View Full Version : Question for the military people

06-01-2002, 10:22 PM
I was recently watching a film in which a couple of things happened which were puzzling. Well, one was puzzling, the other was something which Brynda commented on after the film. I was hoping to get the straight dope here.

First of all, in this film, an aircraft carrier was attacked and badly damaged by several fighters launched from a land base. The aircraft were not picked up as they we flying low over the water, but they seemed to have an unhindered run to the carrier. I thought that carriers operated in a battle group, with destroyers, cruisers etc and that the other ships formed a ring around the carrier with several miles (20-30?) between the carrier and the outermost picket. Was I mistaken, or was the film slightly off? Also, if America was attacked, how long would it take for it's ships etc to go to a higher state of alert. I am wondering if the carrier would have had fighters in the air all the time, or if they would only patrol when the carrier was on alert. I know carriers are one the most valuabl assets and as such, are well protected. I would not have thought it was as easy as the film made out to attack and severely damage a carrier

The second point was the Brynda said that she had heard the the safest place for the President during a time of crisis was in the air onboard Air Force One, does anyone know if that is correct and if so, why (or if not, why not? <I can hazard a guess, but that is all>).

Any info would be appreciated


06-01-2002, 11:05 PM
Yes, you're right about the Carrier having a group of escorts. I don't have my "Carrier" refernence book with me (By Clancy, BTW. Ironic, considering the movie you're probably referencing :) ), or I'd give you the approximate number of ships.

As for aircraft being in the air, I *think* that carriers usually have a few in the air even during normal operations, but I can't say for certain. Even if they don't, I'd would think that they would have a few planes ready to launch on short notice.


06-01-2002, 11:21 PM
As for your second question, the safest place for the president to be is not where you think he is. On Sep. 11th, he flew from Florida to (I think) Louisiana (Barksdale AFB?) for a short stay then he flew to Offutt AFB and stayed there until he(they, them) knew all was safe later in the day. So either thats where he allways goes or thats where they thought he would be safest on the paticular day under those paticular situations. They deffanatly didnt just cruise around in Air Force One. What bothered me was how the news networks were telling us where he was that day. Also they called it Moffut AFB on more than one occasion and they said he was in a bunker in Omaha. Stratcom is a little more than a bunker. Think multi-story office building buried in the ground.

06-02-2002, 03:22 AM
Airforce One can't possibly be the safest place, since, once its out of fuel it will have to land somewhere. I think for a short-term situation it is.. since the President would be moving.

But, I would think the best way to take out an aircraft carrier would be with torpedos. It makes almost so sense to poke holes in a ship, they can pump the water out, close bulk heads, and eventually seal some of the holes. However, a torpedo exploding under the keel of ship would lift (or scavenge the water beneath) the ship therefore removing support of the water for the ships keel. Do this enough times and the keel cracks and the ship is gone. And, with a ship the size of an aircraft carrier there is a lot of weight. IRC, there are sub's accompanying the carrier and/or checking its course farther down or securing the carriers destination. Just to be safe.

Also, I don't think even a low flying aircraft would go undetected considering that destroyers and missle frigats are now being equipped with the Aegis Combat System (http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/factfile/weapons/wep-aeg.html). Which can identify, track, and destroy over 100 oncoming submarine, surface, and air borne targets. There are visual watches as well.. so, say, the jets were coming from one side, they would see them and everyone would be notified and then the other destroyers would at least get a chance to take them out even if the noticing destroyer got taken out.

06-02-2002, 04:01 AM
Under normal peacetime conditions aircraft carriers don't have aircraft ready for quick launches. If conditions worsen a "ready 15" or "ready 5" can be on deck hooked to a catapault. The pilot(s) is strapped in and ready to go. If conditions get worse a Combat Air Patrol can be in the air to patrol around the carrier.

RE AF-1, it can be refueled by air.

06-02-2002, 08:12 AM
Also: Even if the carrier has a CAP up and stoodging about, it's usually only a single two-plane element. Remember, the attack was a suprise, at a time when threat conditions had not been raised: Essentially, they were in normal peace-time sailing. If the CAP is out of position wrt the axis of threat, they simply don't have the time to respond.

Further, a carrier's battle group is spread over miles of ocean, so they don't exactly present a physical barrier to the missiles, and if they're caught flat-footed (as in the movie), there's no time to achieve an effective air-defense posture.

Finally: Despite being a former submariner, I have to say: Torpedoes are not the most effective way to ambush a carrier. Don't get me wrong, a skilled sub driver can, and will, kill a carrier, but torpedos are relatively slow, and you have to get inside the escort (which does maintain an anti-submarine watch, even in peacetime), and most importantly, there has to be a submarine close-by in the first place. An overwhelming sneak attack by ALCM or SLCM is the way to kill a carrier fast

06-02-2002, 08:26 AM
Tranquilis, what you are saying makes sense, but in the context of the mystery film (which it sounds like you have seen), the attack should not have been that much of a surprise. It was not exactly a normal day and it was not "normal peace-time sailing."

Rick and I are arguing about this. He thinks they might not have found out about the land-based attack within the 15 minutes or so he estimates the time to be. I don't remember the time lapse, but I think even within 15 minutes, they would have known. What do folks think? Is 15 minutes enough time to be on some sort of alert status?

06-02-2002, 11:14 AM
Actually, I've only seen the trailers (and read the book, from which the movie seems to be a significant deviation, best I can tell), so my conclusions are based upon what I know of the Navy, plus fragmentary trailer information.

Still, I would be stunned to for a carrier battle group go from peace-time sailing to battle readiness in only 15 minutes after the "kick-off". C3I is fast, but it's not that fast.

Now, from the time they learned of the "kick-off" to full battle stations would be probably about five minutes, but they'd have to get the word first.

Johnny L.A.
06-02-2002, 01:15 PM
Tranquilis: I see you used "C3I", which I understand; but a few years ago I heard someone mention "C4I", and I couldn't figure out what the extra "C" was for. Do you know?

06-02-2002, 01:27 PM
Now, from the time they learned of the "kick-off" to full battle stations would be probably about five minutes, but they'd have to get the word first.I'm not sure I'm following this. Wouldn't word be instantaneous that there had been an attack (especially if it were a nuclear attack, but I'm not sure if this is)? I can see there being some dely in determining the details of an attack, but it seems like it would take just the press of a button to get the word out to all surface ships that "Something happened and you should be prepared for something else to happen. Further details to follow.".

The only possible way I can see that this wouldn't happen is if the initial attack crippled communications somehow (EMP?), but in that case, the communications break should itself be enough warning for the ships to go on alert.

06-02-2002, 03:53 PM
Moffut AFB on more than one occasion and they said he was in a bunker in Omaha. Stratcom is a little more than a bunker. Think multi-story office building buried in the ground.

Hey, I used to work there; worked on the 3rd level down (communications) in the late 50's when ol' Curtis LeMay was in charge of SAC. :D

Moffett field is here in California up near Palo Alto, I believe. Also, at the time it was a Navy base, not Air Force. Reporters are usually a pretty dumb bunch, in my experience. :rolleyes:

06-02-2002, 04:23 PM
CV/CVNs on a war footing will have shooters (CGs) stationed down the threat axis 24/7; there might be more than one axis depending on how close the BG is to hostile territory/airbases.

In the same circumstance and after daily flight ops are secured, you can rest assured there will be some sort of ready package set for launch against inbound hostile air.

Further, the bird-farms are not completely helpless even in the absence of the above protective layers. There's the Sea Sparrow (big "Sidewinders" for large yachts), and BPMDS (think R2D2 with a truly nasty Gatling gun).

For an idea of where to hide/protect leadership, please see the link (below) at Federation Of American Scientists; click on any of the items under the "Nodes" column. Bear in mind that these are only the ones that are somewhat known about. Other info on darned near anthing you might be interested in (to put some ground truth on the ignorance of reporters) is available thru the home page at www.fas.org.


06-02-2002, 04:24 PM
Sea Sparrow = SAM variant of Sparrow, not Sidewinder.

06-02-2002, 05:52 PM
I'm not sure what movie you're referring to, but the OP did bring a recent event to mind.

On October 17, 2000 Russian Su-27 jet fighters made a surprise low-level fly-over of the USS Kitty Hawk. China Reform Monitor (http://www.afpc.org/crm/crm350.htm) claims:

...the Russian military transmitted via internet to the Kitty Hawk's website systems administrators pictures clearly showing Russian planes flying over the ship's deck. One of the black-and-white photos, "clearly showed panic-stricken US officers and men" on the deck and an F/A-18 fighter just entering the position in preparation for emergency take-off.

06-02-2002, 06:16 PM
Johnny L.A., I've also heard of C4I, but I have no idea what the fourth "C" might be, either. Military initialisms and acronyms change all the time, and even I have a hard time keeping up with them.

Chronos, no, the word wouldn't go out "instantaneously", although it would go out very damn fast. The problem is, you have to get from "Bomb" to "Realizing it was a Bomb" to "NCA informed of a Bomb" to "Appropriate military notified" to "Military alert sent" to "Message recieved" to "Message understood" to "Message acted upon". Each of thse steps take some finite amount of time, and I'd be surprised to find that chain taking less than a half hour from one end to the other. Probably no longer than that, but not much faster, either.

So, you have a BG that is possibly only just beginning to be aware that there's an unusual situation (maybe not even yet), when suddenly a bunch of inbound fast movers pop-up at dangerously close range. What to do? Is it a threat? Probably... Call the OOD. OOD has to make a decision... Even if he's really on the ball and makes the right decision instantly, calling Battle Stations AAW and giving the escort "weapons free", there is still a finite amount of human reaction time involved, not to mention acquiring and engageing the incoming targets, and those missiles are closing fast...

06-02-2002, 07:23 PM
I think C4I might stand for "Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence;" but I'm not sure. Maybe one of the acronym-savvy dopers can come in and help with that.

06-02-2002, 10:56 PM
Originally posted by PhiloVance

Hey, I used to work there; worked on the 3rd level down (communications) in the late 50's when ol' Curtis LeMay was in charge of SAC. :D

Moffett field is here in California up near Palo Alto, I believe. Also, at the time it was a Navy base, not Air Force. Reporters are usually a pretty dumb bunch, in my experience. :rolleyes:

Hey, I still work there, I also work the 3rd level down and I'm in communications even. Small world. I smoke next to a Plaque of ol LeMay a couple of times a night too.

06-02-2002, 11:05 PM
You're right, wevets.

I saw the movie in question, and sort of laughed when I saw how close the MiGs got to the carrier. I also laughed when our F-16s leisurely (and totally unchallenged) bombed the base where the MiGs came from.

Anyway, I can't imagine the MiGs'd be able to get that close, but as has already been mentioned, they have before, and if the alert status was low, then I doubt we'd shoot down a few incoming MiGs.

Hup the Fool
06-02-2002, 11:45 PM
I haven't seen the movie, but I can't see why Russian fighters would have to get close to a carrier group. There are many types of anti-ship missiles that can be launched from over 100 miles away.

Boo Boo Foo
06-02-2002, 11:56 PM
Great thread gentleman! I might be a new member here but I can see I'm going to feel right at home amongst some very knowledgeable and switched on guys. For your reference, I'm an web savvy Aussie with his finger on the pulse (well he'd like to think so at any rate!)

Question to Ringo... was that true? The SU-27's that is in 2000? Moreover, now that Russia is effectively a NATO ally (and bloody good news too I might add) would such exercises still be performed with the prior knowledge of military superiors in each countries 'Central Command' just as an exercise in preparedness and reaction practice? Morever, assuming the incident is true and that it's just not the Chinese tabloids wanting to have a bit of fun at the U.S.'s expense, why on earth would the Russian's have performed such a sortie in an era where the last thing the Russians needed at the time was an unnecessary escalation of rehtoric between itself and the U.S.

In closing - spare one more moment of prayer for those poor souls on the Kursk. Even 'Tranquilis', as a former submariner, must have found his heart pouring out to those sailors after suffering such a dreaful fate.

06-03-2002, 12:11 AM
The incident was widely reported in Western media at the time and I have no reason to doubt its veracity.

I know little about the site I linked that claims the Russians sent (emailed, I imagine) pictures of the flyover to the Kitty Hawk's website admins.

As to the rest of your questions, I don't have those answers.

06-03-2002, 12:13 AM
I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to point out a couple of thoughts about the scene in "the movie" that are pertinent (which makes this something of a IMHO response to a GQ post):

While the camera work does imply that the MiGs were within visual range, I don't think it was that explicit. The MiGs fired a huge salvo of birds, perhaps BVR, and even when the BPMDS (didn't notice any other defenses that got online in time) got a bunch, two struck the carrier.

Two things to note:

(1) The Aegis system is good, but plenty of the Pentagon folk will admit that there's a lot of Russian missiles (and aircraft to carry them) specifically designed to defeat it. It's easy to forget that no modern carrier group has ever had to deal with an actual attack by current, state-of-the-art Russian fighters equipped with those anti-ship missiles.

(2) The intermittent contact reported in the movie should have instantly activated the close-in defense systems, regardless of whether or not the OOD was consulted.

'Uigi: The Sparrow system is the BPMDS (Basic Point Defence Missile System). I think you're thinking of the [Vulcan] Phalanx CIWS (Close In Weapon System).

06-03-2002, 12:16 AM
Originally posted by USNSPARKS
"ready 15" or "ready 5" air.

FWIW I spent many, many hours standing alert 5 watch. The alert 5 aircraft is not on the catapult and doesn't even have the engine turning but the crew is strapped in. During my two cruises to the Northern Arabian Sea in the early eighties we usually had two aircraft on alert five any time there weren't planes actually in the air. IIRC our record from a cold engines to WOW (weight off wheels) was 2:35 even though the F-14 isn't a particularly fast plane to launch. IIRC the GTC-85 huffer was turning so we weren't cheating too much. A launch that fast skips niceties like stablizing the intertial navigation platform. Newer INS systems with a ring laser gyro could be stablized and I'm sure planes like the F-18 can launch quicker.

Alert 1 is engine turning on the catapult. I never saw that. Alert 15 is crew in the ready room. Alert 30 is crew in cabins.

06-03-2002, 12:16 AM
Damn... I was so anxious to reply to 'Uigi's comment about the BPMDS that I accidently mentioned it instead of the Phalanx. I meant to say...and even when the R2D2 (...) got a bunch

06-03-2002, 12:36 AM
Welcome, Boo Boo Foo!

Actually, as a former submariner, I especially felt for those poor bastards on the Kursk. Bad way to go.

06-03-2002, 04:08 AM
Just out of interest, which film are we talking about?

06-03-2002, 07:22 AM
I'll spill the beans since it was me who posted the first question (an thank you all for the replies, it has been very educational :) ).

The film is Sum Of All Fears, the new one by Tom Clancy


06-03-2002, 07:24 AM

That was my reply. I forgot that Brynda had logged in.

The spoiler tihng worked well though :)

(where's that smack forehead smiley when you need him)

06-03-2002, 10:13 AM
The Russian buzzing of the carrier did happen, and I also heard (through the grapevine) about the photo thing.

Boo Boo Foo, unless it's a joint exercise (which I don't think we do with Russia nowadays), we would never let them in on our tactics (even through an exercise scenario). So, if you're not in the exercise, you may know that it's happening, but you won't know what's happening in it. I assume the same is true for the Russians. As to why they'd do it.... I have no clue. It's great way to test our battle group's defenses. For all we know, the plan for those guys could have been to head toward the carrier and turn back once challenged on the radio. And that probably didn't happen. They were probably just as surprised to find themselves over the carrier as we were. I doubt there was anything more sinister to it.

August West
06-03-2002, 12:16 PM
Any other ex-squids not surprised to hear of the Russians buzzing a carrier?

When I was active on the Enterprise, the Russians used to buzz us all of the time to watch UNREP. I believe the plane was known as a "Bear", but I could be mistaken. Anyway, they regularly flew over in these planes with big camera pods affixed to them to take pictures of UNREP, because they supposedly did not have that capability.