When you don’t have kids hanging out on the street, there’s no one to shoot or do the shooting

Saturday, June 17th, 2023

In 2002, Bill Bratton took over as chief of the LAPD and applied what he had learned as New York City’s police commissioner:

Central to Bratton’s approach in New York was a system called CompStat, short for computer statistics. CompStat involved the real-time statistical monitoring of crime reports, giving cops, and their chain of command, data to which they could be held accountable. Bratton also believed in what has been called the broken windows theory, based on an argument (still much contested) put forward in 1982 by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, that broken windows or other forms of decay beget further deterioration, and that preventing serious crimes requires a focus on combating blight and petty forms of lawlessness.

When Bratton brought CompStat to the LAPD, it showed commanders where to deploy resources, and it meant the police, and especially division captains, could be evaluated according to reductions in crime in their territory. To fight chronic understaffing at the LAPD, Bratton lobbied for more hiring. Under mayors Richard Riordan and Jim Hahn, the LAPD had grown to 9,000 officers. Bratton and mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took it to 10,000.

The LAPD also began to make use of a tool that had previously been used sparingly: the gang injunction, essentially a ban on gang members hanging out together in public. The gang injunction spent much of the 1990s in court before being narrowly ruled constitutional, but law enforcement valued it. Today, Los Angeles alone has at least 44 injunctions against 72 street gangs. Gang members seen on the street together can be jailed on misdemeanor charges. Other towns and counties followed LAPD’s lead.

All this had a major effect: It drove gang members indoors. Drug dealing continued, and so did other forms of crime, including identity theft. Gang members became more adept at using the Internet to promote their gangs and belittle rivals. But boasting and threatening online doesn’t require the commitment or violence of classic L.A. street gang-banging, nor does it blight a neighborhood. “When you don’t have kids hanging out on the street,” says George Tita, the UC Irvine criminologist, “there’s no one to shoot or do the shooting.”


Prosecuting street gangs has meant abandoning the previous focus on kingpins. “‘Cut off the head and body dies’ just isn’t true” when it comes to Southern California street gangs, says Brunwin. “You have to go after everyone—anyone who had anything to do with, supported, or touched the organization. You have to have an effect on the structure, its daily operation. The only thing that works is adopting a scorched-Earth policy.”

Members of the early 20th century English upper class tended to have portfolios weighted towards land and government bonds

Friday, June 16th, 2023

Byrne Hobart looks at emergency portfolios for worst-case scenarios:

Physical gold, for example, retains some of its value even if the financial system collapses. On the other hand, the old coins we have are often recovered from hoards that someone buried and never dug up, often because of war, famine, plague, or revolution.


Members of the early 20th century English upper class tended to have portfolios weighted towards land and government bonds, exactly what you’d buy if you were certain of disaster but uncertain about whether it would be inflationary or deflationary. But after the First and Second World Wars, they got the worst of both worlds: inflation high enough to devalue the purchasing power of their bonds, taxes high enough to render the real return from their land negative.


China’s communist revolution was one of the most thorough economic levelings in human history, one so effective that the children of the elite were actually poorer than average for a while, but then recovered and by the early days of China’s opening-up, and were better-off than ever. Similarly, in the post-Civil War South, the descendants of slave-owning families ended up about as well-off as other rich people, even though their land was seized, their currency depreciated to nothing, and the source of their wealth was banned by the Constitution.

The two psychological tendencies that underlie modern leftism we call feelings of inferiority and oversocialization

Thursday, June 15th, 2023

Ted Kaczynski’s recent suicide prompted me to finally take a look at his manifesto, which opens with these words:

The industrial revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in “advanced” countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human beings to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to increased physical suffering even in “advanced” countries.

The first section after the introduction addresses the psychology of modern leftism:

Almost everyone will agree that we live in a deeply troubled society. One of the most widespread manifestations of the craziness of our world is leftism, so a discussion of the psychology of leftism can serve as an introduction to the discussion of the problems of modern society in general.

But what is leftism? During the first half of the twentieth century leftism could have been practically identified with socialism. Today the movement is fragmented and it is not clear who can properly be called a leftist. When we speak of leftists in this article we have in mind mainly socialists, collectivists, “politically correct” types, feminists, gay and disability activists, animal-rights activists and the like. But not everyone who is associated with one of these movements is a leftist. What we are trying to get at in discussing leftism is not so much a movement or an ideology as a psychological type, or rather a collection of related types. Thus, what we mean by “leftism” will emerge more clearly in the course of our discussion of leftist psychology. (Also, see paragraphs 227-230.)

Even so, our conception of leftism will remain a good deal less clear than we would wish, but there doesn’t seem to be any remedy for this. All we are trying to do here is indicate in a rough and approximate way the two psychological tendencies that we believe are the main driving force of modern leftism. We by no means claim to be telling the WHOLE truth about leftist psychology. Also, our discussion is meant to apply to modern leftism only. We leave open the question of the extent to which our discussion could be applied to the leftists of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The two psychological tendencies that underlie modern leftism we call feelings of inferiority and oversocialization. Feelings of inferiority are characteristic of modern leftism as a whole, while oversocialization is characteristic only of a certain segment of modern leftism; but this segment is highly influential.

Spandrell calls this Biological Leninism:

The Coalition of the Fringes, Sailer calls it. It’s worse than that really. it’s the coalition of everyone who would lose status the better society were run. It’s the coalition of the bad. Literal Kakistocracy.

The Polish campaign should have tipped off the Allies

Wednesday, June 14th, 2023

Hitler’s strategy through mid-1940 was almost flawless, Bevin Alexander argues, in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II. The Polish campaign should have tipped off the Allies to new uses for two elements in the German arsenal:

German generals had discovered something that the leaders of other armies had not figured out — that airplanes and tanks were not weapons but kinds of vehicles. Vehicles could carry armor, guns, or people, making possible an entirely new military system built around them. Armies could consist of troops carried by airplanes or dropped from them, or of self-propelled forces containing tanks, motorized artillery, and motorized infantry. Air forces could include tactical aircraft, such as dive-bombers, that functioned as aerial field artillery, or strategic aircraft with long-range and heavy bomb-carrying capacity that could bomb the enemy homeland.

Heinz Guderian had built the panzer arm on the teachings of two English experts, J. F. C. Fuller and Basil H. Liddell Hart, whose ideas of concentrating armor into large units had been largely ignored in their own country. The German high command was as hidebound as the British leadership on this point, and fought Guderian’s ideas. It was the enthusiasm of Hitler for tanks that gave Guderian the opening to establish the army doctrine of putting all armor into panzer divisions, instead of dividing it into small detachments parceled out to infantry divisions, as remained the practice in the French and British armies.

In addition, Guderian won acceptance of the doctrine that panzer divisions had to be made up not only of tanks but of motorized infantry, artillery, and engineers, who could move at the speed of tanks and operate alongside armor to carry out offensive operations wherever the tanks could reach.

Erwin Rommel, who would become famous for his campaigns in North Africa, produced the best one-sentence description of blitzkrieg warfare: “The art of concentrating strength at one point, forcing a breakthrough, rolling up and securing the flanks on either side, and then penetrating like lightning deep into his rear, before the enemy has had time to react.”

This was a revolutionary idea to the armies of the world. Most military leaders thought tanks should be used as they had been employed in World War I — to assist infantry in carrying out assaults on foot against enemy objectives. For this reason, the best Allied tanks, like the British Matilda, were heavily armored monsters that could deflect most enemy fire but could move scarcely faster than an infantryman could walk. German tanks, on the other hand, were “fast runners” with less armor, but able to travel at around 25 miles an hour and designed for quick penetration of an enemy line and fast exploitation of the breakthrough thereafter into the enemy rear.


The radical aircraft the Germans developed was not much to look at. It was the Junker 87B Stuka, a dive-bomber with nonretractable landing gear, an 1,100-pound bombload, and a top speed of only 240 mph. It was already obsolete in 1940, but the Stuka (short for Sturzkampfflugzeug, or “dive battle aircraft”) was designed to make pinpoint attacks on enemy battlefield positions, tanks, and troops. And, since the German Luftwaffe (air force) gained air superiority quickly with its excellent fighter the Messerschmitt 109, the Stuka had the sky over the battlefield largely to itself. The Stuka functioned as aerial artillery and was highly effective. It also was terrifying to Allied soldiers because of its accuracy and because German pilots fitted the Stuka with an ordinary whistle that emitted a high-pitched scream as it dived. The Allied air forces had not seen a need for such a plane and concentrated primarily on area bombing, which was much less effective on the battlefield.

The editor’s introduction to my copy of Heinz Guderian‘s Achtung Panzer! adds this:

From his detailed accounts of all the main tank actions of the First World War Guderian explicitly draws the following lessons: (a) tanks are of little use when penny-packeted and should be massed; (b) they should not be wasted on unsuitable ground, as they were by the British GHQ in the swamps of Ypres, but saved for use on good going; (c) that the greatest results can be achieved when massed tanks are used with the benefit of surprise.


In what may be regarded as one of the most significant paragraphs in the book, he explains that Allied aircraft in 1918 created disorder in the German rear areas, hindered the movement of reserves and brought German batteries under actual attack.

‘All of this was of material influence on the course of the ground fighting, especially when they were acting in co-ordination with tanks. Aircraft became an offensive weapon of the first order, distinguished by their great speed, range and effect on target.’


Readers will notice that nowhere does Guderian use the term ‘Blitzkrieg’ — often thought to encapsulate the German approach to war in the Nazi era. In fact the term seems not to have been used in Germany before the Second World War when it was picked up from the foreign press. Its first known use occurs in a 1939 article on the Polish campaign in the American Time magazine.


On the subject of British influence, some readers will be surprised that there is not more reference to Basil Liddell Hart, the famous military journalist and author. He is mentioned only once — in connection with the Experimental Mechanical Force of 1927. Since the late 1970s military historians specializing in this period have been aware that the well-known passage in Guderian’s memoirs, in which Liddell Hart is extolled above all others as the inspiration behind the early victories of the panzer forces, was put there at Liddell Hart’s own request at a time when Guderian was in various ways indebted to him. Significantly this passage does not occur in the original German edition.

The Navy surface fleet is essentially floating airstrips surrounded by air defense batteries

Tuesday, June 13th, 2023

The Navy surface fleet is essentially floating airstrips surrounded by air defense batteries, Austin Vernon says:

Floating airfields are valuable where land bases are constrained or surprise/mobility is critical.

Potential flashpoints with China, like Taiwan or the South China Sea, are more expansive than Europe but aren’t the vast Central Pacific. Airfields, aircraft, land-based air defense, and small utility ships can replicate most of a carrier strike group’s capabilities in a war with China. Aircraft are capable anti-ship platforms, they can keep enemy airplanes at bay, and there are plenty of airfields to fly from. But they cannot clear the way for supply ships nor operate persistently deep in enemy territory. The minimum viable Navy has to handle enemy mines and submarines. Adding offensive mine and submarine capabilities is the next logical step.

Minesweeping capability will be critical for supplying forward bases, keeping Taiwan from starving, and gaining entry to the Taiwan Strait later in the conflict, and the following features could help:

Sonar to Find Mines

Most minesweepers have active sonar arrays to find potential mines. There are low-resolution modes for broad searches and high-resolution modes for investigating potential mines. The Navy might have to adapt less capable off-the-shelf sonar and put those arrays on whatever ships they can scrap together.

Charges to Destroy Mines

A brute force option might be launching depth charges at anything that looks like a mine on wide-view sonar rather than confirming with narrow-band sonar, UUVs, or divers.

Better Mine Triggering Methods

It would be ideal if new decoys could simulate ship sounds and magnetic signatures well enough to trigger mines.

Underwater Micro Drones

Some proposals envision launching small unmanned underwater vehicles from motherships to seek out mines and eliminate them – essentially underwater loitering munitions. These are one of the few technologies that might help US submarines fight in the shallows deep in Chinese territory.

The US may not have air supremacy, so the answer for hunting subs can’t be P-8 patrol planes dropping buoys at every likely hiding place:

More Advanced Listening Network

The US tracked Russian nuclear submarines during the Cold War with a network of sensors in the Deep Sound Channel that transports noises for hundreds or thousands of miles. Most waters in East Asia are too shallow for this layer to exist. A network in East Asia will need more nodes or different technology to work effectively.

These capabilities are highly classified, and there have been suggestions that the US and Japan are improving the existing systems. The Navy has also added low-frequency active sonar with a 160+ km range to their submarine tracking boats. These systems perform much better against quiet diesel subs in shallow water.

China has also built listening networks to counter US submarines.

Underwater Seagliders

Seagliders and wave gliders are a class of drones that loiter in the ocean for months or years to collect data. They are hyper-efficient, often using a few watts. The mission can be as simple as collecting oceanographic data or as complex as tracking enemy subs. These gliders could increase submarine detection capability deep in enemy territory. They have to prove that they are stealthy enough to avoid detection/destruction, and software must be energy efficient to avoid running down the batteries.

Expendable Drone Aircraft

Another speculative option is putting sensors like magnetic anomaly detectors (MAD) on small, inexpensive flying drones. You might be able to buy hundreds of these for the cost of one anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter, increasing the coverage area.

ASW Patrol Boats

There won’t be time to build anti-submarine warfare powerhouses like a Perry-class frigate or Spruance-class destroyer. And the current fleet has no dedicated ASW ship. There will be a need for boats capable of escorting carrier battle groups and convoys. The more desperate the timeline, the more ramshackle solutions will be. Grafting on older sonar arrays and torpedo racks is probably the bare minimum.

Ghost Riders In The Sky

Monday, June 12th, 2023

I hadn’t heard of Neil LeVang when I stumbled across this performance of Ghost Riders In The Sky:

As his bio notes:

Levang unknowingly created a new genre of music that would eventually be called Surf Rock with his 1961 arrangement of Ghost Riders In the Sky, performed on The Lawrence Welk Show.

I’m pretty sure I knew the song from Dick Dale’s 1963 cover, which is, of course, surf guitar, too.

There are many versions:

The original version by Stan Jones was recorded in late 1948 or early 1949. A recording by Stan Jones and his Death Valley Rangers was issued on Mercury 5320 in May 1949.

Hundreds of performers have recorded versions of the song. Vaughn Monroe reached number 1 in Billboard magazine with his version (“Riders in the Sky” with orchestra and vocal quartet).

I don’t think I realized that the melody is based on the Civil War-era song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”.

One option is to design carriers without complex systems

Sunday, June 11th, 2023

The US Navy is complacent, Austin Vernon suggests, after lacking a competitor for so long:

Modern carrier design reflects that. Thankfully physics has little to say about how much a carrier needs to cost. The new USS Ford weighs 100,000 tons. Steel costs ~$700/ton, so the basic materials are only $70 million. Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) are roughly the same size. They cost ~$90 million, barely more than steel and engines. Crew quarters for 5000 sailors, nuclear reactors, radars, catapults, flag accommodations, specialized systems, and general government bloat get you to a $10+ billion ship.

The minimum requirements for a carrier are:

  1. Launch full-size aircraft
  2. Have space for bombs, fuel, and crew

One option is to design carriers without complex systems. Make the deck long enough to launch aircraft without catapults or arresting wires. Use ramps instead of elevators. Put only the most basic radio or radar. Then use cost-effective marine diesel engines instead of high-performance power plants. Don’t bother with fuel piping. Small trucks can carry fuel from deep in the ship to the hangar. Having ramps at each end of the runway simplifies traffic control. You don’t even need a tower, just a pure flat deck. Forget flag facilities. The admirals can stay on an AEGIS ship if they want fancy screens and wardrooms.

The carrier would be the longest ship in the world at ~1000 meters. The vessel before outfitting would cost ~$300 million if built like VLCCs. Modular construction methods help shipyards complete these ships in less than a year. Crew quarters can be austere to speed construction. Sleeping arrangements would be small cots, there wouldn’t be kitchens (eat MREs) or plumbing (use chemical toilets, bottled water, and camp showers topside), and all laundry could be shipped offsite. A typical VLCC only has twenty crew, so most sailors will be the ~1400 it takes to run seven squadrons of aircraft. Active combat will require a few hundred more solely for firefighting and damage repair. Cutting support functions and features reduces the crew significantly.

The ship will be ~3x the size with half the crew, leaving excess space. That allows aircraft to be kept below deck and protected. Crew quarters can move deep into the interior. The ship can fill the cavities surrounding crew and aircraft storage with closed-cell aluminum foam. These foams are fire-proof, absorb energy, and are impermeable to water to prevent flooding.

The design could end up near ~$1 billion with rapid development and construction times once the Navy commissions a suitable dry dock.

Assume both sides have omniscient satellite coverage and very capable AI/ML:

The first goal is to degrade missile seeker performance. Missiles can use radar, infrared, visual, and electronic listening sensors for terminal guidance. A small escort ship could have a powerful jamming suite to spoof the satellite’s synthetic aperture radar, jam radar frequencies the missiles use, and degrade satellite-to-missile communication. It is best for it to be separate from the carrier to thwart home-on-jam seekers. Smoke can obscure visual observation, and many aerosols can degrade the infrared spectrum. For good measure, you can spread diesel on the ocean and light it on fire. Chaff can distort any unjammed radar signals. None of these methods are perfect, but they all degrade missile performance. The cost is marginal compared to the billions of dollars a missile salvo would cost. Satellites will monitor China’s mainland for launch plumes, giving the carrier group ~15-30 minutes of warning. The carrier crew can launch its planes, drain and park fuel trucks, secure tools in lockers, store munitions, and go to shelters during the missile flight time.

Missiles won’t be the only users of AI/ML. Instead of bespoke close-in weapon systems that cost $10 million, you can hook up cheap infrared cameras and iPhone-level computing to 20 mm and 40 mm cannons. You are looking at $100,000 per gun instead. An ideal situation might be spending $100 million to buy 1000 cannons and putting them on a few glorified barges near carriers (but outside of the smoke/aerosols). These guns have a several thousand meter range, providing several long seconds to wreck incoming missiles. And because we have advanced AI/ML, aiming will be very accurate.

When we do the math, fifty $20 million missiles equals a $1 billion carrier. ~100,000 bullets from our guns equal one missile. We can afford to turn the sky black with lead. Our defenses can get off around 50,000 per second. Most CIWSs don’t even bother using explosive shells, but that is an option to make the ammo more effective.

Assume China drains its entire inventory of ~200 DF-21D and DF-26 missiles in one salvo. The SM-6 and SM-3s from the guided missile ships will get a few – call it 10%. Our guns will get off 150,000 rounds – almost 1000 rounds per missile – even if the Chinese time the attack perfectly. Any staggering of the missiles increases the rounds per missile dramatically. Of course, some will still probably get through. A portion will be confused by the smoke/aerosol/chaff/fire/jamming countermeasures. Assume a few hit the flight deck of our carriers. They’ll punch some holes and get buried in aluminum foam. Maybe they push some damage into the empty hangar.

Thousands of sailors will scurry to put out any localized fires. Then they’ll drive some forklifts out of shelters to pick up steel plates, beams, and extra bails of aluminum foam to take up the ramps. They’ll cut up damaged deck plate pieces, toss in the foam bails, insert beams, and use hundreds of welders to attach new plates. The crew will repair the damage before the planes need to divert away.

These defenses also work well for drone swarms. Iranian Shaheds would struggle to sneak by the 1000 guns with independent eyes, and their 80-pound warheads would barely dent the paint. The ramps could have blast doors to keep any drones from wandering down toward the planes.

The strike group can carry on and do its job.

The US has about 250 billion square feet of residential floor space

Saturday, June 10th, 2023

The US has about 250 billion square feet of residential floor space, spread across about 100 million individual buildings:

The majority of that square footage is found in single family homes, which make up a bit over 75% of residential square footage. Multifamily buildings (duplexes, apartments, condos, etc.) make up another ~18% of the square footage, and the balance goes to mobile and manufactured homes. Within multifamily, we see the majority of square footage is in smaller buildings — 2 to 4 unit buildings, or buildings 3 stories or less. Multifamily buildings taller than 3 stories make up just over 3% of US housing by floor area — your mental model of “typical apartment building” should be a garden apartment rather than an urban high-rise (the US actually has more square footage in mobile homes than it does in multifamily buildings taller than 3 stories). Over 90% of housing space in the US consists of single family homes and low-rise apartment buildings.

This affects energy use:

Modern housing uses substantially less energy than older housing on a per-square-foot basis. A 50-year difference in house age translates to roughly a 50% reduction in energy use. Most of that reduction comes from reduced energy used for heating.

After age, the largest variable that affects home energy use is climate — homes in cold climates use about 30-40% more energy than homes in warm climates, most of which is due to increased heating requirements.

Other than mobile homes, we don’t see a huge amount of variation in energy intensity between different types of housing (single family, multifamily, etc.) On a square-foot basis, single family homes actually use less energy than multifamily housing. Differences in energy use come from the fact that single family homes are much larger than multifamily housing.

Likewise, differences in energy use between the US and European houses stem from the fact that US homes are much larger than European ones.

We don’t seem to find much difference in energy use from across similar homes in states with different level of energy code strictness, though the data here is limited.

The Navy could benefit from several improvements to support carriers and increase offensive ability

Friday, June 9th, 2023

What does a “built-to-win” fleet look like? Austin Vernon offers some suggestions:

First, carriers will still dominate the fleet! Without air cover, you lose. The aircraft will remain the same size because of payload and range constraints whether humans fly them or not, limiting the utility of smaller carrier designs. Carriers are not as vulnerable as assumed, either. In WWII, bombs and missiles sunk only one US fleet carrier. Today’s carriers are 5x the size, yet modern anti-ship missiles and WWII munitions have similar explosive punch. The main questions are how fast repairs happen and how well the crew can put out fires. Escorts will provide warning, defense, and absorb hits.

The US Navy has limited ship-killing and land attack ability outside of aircraft and submarines. Nine F-18s, each carrying ten 1000-pound bombs, have more explosive power than a Burke-Class destroyer’s vertical launch tubes, and the destroyer must return to port to reload!

The Navy could benefit from several improvements to support carriers and increase offensive ability:

Ships That Can Brawl:

The Navy needs ships that can take a punch and have the firepower to deal damage.

Survivability needs to be a priority. Modern warships have mostly given up on armor, but there has been significant progress in armor technology in tanks that could offer a boost in survivability. Ships have more room and mass allowance than tanks, opening up more options. Battle damage considerations, especially around fire, are always critical. Sensors on current Navy ships often have more capability than necessary, are challenging to repair, and are extremely sensitive to damage. A fighter aircraft-size radar would be more than adequate on most ships, allowing for the storage of spare modules. All maintenance must be as easy as swapping modules, similar to the Army’s tanks. Ships will get hit by missiles, and some will sink or burn, but that doesn’t mean that one shot should take them out of the fight or that the crew must go down with the ship.

Stealth is another key to survivability. Any reduction in radar, acoustic, thermal, electronic, or visual signature helps delay detection and makes the ship less enticing for precision-guided munitions. Tall vertical missile launch tubes and large radars are the worst offenders in increasing signatures.

Engineering, economics, and practicality all point towards warships needing an incredible density of short-range air defenses composed of electronic warfare, decoys, smaller missiles, guided rockets, and guns. Most point defenses should have independent targeting systems for robustness. Reliability and quick reaction times matter more than interception range.

Surface warfare capability must increase, especially in the 30-150 km range. Naval guns, rocket artillery, and rocket-launched torpedos are all options. Modified-for-sea-duty M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System launcher rails could provide sustained offensive firepower at 20,000 pounds per hour per launcher, could reload at sea, and use everything from 30 km range surplus rockets to the 500+ km range Precision Strike Missile. 8″ guns could massively increase range and firepower compared to today’s 5″ guns. An experiment in the 1970s put an 8″ gun on a small destroyer, proving the concept. And there is a faction that wants to reactivate and modernize the Iowa-class ships, bringing 16″ guns back into the inventory.

These ships are only valuable if they are manufacturable. The easiest way to improve manufacturability is to remove excess features. The worst offenders are massive $300 million radars, helicopters, and vertical missile tubes. All of these systems are complex, fragile, and hideously expensive. Deleting these features or substituting simpler systems could reduce the size of a destroyer by 70%. More shipyards can build them, and the construction time and cost will decrease dramatically.

A classical destroyer, a more narrowly-focused submarine, and an anti-air-focused cruiser would be examples of needs within this paradigm. The destroyer could serve as a carrier escort or operate in independent squadrons. The Navy could build a submarine without vertical launch tubes, special forces accommodations, and other extraneous features in numbers to disrupt enemy shipping and subs. The cruiser would provide additional short and medium-range anti-air capability, especially for handling sea-skimming missiles.

Simple Support Craft:

Several support capabilities have little peacetime utility but would have insatiable demand during a high-intensity conflict. Anti-submarine patrol boats, minesweepers, amphibious landing equipment, and escort carriers for submarine hunting helicopters and scout drones are the main culprits.

These vessels don’t fight the enemy fleet directly, allowing them to be simple, small, and possibly built on commercial hulls. The main requirements are to do one job well and to be built in huge numbers affordably. The Navy’s attempt to consolidate many of these capabilities into the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) has been a disaster after cost and complexity spiraled out of control.

The Navy needs new models in production to support a small number of active duty ships for training, some in reserve, and unconventional shipyards certified to produce high volumes.

Better Passive Sensors:

Controlling electronic emissions will be a matter of survival for Navy Battle Groups, especially early in a conflict. Even using radar aircraft like the E-2 can betray the general area of a carrier group. There is a catch-22 with radar. It might provide more warning of missiles, but using the radar will make the group a missile magnet. Incredible amounts of short-range air defense are helpful because the engagement ranges could be very close.

Passive sensors, like infrared cameras, to detect missiles and other combatants would make it easier to turn the radars off until a battle commences. Drones can provide over-the-horizon sensing that ship-based radar and optics can’t, increasing warning time. Bad weather can degrade the infrared and visible light spectrums, but the enemy suffers, too. Their scouts and missiles will use radar that warns of their attack.

Sea gliders, satellites, and over-the-horizon radar stations are other ways the Navy can gather intelligence, though many of these will also be early targets for the Chinese.

Air Superiority Fighters:

The Navy is in worse shape than the Air Force because they have no equivalent to the F-22. Incremental improvements to the F-35 are an option for improvement while waiting for the F/A-XX program to mature.

The M777’s lightweight construction isn’t just valuable for air transport

Thursday, June 8th, 2023

In 1979, the M198 155mm medium-towed howitzer entered service:

At just over 36 feet long and weighing in at approximately 16,000 pounds, the M198 could rain high-explosive hell down on targets from 14 miles out, cycling and firing 95-pound M107 shells with a 9 or 10-person crew.

By the 1990s, the U.S. was shopping for a new, lighter artillery platform:

The answer came in the form of an artillery system that had been in development in the UK since the 1980s, initially under the banner of Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering (later purchased by BAE systems). At 35 feet long, with a 16.7-foot barrel, this new artillery platform was just slightly shorter than the M198 and fired the same 155mm rounds… But thanks to the widespread use of titanium and aluminum alloys in its construction, weighed 40% less than the M198, at just 9,300 pounds.

The new M777 was so light, in fact, that it could be slung beneath helicopters or delivered via all sorts of cargo aircraft. While it would take two C-130s to deliver an M198 artillery system to the battlefield, the entire M777 setup could arrive in just one.

But the M777’s lightweight construction isn’t just valuable for air transport. In combat, where artillery crews regularly “shoot and scoot” (fire off a number of rounds and then relocate before you can be targetted), the M777’s light weight makes it easier to quickly break down and move. In fact, well-trained crews can break the M777 down for transport in just about three minutes and set it back up again in about the same. While traveling, its light weight means M777s can be towed through muddy roads and across wet fields that would hinder the progress (or completely stop) heavier weapon systems.

The M777 also received improved high explosive shells — the 103-pound M795, which carries 24 pounds of TNT and offers a kill radius of a whopping 70 meters. Each M795 carries the destructive firepower of a Hellfire missile, but delivered at just a fraction of the cost.

Crews can fire five of these massive rounds per minute, reaching targets 19 miles away. Newer (and more expensive) GPS-guided rounds with deployable stabilizing fins known as the M982 Excalibur can reach even further — as far as 25 miles out.

The M777 may have been made out of some of the same materials as the SR-71, but Uncle Sam continued to trick its new howitzer out even after it entered service in 2005. Throughout the 2010s, America’s M777s all received full-bore chrome-plated barrel tubes said to extend their service lifespans by as much as 300%.

In 2017, the efficacy of this upgrade was proven in battle, when a single Marine M777 battery fired more than 35,000 rounds at ISIS targets in Syria over just five months. That’s more than all of the 155mm artillery rounds fired by the entire U.S. military in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But despite this incredible volume of fire, the Marines only burned through two of these new chrome-plated barrels in the process.

Other upgrades include the addition of precision-guided fuse kits in 2016 that reduced the margin for error in targeting high-explosive rounds by a whopping 85%, bringing accuracy from a 200-meter margin to under 30 meters. With a 70-meter blast radius, that jump in accuracy effectively ensures a direct hit when M777 crews have good targeting data.


American M777 crews now use a digital fire-control system operated via a tablet computer that allows them to rapidly identify targets and engage them without having to do any of the math. This not only speeds up the firing process, but also eliminates user error caused by battlefield stress or exhaustion.


For situations that call for even greater accuracy, however, the M777 can rely on target data relayed to it by the Army’s Joint Effects Targeting System, or JETS. These one-person-portable targeting systems are carried into the field by forward observers and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers who identify targets at ranges as far from the user as 2.5 kilometers.

The history of fighter aircraft suggests a massive edge for better capability

Wednesday, June 7th, 2023

There are a few areas the Air Force needs to address, Austin Vernon suggests:

Reducing Sensor Vulnerability:

The Chinese see the US Air Force’s big, slow sensor platforms as a weak link. Many speculate that the purpose of the Chinese J-20 stealth is to sneak around combat air patrols and shoot long-range missiles at helpless radar planes and tankers. Putting smaller radars, cameras, electronic listening, and jammers on many drones would reduce sensor vulnerability. The Off-Board Sensing Station program is developing the capability to operate these drones beyond line-of-sight with limited satellite coverage, a critical requirement for the vast Pacific Ocean. The distributed drones will almost certainly cost more because it might take one hundred XQ-58-size drones that cost several million dollars to equal the coverage area of one E-3 or E-7. The Air Force could also use the B-21 airframe as a sensor/coordination platform.

Anti-Missile Fighters:

The Air Force needs inexpensive anti-missile combat air patrols over likely targets. Short-range, guided munitions like the $25,000 APKWS 70mm rocket can dispatch most threats. An F-16 fighter recently downed a cruise missile in a test using one, and the US already manufactures ~20,000 APKWS kits a year for air-to-ground purposes.

Traditional fighters can fulfill this mission, but drones like the XQ-58 could cover more potential targets and better handle attacks from multiple directions. They can also maintain near-perpetual readiness waiting on the launch rails, allowing a surge of launches within seconds without the stress of keeping crews at high readiness.

Supersonic Stealth Fighter:

The F-22 being out of production is a liability because the F-35 is not nearly as optimized for air-to-air combat. Restarting production could be a low-risk option until the NGAD fighter enters service. The history of fighter aircraft suggests a massive edge for better capability, making the F-22 hard to replace with lesser aircraft. A historical example is the Hellcat having a 19:1 kill-to-loss ratio against the Japanese in WWII. The Chinese put so much effort into attacking airfields to avoid fighting the F-22 in the air.

A relevant supersonic stealth drone will likely be about the size and cost of a traditional fighter with more technical risk and longer development timelines than restarting F-22 production. You can always put an AI pilot in an F-22.

The template for a cheap, low-capability fighter drone already exists in the XQ-58. There is a risk that it would score zero kills against 5th-generation fighters and cheaper anti-drone missiles are on the horizon to negate swarm attacks. But, the XQ-58 is an available design that can scale rapidly if testing or experience proves it useful for battling enemy fighters. There may be other simplified drone types worth testing, like a stealthy dogfighting drone that only uses guns.

The Air Force must keep airfields near Guam and Okinawa in the fight, he notes, to use its hundreds of F-22 stealth fighters and thousands of F-15s and F-16s:

RAND makes the case that the best option for protecting aircraft during a war is dispersal, selective hardening, and using cheaper shelters that provide some protection against shrapnel or cluster bomblets but not bombs. Leaving most aircraft shelters empty can obfuscate where the planes are, lowering the accuracy of precision-guided munitions. Increasing active defenses like interceptor missiles is critical, too. Many of these strategies are already underway. The combined effort makes launches of $20 million ballistic missiles look less appealing.

The new platform-based standards set fuel economy targets based on wheelbase and tread width

Tuesday, June 6th, 2023

Obama-era fuel regulations incentivized automakers to build bigger trucks:

One particular goal of the Obama Administration was to increase fuel efficiency through the typical political process: telling someone else to do it. To that end, the DOT and the EPA handed down a series of standards that nearly doubled the miles-per-gallon requirements for cars and light trucks.


The new platform-based standards set fuel economy targets based on wheelbase and tread width, that is, how far apart the wheels are. If your vehicle is longer and wider, the fuel-economy targets shrinks. In the words of Dan Edmunds of Edumnds.com, “There was kind of an incentive to maybe stretch the wheelbase a couple of inches and set the tires maybe an inch [farther] apart, because you get a bigger platform and slightly smaller target.”

The sweet spot is accurate but cheap weapons

Monday, June 5th, 2023

Both the US and China have a relatively short-term view of hostilities, Austin Vernon suggests, opting for complicated weapons and platforms that take years to build:

Several useful strategies emerge when fighting an existential war.

Cheap Precision

In total war, boutique weapons won’t be able to destroy enough enemies even if they are tactically successful. It is also challenging to produce and transport the mind-boggling mass inaccurate weapons require. The sweet spot is accurate but cheap weapons. These can be classic smart weapons like GPS-gravity bombs but also include an Abrams tank that can reliably kill adversaries 3000 meters away with unguided shells.

Avoid Unreliable Systems

An enemy can grind unreliable weapons into the ground by forcing a high tempo. The twenty US B-2 Bombers could deliver a one-time nuclear strike but could not eliminate thousands of Chinese ships, bases, and troop concentrations because of their low sortie rate and limited numbers.

Manage Survivability vs. Expendability Carefully

There are many tradeoffs when designing weapons. The math tends to push design choices towards cheap, less survivable systems or pricier, long-lasting ones. Survivability can come from the ability to take damage (like having armor) or from deception (stealth, electronic interference, speed).

The cheap system could lack the capability to score any kill against superior weapons or end up still being too expensive. The expensive one could be more vulnerable or less effective than hoped. What capabilities a country has and its strategic position matter when choosing.

A classic comparison is the US Sherman tank and the Soviet T-34 in World War II. The Soviets saw that tanks on the Eastern front rarely lasted 24 hours in battle and took planned obsolescence to the extreme to make the T-34 cheap. The US designed the Sherman for reliability and repairability. Engineers carefully designed engines and suspensions for durability. The number of Shermans in Europe kept increasing because mechanics would have “knocked out” tanks back in battle within days.

Focus on Mass Production

An adversary can make a powerful weapon irrelevant by sheer numbers if it is challenging to produce. Historical examples include the Tiger Tank, Me-262, and sophisticated cruise missiles.

The need for easy-to-manufacture designs is even more critical for expendable munitions. Neither Russia nor Ukraine have top ten economies, yet they are drawing down global munition stocks. Each side must carefully manage consumption and substitute away from bespoke weapons like Javelin missiles for more available systems. Imagine the top two economies duking it out.

The enemy can often fight harder than you think and regenerate more forces than you hope. The conflict can rapidly devolve into a lower-tech slugfest with alarming casualty counts if you can’t produce enough capable weapons.

Have Appropriate Designs Ready

The US won World War II by increasing the output of weapons already in production or well into development. It took too long to bring new designs into mass production. And it was much easier to expand the output of systems already in production than ramp up programs coming out of development. The several-year penalty for new designs could cost millions of lives or the war.

They’re predictable and stable

Sunday, June 4th, 2023

In Social Order of the Underworld, David Skarbek argues that prison gangs arise naturally in mega-prisons:

The vast scale of mass incarceration in America makes the old informal social structure of prisons practically impossible. The Shawshank Redemption or prison shows like Orange is the New Black accurately capture the reality of prisons… from 40-60 years ago. A few hundred inmates with their own informal social structure, a community: it has interpersonal squabbles and the personalities aren’t the best, but there are old timers who’ve been there forever and who know everyone, and the reputational economy kind of keeps everything in line well enough. If a new guy came in and started smashing faces or started trying to run a protection racket on the smugglers or started maiming, everyone would know, and a conspiracy to deal with the problem would naturally form out of the more respected members of the community.

In a modern American prison in California or Texas you might not even notice a shark was amongst you until it was your skull they caved in. The modern super prison exceeds the Dunbar number by an order of magnitude, sometimes close to two. With 5-10k inmates in a single prison even knowing what’s going on or who the major players are becomes a nightmare. The annual or even monthly in and outflows alone exceed the number of people Andy, Red and Piper would have to keep track of during their entire stay…This is the major cause of the rampant racial segregation: its a natural division that can’t be faked, thus a white or black trouble maker can’t just slip in amongst the Mexicans and start stealing shit, the way they could if you used a non-visual division. This naturally allows the number of people an individual prisoner might have to track to be reduced from all 5-10k prisoners, to maybe 1/4th or 1/5th that, once everyone’s divided into Black, White, Latino, Asian, etc.

This however necessitates introduction of formal race based prison gangs. Because its only your race you can realistically keep track of and punish (if that), any group of enterprising aggressors from one of the other races could profit by stealing from you or fucking you up, and you’d never even be able to identify them… thus you need an armed structure amongst your own race to retaliate if members of another start aggressing, thus the racial division immediately becomes a race-gang cold war.


Prison gangs share all the characteristics of any other hierarchical org chart, whether monarchical or oligarchical… but whereas other org charts are properly and traditionally visualize as a pyramid with those entry level serfs at the bottom and the CEO or king at the top, the visualization embodying the aristocratic endeavor it aspires to be, a prison gangs are more properly visualized as a funnel or pit, with those entry level souls nearest escape while those in positions of commands most buried in its depths and held down by the press of the criminals they order above them, and the weighty realities of what they’ve done to achieve command.


The same way prison gangs selected for damned souls who have no hope for life on the outside or mere peace, and the Scottish crown selected for murderers and assassins, the US government it seems selects for careerists who don’t give a shit about the objective issues their department addresses and indeed seem to actively work against the explicit goals of the organization by their affiliated social problems worse in pursuit of greater funding.


The thing Skarbek comes back to over and over again in his assessment of prison gangs is that very uniquely in the criminal world they’re predictable and stable. On the streets gangs go to war with each-other or overthrow each-other and take turf, men change sides in a subtle dance of daring and betrayal… not in prison gangs.


The American civil service might be a horrifying nightmare beyond parody… but the old pre-war British civil service was widely regarded as one of the most efficient institutions in human history, engaged as it was in a multi-polar contest for dominance with contingency plans for war with every possible actor from the Germans, to the French, to the Ottomans, to the Americans… as well as potential regional conflicts as far afield as China, Iraq, South Africa, or Ireland.

Skarbek might call this market competition for governance, an Italian futurist might say “War is the hygiene of the world”, a musician might say a rolling stone gathers no moss, a survivalist that the quickest stream is the freshest…

But the phenomenon remains. the devil reigns in hell… because where else are you going to go?

Women’s tears win in the marketplace of ideas

Saturday, June 3rd, 2023

Richard Hanania argues that women’s tears win in the marketplace of ideas:

We can understand the decline of free speech as a kind of female pincer attack: women demand more suppression of offensive ideas at the bottom of institutions, and form a disproportionate share of the managers who hear their complaints at the top.

What is left to contribute on the question of how feminization relates to pathologies in our current political discourse? First, I think that the ways in which public debate works when we take steps to make the most emotional and aggressive women comfortable have been overlooked. Things that we talk about as involving “young people,” “college students,” and “liberals” are often gendered issues.

This doesn’t always show up in the data, and many may not want to discuss anything controversial without having numbers they can refer to, lest they be accused of everything they say being a figment of their sexist imagination. Nonetheless, I think that anyone who has spent time paying attention to politics, journalism, or academia, or wherever people debate ideas, will understand what I’m talking about.

Second, I think there’s a certain weirdness to the arguments made by both sides of the gender issue. To simplify, you have the left, which leans towards the blank slate and opposes gender stereotypes but demands women in public life be treated as too delicate for criticism, and conservatives, who believe in sex differences but say to treat people as individuals. But if men and women are the same, or are only different because of socialization that we should overcome, there’s no good reason to treat them differently. And if they are different and everyone should accept that, then we are justified in having different rules and norms for men and women in practically all areas of life, including political debate. How exactly this should be done is something worth thinking about. Finally, I argue that much of the opposition to wokeness is distorted and ineffective because it avoids the gendered nature of the problem, which also makes fighting it difficult.