SS Jeremiah O’Brien Ghost Fleet Cruise, sighting of USS Iowa (BB-61)


(Image Credit: From here)

I visited the operational World War II Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O’Brien (official website) for a day-cruise yesterday and had a phenomenal time. Lunch was decent, seating adequate, nautical tour guide over the PA system phenomenal, and the water, soda, and popcorn were free. I took many many pictures of the O’Brien, the USS Iowa, and the rest of the mothball fleet that we have here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

My personal favorite pictures are of the majestic USS Iowa, but for other pictures that I took you should check out the following articles:

At some point, I will upload all of the pictures to see and perhaps create a photo-essay. If anyone is interested in seeing the Ghost Fleet for themselves, it is located here next to the Benecia-Martinez bridge and accessible to anyone capable of driving and swimming or of putting a boat in the water and navigating it using a cell phone GPS.

Many of the pictures, like the one immediately below, have black areas around the edges. That is because I achieved 24x zoom by placing my cheap 3x zoom digital camera up against a pair of cheap 8x zoom binoculars. Incidentally, a more precise version of that is how microscopes work: if you line a 10x zoom lens with another 10x zoom lens, you are now at 100x zoom.


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I also got many close-up images, including this one which I thought would be kind of funny to put on the Wikipedia page for port-a-pottys:


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When I was contributing the below image to Wikipedia, I noticed that the SS Mount Washington was not listed as being part of the mothball fleet and corrected the article based on the name clearly visible on the ship below.


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As we pulled back into port, we saw what I am fairly certain is the Chilean Navy training ship Esmeralda pulling out of port. If that is indeed the ship pictured, it is a fairly unique in being a steel-hulled sailing ship that was built to be military in nature. When navies started putting steel on the hulls of ships, they generally started removing the sails. It was also, allegedly, a floating torture center for political prisoners in the 1970s.


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SS Jeremiah O’Brien Ghost Fleet Cruise, sighting of USS Iowa (BB-61)

Bin Laden DNA Test in a Few Hours?

One of the big questions emerging from the death (or alleged death, if you prefer) of Osama Bin Laden is this: “How could they have done a DNA test so quickly?” with the implied answer of “They couldn’t, ergo it must have been a conspiracy and a lie.”

I’m not so sure about that. It isn’t 1985 any more for one thing. Our cell phones are several orders of magnitude more powerful than the computing power required to land on the moon, but we still think it takes several weeks to run a DNA test? DNA testing is not exactly something I could do in my bathroom with a cotton swab and digital camera, but a properly equipped facility can certainly do it in a matter of hours. If the operation in Pakistan was planned ahead of time (it obviously was), it is very likely that such personnel and such equipment would have been on hand at SEAL Team 6’s operating base in Afghanistan.

What happened (or allegedly happened, if you prefer) was something like this: Raid was a success minus one modified (stealth?) Blackhawk that went down, the body of Bin Laden was brought back to that operating base in Afghanistan, some blood or saliva was taken from the corpse, the corpse was then sent off to the USS Carl Vincent to be buried at sea while the DNA test was simultaneously being run back in Afghanistan. Within an hour or two of Bin Laden being dumped overboard (as predicted by me several hours in advance 😛 ), the test results came back.

It may not have happened exactly like that, but that is certainly a plausible scenario. Seeing the news report on Monday with all of that having already been done before the sun came up in the States on Monday may have felt fast and fishy (excuse the pun) to some, but those folks may be underestimating the resources available to the United States Department of Defense, and the amount of contingency planning that has been going into “what if we actually do get him?” since well before September 11, 2001.

Want proof that, if money is not a factor, a DNA test can be done in a few hours? Well, for $99 you can have a DNA paternity test done overnight. There are many websites like that, and many scientists are publicly stating that it is entirely possible for DNA testing to be done in about as much time as it takes to watch the first two Godfather movies. I haven’t seen a single knowledgeable scientist come out and say that DNA testing must take several days – in fact, more scientists have come out and said that Global Warming is a myth than have claimed that the several hour DNA test in 2011 is a myth.

I’m not a scientist, and I’m assuming you aren’t either if you are checking the blogosphere instead of a scientific journal for information on this. So, we laymen must rely on our own judgment and what scientists are saying. We must do the best we can to account for biases some scientists may have (such as those employed by Tobacco or Oil corporations) but otherwise assume the vast majority of them are acting in good faith. Based on that, the inescapable conclusion is that DNA testing can indeed certainly be done in a handful of hours. And, we are more certain of that than we are about global warming (alleged global warming, if you prefer) or the negative health effects of tobacco (alleged negative effects, if you prefer).

This doesn’t prove that Bin Laden is dead, but it does shoot down that one conspiracy argument that centers around the false notion that rapid DNA testing is impossible.

Bin Laden DNA Test in a Few Hours?

“Operation Odyssey Dawn” Commences

In the aftermath of the UN Security Council resolution a few days ago, NATO begans strikes against the regime of Gaddafi in Tripoli.

First, the pretty map that folks seem to like. I got this one from a screenshot of a Pentagon press release, showing the 20 targets that 112 British and US Tomahawk Cruise Missiles targeted. That is the highest quality of that image that I’ve been able to find, and I haven’t modified the red dots indicating cruise missile strikes.

Click for full size and best resolution available.
Map Labeled 2011 Libyan Civial War, as of the commencement of Operation Odyssey Dawn, March 19, 2011. Blurry embedded map from Pentagon labeled Coalation First Strikes. Red Dots indicated to indicate targets of cruise missile strikes. From West to East along the northern coast of Libya: Zawiya has one dot; Tripoli has many; Misrata has many and it is indicated that the city center is still in rebellion; Srit has one dot; Ajdabiya indicated to be in Government hands with Government forces from Benghazi retreating towards it; Benghazi still in Rebel hands. In Sicily, US Naval Air Station Singonella is marked and indicated as having coalition jets from Denmark, Italy, Canada, and the US. In the Sea, Coalition Fleet is indicated to have warships from US, UK, and France.

March 18, 2011

MIG-23 fighter jet, in flames, spiraling towards the ground.

When the UN Resolution was not immediately followed by air strikes, Gaddafi made a last ditch bid to end the Rebellion. Government forces bypassing Ajdabiya immediately assaulted Benghazi, the heart of the rebellion. The Rebels defeated the attacking force, capturing several tanks and at least one surface to air missile system. Unfortunately the rebels also shot down their own MIG-23 by mistake. The victory demonstrates that Rebel forces are determined and capable, but the friendly fire incident demonstrates that Rebel forces are still having problems with command and control. As I predicted, the outskirts of Benghazi suffered significant damage to civilian buildings.

While the Rebels finished pushing Government forces out of the city, a dozen or two French aircraft flew over Benghazi, destroying four Government tanks. It is very doubtful that any Rebel aircraft have synced friend-or-foe systems with NATO, meaning that it is quite possible that Rebel aircraft will be mis-identified as Government aircraft and future friendly fire incidents will occur.

March 19, 2011

Early in the day, the French Air Force began the NATO assault with the destruction of targets in the southwest of Tripoli. This was symbolic, sending a message that Operation Odyssey Dawn was not just an Anglo-American operation.

Once that symbolic message was sent, the British and American Navies commenced operations in earnest with 112 Cruise Missiles being launched at 20 targets in Western Libya as indicated on the map above. The targets are said to have been focused on coastal radar defense systems. The night and early morning will be spent assessing damage done to Libyan air defense assets – coalition aircraft in the night will simply fly overhead and see if any surface to air missiles attempt to lock onto them. There is no estimate of civilian casualties as of yet.

Meanwhile, celebrations continued in Benghazi.
T-72 tank driving down the street in Benghazi, Rebels riding on top waving the pre-Gaddafi flag of Libya
(Image Credit: Al Jazeera)

The United Arab Emirates will be contributing two dozen jets to the mission, and Qatar a half dozen jets. That represents about 1/3 of the total Qatar Air Force.

The African Union has called for an immediate halt to NATO attacks on Libyan government forces, Russia has offered criticism as well.

More Information

The BBC has a good article on the aircraft currently involved. When you see the armaments of aircraft, you will see mention of two air-to-air missiles. The AIM-9 Sidewinder has a range of 10 miles, the AIM-120 AMRAAM has a range of 30 miles. Not all involved aircraft have the AIM-120, a hint that its air superiority capabilities are limited. Bothering to put cannons on a modern jet indicates that the aircraft was designed with air-to-ground in mind.

Al Jazeera has a good article outlining common limits and problems with no-fly zones.

Al Jazeera has more reporters on the ground than anyone else. Here is their constantly updated blog of tonight.

“Operation Odyssey Dawn” Commences

One Month After Initial Rebellion, UN Imposes No-Fly Zone

One month after the February 17th revolt of young Libyans favoring Democracy, the international community has decided that it wants to be militarily involved.

The UN Security Council has voted to authorize and back a No-Fly Zone over Libya, something I have long argued against. Russia and China abstained from the vote. I still maintain that this is a mistake.

However, sometimes people do walk out of a casino with more money than when they entered. That is the best thing we can do here, hope that this poor gamble pays off. The first bombs may be dropping tonight.

This is a freeze frame from live video I am watching right now, at 4 pm Pacific Standard time. This is Benghazi, heart of the Rebellion. Celebratory fire is audible, as is jubilant chanting and singing. It isn’t visible in this particular grainy screen capture, but I believe I can see Iraqi, French (or Italian? Hard to tell.), Qatari and Palestinian flags flying in addition to pre-Gaddafi Libyan flags.
Libyans in Benghazi waving pre-Gaddafi flag of Libya

(Image Credit: Al Jazeera live)

I am reminded of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Communist Poland in 1979. This marked an important moment for the Polish people’s eventual transition to Democracy in 1989.

Poles cheering the Pope.

(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

One can assume offensive operations by Gaddafi have ceased, moral of government troops has just dropped substantially, and we can clearly see that Rebel morale just skyrocketed. It should be an interesting night. The protesters pictured above had better hope that combat air patrols are already in effect, or they are a very vulnerable target to Gaddafi’s air power at present.

The sweeping measure authorizes

…not only a no-fly zone but effectively any measures short of a ground invasion to halt attacks that might result in civilian fatalities.

Furthermore, in a move I strongly support, the temporary military regime in Egypt has

begun shipping arms over the border to Libyan rebels with Washington’s knowledge, U.S. and Libyan rebel officials said.

Other reports just coming out indicate that food shipments from Qatar had been flowing through Egypt for some time to Rebel forces, and that the Rebels themselves have restored captured Government aircraft to working order and launched air raids against Gaddafi’s forces for the first time, yesterday.

The Removal of Libyan Air Defenses

If airstrikes aimed at removing the Libyan ability to shoot down allied aircraft from the ground begins, a problem for civilians in Government held cities will be automated defense systems of international aircraft. Gaddafi will have placed his anti aircraft assets in populated areas, and when defensive weapons fired by international aircraft automatically home in on Gaddafi’s anti aircraft assets and destroy them, they will also be destroying the civilian building they were sitting on.

This will result in hundreds of civilian deaths.

How This Should Be Implemented

I’d still prefer no no-fly zone, but if we are determined to implement it… All cities except for one that are currently in Rebel hands are coastal cities. Allied aircraft 10 miles away from the threshold of airspace over Libyan soil can still kill Libyan aircraft approaching Rebel-held population centers. That is the best way to implement this with minimal civilian casualties. I don’t believe Libyan government forces have any surface to air missiles or anti-aircraft guns that can touch allied aircraft at that distance – about 9 miles being the maximum range of the most worrisome Libyan SAM. It isn’t known if many of Gaddafi’s much longer ranged SA-5/S-200 systems are operational but, if they prove to be operational and actually a threat to allied air superiority fighters (SA-5s are designed to defend against large poorly-maneuverable bombers such as the B-52, not fighters such as the US Navy’s F/A-18), things may be forced to be ugly.

One Month After Initial Rebellion, UN Imposes No-Fly Zone

Radioactive Disaster, Marines en route

While I often find myself inclined to agree with a significant reduction in Defense spending in favor of programs that help Americans at home, sometimes I’m kind of glad we’ve got a massive fleet of warships floating all over the place carrying things like cargo helicopters and thousands of physically fit men trained and equipped to walk into radioactive fallout in the aftermath of the 4th largest earthquake in at least the last 300 years or so.

I’m going to assume at this point that the reader has turned on a television or read the news at some point during the last four days and is thus aware of the catastrophe in Japan that has ended no fewer than 20,000 lives, and that the reader is aware that tens of thousands more lives could potentially be lost over the course of the next week or so if certain things are not accomplished. If you have no idea what I am talking about, please check out current events in Japan and then come back.

This is the USS Essex in 2008.

Picture of the USS Essex at sea, with helicopters and aircraft visible on its flight deck.

(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

No doubt, it currently has a similar compliment of cargo helicopters as it nears the Japanese coast. In addition, under that flight deck and similar decks throughout “Amphibious Squadron 11” and the Carrier Battle Group built around the USS Ronald Regan are about 2,200 US Marines and enough food, water, trauma-oriented medical supplies, and Navy personnel that know how to use them for the Marines to engage in sustained combat for 30 days without any additional outside logistical support. They also have 2,200 suits that allow them to enter areas contaminated with nuclear radiation.

As it turns out, the Marines won’t be needing those beans, bullets, and band-aids for themselves – but I’m sure a lot of folks in Japan will soon benefit from their existence.

The assets at work:

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) – The equipment and logistics personnel. The people, boats, helicopters, trucks, fuel, and spare parts that make the “30 days unsupported” thing possible. 30 days of food and water for 2,200 people performing hard manual labor translates roughly into 5 days for 10,000 people not performing hard manual labor, and the ability to move it by land, sea, and air.

2nd Bn, 5th Marines (2/5) – The “ground combat element” of the 31st MEU. 2/5’s website hasn’t been updated in a while because, well, they’ve been out at sea for the last few months and the ships probably don’t have wifi. These 1600 or so men (yes, all of them are men) form the bulk of the personnel of the 31st MEU and are the ones that have the equipment and training to physically step foot into an area of radiological disaster. These men of iron are also physically fit, well disciplined, and have a demonstrated willingness to risk their lives for others. Their motto is “Retreat Hell”. As in, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!” said to an officer of the French Army during the First World War.

Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (HMM-265) – The “aviation combat element” of the 31st MEU. Flying 40 year old CH-46 helicopters that can move 2,000 lbs of stuff around at 150 miles per hour, these pilots and mechanics are certainly going to be earning their pay over the course of the next week or so. There is also a unit of Harriers attached to the 31st MEU, but I don’t anticipate ground attack jets to be particularly useful in this emergency.

Amphibious Squadron 11 – The USS Essex, USS Denver, USS Harper’s Ferry, and USS Tortuga form this.

USS Essex and her sister ships – USS Essex is the largest of the four warships, carrying about half of those Marines. Denver is older and carrying around 1/4 of the 31st MEU, the Tortuga and Harper are together carrying the remaining 1/4.* Essex and Harper were last in the news while conducting humanitarian operations in the aftermath of the 2008 Cyclone Nargis that killed over 130,000 people. Tortuga’s latest humanitarian operation was 2005 Hurricane Katrina, and Denver’s latest was in Taiwan in the aftermath of the 2009 Typhoon Morakot that killed fewer than 1,000 people.

Carrier Task Force 76 – This is the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) nuclear aircraft carrier and its support fleet. This represents an immense amount of logistics capability, but not many pairs of combat boots. CTF 76 represents more military capability than many entire nations have at their disposal. The personnel it has will include technical experts in nuclear power that have done extensive contingency planning and training to answer questions such as “What if our nuclear reactor suffers catastrophic damage and starts leaking?” – The scenarios these guys run are things that civil nuclear power plant workers would never think to consider. Japanese nuclear power plant technicians have probably run scenarios involving earthquakes causing radioactive leakage, but have they conducted that training while deprived of sleep as they currently are? The sailors on the Reagan have.

* Those fractions are ballpark estimates based on the capacity of the four ships, which exceeds the total size of the MEU and thus could be off.

Radioactive Disaster, Marines en route