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O, how the mighty have fallen

There's a great deal of talk about the attack on two US warships in Jordan yesterday. While others have looked into who carried out the attack, who might have ordered it, and just what it all means, I decided to take a different tack -- to look at the technical aspects of the attack.

Others are comparing this to the attack on the USS Cole, which was nearly sunk in Yemen by Al Qaeda. While the general circumstances are similar (a US warship in a foreign harbor attacked by terrorists), that's where the parallels end.

The Cole was hit by a massive (400-700-lb.) bomb below her waterline, where the water helped magnify the shock. Further, there is evidence that the explosive was "shaped" in intensify the blast. The bomb ripped a 40-foot hole in the side of the ship, right at the waterline. And as sailors say, you sink a ship by poking holes to let in water, not holes to let in air.

First, I've heard conflicting reports. Some sources say it was a Katyusha rocket, others say a mortar.

The Katyusha is a generic name for a rocket that dates back to World War II. It's basically an unguided rocket, that spins (like a bullet or a football) to keep it going relatively straight in the direction you want it to. Essentially, you point it in the direction you want it to go, adjust the angle for the distance, toss in a tweak for wind, cross your fingers, and fire it off in hopes of hitting something important. The amazing thing is that these attackers fired off three of them, and one of them actually came close to its intended target.

Or it might have been a mortar. A mortar fires what is essentially a big bullet at the back, with gunpowder or some sort of propellant, and a big hand grenade at the front. You drop the mortar shell into a tube, a pin at the bottom fires the gunpowder, and the bomb comes shooting out the other end. Again, they're pretty much unguided.

Now, let's look at the intended target of the attack. The USS Ashland
is a Whidbey Island-class LSD. No, that's not the drug, but a Landing Ship (Dock). The best way I can explain it is if you think back to "Saving Private Ryan"'s opening scene, with the D-Day landings. Remember all the little landing craft running up on to the beach? The LSDs carry those around the ocean, along with helicopters and a bunch of US Marines. The Ashland is over 600 feet long, 84 feet wide, and displaces ("weighs") over 16,000 tons fully loaded. In football terms, she's two fields long and 28 yards across. She's pretty big.

The USS Kearsarge (named after a mountain here in New Hampshire, bu we're not quite sure which -- we have two by that name) is even bigger. She's about 850 feet long, 140 feet wide, and displaces over 40,000 tons fully loaded. She's an LHD -- Landing ship, Helicopter, Dock -- and hauls around about 50 helicopters and Harrier jump-jets, three hovercraft landing craft, and about 2,000 Marines. I don't think that it's an exaggeration to say that the Kearsarge could start a few wars all on her own -- and, quite possibly, win them.

So, what would have happened if that rocket or mortar would have hit either ship? In all likelihood, not much.

Neither ship has armor, per se -- the modern navy has largely dispensed with armor, with the exception of Kevlar sheets to protect certain vital areas. There are also rumors that aircraft carriers have more substantial armor, but that's severely classified.

But these are warships. They're built a lot tougher than civilian ships. And these mortars/rockets are not designed to take on warships. Their explosive charges would most likely detonate on impact, not penetrating before exploding where they would cause real damage. So a hit to the side would be inconvenient, perhaps mildly damaging, but not much trouble to deal with.

Further, these ships are designed to handle helicopters and jumpjets. They are essentially runways, built to hold the weight and absorb the impact of landing aircraft. A deck impact would be messy, and possibly injure or kill anyone out on deck nearby at the time, but not likely to endanger or cripple the ship.

I can only see three ways these weapons could cause serious damage. The first is if they hit the superstructure -- the parts of the ship that stick up from the deck. These parts are less protected than the hull or deck, and could take a bit more damage from a mortar or rocket.

The second is the sensors. These ships have a bunch of antennae, for a multitude of radars, radios, and other electronics. An exploding rocket or mortar shell could raise hob with these, and in the modern age a ship is only as good as its electronics. One well-placed explosive could put a serious hurting on her ability to carry out her duties.

The final one is the most frightening. If the explosive hit a jet or helicopter on the deck, it could start a fire. Fire is the biggest fear of any sailor, especially on a warship filled with things that go "boom" when set ablaze -- fuel, bombs, missiles, ammunition, and the like. Three times in modern days we've had aircraft carriers severely damaged by fires -- the USS Oriskany in 1966, the USS Forrestal in 1967, and the USS Enterprise in 1969.

Fortunately, the ships were at anchor when they were attacked, and I doubt that any aircraft were on the flight decks.

So, here we are. The latest Al Qaeda attack on US forces can be called "all sizzle, no steak." It was essentially the same type of attack terrorists routinely fire into Israel, those usually dismissed as "nuisances," but against a target that can pretty much shrug it off. (The fact that those attacks are considered "nuisances" is yet more testimony that attacks against Israelis don't count like those against Westerners.) From global terrorists with a body count in the thousands, and nearly sinking one of our more powerful warships, to essentially tossing a firecracker at a police car.

It's almost tragic, to see where they are and looking back at where they were, and what they achieved. But I'm too busy laughing derisively and dancing gleefully to mourn.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference O, how the mighty have fallen:

» Kerfuffles linked with Behold - Muslim Extremism

» ThoughtsOnline linked with Where was the defense?

» The American Mind linked with Warship Attacks Weren't Much

Comments (25)

While the first Kearsarge w... (Below threshold)
Mark L:

While the first Kearsarge was named after a mountain in New Hampshire, the subsequent ships have been named after that first ship. It was a Civil War era sloop-of-war (the equivalent of a WWII light cruiser) that fought and defeated the Confederate raider Alabama off the coast of Cherbourg in France. Since then there has been a pre-dreadnought battleship and an aircraft carrier named Kearsarge before the LHD

I had to watch that film ab... (Below threshold)

I had to watch that film about that one aircraft carrier catching on fire and explosions and whatnot as a part of OBC. I think they've figured out it's not a good idea to stick explody things in the helicopters and stuff until they're ready to leave now. it makes them less...explody.

also, I'm pretty sure you've heard this before, USS Cole got sunk because they didn't have enough Marines on board to search the frickin' boat. these days they've got the 50 cals locked and cocked, ready to rock 24/7, so I'm amazed they didn't meat with Allah before they could get the first round off.

Actually I believe the Cole... (Below threshold)

Actually I believe the Cole was sunk because they weren't allowed to put out and intrediction efforts. They were in a "freindly" port. I have fire the type of rocket Jay Tea is talking about and they are a bit more accurate than he suggests. I doubt this attack was intended to cause serious damage but was more likely an attempt at disruption or possibly a probe of security, however if I had a mortar and wanted to cause some damage to warships in port let me intoduce you to a little thing called White Phosphorus. Drop a couple of those on the deck and watch the hilarity ensue as everyone scrambles to put out fires. If you are lucking the damage control teams get it washed overboard before anything really serious ignites if you're not you have a fuel fire and hell breaks loose.

My first ship was a Whidbey... (Below threshold)

My first ship was a Whidbey Island Class LSD, the Ashland was one hull number after us. A soild ship, but a big target, the forward part of the ship (we called it the hotel) is a big flat square structure that is filled with the deployed Marine living quarters and ship's crew quarters. Not many explody things in there, but lots of soft targets if something should penetrate the bulkhead.

The aft section of the LSD is all flight deck and the main deck covers a 400 foot long 'well deck' which when deployed is fully loaded with all the Marines 'junk' (guns, humvees, AAVs, and of course the LCACs. The LSD doesn't have a hanger, so in port there would be no flying things on deck (not neccesarily the case with the LHD which while deployed may have to stage some craft on the top deck), also while deployed we had the forward of two landing pads chock full of more of the Marine 'junk' ready to go below and be offloaded on the beach.

You are right that fire is the biggest scare for a Navy ship, and as a result something that the sailors (and Marines) train very hard to be the best they can be at it.

Um... guys? The Cole wasn't... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Um... guys? The Cole wasn't sunk. She was badly damaged, but stayed afloat. Bit of an important distinction...


While I appreciate your tho... (Below threshold)
Randy Harrelson:

While I appreciate your thoughts that if they had hit either the USS Ashland or the USS Kearsarge, it probably would not have caused much damage, unless someone was on deck, let us not forget what it would have been like if there had been sailors or Marines on deck, or if the rocket hit the Kearsarge and penetrated to the hanger deck.
As the parents of a Marine on the Kearsarge, I can assure you that we and other Marine parents did not feel that the news was something that we viewed as "all sizzle, and no steak". However, I know enough Marines that their first instinct would have been to "Get Some"and want to "discuss"the folly of firing at them.

forget about london, moron?... (Below threshold)

forget about london, moron?

My father flew F4's off the... (Below threshold)

My father flew F4's off the carrier USS Kearsarge during the late 1950's. Personally I always find that an amazing fact.

I think the point has been ... (Below threshold)
Perry Stalsis:

I think the point has been missed by many - that even though the attack missed it's mark, it caused the USS Ashland to hastily leave port. That in itself is a major move scored by these attackers who have now created increased military paranoia about port calls, dockings, resupplying and r&r for crews. Ashland departed so rapidly that some crew members were left ashore. Extrapolate.

Maybe the rockets did their... (Below threshold)

Maybe the rockets did their job. One hit in Israel and one in Jordan, threatening U.S. vessels and causing us to start blaming each other!

What good helpful suggestio... (Below threshold)

What good helpful suggestions you have all posted for those looking to improve their chances of taking out a ship!

Our forces are able to adju... (Below threshold)

Our forces are able to adjust to whatever is thrown at them. Certainly this latest "attack" created a situation in which plans had to be adjusted, but having 10 years Navy experience, I can say with a high level of confidence that it did not cause too much of an inconvenience.
As far as the Cole incident, I sent two of my men, (we were close by), to assist in clean up/repair. Their description of the ships condition and the grief the crew was feeling over the loss of 17 of their fellow crewmembers was, to say the least, quite depressing.
But we go forward regardless of what weapons are used against us, or who the perpetrators are.

You silly, silly person. Y... (Below threshold)

You silly, silly person. You conservatives attacked Kerry during the 2004 election when he suggested that we would win the war on terror when the acts of terror were not much more than "nuisances."

Nothing like getting litera... (Below threshold)

Nothing like getting literal, hey Dave? There's a huge difference between describing a nuisance as acceptable and describing something as a nuisance without any implication that it IS acceptable.

I don't know about these 2 ... (Below threshold)

I don't know about these 2 ships, but the class of ship I was stationed on, an FFG, is made mostly of steel, but has some aluminum components.

Very bad if aluminum catches fire.

The fires on board USS Stark (37 sailors killed) and USS Samuel B. Roberts were intensified by the aluminum construction.

Wow, a nuisance eh? <... (Below threshold)
Meeting with Allah later this week:

Wow, a nuisance eh?

Not they way our duly elected President tells it………


"Our troops know that they're fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to protect their fellow Americans from a savage enemy”

“They know that if we do not confront these evil men abroad, we will have to face them one day in our own cities and streets, and they know that the safety and security of every American is at stake in this war, and they know we will prevail,"

And what about Spain, London, and Egypt? Guess they dont count.

Attention Meeting, Dave: "s... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Attention Meeting, Dave: "savage" is not a synonym for "incompetent."

Why don't you also take pleasure in people trying to kill Americans, and failing miserably? I, personally, find it encouraging that they are now reduced to lashing out so impotently. Not that that's any reason to ease up, but it is heartening to me.

Awaiting the "false sense of confidence" meme in 5... 4... 3...


LSD - Large Sitting Duck</p... (Below threshold)

LSD - Large Sitting Duck

A derogatory nickname for the USS Kearsarge was/is the "Queer Barge".

The Whidbey Island (if it is still commissioned) was converted to a command ship and has antennas all over the help deck now and doesn't carry marines anymore.

Al Qaeda were never "mighty... (Below threshold)

Al Qaeda were never "mighty"

The author almost seems disapointed that the rockets missed their targets.

This guy needs to be checked out, which is what I'll do now, and have the ability. Adios meatheads.

Don't waste too much of you... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Don't waste too much of your Adelphia broadband connection having me "checked out," Classified. Just poke through the archives around here -- I've spelled out just what I believe in quite thoroughly.


The author almost seems ... (Below threshold)

The author almost seems disapointed that the rockets missed their targets.

To come to that conclusion, you'd have to be missing several key brain lobes.

How about remembering the a... (Below threshold)

How about remembering the attack on the USS Liberty June 8, 1968.
The attack lasted several hours and involved jet planes with bombs & napalm. This was followed up
with torpedo boats, and survivors were machine gunned.
There were twice as many casualties and injuries as on the USS Cole.
The whole affair was hushed up.
Check it out yourself.

The USS Reagan aircraft car... (Below threshold)

The USS Reagan aircraft carrier has a pretty amazing NBC response of flooding the entire flight deck with a lot of water. It would seem useful on anything that carried fuel and explosives on deck.

And... aircraft carriers do have armor. It's called a pack of cruisers and destroyers. ;)

How about remembering th... (Below threshold)

How about remembering the attack on the USS Liberty June 8, 1968.

Um, I've heard extensively about it. Mainly because Israel was involved, people like you keep bringing it up. If it were Britain, it would be a footnote.

Ukraine actually SHOT DOWN a random airliner in a non-combat situation in 2001 and you never hear about THAT. Of course, in that case, Jews died, so people like you don't care.

All this extraneous stuff i... (Below threshold)

All this extraneous stuff is all beside the point. The point is they attacked or tried to attack two of our ships; and, one dropped in "Israel." Until authorities finish investigating all the "facts" we don't know the intent of any of the missles or objects. As I understand it, one didn't explode. So there is that one device to be explored.

All the bickering about who said what about past incidents is just a distraction. All the psat comparisons to unrelated events is a distraction.

Personally, I think if Al-Qaida did this then they are getting desperate. They usually "don't" miss. If it was a Al-Qaida "??" group, they weren't very effective, either.

But it does appear they wanted to either stir things up or test security. It may even be a distraction from something else they are planning elsewhere on a grander scale that will "succeed."

In any case, I would never under estimate any terrorists enemy or get distracted from the here and now!






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