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The Age of Airpower Review

October 24, 2014

The Age of Airpower, by Martin Van Creveld is a book primarily about the use of airpower throughout history. It is a bit rambly and disorganized, but it is full of interesting facts and insights. I enjoyed it from beginning to end.

There are four main uses for airpower:
Strategic Bombers
Destroying enemy cities, industrial areas and other very large targets, strategic bombers are slow, lumbering beasts with massive bomb loads. The main goal is to end the enemies’ will to fight and destroy their capacity to produce weapons. Strategic bombing was popular with early aviation theorists. Even fiction writers like Orson Welles wrote of airships destroying cities from the skies.

Strategic bombers are large, expensive, and require large crews to operate. They are also fairly easy to shoot down, due to their slow speed and poor maneuverability. Historically, this was partially remedied by defensive gunners, but adding those adds to the weight and crew sizes as well, meaning that each bomber that got shot down represented an even greater loss of life and resources.

Air Superiority
Fast, maneuverable and sleek, air superiority fighters rule the skies. This includes shooting down enemy bombers as well as covering your own bombers. Without air superiority, none of the other roles can be performed without stiff casualties.

Interdiction – Going after soft targets – fuel depots, radar arrays, railroads, bridges, etc. You aren’t killing enemy troops, or destroying their cities, but you are making it harder for them to continue fighting.

Close Air Support (CAS)
a 10 firing missle
CAS aircraft take the role of artillery, attacking targets dictated to them by troops on the ground. CAS planes need to be tough, maneuverable and carry a lot of firepower. Speed is not important, and can be a disadvantage. Aircraft that excel in this role need to be able to get to the battlefield quickly and be able to deliver accurate firepower. Historically this means patrolling near the front and getting low to the ground.

The author argues that Strategic use of air power has never been very effective, especially compared to the amount of resources devoted to it. Neither Germany nor Japan were brought to their knees by strategic bombing alone, until the nuclear bomb was brought into play. Today, nuclear missiles fullfill this role far better than any cloud of B 17s ever could. The U.S. Air Force clung to the strategic role far longer than was reasonable, considering how obsolete that role was from the moment ICBMs were invented onward.

A single missile can destroy a city in the blink of an eye

The Air Force also devotes a tremendous amount of effort to developing and maintaining a huge fleet of air superiority fighters. Considering America has not gone to war with a country with an air force since the Korean War (1950-1953), it seems like a strange focus. Given the extreme sophistication and complexity of a modern fighter, any country which can field a fighter capable of taking on a 1972 vintage F-15 (let alone a modern F-22), will certainly have access to nuclear weapons as well. Even a hundred Russias would not be capable of shooting down the Air Force’s current stock of fighters. That begs the question, what is the USAF preparing for? Alien invasion?

The naval use of airpower is likewise fading away. As the ranges of drones (which the author has a very lengthy discussion of) and other aircraft expands, there is less of a need for a mobile airfield. Aircraft carriers are insanely expensive. The lifetime cost of a modern carrier is over $20 billion dollars. Only a few countries’ military budgets are large enough to absorb such costs. Furthermore, a carrier without proper support can be taken out by a submarine or anti-ship missile. Because carriers are so expensive, and require such enormous crews (around 4,000 people), losing one is devastating.

Aircraft are still invaluable to naval warfare. They can defeat surface ships many times their size and cost, hunt submarines, scout, and defend navies from other surface ships. But who exactly is going to try to take on the US Navy? You’d need to find someone with dozens of modern aircraft carriers and support ships, but inexplicably no nuclear missiles.

Interdiction is, and has always been useful when fighting nation states. Bombing military bases, weapons stockpiles and other tactical targets aids ground troops immensely. It can be used against likely adversaries of the U.S. military – small, poor countries who do something U.S. politicians don’t like. Drones excel in this role. Losses are unimportant, since they don’t involve the loss of life. Drones can strike deep into enemy territory using precision guided munitions. They are also far cheaper than manned aircraft.

Close air support is also likely to be important to future conflicts. Wars in the future are likely to be primarily against guerrillas. That means you need to have boots on the ground, since there are no valuable targets to go after using Interdiction and Strategic tactics. Operation Rolling Thunder in Vietnam tried to use strategic bombing against guerrillas, but failed miserably. The A 10 Warthog (pictured above) and the C 130 gunship are likely the best CAS manned aircraft in the U.S. military.

The author is very pessimistic when it comes to airpower. On one end of the spectrum, nuclear weapons are the final answer to large scale conflict. At the other extreme, guerrilla war is about boots on the ground and winning hearts and minds. Air power is antagonistic to the latter, because of the large number of “collateral damage” it creates.

I enjoyed the book immensely, but it was very long. I would not recommend it to someone with only a casual interest in air power. However, if a long arching overview of the history and future of air power with lots of details and anecdotes along the way, this may be the book for you.

Assorted Links

October 20, 2014

1. Pictures of North Korea

2. On Dunbar’s number.

3. Wendy’s training video (from the 80s I presume).

4. On Strauss.

Assorted Links

October 7, 2014

1. The worst governments are local.

2. A few mischievous questions about markets

3. Trolling is awesome.

4. The Case for Open Borders. On the off chance you haven’t read it yet.

My Experience as a Juror

October 1, 2014

A few months ago, I was summoned for jury duty. The way Maryland works is that if you are not seated for a trial, you may have to keep coming back every morning for up to a week. Therefore, I was pretty happy when I was selected for a one day trial on the first day I showed up.

The trial was for assault. The prosecution had a video of the entire event and I think that the prosecutor thought that would make for an easy conviction. The defendant, who was also the plaintiff’s cousin, was married to the plaintiff’s ex wife, who had recently given birth to the defendant’s child. She also had a child with the plaintiff, who had partial custody of that child. The rest of the jurors joked that it could have been an episode of Jerry Springer. When the plaintiff’s child was transferred between visiting the wife and himself, they dropped the child off at a neutral 3rd party’s house so that they wouldn’t have to see one another. The plaintiff had a history of domestic violence and other assorted crimes and the wife didn’t want to see him.

On this particular day, the plaintiff showed up at the neutral territory in person and began shouting at the wife. The video of the event did not have audio, but the defendant and the wife testified that the shouts consisted of threats of violence and insults. The plaintiff said he “couldn’t remember what he said”, but the jury was convinced he just didn’t want to admit he threatened the wife.

The defendant, upon seeing his wife threatened, tore off his shirt, ran over and pushed the plaintiff. The plaintiff was not injured and did not even fall down. Shortly thereafter, the defendant, his wife, and the children hastily jumped in their car and drove away.

The trial was fairly short because it mostly consisted of watching the video a few times, plaintiff’s testimony, the wife’s testimony, and the defendant’s testimony.

Maryland’s requirements for other defense according to Wikipedia: (at the time, we were briefed by the judge)
Defense of others is a defense, and the defendant must be found not guilty if all of the following four factors are present:
1 The defendant actually believed that the person defended was in immediate and imminent danger of bodily harm.
2 The defendant’s belief was reasonable.
3 The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend the person defended in light of the threatened or actual force.
4 The defendant’s purpose in using force was to aid the person defended.

1. We determined based on the shouting, threats and body language that the wife was in immediate danger.
2. The defendant knew the plaintiff’s violent history and capacity of violence.
3. A push is extremely low force, especially since the plaintiff was not injured in any way.
4. The force used distracted the plaintiff enough for the group to make their escape. The fact that they immediately fled the scene contributed to our judgement that the purpose of the action was to defend the wife rather than attack the plaintiff.

After about a half an hour of deliberations, we returned a not guilty verdict. Only two people on the jury did not immediately say “not guilty” when the jury foreperson asked for a quick vote. One more juror conceded that not guilty was the correct verdict after 10 minutes and the remainder of deliberations were spent convincing a juror who was a law student (and thus was being a bit nitpicky).

I was surprised that the prosecutor decided to take the case to court. Neither the plaintiff nor the defendant were particularly sympathetic characters, although the wife certainly was. She had a baby to take care of and throwing her husband in jail would have put tremendous stress on her, even if he wasn’t a perfectly upright citizen. The plaintiff was a rat fink son of a bitch though. After hearing the details of his history of violence, if he came after my wife, I could easily see myself doing a hell of a lot more than just pushing him back. In my view, the defendant went above and beyond his duty to use minimum force. Given that the wife was recovering from giving birth, she would have been totally helpless to defend herself. Prosecutors: Just because you have a video of what happened doesn’t mean that you’re going to get a guilty verdict.

Even if events had been different, it would have been nearly impossible to secure a guilty verdict. If the defendant had beaten the plaintiff, even severely, my verdict would not have changed. If he had stabbed the plaintiff, I would still have likely said not guilty, although I think maybe some other jurors would have disagreed. If he had killed the plaintiff, I think I would have said guilty, since that would have been excessive force. If the wife had not been present, the children would have been in danger, so perhaps we still would have found not guilty. Only if there had been no one else at the scene would “other defense” not been a viable defense. I can’t imagine myself convicting someone for a push though. I just don’t think the State should get involved unless someone is actually injured, especially when the defendant and plaintiff have a personal history like that.

In the end, it was nice that the justice was done and that the case did not require too much delving into a moral grey zone. The defendant was clearly innocent and that’s what we found. Maybe they they will fight again, and maybe they will be back in court another day, but for now, he can be with his family and continue to be a contributing member of society. One overzealous prosecutor was dealt a setback, however slight. I feel very good about my actions that day, and I’m glad I had the experience. It’s not as bad as everyone seems to think. I had one interesting day and got to contribute to our system of justice.

Tips to be a better War Thunder Pilot

September 30, 2014

This article is for new players. If you routinely get 5+ kills per match and understand various tactics and maneuvers already, move on.

1. Situational Awareness
Always be looking around. Know what is above you and what is below you. Try to see if someone is angling to attack you. Even if you are attacking, look around occasionally to see if someone is attacking you. Mostly, it’s not worth getting killed to get a kill.

2. Understand your plane/Understand your target
Know its strengths and weaknesses. Play to your strengths, avoid your weaknesses. Most importantly, get a general idea of how maneuverable the plane you’re using is. If it’s a turn fighter, like a Zero or Spitfire, you can generally maneuver with your foes. If it’s an energy fighter, if you miss your first pass, put the nose up and climb away. Don’t turn with a plane more maneuverable than yourself.

3. How do I get someone off my 6?
a. The best pilots aren’t those who are good at getting someone off their 6, they are those who never get someone on their 6 to begin with. Maybe your plane is totally outclassed (as WT’s match maker gets worse with every update), but if you have a good plane, use situational awareness to turn into the enemy before they dive on you.
b. Use your teammates to help you. In arcade, if you can fly to your fighter spawn, do so. There will always be someone spawning in looking for a quick kill.
c. Use your plane’s advantages to evade. If you are flying a better turner, turn. If you are flying a better diver, dive, etc. For the most part, by the time someone is on your 6, it’s too late though.

4. Avoiding the head on
Head ons are very risky, even with firepower superiority. Both planes are likely to be heavily damaged even if they get a kill. At worst, you fly headlong into the other plane and neither of you gets the kill. Don’t head on heavy fighters, like Beaufighters, Do 217s, Me 410s, Ki 45s, etc. Try to maneuver behind your target so they can’t shoot back. If you are fast, climb above your target. If you are maneuverable, use your turn ability to get on the enemies’ tail.

5. Avoiding the bounce
If someone dives on you, turn under them. That means turn hard to the right or left, and fly beneath them. If they try to turn immediately after their dive, you will be 50% turned around by the time they start to turn and you should be able to get on their tail. Another technique is to do a split S. You won’t be in a position to counterattack, but it is a very effective way to avoid the attack.

6. Target Fixation
Even when you have a target in your sights, don’t lose your situational awareness completely. Get a sense of how fast you are going, the enemies around you and how you have been maneuvering. Often when I have someone on my tail, I will either climb away or fly to my teammates who kill the person on my tail. After you have been attacking someone for 5 seconds, look around.

7. Combat maneuvers
There are many combat maneuvers to learn. Start slow, and pick one at a time to master. Eventually you’ll learn them all if you stick with it.

a. The High Yo-yo. When someone turns in front of you, instead of turning with them, pull your plane into a climb, roll it so your cockpit faces where the bogy is headed, and flop over on top of them.

b. Boom and Zoom

Step 1: Climb
Step 2: Select a target – should be someone slow and distracted preferably.
Step 3: Dive on and shoot the target. You can do some last minute adjustments as long as they are small. Getting the approach right can be difficult, so just practice it until you get it.
Step 4: Climb away to safety. Make sure there is a safe place to escape to before you dive. If not, wait and maneuver until there is.
Note: Do not turn. Even if you miss your shot, don’t turn. Turning means slowing down and slowing down means death.

c. Split S
This maneuver is best used to evade a target diving on you.

d. Scissoring
This video starts with a Split S (The video author calls it a reverse Immelman)

e. Barrel Roll
The barrel roll is used to quickly slow your plane down. It can be used defensively to force an overshoot, or offensively to match your speed to a slower target.

500th Post Retrospective

September 26, 2014

It’s been a long time since I started this blog. My first post was on May 4, 2011. Since then, I have written 499 posts, mostly economics, but some about video games, politics, culture, roleplaying, or whatever else strikes my fancy. I used to have a Livejournal account, but moved to WordPress because Livejournal seemed limiting and too casual. I began writing in earnest after I got back from Oxford. Part of Oxford’s unique teaching style is requiring students to write reports every week and present their papers to the professor. I enjoyed that process greatly and didn’t want my writing skills to get rusty.

Eventually, I finished my masters degree, got married and bought a home. Things were going pretty well in my life until about two years ago. My first child died shortly after being born prematurely, which was devastating for both myself and my wife. It took the wind out of my sails, and crushed any desire to do anything, really, for several months. I really didn’t have any desire to teach the world economics, as had been my former goal.

This March, my second child was born, Chelsea, who is beautiful and healthy and cute as can be. For the first time in a very long time, I am falling in love with life again. I don’t know if I will go back to academic economics for awhile. I have been writing about video games, which served as an escape from reality for me. Somewhat surprisingly, those articles have been very popular, accruing nearly half a million hits over the past 6 months. I may go back to writing economics sooner or later, but as for now, it will still be an every once in awhile kind of thing.

Assorted Links

September 9, 2014

1. Fundamentalists are not traditionalists.

2. On U.S. hypocracy.

3. Dying Russians. China is in a similar demographic situation, but because of low birth rates.

4. Abolish the FDA, reason # 1513. For those of you who have never had it, unpasteurized cheese is delicious. Sterile cheese is disgusting. The FDA has no right to tell people what to eat.

5. On testing and studying.

6. What do people cured of blindness see?


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