. “The freighter was about 1000 yds off our port side.” When the transport failed to respond to an order to stop, Commander William J. Flynn, captain of the Sumner , sent a handwritten message down to the radio shack “and after the first message was returned to him, he instructed the guns to be turned toward the freighter.” After a while, Commander Flynn sent down a second message. Before it was answered, “the freighter came to a stop . . . backed down for some time, stopped and then turned around and sailed eastward.” 1
That was the Navy on the quarantine line—ships ready for action and a command system that reached from the Pentagon and President Kennedy to destroyer captains and their crews. Before the crisis ended, the Navy would have more than 140 ships in the Caribbean and over 350 combat aircraft at area airfields. 2 They were responding to a Cold War confrontation that had begun in September 1960 when the Soviet freighter Atkarsk arrived at Nikolaev, the Black Sea port used for exporting weapons and military equipment from the Soviet Union.
This week in a speech in Virginia, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney talked about his plan to build a 350-ship Navy, boosting spending on current programs and creating two new ship designs. But affordability is a key detail in any procurement discussion, and it’s one piece of the puzzle that the Romney camp is still fleshing out. Romney also did not identify any new requirements for a 350-ship fleet.
There is no doubt shipbuilding is a priority for whomever occupies the White House for the next four years. The Navy’s current roster of ships is near its smallest since 1916, when then-President Woodrow Wilson signed the Naval Act authorizing a massive build-up. At Wilson’s behest and with congressional approval, the Navy built 10 battleships, six battlecruisers, 30 submarines, 50 destroyers and other support vessels over three years, tripling the size of the sea service by 1919. Wilson’s 752-ship Navy was the high-water mark for decades, and his push leading up to World War I is credited with establishing U.S. naval dominance in the 20th century. But the expansion came at a cost — some $500 million at the time or a mere $10.2 billion in current-year dollars. But today’s ships are different by nearly all metrics — mission, capability, sophistication, size and cost among other factors.
Nearly a century later, Congress finds itself in much the same quandary as Wilson — an aging fleet of warships in need of modernization and, some say, expansion. The U.S. fleet as a whole has been on a slow decline since the late 1980s, bottoming out at 278 ships in 2007. The Navy says it needs between 310 and 316 ships to meet all its obligations around the world, a number that has remained roughly unchanged since the 1994 Quadrennial Defense Review.
Proceedings, Oct. 2012
In August, the Royal Navy released details of its next surface combatant, the Type 26, a modular ship. Announced plans are to build 13 of these vessels to replace the surviving 13 Type 23 frigates. All were intended primarily for antisubmarine warfare (ASW); the Type 23s were conceived as minimum towed-array ships to work in the Greenland-Iceland-UK (GIUK) Gap mainly in support of maritime patrol aircraft. With the end of the Cold War, this mission disappeared, and the Type 23s found themselves carrying out a wide variety of peacetime missions, such as drug interdiction in the Caribbean and anti-piracy work off Somalia. An incidental effect of the change from harsh GIUK waters to calmer ones is that the ships’ hulls have lasted far longer than expected. (Cynics may suspect that the ships’ longevity is really the consequence of successive governments’ reluctance to buy replacements on a timely basis.)
Comparing the Type 26 to the U.S. Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) shows how wide a range the concept of modularity covers. The Type 26 is a 5,500-ton frigate that can be built in one of at least two versions. In appearance it is a scaled-down Type 45 destroyer with the same sort of tower foremast, in this case topped by the Artisan three-dimensional radar rather than the big Sampson of the Type 45. The Type 26 was conceived as part of a long-running project to design a Future Surface Combatant, which was originally to have been built in three versions of varying capability (and cost).
The Type 26 is apparently the ASW variant, presumably a direct replacement for the current Type 23, with much the same systems as the projected modernized Type 23. They include the Sea Centor vertically launched suface-to-air missile (replacing the current Seawolf) and the Type 2087 low-frequency active-passive sonar (towed pinger plus array plus medium-frequency bow array). Sea Centor is an active-radar-guided derivative of the current British short-range air-to-air missile, also known as CAMMS (Common Modular Missile System). It uses an uplink for mid-course guidance. The ship will have a single gun, either the 4.5-inch currently standard in the Royal Navy, or perhaps a derivative of the U.S. 5-inch/62 (BAE owns United Defense, which makes the U.S. gun). There may be provision for a more powerful gun; in the past BAE has advertised a 155-mm gun within the footprint of its 4.5 inch.
The Russian navy was in parlous straits during the 1990s and the early 2000s. Suffering a series of spectacular disasters including, the sinking of the Kursk submarine with the loss of all hands. Operational hardships were occurred with a background of budgetary scarcity and decay. Since then Russia’s navy has been slowly getting back on its feet with a steady increase in naval activity and an increasingly visible presence in the world’s oceans. But while training and combat readiness have generally improved, Russia’s shipbuilding industry has decayed badly; perhaps past the point of no return.
INS Vikramaditya in June. Sevmash Photo
The Russians recently unveiled a number of impressive sounding naval re-armament plans as part of the their general push to re-equip their armed forces with modern equipment. Announcing a plan is easy. Constructing modern warships is hard. While the Russians have been very good on the planning side of the ledger, they’ve been bad in the construction side. We can get a clear picture of the still-decrepit and chaotic state of the Russian shipbuilding industry by looking at refurbishment work they’re doing for the Indian navy. The carrier Baku was re-christened by the Russians as the Admiral Gorshkov and later sold to the Indian navy and renamed the Vikramaditya. Since the ship has gone through so many name changes, we’ll stick with calling it Vikramaditya for clarity’s sake.
In an apparent reaction to the recently concluded multinational minesweeping exercise in the Persian Gulf and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance before the United Nations, Iran released film and video of its latest unmanned aerial system (UAS). Iran calls the new UAS Shahed-129 (or Witness-129). The Guardian news website provided the following transcript of Iranian television coverage of the Shahed-129 flight demonstration: “The new drone . . . can carry out combat and reconnaissance missions with its 24-hour non-stop flight capability.” The transcript goes on to report, “home-made aircraft is capable of hitting targets at a distance of 1,700-2,000 kilometers… [and] can be equipped with electronic and communication systems including cameras which can capture and send live images.”
Images from Iranian television of the Shahed-129.
While the Shahed-129’s flight performance claims may be exaggerated, the system nonetheless will join several other indigenously manufactured Iranian unmanned aircraft. For U.S. sailors operating in the Persian Gulf sightings of Iranian-built drones are a common. The fact is, Iran has been manufacturing reconnaissance drones since the 1980s, when they began building and flying the Mohajer systems during the Iran-Iraq War. The Mohajer was followed by a line of indigenously built systems such as the mass produced Ababil. The smaller Ababil UAS has been exported to Hezbollah forces, who used it against Israel in the 2006 conflict in southern Lebanon. More recent reports indicate that Syrian government forces may be using this system to locate and target rebel forces in Syria. The Ababil also made headlines in February 2009 when an Iranian controlled drone was shot down by a US F-16 after making an incursion into Iraqi airspace. So clearly then the, Shahed-129 is just the latest in a long line of Iranian built systems that Iran routinely operates. By all appearances, robotic systems have been part of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s military arsenal since the early days of the revolution.
On Monday the Pentagon ceased production of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (MRAP), perhaps the most iconic acquisition program of the past ten years. The trucks were designed and built in response to the urgent need to protect service members in Iraq from the pervasive improvised explosive device (IED) threat. The vehicle went through five different iterations and the production lines produced 27,740 trucks. The total price tag came to $47.7 billion. For all the investment, what are we left with?
Mine resistant ambush protected vehicles offloaded from the Military Sealift Command roll-on/roll-off ship USNS Pililaau in Kuwait in 2008. U.S. Navy Photo
The vehicle may be of use to the U.S. Army, but there is little place for the armored monstrosities in the Marine Corps. They are too heavy to be practical on the Navy’s amphibious warships. Marine Corps and Navy leaders rightly are concerned about the weight of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, so the weight issue is a red line for integrating the trucks into permanent service. Any MRAPs remaining on the Marine Corps rolls will most likely be stripped of their radios and mothballed.
The Federal government’s fiscal year comes to an end on September 30, and for the sixth straight time, lawmakers will need more time to figure out how they will pay the bills for next year. This is the ninth time in 11 years that Congress has looked to a temporary spending measure, called a Continuing Resolution (CR), to delay decisions on the nation’s funding priorities, 56 times in all since 2001. Last year’s budget debate required seven CRs and took until April to resolve. In August, House and Senate leaders agreed to a longer term approach, announcing that Congress would move forward with a six month package, pushing-off the decision on specific funding levels until after elections are over and a new Congress is sworn-in.
While the CR will allow the federal government to continue spending money into the new fiscal year, it also puts limitations on how that money can be spent, and those limits are especially acute for the Defense Department (DoD). DoD has enjoyed more than a decade of increasing budget top-lines and used those funds to address the changing needs of a force at war, but lawmakers were poised to cut defense spending next year for the first time since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Instead, the CR, approved last week by the House and set for a vote this week in the Senate, will boost the base budget by more than a half-percent to $519 billion. Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) would be funded at proposed fiscal year 2013 levels, a reduction of $26.5 billion.
As with any spending measure, there are winners and losers with the CR. Though Congress will provide DoD with more money than previously expected, the Department will lose some of its flexibility in spending it. The Navy is hit particularly hard by funding restrictions and policy caveats that could impact current operations, future readiness and long-term planning priorities.
USS Theodore Roosevelt undergoing a complex overhaul in 2011 at Newport News, Va. U.S. Navy Photo
At the top of the priority list for the sea service is the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). The 26-year old ship is in the final stages of a three-year-long maintenance and modernization period in Newport News, Virginia that the Navy calls a Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH). By the time the TR sets back to sea in 2013, the ship will have new nuclear fuel in its two reactors, upgraded combat and communication systems throughout, and repairs will be made to the ship’s hull, mechanical and electrical systems to keep her viable until at least 2036. The process costs nearly $2.5 billion, but funding for the current phase will dry-up in less than 5 months unless Congress approves new spending for the work. So far, though, this year’s CR does not include funding to finish the overhaul.
Reagan Readied U.S. Warship for ’82 Falklands War
While publicly claiming neutrality between Argentina and the U.K. during the 1982 Falklands War, President Ronald Reagan’s administration had developed plans to loan a ship to the Royal Navy if it lost one of its aircraft carriers in the war, former U.S. Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, told the U.S. Naval Institute on June 26. more
Combat Fleets ’82: U.K. Carriers in the Falklands
In the event of the loss of a British carrier in the 1982 Falklands War, the U.S. was prepared to loan a helicopter carrier to the U.K. Royal Navy.
Collected are the entries from the 1982/1983 Combat Fleets of the World of the British carriers and the ship the U.S. had prepared to loan the Royal Navy. more