The Bow Ramp

Saturday, March 26, 2005

LCS Part I

Over the last few years, I have commented in one place or another about where the Navy seems to be going with the concept of Littoral Combat. Essentially, the idea is that the U.S. Navy no longer has any potential enemies that could challenge it on the high seas. On the other hand, the United States may very well find itself fighting a regional war where the current mix of ships is either inadequate or overkill. The plan is to develop new ship types and tactics to better fight that sort of war in conjunction with the Navy we already have and need to maintain. One of the pieces of that strategy is the proposed Littoral Combat Ship. The rationale for LCS comes from the fact that there are never enough men or ships to do what you would like to do.

A little History

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Navy was tasked with interdicting Soviet ships transporting military equipment to Cuba. Even though Cuba is a small country it took a very large number of Navy ships and aircraft to effectively blockade it. All of those ships (Cruisers, Destroyers, Destroyer Escorts, Etc.) had large crews, were very expensive to operate, and were major overkill against an un-armed merchant ship. From one of the lessons-learned of that episode came the Ashville class Patrol Gunboat.
If I recall correctly, the Ashville’s were the last Navy ship type that was designed by actual Navy (as opposed to naval) architects. Since then, the Navy has relied exclusively on civilians to design their ships. The idea was to design a ship that was lightly crewed, fast, relatively cheap to operate, and reasonably armed. In addition, it would need the capacity to stay on station for several days or weeks without returning to port. That was actually a monumental task. Some of the problems they had to overcome included:
Ships of that day were very manpower intensive; there was little or no automation.
The existing power plant options (diesel and steam) each had scalability issues in a small, fast hull.
Seakeeping. Small ships/boats typically have a difficult time in heavy seas.

The final design achieved most of the goals through some definite “out of the box” thinking. These PGs incorporated a lot of “firsts” for the Navy. In order to have a sufficient loiter time, the ship had two diesel engines for economical cruising. For high-speed operations, the PGs were equipped with an LM1500 gas turbine. The diesels and turbine were coupled through reduction gears to twin shafts with variable pitch screws. The engine controls were automated and could be directly controlled from the bridge or the Enclosed Operating Space (EOS.) The EOS was another first for the Navy. In order to keep the weight down, the hull was constructed of aluminum and the superstructure was fiberglass. The weapons systems were not so innovative on most of the PGs. The standard armament was an enclosed 3”/50 Cal. Gun forward, a 40mm gun aft and twin .50 Cal. Machine guns on the bridge wings. They were equipped with a MK63 fire control system. All of those items were off-the-shelf. The original manning was a crew of 28 (four officers and 24 enlisted.) Two of the Ashville’s (USS Antelope and USS Ready) were equipped with experimental MK87 digital fire control systems. In 1971, the 40mm guns were removed from Antelope and Ready and replaced with missile launcher boxes. Two other PGs (USS Grand Rapids and USS Douglas) were also subsequently fitted with missiles, but not the digital fire control system.

There were a total of seventeen Ashville’s built. The first one was commissioned in 1966 and the last one decommissioned in 1977. The class did have some problems. The original diesel engines were poorly designed and failed frequently. The Navy sued the manufacturer and eventually won; forcing the manufacturer to upgrade the engines twice. The stainless steel screws were prone to severe pitting from cavitation at high speeds. Follow on PGs were built with monel screws that did not have the problem, but the older ones were never back fitted. The original surface search radars failed regularly and were also subsequently replaced. Being experimental, the digital fire control systems on Antelope and Ready were frequently out of commission for the first few years. The Ashville’s served in Vietnam both on coastal patrol and up some of the larger rivers—coming under fire on numerous occasions. Later, some of them were home ported in the Mediterranean Sea.

When they were designed, it was still the “Old Navy” and crew comfort was not much of a consideration. They were cramped and rough riders. Being aboard one during a storm was no picnic. The crew could get pretty worn-out after a couple of weeks at sea.

It was the best duty I ever had in 23 years in the Navy.

By 1975, they were all gone. The Navy was shrinking, the manpower was needed elsewhere and the habitability issues did them in. But they left a legacy. All of the subsequent surface combatants were powered with gas turbines. They were all equipped with digital fire control radars and missiles.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Return of Bravo Co.

Today I took and extended lunch and went downtown to greet our local National Guard unit as they returned from their year in Iraq. Bravo Co. 2/162 came home to Corvallis with a police escort, cheering crowds, flags, and streets lined with yellow ribbons. I have to congratulate the military for rotating entire units rather than individuals as happened mostly in Vietnam. My own experience coming back from Vietnam in '69 was less than stellar.

Here is some of the crowd beginning to gather

The buses have just come over the bridge leading into town

Two bus loads of happy troops

Finally, a special thanks to this wonderful lady. She has been an inspiration to everyone in our area who supports the troops.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Liveblogging from AJ's
I'm starting the evening off right by blogging on my Treo from AJ's on Second, the local Irish pub in beautiful, downtown Corvallis.

Mmmm, stout! Its a crappy picture-no flash on this thing. Anyway, the evening is young and the band hasn't started yet. Hopefully more later.

[Posted with hblogger 2.0]

Test Post of Image from PDA
Let's see if I can upload this photo from myTreo

[Posted with hblogger 2.0]

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Site Sitrep

I haven't posted for a bit, but I have been busy - a little red lead on the deck, some grease on the anchor cable, etc.

I have enabled trackbacks, installed Sitemeter and have been accepted into the Milblogs Ring (thank you Greyhawk)

Whew, time for a shower and some chow.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Border Security

Earlier today I dropped a comment over at Winds of Change about border security. It was my basic position that trying to seal our borders against terrorists is not cost effective. I thought I would expand on those comments here.

Our borders encompass the entire perimeter of the country. The Mexican border, the Canadian border and the entire Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts. Thousands upon thousands of miles of terrain ranging from urban beaches to rugged mountain peaks. Now being an ex swab-jockey, I will limit my comments to defending our oceanic borders.

Back in the '70s the gunboat I was on spent a lot of time hiding from, and sneaking up on the fleet. That was shortly after the ship returned from Vietnam, where they spent a lot of time trying to interdict North Vietnamese infiltrators. If we were to place the entire Navy and Coast Guard to the sole task of stopping people from sneaking into the country from the sea we couldn't do it. I can think of at least half a dozen ways off the top of my head to sneak ashore despite anything the government could do. Now, I will admit the U.S. could slow down infiltration a little bit by taking a few simple steps like impounding every single privately owned boat in America, Mexico, and Canada!

I could go on -- if I had all night. The point I am trying to make is that none of the people I know of who are pushing to seal the borders have never actually had to try doing it. Any serious attempt to block terrorists from entering the country would be unacceptably expensive.

Now I'm sure there are many people who would like to blow holes in my contention. If any of you find this post, please fire away. I would love to debate the issue.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Big Two-Oh

As has been mentioned in many blogs, Greyhawk over at Mudville Gazette has hit the 20 year mark in the Army. This got me thinking about my own retirement. I finally hung up my stripes in '89 after nearly 23 years in Uncle Sam's Navy. That was a very bittersweet moment. My reasons for leaving were approximately:
I was older than dirt. The Master Chief who worked for me was in the 5th grade when I joined.
My girls were getting older. The wife and figured it would be nice for them to spend several years in the same school for once.
I had promoted myself out of any fun job in the Navy. From that point on, I could look forward to steering a desk. Not that I hadn't been doing that for several years already, but at least the desk was on a steel deck.
I was pretty much burnt out. Twenty some years of putting your utmost into the job can finally catch up to you.

On the other hand, fifteen years later; I still wake up every morning and wish it was my uniform I was putting on. Good luck GH, whatever you decide to do.

Navy Concept Cars

No, the Navy doesn't make automobiles, but over the years, the Navy has created a number of "concept" ships and craft to study the feasibility of various technologies. As in the automobile world, most of these never make it into production, but the technologies frequently make their way into the fleet. This post prompted by a photo over at Castle Argghhh!!! I thought I'd put up a few photos of various Navy concepts that have been built over the years and comment on what became of them. All of these platforms were built (among other things) to test various methods of overcoming one of the principle problems of operating small, patrol-type ships -- the rough ride.

First up is the PGH. There were two of them built and they were used to evaluate the concept of hydrofoils. Hydrofoils eventually were used in the PHMs. That was a class of six patrol boats that were eventually decommissioned. One reason for decommissioning was because two of them ran aground at high speed; causing extensive damage and injuries.

The next three examples are the Sea Slice, Sea Shadow, and Sea Fighter. All three of these experimentals are variations of catamaran/semi-submerged hull form. Although not as fast as a hydrofoil, these hulls can carry more payload and if something (like an engine) fails, the results aren't nearly as catastrophic. The catamaran hull seems to have a lot of potential and the Sea Fighter is probably close to something the Navy could produce in fairly large numbers.

Still Truckin'

I just realized that my old LCU is the only ship or craft that I was ever stationed on that is still in service. Boy does that date me. The old girl must be about 40 years old by now. Another small-boy I was on was an old WW II fleet tug. She was 43 years old when we transferred her to the Mexican Navy. Both of those old girls have one thing in common K.I.S.S. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it stands for "keep it simple, stupid!" Not fast. Lots of redundancy. Everything manual. Fairly cheap.

One of the long standing arguments in the services is over quantity vs. quality. I think that this particular argument is so long-standing because there is no clear winner. Both design philosophies have advantages and disadvantages. In the amphibious assault world, the LCU is the low-end solution. The high-end solution is the LCAC. The LCU is slower, but can carry more cargo. The LCAC can cross the beach and come ashore, but it gulps a lot more fuel. The LCU requires a larger crew. The LCAC requires more support infrastructure.

It doesn't matter which landing craft is better. They are both in use because together they can accomplish more than either one alone. Of course, that is my opinion only. I have been out of the loop for many years and I am not privy to the inner thoughts of the Navy Department. Yet, 25 years after the introduction of the LCAC, the LCU is still out there moving men and equipment ashore. Bravo Zulu.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Test Post from Email

I'll see if this email comes through as a post.  Last night I added a new masthead to the blog.  The photo was taken recently and was obtained from the Navy Newstand at  I will put an atribution on it when I figure out how to do it other than imbedding it in the picture.  The reason I grabbed that photo, is that I don't have any external photos of an LCU from my personal collection.  Too many moves over the years have put some chronological dents in the visual record of my life.  Anyway, that photo gives you an idea of the size of  an LCU.  They were designed with a crew of twelve in mind, but at the time I was aboard, we had eight.  We were also the "kiddie crew" at the unit.  Until the OINC messed-up and got promoted, none of us was over E-5.  We worked out tails off on that thing.  Just because we were small didn't excuse us from a lot of the tasks that are required of full-blown ships.  For example, nautical charts.  I had a full load of charts, and spent many evenings entering chart corrections instead of hitting the beach because there was no one else to assign the job to.  We were cross-trained to an unbelievable degree.  At various times I piloted, navigated, steered, and repaired the boat.  I operated radios, radars, flashing lights, signal flags, .50 Cal. machine guns, winches, engines, coffee pots, and washing machines.  I could stevedore with the best of 'em.  God, how I miss it all!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

What's in a Name? (Part II)

Why am I using "74" for a blog name? Most everyone in the military eventually gets equipped with a radio handle or nickname. Sometimes one nickname will last forever -- sometimes you end up with several. Most of them are bestowed upon you by your buddies and many of them are unflattering. I had several at one time or another but "74" was the only one that isn't in common use around the blogosphere. That one is also my oldest handle. It was given to me by Chief Harvey, my first LCPO when I casually mentioned one day that the number 74 seemed to be popping up frequently around me. Like many things in life, a simple comment can have major consequences.

What's in a Name?

Where did I come up with "The Bow Ramp" as a blog name? First off, I wanted something to represent my Navy background. I also have a fond affection for my brothers (literally) in the Marine Corps. Finally, I wanted to get something in there related to my wonderful wife. Back in 1974, I was the XO/OPS Officer/Chief Engineer of a landing craft, the LCU-1661. It was while I was on a port visit aboard the LCU that I meet thu future Mrs. 74. The LCU's mission is to transport the marines ashore. The most prominent feature on an LCU is the bow ramp. When you hit the beach and drop the ramp, "its show time folks."

PDA Test. Wow, only my third post and I'm already doing it from my Treo.

[Posted with hblogger 2.0]

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

My checkered past

Here is a photo of me that I dredged up from the bilges of the Way-Back machine.

For those that don't know (or could care less) about Navy insignia, at that time I was a Radioman Second Class. The gear that I have drapped over my head is a sound-powered phone that I was using to take navigational bearings while the ship was entering port. The ship I was aboard was the USS Antelope (PG-86)

Gee, what to say?

Well, I've been thoroughly addicted to reading blogs for a couple of years now. I post comments on a semi-regular basis, and have even had some nice responses from various bloggers. So I have taken the next step and created a blog of my own. Now, lets see if I can drag enough posts out of the old hat-rack to make it worthwhile for me and, most importantly, for any possible readers.

Okay, now tell the nice people what this blog is about. What! 'Ya mean I gotta come up with a theme? If I just stick to the subjects that interest me, we will be all over the map because I'm interested in a LOT of stuff. So to narrow things down a bit, I think I will start with what I know best - the Navy and computers.

Yep, I'm probably gonna be one of those (insert epithet here) Milbloggers.

OK, this should be enough for a first post. I'll just post this sucker and then explore what I can do with Blogger for awhile before I get back to you.