FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day February 1st through 7th 2018

Saying of the Day

I thought growing old would take longer

Friends of FOD

Running a bit late with this edition.  Actually I tried to publish last night, but the internet connection in my hotel was too slow to make it work, so I went to bed. Working on the ’31 Chevy is …. It’s almost like a job, but costs me instead of pays me.


How China Could Takeover Taiwan Without A Shot Fired

I’ve mentioned here in FOD how freedom of the seas and in particular the South China Sea is important not only to the Asian nations in the region, but for all nations who depend upon the free exchange of goods and services through those contested waters.  China’s ability to restrict trade to selective nations of their choice is a weapon as old as the sea.  Taiwan has long been a thorn in the side of China since the communist government has been in place.  And while Taiwan has military ties with Japan and the US there are likely limits established as to what we might do if China were to act militarily.  A few days ago Asian Times reported rumors have swirled on both sides of the Taiwan Strait since the beginning of last year that Chinese President Xi Jinping was mulling taking back the wayward, self-ruling island of Taiwan in one fell swoop amid growing militancy among the Chinese masses.  Some have gone so far as to suggest that by the early 2020s the two sides would be in a state of belligerence as Xi, unlike his predecessors, has no scruples against waging a full-blown war to recapture what Beijing considers a renegade province.  They say that the year 2022, the end of Xi’s second tenure as the general secretary of the Communist Party of China, would be the deadline for him to exert his unrestrained powers to redeem the glory of the Middle Kingdom, after Xi has made “China dream” and “great revitalization” the tag lines of his rule.  “Xi’s grand visions will become empty platitudes if he fails to take back Taiwan before his second term ends, and in that case his ‘China dream’ will become a pipe dream, and he is fully aware of that,” said one analyst.  No one will doubt that China’s Central Military Commission and the People’s Liberation Army have in place a host of all-encompassing combat plans of tactics and deployment to suit all war scenarios, as well as stratagems to deter or fend off intervention by the US or Japan.  The Chinese military must have been updating these plans from time to time to reflect changes in geopolitics and Taiwan’s own defenses, for Xi to choose from should he feel that the time is ripe for a once-and-for-all, momentous action to tame and reclaim the island.  Meanwhile, Beijing has also been on a spree of building or inaugurating aircraft carriers, missiles, corvettes, destroyers, amphibious battleships and stealth fighters, fueling further speculation over whether Taiwan stands a chance when Xi, armed with the will of the rank and file, is girding for a new Chinese civil war.  While many observers believe Xi is readying the military and the nation for a showdown, a bid that will decide how he will go down in history, veteran military commentator Andrei Chang noted in the Kanwa Defense Review that the PLA’s big guns and ships may be for show to make Washington and Tokyo think twice before stepping in, and a trigger doesn’t have to be pulled now that Xi has a slew of non-military options at his disposal.  The Hong Kong-based current-affairs monthly SuperMedia also reported that among the many diplomatic and economic means to subjugate the island is issuing Taiwan Special Administrative Region passports and granting hukou (Chinese household registration) and permanent residency to the 2 million Taiwanese already residing in mainland China.  Previous reports also suggest that the PLA’s first overseas base, which sits right on the Horn of Africa in Djibouti (and discussed here in FOD previously), is aimed at Taiwan, since the resource-scarce island relies substantially on the narrow waterway linking the Suez Canal and the Arabian Sea for oil imports from the Middle East as well as trade with Europe. From the Djibouti base PLA troops could intercept tankers ferrying oil to Taiwan and seal off the island’s trade artery in no time.  Beijing’s frenzied investment and acquisitions targeting stakes in mines, oilfields and energy firms in the Belt and Road countries could also jeopardize Taiwan’s economic security should Beijing decree an embargo of crude oil and other natural resources, according to Chang.  Something they have been unwilling to do when it comes to dealing with North Korea.  The raft of economic, trade, financial and logistical measures short of a shooting war to contain Taiwan won’t provide an opening for Washington to weight in, yet given time, they could work to coerce Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen into coming to terms with Xi and accepting whatever he has in store for a treaty to create a future Taiwan Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

Continue reading “FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day February 1st through 7th 2018”

FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day October 1 through 4, 2017

Navy Adopting Changes After Collisions At Sea

In the wake of the collision between the USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) (below left) with the Liberian-flagged Alnic MC off the coast of Malaysia east of the Strait of Malacca on August 21, 2017 and the earlier collision of the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62)  (below right) with the Philippine-flagged merchant ship ACX Crystal, the US Navy is adopting some new as well as some old technologies to improve their crew’s situational awareness.  Well actually their both pretty old techniques.  The Navy has at now instructed commanders to use their Automatic Identification System, or AIS, as discussed in the 28 through 31 August edition of FOD.  It has been around for some 20 years and has long been required aboard all commercial vessels. It is used to share vital information among ships, including the type of vessel, its name, speed, location and whether it might be on a collision course with another ship.  “It’s important for situational awareness,” says John Konrad, an author who has also captained commercial vessels. “AIS is certainly not the only means to avoid collisions at sea, but it’s an important tool.”  And the other tool is perhaps the oldest one out there – get some more sleep for watchstanders.  On ships at sea, officers and senior enlisted leaders have ignored the fact that a lack of sleep jeopardizes individual performance and unit readiness.  That ‘tradition’ unmarred by progress has extended itself from the days of wooden sailing ships when crews served 4 on and 4 off for months at a time because that was what was required to service a sailing ship at sea.  Earlier this month, Vice Adm. Thomas S. Rowden, the commander of the U.S. Surface Fleet, issued an internal directive that ordered more predictable watch schedules and sleep periods for sailors.  So it was welcome news when the Navy announced recently that the surface fleet would issue new sleep and watch schedule rules.


Go Yankees

The NY Yankees beat the Twins in the AL Wild Card Game 8-4. 


And congrats to the Arizona Diamondbacks who beat the Rockies 11-8.


Continue reading “FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day October 1 through 4, 2017”

FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day April 11 and 12, 2017

Friends of FOD

I think the comments section is working.  Try it out!  I’ve done an update to this post and you should have receive your email notification of a new post on April 14.


FOD Regarding Tillerson’s Mission to Moscow

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s mission to Moscow is not likely to yield substantive changes in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support of Bashar al-Assad and the current Syrian regime.  Despite US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley’s and Tillerson’s assertions Moscow was complicit in the alleged nerve gas attack, or inept at fulfilling their earlier international promise to remove these chemical weapons from Syrian hands, the balance of power remains about the same.  The Trump administration has accused Moscow of attempting to help cover up Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Assad and his allies continue to gain ground in Idlib province and to make gains in the critical corridor between Damascus and the Mediterranean Sea.  I don’t believe Putin will see any need to change his long term strategies of one; continued and expanded access to a warm water port on the Mediterranean they now have at Russian naval base in Tartus  and two; increasing Russia’s great-power status.  The Fireball opinion is the latter is the more important to Putin.  Additionally Putin shares concerns with Assad in containing Islamic extremism, lest it spread to Russian Muslim regions.  Putin would likely point to the large number of Chechen jihadist fighting in Syria as proof.  His strategy of containment hinges on Assad staying in power.  And likewise sees all of those aligned with Assad’s opposition/removal as obstacles to Putin’s containment strategy, along with the warm water port.  As long as the largely Sunni jihadis are waging war on Assad, the threat to Russian territories is reduced.  Over the years, the US attempts to isolate Iran have allowed ever increasing military and intelligence ties between Russia and Iran.  We have seen over the last few years Iran create formidable forces of Shia militias and fighters spring up across the Arab world, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Pakistan and Afghanistan, all trained by and directed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards with help from Russia.  Our limited strike can be looked at as a limited – one-off event or a fundamental change in US strategy in the Middle East.  Indeed Putin would like to see it as an isolated event.  Any broader American initiative to force regime change in Syria diminishes Russia’s role in the conflict, endangers their warm-water port interests and would be seen as a personal defeat for Putin.

Continue reading “FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day April 11 and 12, 2017”

FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day January 13, 2017

Happy Friday the 13th.  If you have a fear of the number 13, then you suffer from what scientifically has been called: “triskaidekaphobia“; and using this analogy, fear of Friday the 13th is paraskevidekatriaphobia,


A Chinese H-6 strategic bomber flew around the Spratly Islands over the weekend in a new show of force in the contested South China Sea, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.  It was the second such flight by a Chinese bomber in the South China Sea this year. The first was on Jan. 1, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

The flight could be seen as a show of “strategic force” by the Chinese, the official said.  It comes after U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has signaled a tougher approach to China when he takes office on Jan. 20, with tweets criticizing Beijing for its trade practices and accusing it of failing to help rein in nuclear-armed North Korea.  Just yesterday, during his confirmation hearing, Rex Tillerson, President-elect Trump’s choice for Secretary of State indicated a strategy to “block” China’s access to those islands might be in order.  Today, China stated such a strategy would require the US to “wage war,” if such a policy were to be adopted.


11 January 1944: Major James Howell Howard, United States Army Air Corps, commander of the 356th Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group, Eighth Air Force, led fifty P-51 Mustangs escorting three divisions of B-17 Flying Fortresses on a raid against Oschersleben, near Berlin, Germany.  As defending Luftwaffe fighters attacked the bomber formation, Major Howard immediately went on the offensive and shot down a twin engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 Zerstörer long range fighter. During this engagement, Howard’s energy was bled down, his altitude decreased and his plane became separated from his group.  He climbed back to rejoin the bombers.  More than thirty German fighters were attacking the bomber formation and Major Howard single-handedly engaged them. He shot down two, probably shot down two more and damaged at least another two. He continued to attack even after he had run out of ammunition and was low on fuel. When he returned to his base at RAF Boxted, his Mustang had just a single bullet hole.  For this action, James H. Howard was awarded the Medal of Honor.  He is the only fighter pilot in the European Theater to receive this Medal. Howard was promoted to the rank of colonel.  Before the War, Howard had been a U.S. Navy pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) at Pearl Harbor. In June 194, prior to Pearl Harbor, he joined the American Volunteer Group—the “Flying Tigers”—in Burma, fighting for the Chinese against Japan. He is credited with shooting down 6 Japanese fighters.
The Mustang that he flew on the
day of the aerial battle near Oschersleben was named DING HAO! and carried the victory marks from those AVG actions. [“Ding Hao” was an American World War II slang term based on the Chinese phrase, 挺好的 (“ting hao de”) meaning “very good” or “number one”.]  DING HAO!, James H. Howard’s P-51B Mustang, was lost in combat 23 July 1944.



On January 11, 1908, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt declares the massive Grand Canyon in northwestern Arizona a national monument.  Though Native Americans lived in the area as early as the 13th century, the first European sighting of the canyon wasn’t until 1540, by members of an expedition headed by the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Because of its remote and inaccessible location and no immediately exploitable natural resources, several centuries passed before North American settlers really explored the canyon. In 1869, geologist John Wesley Powell led a group of 10 men in the first difficult journey down the rapids of the Colorado River and along the length of the 277-mile gorge in four rowboats.  John Wesley Powell was an interesting individual.  During the Civil War, At the Battle of Shiloh, he lost most of his right arm when struck by a minie ball while in the process of giving the order to fire.  The raw nerve endings in his arm would continue to cause him pain for the rest of his life.  In 1869, he set out to explore the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. Gathering nine men, four boats and food for 10 months, he set out from Green River, Wyoming, on May 24. It seems a bit odd to begin an exploration of the Grand Canyon by beginning in Green River, Wyoming, but that was the closest railroad junction that could support the expedition.  Passing through dangerous rapids, the group passed down the Green River to its confluence with the Colorado River (then also known as the Grand River upriver from the junction), near present-day Moab, Utah, and completed the journey on August 30, 1869.  By the end of the 19th century, the Grand Canyon was attracting thousands of tourists each year. One famous visitor was President Theodore Roosevelt, a New Yorker with a particular affection for the American West.  Though a region could be given national park status–indicating that all private development on that land was illegal–only by an act of Congress, Roosevelt cut down on red tape by beginning a new presidential practice of granting a similar “national monument” designation to some of the West’s greatest treasures.
In January 1908, Roosevelt exercised this right to make more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon area into a national monument. “Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is,” he declared. “You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”  Congress did not officially outlaw private development in the Grand Canyon until 1919, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Grand Canyon National Park Act. Today, more than 5 million people visit the canyon each year. The canyon floor is accessible by foot, mule or boat, and whitewater rafting, hiking and running in the area are especially popular. A few years ago, I participated in a raft trip through the Grand Canyon for 276 miles.  Put that trip on your bucket list.


On January 11, 1973, the owners of America’s 24 major league baseball teams vote to allow teams in the American League (AL) to use a “designated pinch-hitter” that could bat for the pitcher, while still allowing the pitcher to stay in the game.  The idea of adding a 10th man to the baseball lineup to bat for the pitcher had been suggested as early as 1906 by the revered player and manager Connie Mack. In 1928, John Heydler, then-president of the National League (NL), revived the issue, but the rule was rejected at that point by the AL management. By the early 1970s, Charlie Finley, the colorful owner of the Oakland A’s, had become the designated hitter rule’s most outspoken advocate, arguing that a pinch-hitter to replace the pitcher–a player that usually batted poorly, exceptions like the legendary Babe Ruth notwithstanding–would add the extra offensive punch that baseball needed to draw more fans.  At a joint meeting of the two major leagues in Chicago on January 11, 1973, presided over by baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, the owners voted to allow the AL (which lagged behind the NL in both scoring and attendance) to put the designated hitter rule into practice. The NL resisted the change, and for the first time in history, the two leagues would play using different rules. In addition, the introduction of the designated hitter (Rule 6.10) marked the biggest rule change in major league baseball since 1903, when it was decided that foul balls would be considered strikes. Though it initially began as a three-year experiment, it would be permanently adopted by the AL and later by most amateur and minor league teams.  On April 6, 1973–Opening Day–Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees became the league’s first ever designated hitter. In his first plate appearance, he was walked on a full count by the Boston Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant.  David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox (left) was a brilliant DH, finished his career with 541 home runs, which ranks 17th on the MLB all-time home run list, 1,768 RBIs (22nd all-time) and a .286 batting average. Among designated hitters, he is the all-time leader in MLB history for home runs (485), runs batted in (RBIs) (1,569), and hits (2,192). Regarded as one of the best clutch hitters of all time, Ortiz had 11 career walk-off home runs during the regular season and 2 during the postseason.



Also on 11 January 1935, in the first flight of its kind, American aviator Amelia Earhart departs Wheeler Field in Honolulu, Hawaii, on a solo flight to North America. Hawaiian commercial interests offered a $10,000 award to whoever accomplished the flight first. The next day, after traveling 2,400 miles in 18 hours, she safely landed at Oakland Airport in Oakland, California.





During the 1920s and 30s, in the midst of the golden age of radio, there was a great increase in the appreciation of jazz and pop music.  Concurrently classical music drew enormous audiences both on the radio and during live performances.  Of the many performers, composers, and conductors who were the rock stars of their age, none made a greater impact on American audiences than a young pianist from Kiev, Vladimir Horowitz.  He made his debut at Carnegie Hall on 12 January 1928.  Sir Thomas Beecham was the headliner, as he was acting conductor of the New York Philharmonic.  Beecham drew rave reviews but it was Horowitz’s Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 that stole the show and established a special bond with American audiences that would make him the best known and beloved pianist for the next sixty years.  One critic noted this young man, “caused most ot the intermission to be occupied in applauding and cheering him and calling him back to the stage.  It has been years since a pianist created such a furvor with an audience in this city.”  He was acclaimed for his virtuoso technique, his tone color, and the excitement engendered by his playing.  I was very fortunate to hear him, at Carnegie Hall, in the early 1970’s.


On January 13, 1982, at 1559L, Air Florida Flight 90, a Boeing 737-222, registration N62AF, s/n 19556, began its takeoff roll at Washington National Airport (DCA). The departure had been delayed 1 hour, 45 minutes as the airport had been closed due to a snowstorm and runway snow removal. When the airport reopened, heavy snow was still falling.  Snow and ice had accumulated on the airliner’s wings and fuselage. The airplane had previously been improperly de-iced by Air Florida’s contractor, American Airlines.  The crew did not have hold-over tables.  The flight crew elected not to repeat the procedure. Further, they did not activate the engine deicing system.  During the takeoff the engines were slow to accelerate and the airplane took much longer than normal to gain flight speed. Though it did become airborne, the 737 reached an altitude of just 352 feet (107 meters) when it stalled and struck the 14th Street Bridge, and then crashed into the Potomac River.  The airliner broke through the ice covering the river and sank. There were only five survivors.  The U.S. Park Police responded with a 1979 Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II helicopter, Eagle 1, (N22PP, serial number 45287) flown by Officers Donald W. Usher and Melvin E. Windsor. The pilot, Don Usher, hovered low, sometimes with the skids of the helicopter in the water, while Gene Windsor tried to reach the survivors.
A passenger in the water, Arland D. Williams, Jr., twice caught lines that had been lowered from the helicopter, but in both cases, he passed them to others in the water.

When the rescue helicopter returned from dragging two passengers ashore, they could not find Williams.  The northbound span of the 14th Street Bridge was renamed the Arland D. Williams Jr. Memorial Bridge.  AF-90 remains one of the most studied accidents because of all the human factors, CRM and weather factors involved.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the flightcrew’s failure to use engine anti-ice during ground operation and takeoff, there decision to takeoff with snow/ice on the airfoil surfaces of the aircraft, and the captain’s failure to reject the takeoff during the early stage when his attention was called to anomalous engine instrument readings. Contributing to the accident were the prolonged ground delay between deicing and the receipt of ATC takeoff clearance during which the airplane was exposed to continual precipitation, the known inherent pitchup characteristics of the B-737 aircraft when the leading edge is contaminated with even small amounts of snow or ice, and the limited experience of the flightcrew in jet transport winter operations. — NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT REPORT NTSB-AAR-82-8, 10 August 1982, Section 3.2 at Page 82