29 March 2024

Musings

I really have no moral problem with killing pirates.

People who flee police in high speed chases are a particular menace who should routinely face prison sentences.

Drones could be used to get vital equipment like rappelling equipment or air tanks to people trapped in high rises.

While felon disenfranchisement is troubling, there might be something to be said for barring people who have been convicted of felonies and only finished their sentences within the last five years or so from holding public office.

For a self-employed person, the administrative burden of tax compliance is at least as bad as the actual amount of money owed for taxes.

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if a bunch of Southern cities were drowned by rising sea levels. Drowning Houston or Charleston or even pretty much all of Florida, for example, would be, on balance, a positive development.


First world class water treatment plants are not all that expensive in the greater scheme of thing. Given that, it is really surprising how common it is for tap water to be not safe to drink in so much of the world. The cost of providing running water and sanitary sewage service is vastly greater. Yet, many places with running water and sanitary sewage service lack adequate water treatment.

26 March 2024

What Does It Cost To Retire In Tampa?

A news report estimate makes it seem like it is very expensive to live in Tampa, Florida.


The budget assumed breaks down roughly as follows:

But don't believe the hype. In 2021, Tampa, FL had a median household income of $59,893. https://datausa.io/profile/geo/tampa-fl That's what 50% of whole households are living off there.  Nationally, the average retiree lives on about $30,000 a year.

Suppose you want to retire in Florida (which is what the person in the Facebook post that I am reacting to in this post was talking about).

The average rent for a one bedroom, which is what a retiree typically needs, is less than $1,600/month, which trims $4,800 a year from the total. 

$450 a month for food is high, $300 a month is probably plenty for two people who can usually cook from scratch (which you have more time to do when retired), which saves $1,800 a year. 

I can't imagine why someone with Medicare, a Medicare supplemental insurance and renter's insurance for someone age 65+ (car insurance goes in the vehicle line item as shown) would pay $700 a month for insurance and medical expenses that aren't covered, it would be not more than $400, a reduction of $3,600 a year. 

$9,000 a month, year in and year out for "disasters" is absurd if you rent your home and have the insurance describe above, and already have emergency funds saved upon from your career that you are living off in retirement. 

And $16,800 a year in taxes isn't a thing if you are retired (Florida doesn't even have a state income tax). 

$12,000-$18,000 a year for a car is also high - I pay less than $4,000 a year for a car as a working adult who makes business trips all over the state now and then including the purchase price of the car spread over its useful life of 100,000 miles, car insurance, gas, maintenance, car washes, etc., so reduce that line by $8,000 a year. 

This is $44,000 a year less than the $90,000 a year shown ($46,000 a year), which is quite a bit less than the median income in Tampa. 

You certainly need more than Social Security to live comfortably in retirement, which averages $18,000 a year or so. https://www.fool.com/.../average-social-security-benefit.../ But a retired couple can live comfortably in Tampa for a lot less than $90,000 a year. Indeed, they can live modestly but comfortably, for about half that amount.

They can probably live comfortably enough there with Social Security and Medicare with a nest egg of $700,000 in some reasonable income based investments generating a very manageable 4% of principal, i.e. $28,000, of distributed income each year, which is the industry standard. Any additional returns on the principal increasing the principal to deal with inflation (and you can deplete some of the principal over time to deal with additional inflation since you don't live forever and don't need to die with lots of money in the bank). 

Of course, it is a matter of degree and a bit more is more comfortable and a bit less is tighter. My budget is a lower middle class to middle middle class budget.

You can reduce the size of the nest egg quite a bit, and also hedge against inflation in rent, if you own a modest 1 bedroom condo in Tampa instead. 

You can buy a decent 1 bedroom condo in Tampa for about $150,000, and then you're just paying homeowners insurance, property tax, the HOA fee, and utilities, which isn't nothing (about $100 a month of property tax, $260 a month of HOA and $100 a month of condo insurance in excess of the renter's insurance cost estimated above, and $140 a month in electricity) but $700 a month is a lot less than $1,600 a month - $10,800 a year less which reduces the size of the nest egg you need from $700K to $430K, while costing only $150K and hedging against increased rent in the future (buying is cheaper because current mortgage interest rates of 7%-8% are higher than current investment returns in an income oriented fund).

So, if you sell you current home purchased for a larger family you can net a lot of the $580K you need to have saved to live in retirement. Also, by living in a condo you reduce the physical maintenance work you need to do in retirement if you own a non-condo home when that gets harder. 

Say you have $380K in home equity net of costs of sale, which would be a pretty modest house in lots of the U.S. if you bought it 30-40 years ago and paid it off, then you only need $200K of retirement savings, which isn't heaps for a married couple over their entire careers.

Also, by the time that one of you needs to live in a nursing home, you will probably be able to qualify for Medicaid to pay for it given what the "community spouse" is allowed to have, without having to "pay down" much of the retirement nest egg.

20 March 2024

Beyond The Adversarial Models For Mental Health And Incapacity

I'm litigating an adult guardianship case. It isn't the first time I've done one. As a general rule, there is, at least, a lawyer for the person asking for a guardianship, a court appointed visitor (social work who sees what's going on), a court appointed lawyer for the person upon whom a guardian is to be imposed, and a court appointed guardian ad litem for the person to have a guardian impose, in addition to a judge and a judge's division clerk involved. A physician's letter from none of those people is preferred. There is an emergency guardianship option, but the usual process takes about two months. Sometimes more lawyers are involved if there are disputes over who should be appointed. Sometimes, adult protective services is involved.

On one hand, the concern that the process not put an adult in a subordinated position with reduced autonomy rights without adequate due process is legitimate. On the other hand, the process puts a lot of barriers in the way of getting help and intervention to people who, by definition, aren't able to reasonably manage their own affairs and are highly vulnerable to manipulation in any formal process. We put a lot of highly paid professionals in place to check and balance each other, instead of placing greater trust into fewer people at a lower cost. I have to think that this isn't the optimal system. We should have a system that is more pro-active and doesn't pose quite such high barriers to intervention, perhaps with more pro-active follow up and supervision of fiduciaries that extends beyond a paper record.

The thing is that, whether or not they get it, lots of people, maybe half or more, are going to spend some time in their lives when they need, or would benefit from, transitioning to having someone who can make decisions for them. An adversarial model for securing this situation, and a placing a premium on autonomy, which makes sense for most of one's adult life, even in times of physical illness, isn't optimal for lots of people at the end of their lives.

Mental health care, likewise, really ought to be more pro-active. And, the assumptions of the physical health care system, which is oriented towards a "cure" of temporary illnesses and injuries, really isn't appropriate for a large share of mental health care conditions which are congenital or at least permanent. Symptom management is the concern, not a "cure". The push for mental and physical health care parity may have been a good transitional way to leverage more insurance coverage and access to mental health care, but the truth is that they are fairly disjoint and efficiently providing each involves different professionals. The privacy concerns are different. The kind of treatment setting that is needed is different. We should have systems in place to pro-actively intervene in the face of predictable crisis situations. 

18 March 2024

Historical Causation And The Deep Future

Unless there is strong evidence to the contrary, it is safe to assume that the chain of causation for historical events is:

Climate change and new technology ==> New economic realities ==> Changing cultural norms ==> Changing politics, changing religious views, new laws, and new wars.

While individuals aren't irrelevant in history and drive the particulars of how it plays out, the Marxist concept of economic determinism is more right than it is wrong. If particular people at particular times in history had acted differently, an Arian Christianity or the cult of Mithras or Rabbinic Judaism or Zoroastrianism might have become dominant in Europe, instead of the version of Christian Orthodoxy orchestrated by Emperor Constantine, of the world we live in. If certain battles and events had come out differently, England might have been French speaking, and Ireland might predominantly speak a Celtic language. The United States might have been a constitutional monarchy under George Washington's dynasty, and the Confederate States of America might still exist today. But the technological, economic, and cultural character of those alternate histories would have been similar no matter how they got there.

Climate and technology drive change in everything else until they stop changing so much and the chain of causation plays out until it reaches a stable equilibrium, where it will then remain more or less indefinitely, until climate and technology chain gain.

Epochal periods in history, from the Out of Africa migration, to the migration of humans beyond India to Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Australia, to the human replacement of Neanderthals in Europe, to the migration of humans to the Americas, to the Neolithic Revolutions across the globe, to Indo-European expansion and the fall of the Harappans and the fall of the Minoans and the fall of an Egyptian dynasty, to the rise and fall of sedentary farming civilizations in the Amazon basin, to Bronze Age collapse and the fall of empires like the Hittite Empire, to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, to the demise of the Anasazi, to the Black Plague in the Middle Ages, to the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression in the U.S., are all attributable to a great extent to climate events.

Technology fills in the gaps that climate doesn't explain. The domestication of a sufficient package of plants and animals in the Neolithic Revolutions. Stone working and astronomy and calendars for megalithic civilizations. Metallurgy and writing in the Copper and Bronze Ages. Domestication of the horse and the invention of a practical wheel in addition to metallurgy, for Indo-European expansion. Maritime navigation techniques and ship building for the Austronesian expansion, for Phoenician and Punic exploration and trade, for the Viking Expansion, and with European colonial expansion and the Columbian Exchange. Ironworking metallurgy and mathematics for the Iron Age. Road building, plumbing, and aqueduct building for the Roman Empire. Reinvention of art and science and mathematics in the Renaissance. The printing press and practical military use of gunpowder in the Reformation and early modern era. Then windmills and dikes in places like the Netherlands and England. Then coal driven steam engines in the Industrial Revolution. Then electricity, hydroelectric power, trains, steamships, and telecommunications. Then petroleum driven vehicles and antibiotics and vaccines. Then nuclear power and weapons and quantum physics and general relativity. Then computers and space travel and satellites and robots and automation and genetic engineering.

We continue to produce new technologies and have much more to discovery. We've reached a point where our own technologies have brought about rapid climate change.

But our technological development has grown systematic and our scientific understanding grows ever more complete. The remaining frontiers of physics, astronomy, and cosmology probably have few technological applications. Deriving the principles of chemistry from fundamental physics is something that has already been outlined and is close to being possible to do rigorously. We understand chemistry well enough that increasingly it is becoming a matter of artistry and craftsmanship rather than a question of the limits of our scientific understanding of it. Biochemistry is the hardest part of that and we are seeing a torrent of progress there. From biochemistry and parallel study of ecology and meteorology we are coming to master biology and the medical biotechnology that flows from that knowledge.

Maybe we'll have another century or two of significant scientific advancement and technological breakthroughs. Maybe we'll proceed two steps forward and one step back with an apocalypse or two along the way and progress will be delayed for a century or two. But science and technology are ratchets. It doesn't take many seeds for it to revive itself after even a very severe setback.

Call me an optimist, but I see a future where humanity has come to a full scientific understanding of the physical world at all scales, and has developed technologies that more or less fully exploit this scientific understanding, as a more likely one than any other possible future for humanity. 

With the room for technological innovation muted and our home planet's climate susceptible to our precise and intentional manipulation, we will soon after, probably before the year 2500 CE,  settle into a stable equilibrium that will last for thousands of years, not unlike our many tens of thousands of years as hunter-gatherers, the thousands of years of the early Neolithic era, or the millennium long periods of the Copper Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age-Classic era, and the Middle Ages, respectively.

The world of 4500 CE will look more like the world of 2500 CE than the world of 2024 looks like the world of 1824.

That Time When Golf Was A Crime

James IV King of Scotland Born March 17, 1473 banned what sport activity in Scotland?

In 1491, James IV reaffirmed a ban on golf that had started in 1457 when James II banned golf and football to preserve the skills of archery. The ban was lifted in 1502 with the signing of the Treaty of Perpetual Peace between England and Scotland. James soon became a golfer himself and made the first recorded purchase of golf equipment, a set of golf clubs from a bow-maker in Perth [not the one in Australia which didn't exist yet].

15 March 2024

Some 21st Century Infrastructure Concepts

If you are building a new town from the ground up, not burdened by sunk costs, a variety of infrastructure choices come into focus:

* In places that get cold in the winter, geothermal heat pumps and good insulation make the most sense relative to the alternatives. Conditioned on that choice, requiring electric stoves and ovens, and electric water heaters make sense, so that no natural gas infrastructure needs to be put in place. In places that don't get that cold and are arid, evaporative coolers and a different heating solution (such as a non-geothermal heat pump or electric heater) may make sense. Wood and natural gas stoves and fire places would probably be absent, or a rare and expensive luxury by permit.

* The town doesn't need landline telephone, cable, or Internet service. Provide free town-wide wireless high speed Internet access and a 5G cell phone network with good service everywhere instead.

* Power lines should be buried, so that they don't go down during storms. To make the electrical power system even more robust, houses and businesses should have standard battery backups.

* Roundabouts should be preferred to four way stops and traffic lights in the vast majority of case. They reduce accidents, reduce accident severity, and don't require power to function.

* In arid areas, water hungry grass should be disfavored or banned in favor of Xeriscaping. And, golf courses should be omitted, or at least rationed and designed to be radically water thrifty. In addition to greatly reducing the dominant source of demand for municipal water, it would also greatly reduce the need for potentially health harming fertilizers and herbicides.

* All vehicles and landscaping equipment should be electric. Houses and businesses should have car chargers as standard equipment. This way the town doesn't need a gas station for cars and trucks, although it might need one or two specialty gas stations for boats, aircraft, and equipment not available in electrical versions. This also means that the town doesn't need businesses that repair and maintain internal combustion engines. And, it dramatically reduces the number of hazard prone fossil fuel carrying trucks and trains and ships in the vicinity of the town.

* Electricity would be generated with solar power, wind, hydroelectric, tidal, geothermal, and/or nuclear power, but would be fossil fuel and combustion fuel (e.g. wood, incinerated trash, biodiesel, corn ethanol) free. 

* Homes and businesses would routinely have solar panels on them with net metering. Parking lots would routinely have car port style covers with solar panels on them with net metering, which would also greatly reduce the need to clear snow in parking lots.

* Street lights would be LED and have light pollution reducing designs.

* Appliances and light fixtures would be energy efficient.

* Land use would be reasonable dense and mixed use to facilitate shorter travel distances, with transportation routes sensitive to walkability and bicycle friendliness.

* Very cost housing, like dorms and single occupancy hotels without baths in individual units, accessory dwelling units, very small apartments, multi-family shared uses of single family homes, boarding houses, and tiny house/RV/van/tent camps with bath houses would be legal to minimize the income needed to avoid homelessness.

* There would an electric powered high speed rail connection to the nearest major city and major airport.

* All rail lines would be designed to eliminate all rail crossings from roads, reducing accidents and allowing for higher speed rail traffic. They would also be fenced to keep out people and animals, with animal and/or pedestrian bridges/tunnels installed at regular intervals.

13 March 2024

The State Of The Union Is Strong

By a variety of measures, the U.S. is in a time of record or near record peace, prosperity, and well-being, although blue states (i.e. those that lean towards the Democratic party) are generally better off than red states (i.e. those that lean towards the Republican party). 

This should provide a political boost to President Biden in his rematch seeking re-election against former President Donald Trump. Biden should also be helped relative to the 2020 Presidential election by his incumbency, by the fact that the electorate is less white and less Christian, by the fact that many of the oldest voters in 2020 have been replaced by younger voters, and by the fact that younger voters and Democrats have been turning out more reliably in 2020 and 2022 than in prior elections with overall voter turnout reaching record highs, and with a rolling back of felon disenfranchisement laws in many states. And, of course, Donald Trump is facing four sets of felony criminal prosecutions on more than 90 charges, and has had other legal problems such as two civil judgments against him for a combined amount of more than half a billion dollars for fraud, rape, and defamation. Fox News is wounded, after paying an immense defamation settlement to a voting machine company and facing other similar massive pending lawsuits, and almost all non-Fox News outlets have made Trump's short fallings clear. Trump's three U.S. Supreme Court appointments as part of a six to three conservative majority overruled Roe v. Wade in  a highly unpopular decision and has been plagued by evidence of corruption leading to recover lows in its credibility, which has mobilized pro-choice voters and removed the urgency on the part of conservatives to vote for Trump to secure a conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority. 

But the polls, nationally and in swing states, show that the Biden-Trump Presidential race in 2024 (there is essentially no possibility that either major political party will pick a different nominee) is a toss up, and the polls understated Trump support in both the 2016 and 2020 Presidential elections. 

Violent crime rates in the U.S. are at their lowest level since 1970, down about 51% since 1991. The murder rate in big cities that bounced up in the pandemic (2020-2021) has fallen again (down 5% in 2022 and down another 12% so far this year compared to the same time period in 2022) to return to almost pre-pandemic levels which are comparable to murder rates in the early 1960s and are down about 50% from the peak levels in the early 1980s. Property crime rates are down 62% since 1991 and declined steadily until a slight bump upwards in 2022. Crime rates are generally higher in red states and lower in blue states.

The teen pregnancy rate is lower than it has been at any time in all of history and prehistory in North America. The teen pregnancy rate is down 75% since 1991. It is down 79% in that time period for black teens, 77% for Hispanic teens, and 76% for white teens. Teen pregnancy rates are lower in blue states and higher in red states.

After reaching a 50-year record low for two consecutive years (2020 and 2021 at 14.0 divorces per 1,000 married women), the divorce rate rose slightly in 2022 to 14.56 divorces per 1,000 married women. But, divorce rates are still lower now than at any time from 1970 to 2019. There is a class divide in marriage, however. For Americans in the top third income bracket (mostly college educated), 64% are in an intact marriage, meaning they have only married once and are still in their first marriage, comparable to 1960s and earlier levels. In contrast, only 24% of Americans in the lower-third income bracket (mostly people with no college) are in an intact marriage. Divorce rates are lower in blue states than in red states. 

U.S. unemployment is at its lowest level in 54 years. The economy added 2.7 million jobs in 2023. The U.S. has had positive job growth for 38 consecutive months, putting the current streak in 5th place of the longest job streaks in US history (since 1939). Inflation-adjusted disposable personal income rose 4.2 percent in 2023.

The U.S. poverty rate in 2023 was 11.5%. It has been lower than that in only three of the last 60+ years: 2019 (10.5%), 2000 (11.3%), and 1974 (11.1%), and in none of those years was it dramatically lower. By comparison, the U.S. poverty rate was 15.1% in 1993 and 2010, was 15.2% in 1983, and was 19.0% in 1964 (and was 15.1% or more in 1965 and 1966). Poverty rates are higher in red states and lower in blue states.

The percentage of Americans who don't have health insurance is at record lows (mostly due to Obamacare). A greater percentage of people don't have health insurance in red states than in blue states.

GDP growth in the U.S. has been solid during Biden's administration after experiencing an unprecedented plunge four years ago in the final year of Trump's Presidency due to the COVID pandemic. The stock market (which is a leading economic indicator of the economy's future direction) is at an all time high, despite upward trends in interest rates. The dollar is at 20 years plus highs in strength relative to other major world currencies. Per capita GPD and household net worth is much higher in blue states and blue regions of states than in red states and red regions of states.

Most economic activity has returned to pre-COVID levels. Inflation has come back to normal after a COVID/Ukraine War driven spike. Gasoline prices are close to their long term average in inflation adjusted dollars.

The percentage of Americans age 25 or older who have have high school diplomas (91.1%) was an all time high in 2022, and the percentage who had college degrees (37.7%) in 2022 was just slightly below the all time high of 37.9% in 2021. In 1960, only 41.1% of Americans age 25 or more had high school diplomas and only 7.7% of Americans age 25 or more had college degrees. Educational attainment is higher in blue states and lower in red states.

The number of Americans in active duty military service relative to the population is as low as it has been at any time in the last 83 years. The draft ended in the U.S. 51 years ago. U.S. military spending as a percentage of GDP is 3.48%, slightly above its post-1960 lows from 1997 to 2002 when it reached its modern low of 3.09% in 1999. In 1967 it was 9.42% of GDP. People in red states are more likely to serve in the military than people in blue states.

COVID deaths and hospitalizations are way, way down. COVID death rates were generally higher in red states (mostly due to lower vaccination rates) and lower in blue states.

U.S. deaths from AIDS are at a record or near record low, down more than 90% from the peak number of deaths per 100,000 people in 1995. One of the four major strains of influenza has gone extinct sometime in the last four years.

The average share of electricity generated from coal in the US has dropped from 52.8% in 1997 to 19.7% in 2022 and is still falling. The United States got nearly 17% of its electricity from solar, wind and geothermal power in 2022 and is still rising. That's up from just over 5% in 2013. Fourteen states produced the equivalent of more than 30% of the electricity they used from solar, wind and geothermal in 2022. That is up from just two states in 2013.

The U.S. produced 2.5% more energy in 2022 than it consumed. 2022 marked the highest level of US energy independence since before 1950. By comparison, in 2005 the U.S. consumed 44% more energy than it produced.

The percentage of Americans who identify as non-religious, 30%, is at an all time high and the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian is lower than it has been at any time since European colonization of North America. Among Americans aged 18-29 who are indicative of the future trend, 43% are not religious, 52% are Christian, and 4% adhere to some other religion. Red states are more Christian and less secular, while blue states are less Christian and more secular.

In 2022, immigrants made up 13.9% of the U.S. population, the highest percentage in more than a century. It was last this high sometime between 1910 (when it was 14.7%) and 1920 (when it was 13.2%). This is higher than in the 1900 census (13.6%), the 1880 census (13.3%), the 1860 census (13.2%), and the 1850 census (9.7%), but lower than in the 1890 census (14.8%) and the 1870 census (14.4%). The year 1970 census had the smallest foreign born population in the period from 1850 to the present at 4.7%, about a third of the current foreign born population percentage. Blue states have higher percentages of immigrants than red states.

The percentage of people living in urban areas (80.0%) v. rural areas (20.0%) in the 2020 census was essentially the same as in the 2010 census which set an all time high of 80.7% urban, with most or all of the difference from 2010 to 2020 being due to a stricter definition of what counted as urban in 2020. The percentage of the population that is urban is projected to grow steadily over the next thirty years as it has for almost all of U.S. history, and over the last 20 years, there has been much more population growth in urban areas than in rural areas. Blue states are generally more urban than red states. 

12 March 2024

The Six Worst ABA Accredited Law Schools

The American Bar Association accredits law schools in basically every state but California, and requires a 75% two year bar exam passage rate to remain accredited. Six currently ABA accredited law schools didn't meet this standard in the latest round of data:

School NamePass %
Cooley Law School55.87%
District of Columbia57.14%
Pontifical Catholic University of P.R.63.33%
Inter American University of Puerto Rico65.84%
Western State College of Law68.42%
Southern University72.15%

The FY 2025 Defense Budget Request

The draft Fiscal Year 2025 Defense Budget Request has been released. It indicates the current U.S. military priorities. This post analyzes these requests. The Navy and Marine Corps requests are summarized here (which  is the source for block quote material in this post unless otherwise indicated).

Ships

The Navy wants to buy six battle force ships and decommission 19 ships in the next fiscal year . . . one Virginia-class attack submarine, two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, one Constellation-class frigate, one San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock and one Medium Landing Ship. . . . The previous plan forecast the Navy buying two Virginia-class attack submarines, two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, one Constellation-class frigate, one Medium Landing Ship, and a T-AGOS(X) ocean surveillance ship instead of the LPD. . . . This year’s request continues the Navy’s plans to divest of older platforms, asking to decommission 10 hulls before the end of their service lives and nine additional ships. For the early retirements, the service wants to decommission two cruisers, the first four Expeditionary Fast Transports, one Whidbey Island-class docking landing ship, one Expeditionary Transfer Dock and two Littoral Combat Ships. Those ships are USS Shiloh (CG-67), USS Lake Erie (CG-70), USNS Spearhead (EPF-1), USNS Choctaw County (EPF-2), USNS Millinocket (EPF-3), USNS Fall River (EPF-4), USS Germantown (LSD-42), USNS John Glenn (ESD-2), USS Jackson (LCS-6) and USS Montgomery (LCS-8). . . .  

The Decommissioning Proposals 

The Decommissioning proposals in the Navy budget are appropriate.

Three of the ships to be decommissioned are just old and past their service life. CG-67 is 31 years old, CG-70 is 30 years old, and LSD-42 (which carried 402-504 Marines and their kit, to be deployed by hovercraft) is 37 years old. 

The two, to be decommissioned Littoral Combat Ships have simply been a failed experiment even though LCS-6 is just 8 years old and LCS-8 is just 7 years old. 

USNS John Glenn (T-ESD-2) naming, Feb 2014

The ESD-2 is a modified Alaska-class oil tanker built at a bargain $500 million per ship that has no armaments. The concept is that: "Troops, equipment, and cargo would be transferred to the ESD by large-draft ships, from where they can be moved ashore by shallower-draft vessels, landing craft like the Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), or helicopters. of both vessels while underway. . . . [transferring troops in via] skin-to-skin mooring of a host ship alongside the ESD, and the LCAC complement . . . [of] three. The new design is 785 feet (239 m) long, with a beam of 164 feet (50 m), a top speed of over 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph), and a maximum range of 9,500 nautical miles (17,600 km; 10,900 mi)." It was initially designed for a brigade sized force (about 5000 troops) but its capacity was downsized from that, with the idea of a barge barracks supplementing its capabilities.

Decommissioning the 9 year old ESD-2, a class of ship entering service in 2015, which is already on inactive, reduced operating status also makes sense, as Wikipedia explains at the link above:

In mid-2022, the Marine Corps announced its intention to retire the two ESD ships. Although they were cheap to buy compared to amphibious assault ships and demonstrated seabasing concepts, they were limited to connecting with sealift vessels at wave heights below three feet, and payload, fuel capacity and accommodation space were reduced to cut costs. This led to the decision to retire the ships to prioritize other vessels, such as the more successful ESBs. The proposed retirement of the two ships was rejected by Congress in December 2022.

The Navy also wants to divest itsself of the 1515 ton EPF-1 to EPF-4 which are 9-11 years old which costs $180 million, but three of which were reduced to "Inactive, Reduced Operating Status" in 2020. These are the fastest transport ships that the Navy has ever had carrying 312 troops/600 cargo tons at 49 mph (cruising at 40 mph) with a crew of 22 with a shallow 13 foot draft with a range of 1400 miles. It appears that the problem may be that:

During operations in 2015, Spearhead experienced bow damage from rough seas requiring more than $500,000 (USD) in repairs. It was determined that a design change that Austal recommended to the Navy late in the design phase to save weight has resulted in a weakened bow structure. The first five ships in the class will need to be returned to Austal to have upgrades done to improve the superstructure, at a cost of $1.2M each.

There are 11 in service with two more under construction, in addition to three that are in active. The Navy has also announced plans to buy three more "Expeditionary Medical Ship" variants of it. So, this appears to be an effort to decommission some early ships with a design flaw corrected in later ships, rather than to remove this class of ship from service generally, which seems to be sensible decision. 

New Ships 

We have too many Arleigh Burke-class destroyers already. 73 are in currently service. They have their place, but we don't need two more at a cost of $2.2 billion each. These are an old design and vulnerable to a host of threats including submarines, sea mines, hypersonic and conventional anti-ship missiles launched from land, sea, and air, and guided bombs dropped from aircraft. They lack the automation possible in a more modern design putting more sailors (it has a crew of 323) in harm's way. They are slow (peak speed 35 mph and cruising speed of 20 mph), large (9,900 ton and 510 feet long, 66 feet wide and 31 feet of draft) targets. While they have active defenses are still highly vulnerable in peer to peer combat. Their primary offensive capability - about 96 vertically launched missiles (which can't be reloaded at sea) - can be met be fighter and bomber aircraft and submarines instead. It also has a variety of armaments for close range defense against a variety of threats: two torpedo tubes, a 5" naval gun, SeaRAM missiles for anti-aircraft/cruise missile defense, a 20 mm Phalanx CIWS, two 25 mm (0.98 in) Mk 38 machine gun systems, an Optical Dazzling Interdictor, Navy, and one on the DDG-88 one High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with Surveillance

The 25,300 ton San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, that the Navy wants to buy another one of, is designed for conventional amphibious assault carrying to LCAC (hovercraft landing craft) or one LCU (conventional landing craft), can carry up to 5 MV-22 Osprey VTOL transport aircraft, 14 amphibious assault vehicles (armored personnel carriers) and a 699 Marine landing force in addition to a crew of 361 sailors for a total of 1,060 military personnel on board. It has a light, but adequate defense oriented set of armaments: 2 × Bushmaster II close-in-guns,  2 × RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile launchers, 2 × 8 cell Mark 41 Vertical Launching System for quad-packed ESSMs (not fitted), and several twin M2 Browning machine gun turrets.

The San Antonio-class ship it proposes is a good ship for what it does. But, its purpose isn't obvious a high priority at this moment that justifies the $2 billion sticker price. The D-Day style amphibious forced entry assault it is designed to support hasn't had a militarily important use since the Korean War in the 1950s. The Navy has twelve already and four more being fitted, under construction, or ordered. The marginal benefit of one more ship of this class, designed for a mission that is very low demand and will continue to be for the foreseeable future doesn't make that much sense.

Seen as an island hopping asset rather than as a forced entry asset, buying a 4000 ton Medium Landing Ship for about $188 million (very cheap for a ship) as a proof of concept makes some sense. It could provide flexibility and new capabilities not found in the Navy's existing LHA/LHD-type ships (basically helicopter carrier ships) that are 844 to 855 feet long and have a full load displacements between 40,000 and 45,000 tons, or its San Antonio-class ships. According to this October 16, 2023 source (see also here):

The Landing Ship Medium (LSM) is billed as the “affordable shore-to-shore USMC maneuver capability,” . . . The class of 18 to 35 LSMs – formerly known as the light amphibious warship – will ferry elements of the three Marine Littoral Regiments between isolated islands, reefs and atolls as part service’s shift to its modern campaign of island hopping. . . . Requirements for the ship call for an LSM capable of carrying at least 75 Marines, hauling 600 tons of equipment, and having an 8,000 square foot cargo area. . . . “Specific configuration details will be determined during the detailed design phase, but generally the ship will be less than 400 feet long, have a draft of less than 12 feet, an endurance speed of 14 knots, and roll on/roll off beaching capability,” . . . the ship will have a light defense capability, – two 30mm guns and positions for six .50-caliber guns around the ship – a helicopter pad and a crew of about 70 sailors.

The U.S. attack submarine capability is also probably overkill, but less glaringly so, because its current buy is mostly designed to replace an older class of subs that will have to be retired before too long.

The Navy has three classes of SSNs in service. Los Angeles (SSN 688)-class submarines are the backbone of the submarine force with 40 now in commission. Thirty Los Angeles-class SSNs are equipped with 12 Vertical Launch System tubes for firing Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The Navy also has three Seawolf-class submarines. Commissioned on July 19, 1997, USS Seawolf (SSN 21) is exceptionally quiet, fast, well-armed, and equipped with advanced sensors. Though lacking Vertical Launch Systems, the Seawolf class has eight torpedo tubes and can hold up to 50 weapons in its torpedo room. The third ship of the class, USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23), has a 100-foot hull extension called the multi-mission platform. This hull section provides for additional payloads to accommodate advanced technology used to carry out classified research and development and for enhanced warfighting capabilities.

The Navy continues to build the next-generation attack submarine, the Virginia (SSN 774) class. Twelve VIRGINIA's have been commissioned to date and they will replace Los Angeles Class submarines as they retire.

The 7,291 ton Constellation-class frigate, which is really almost a destroyer anyway, has the virtue of being a fully modernized design, a  $1.05 billion price tag that is about half the price of a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, and having had very low development costs or risk since it is a modified French warship model already in service with minor modifications. Its crew of 200 is significantly less than that of a destroyer. It has 32 VLS missiles, 16 Naval Strike Missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, a 2" naval gun, some machines guns, a helicopter, and a helicopter drone, in addition to advanced sensors, so significantly fewer missiles than a destroyer. One is under construction and three more have been ordered so far. It lacks the largely obsolete large naval guns of other U.S. surface combatants and has no torpedoes. It has the ability to detect submarines but not dedicated anti-submarine weapons. Its active defenses are less vigorous than a destroyer. The first twelve will be based in Washington State, presumably to support Pacific and Arctic Ocean operations primarily concerned with Russian, North Korean and Chinese naval forces and more heavily armed pirates and smugglers. This said, it is vulnerable to all of the threats that a destroyer would be, particularly coastal and blue water attack submarines, which all three of its likely opponents have in meaningful numbers.

In sum, if I could propose a Navy ship budget, I would limit the new buys to one Virginia-class attack submarine, one Constellation-class frigate, and one Medium Landing Ship, saving $6.4 billion.

Missiles

The Navy’s weapons procurement request seeks to build upon the multi-year procurement strategies for several munitions programs – the Standard Missile 6, the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, the Naval Strike Missile, and the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile. . . . The Navy wants to buy 125 SM-6s . . . . This year’s request also asks for 22 Tactical Tomahawks for the Navy and Marine Corps, 102 Naval Strike Missiles for both services, 30 LRASMs, 261 AMRAMs, and 60 LRASMs Extended Range. 
The request does not ask to buy any Conventional Prompt Strike weapons. CPS is a hypersonic missile that the Navy planned to field on the Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer in FY 2025 and the Virginia-class attack submarine in FY 2028. But the plans to field the weapon on the Zumwalt-class destroyers are delayed until FY 2026 . . . .

It makes sense that the Navy needs more proven missiles, which it has been using in anger at a high rate to take on the Houthis in Yemen, and which would be front and center in any conflict with China. Delaying a naval hypersonic missile buy by a year isn't troubling either.

The hypersonic missile is pretty much exclusively directed at the threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, because no other country has a large navy that is a serious potential threat for which the conventional anti-ship missile v. hypersonic missile distinction matters. This would be a nice capability to have, but making sure that Taiwan itself has the military resources it needs to defend itself as much as possible is more important. Also, China, unlike Iran, North Korea, or Russia, has a huge vested interest in keeping robust and varied international trade with the West going, which undermines its bluster on Taiwan, so the threat of an imminent invasion of Taiwan needs to taken with a grain of salt.

Hypersonic missiles can also be deployed by air or from land based launchers, which probably makes more sense in most cases and is being developed parallel to this effort.

Naval Aviation 

The Fiscal Year 2025 procurement profile includes nine F-35C Joint Strike Fighters for the Navy, four F-35Cs for the Marine Corps, 13 F-35Bs for the Marine Corps, 15 Multi-Engine Training Systems for the Navy, 12 Multi Engine Training Systems for the Marine Corps, 19 CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopters for the Marine Corps, and three MQ-25A Stingrays for the Navy’s carrier air wing, according to a service summary. . . .

the service is continuing its development of the F/A-XX next-generation fighter program, the FY 2025 request is seeking significantly fewer research and development dollars for the effort. While last year’s request sought $1.5 billion for F/A-XX, this year’s submission is asking for $454 million. . . . The F/A-XX funding is specifically for research and development of the fighter and does not include funding spent on the Next Generation Air Dominance family of systems, some of which are classified. . . .

A modest number of new jet fighters and helicopters for the Navy and Marines and more training aircraft are par for the course. The foray into buying three unmanned carrier based refueling planes is very encouraging, even though they have failed to make a bolder purchase of unmanned carrier based fighter sized reconnaissance aircraft and armed drones. The F/A-XX program, building an F/A-18 Superhornet replacement, when the Navy is already buying F-35Cs, seems not very urgent or necessary, so cutting R&D funding for this program makes sense. This program can afford to be on the back burner.

Drones

The service is asking for $54 million in research and development funding for the Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle and $21 million in R&D funding for the Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle. It’s a substantial decrease compared to the FY 2024 request, which asked for $117 million for LUSV and $104 million for XLUUV. . . .

Developing naval drone capabilities, in contrast, is a quite urgent need that has a long lead time, and significant funding cuts here don't necessarily make sense.  

Marine Corp Equipment

The service is asking for 80 Amphibious Combat Vehicles, the same number it sought in FY 2024. The Marine Corps wants to buy 674 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, 123 Anti-Armor Missile Javelins, eight Long Range Fires, and 12 Medium Range Interceptor Capability launchers and missiles.

These purchases seem very appropriate. 

The Marine Corps is not asking to buy any of its Navy/Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction Systems, also known as NMESIS, nor is it asking to buy any Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR).  

It isn't clear why it won't buy systems to deploy Naval Strike Missiles from land bases, and a capability which Ukraine's attacks on Russia's Black Sea Fleet have proved the usefulness of, and its missile purchases seem to indicate that overall the Marines are moving in that direction. Likewise, advanced ground based, mobile air defense radar would seem to be very desirable for the Marine Corps and it isn't clear why it doesn't want those right now.

The Army

According to this source:

The Army requested $185.9 billion for fiscal 2025, according to budget documents released Monday. That’s an increase of 0.2 percent over the 2024 budget request, though it works out to a cut when adjusted for inflation. The funding is meant to support an active force of 442,300 active duty soldiers, 325,000 Army National Guard members and 175,800 reservists—a decrease in force structure that reflects Army plans to cut billets amid recruiting difficulties.

The service will continue buying large amounts of munitions that have been used heavily in Ukraine, such as missiles and multiple launch rocket systems. It is asking $5.7 billion for missiles, up from $4.4 billion last year.

Increases in the missiles category were included a $744 million request for the Army’s Long Range Hypersonic Weapon system, $517 million in lower air and missile defense, $493 million for Precision Strike Missiles (PrSM), and $326 million for Javelin anti-tank missiles. The PrSM buy will get the Army 230 missiles, according to budget documents.

The Army also wants $1.2 billion for guided multiple launch rocket systems (GMLRS), an increase over last year’s $943 million. “I believe that’s the highest budget number for GMLRS probably ever,” said Army acquisition chief Doug Bush at a media briefing Friday.

The Army's focus on restocking and building up its advanced guided missile capabilities including hypersonic missiles is appropriate. Reducing the number of active duty Army soldiers is probably unwise, because experience is increasingly showing that relying on mobilizing reserves or conscripts is difficult and ineffective, and that the experiences of seasoned veterans is very valuable. It isn't clear why air and missile defense budgets are down given their increased salience.

This particular budget story doesn't highlight key issues: the ill-advised purchase of the M10 Booker "light" tank, the purchase of too many modified Bradley vehicles for dubious purposes (like mortar carriers and command stations), and insufficient efforts to equip National Guard guard forces in a manner specialized for their primary homeland defense function as opposed to just treating them as a second Army Reserve.

The Air Force

According to this source:
The 2025 budget predicts a total aircraft inventory of 4,903 aircraft, according to a service accounting of total aircraft inventory.

Fiscal Year 2025 Divestments

AircraftNumber of Airframes
F-2232
HH-60G12
F-15C/D65
A-1056
F-15E26
F-16C/D11
C-130H6
EC-130H1
CV-222
E-111
KC-13516
T-122
TOTAL250
The Air Force is heavily focused on modernization, so protecting research and development comes at the cost of new aircraft purchases in the latest budget, according to top service officials. The aircraft divestment plan is worth over $2 billion in savings, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for budget Maj. Gen. Mike A. Greiner said.

“For the most part, our divestments were planned because we need to start moving the funding into the modernization programs,” Kristyn E. Jones, the acting undersecretary of the Air Force told reporters March 11.

The Air Force wants to purchase 42 F-35As and 18 F-15EXs—a total of 60 new fighters. That will not meet the service’s stated long-term goal of at least 72 new fighters annually. The Air Force is moving towards awarding the first contracts for Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCAs), semi-autonomous aircraft that will accompany the manned fighter fleet. CCAs will “rethink our definition” of the USAF fighter fleet, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David W. Allvin said on March 7.

Fiscal Year 2025 Procurements

AircraftNumber of Airframes
F-35A42
F-15EX18
KC-4615
MH-1398
T-7A7
C-40 (a modified Boeing 737)1
TOTAL91


The Air Force proposal is a mixed bag. 

Decommissioning the older generation A-10 (56), older versions of the F-15 (91), and F-16 (11) in lieu of the new F-35A (42) has long been part of the Air Force's procurement plan. The biggest problem with it is that the F-35A is a poor substitute for the capabilities of the A-10 in providing close air support to ground troops. The A-10s are old planes past their due date so the problem is not really discarding them. The real problem is that the Air Force's attempt to treat the F-35A as a replacement for the A-10 isn't adequate.

The decision to drop six C-130H transports and two CV-22 Osprey tilt wing transports and buying only one new transport, a C-40 (i.e. modified Boeing 737) VIP transport, also comes across like the Air Force shirking its obligations to the Army.

Decommissioning 32 F-22 fighters is something of a surprise, because the Air Force F-35A is really not an air superiority fighter in the same sense. Are they so old that their continued service isn't possible? 

The buy of 18 F-15EX fighters (which lack stealth) at about $100 million each is intended to replace part of the capabilities lost with older F-15s that are being decommissioned and to support a shrinking F-22 fleet. According to the F-15EX link:
The aircraft resulted from the U.S. Department of Defense' Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (OSD CAPE) study in 2018 to recapitalize the aging F-15C/D fleet due to inadequate numbers of F-22s, delays in the F-35 program, and maintaining diversity in the U.S. fighter industrial base through Boeing's St. Louis division (former McDonnell Douglas). The F-15EX is expected to replace the F-15C/D in performing homeland and air defense missions and also serve as an affordable platform for employing large stand-off weapons to augment the frontline F-22 and F-35.

There are much cheaper and better alternatives than the F-15EX for homeland defense short of an all out air invasion from Russia which seems exceedingly unlikely. 

Replacing the KC-135 (16) with the KC-46 (15), is an unsurprising upgrade of too old tanker aircraft. Replacing 22 T-1 training aircraft with 7 T-7A training aircraft seems to be in the same vein.

Discarding HH-60G helicopters (12) and buying MH-139 helicopters (8) are mere coincidences in time and not direct replacements.  The MH-139 is notionally replacing the UH-1N helicopters from 1969 that provide security at ICBM bases, so the decommissioned helicopters and the new ones are not directly related. The decommissioned HH-60G helicopters are described as follows:
The . . . HH-60G Pave Hawk's core mission is recovery of personnel under hostile conditions, including combat search and rescue. Both versions conduct day or night operations into hostile environments. Because of its versatility, the HH-60G may also perform peacetime operations such as civil search and rescue, emergency aeromedical evacuation (MEDEVAC), disaster relief, international aid and counter-drug activities. The USAF HH/MH-60G are in the process of being replaced by the new HH-60W Jolly Green II.
The Air Force is ditching two old model electronic warfare aircraft presumably because they are now outdated or worn out.

10 March 2024

U.S. Secretary of State Travel Advisories

The maps below from the U.S. Secretary of State website show that agency's current travel advisories for Americans traveling abroad. Localized versions are provided where the advisories are hard or impossible to see on other maps.

Red zones are "do not travel" areas. These are places that it simply isn't safe for Americans to be.

Orange zones are "reconsider travel" areas with some having areas of heightened risk. 

Yellow areas of "exercise increased caution" are no real worry (including the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Nepal, and Chile) except in areas of heightened risk where they are effectively "orange zones."

Legend:

Worldwide:

In Eurasia and Africa:

In Eurasia, the countries marked as red zones (i.e. "do not travel") are Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Burma (a.k.a. Myanmar), Yemen, and North Korea

China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Lebanon, Moldova, and Israel are "orange zones" (i.e. "reconsider travel") with Papua New Guinea, Lebanon Moldova, and Israel having some areas that are "orange zones" with increased risk. 

Parts of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Albania, Kosovo, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia are "yellow zones" with increased risk.

In Africa, the countries marked as red zones are Libya, Mali, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Sudan, South Sudan, and Somalia.

Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Uganda, Egypt, Ethiopia, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Mauritania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, are "orange zones." Parts of Egypt, Ethiopia, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Mauritania, the Democratic Republic of Congo are "orange zones" with increased risk.

Parts of Algeria,  Cote d'Ivoire, Benin, Cameroon, Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique,  are also "yellow zones" with increased risk.

In the Caribbean and Mesoamerica:


In Latin America and the Caribbean, the countries marked as red zones are Haiti, Venezuela, and parts of Mexico (including the tourist destinations of Acapulco and Mazatl├ín). 

Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Columbia are "orange zones." Parts of Mexico (including Tijuana and all other cities near the U.S.-Mexico border), Panama, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Brazil are also "orange zones."

09 March 2024

Swords Into Ploughshares

While most countries use Multiple Rocket Launchers (MRL) as weapons of war, China is using them as fire fighting equipment by launching fire retardant into burning high rise buildings.

05 March 2024

The 2024 Presidential Election Update

Today is Super Tuesday. Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a poorly reasoned and results driven 9-0 decision that Trump can remain on the ballot.

Barring a candidate dropping out of the race due to disability, death, or in Trump's case, loss of support due to one or more felony convictions, the Presidential race in November will be a Biden v. Trump rematch.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision to take up an immunity question in the January 6 felony case Trump is facing, despite the likelihood that it will affirm that decision, takes one of the four criminal trials Trump may face before the election effectively off the calendar. But he still faces three felony cases that could go to trial before the election, a federal classified documents case in Miami, Florida, an election tampering case in Atlanta, Georgia, and a hush money related business fraud case in New York State, which will go to trial later this month.

The polling is still stunningly close, despite a strong economy that usually helps an incumbent, and myriad problems with Trump that would have destroyed any other candidate.

On the other hand, about 30% of Republican primary and caucus voters are supporting Nikki Haley, suggesting that they might not be as reliable in the general election if Trump is at the top of the ticket.

03 March 2024

A High Priority Delivery Idea

Variant One

A concept for a two component high priority package delivery drone:

* Package to deliver: 100 kg. For example, anti-venom doses, poison antidotes, organs to transplant, key medical equipment, vaccines, samples of highly aggressive infectious diseases for analysis at top labs, satellite phones, emergency kits. 

* These would be for people isolated far at sea, on islands, or in a wilderness, roadless areas, or areas cut off by natural disaster from rapid overland access, or for access to one of a kind resources that aren't available locally in a much more developed area that must reach their destinations on the fastest possible schedule.

* The package is carried by a quadcopter drone that can pickup and land vertically from a specified spot. For example, it might pick up a package from a hospital helipad and deliver the package at a different hospital or ship helipad. The quadcopter's range is not particularly great, maybe 15-50 km, and the maximum altitude isn't particularly exceptional. The quadcopter is ideally battery powered, rather than having its own engine to make it easier to maintain.

* The quadcopter drone with its package is picked up and released in the air from a fixed wing supersonic aircraft drone, comparable in size or something than a small jet fighter, and as fast or faster at cruising speed than a small jet fighter.

* The fixed wing supersonic aircraft drone is meant for civilian use. It has no armaments, no flare defenses, no stealth, no military grade avionics, no super maneuverability, and no ability to refuel in mid-air. It can handle autonomous, instrument only landings and can interact with ground control via a link with a base station operator. It can take off and land at any general aviation airport, but is not capable for "short" or "vertical" takeoff and landing by jet fighter standards itself, and uses some form of widely available jet fuel. The design seeks to minimize, but not to eliminate entirely, a sonic boom. The range is as long as technologically feasible perhaps 5000 km. The technical feasibility of this is demonstrated by the prototype X-59.

The virtue of the drone v. the manned option is that it allows for a smaller size (and scale matters a lot in the capabilities of things that fly, favoring smaller designs), and a lower cost.

Variant Two

Skip the quadcopter, which would be dealt with by using a locally supplied helicopter or drone quadcopter between the closest general aviation airport and the actual delivery site. 

This would result in only a modest delivery time hit, but would greatly reduce technological complexity, size, and cost.

Variant Three

A manned variant with similar capabilities to the primary fixed wing aircraft, might skip the carried drone with VTOL capabilities, instead have a crew of one pilot and would deliver: (1) a medic and a litter passenger, (2) one passenger and 500 kg of cargo, (3) two passengers (one in a jump seat) and 250 kg of cargo, or (4) three passengers (two in jump seats). This could be used to transport a patient or to deliver specialist doctors or other experts in a very time dependent manner. It might be larger than a jet fighter, and similar in size to a small private jet (some of which can reach 0.94 times the speed of sound already, and an 8000 km range, with more cargo and passenger space than complicated for this plane). 

If the cost/need analysis determined it was a better idea, the cargo/passenger capacity might be doubled. 

Configured for quick loading and unloading, this could be a higher cost, but more versatile, alternative to Variant Two. 

A sub-variant might allow for airdrops of cargo by parachute with GPS guidance, and for passengers to parachute out. Or, some of the cargo space might be used for a motorcycle (with or without a sidecar), or an ATV, or even a small jeep, or even an airdrop-ready high sea state worthy, deep ocean life raft. These might be useful in search and rescue operations.