Back . . .
website was launched on May 22, 1995, when the World Wide Web was in the
midst of an accelerated adolescence.
The site's original purpose was to make a centralized repository of
hard-to-find information on specific military-related subjects available
to researchers on the Internet. At first, its focus was the organization
and aircraft of U.S. carrier-based aviation, based largely on research
files that I had been diligently maintaining since my youth. Over the next
few months I extended the website's scope to cover other research topics,
most notably Russian naval developments in the post-Soviet era and the
1991 Gulf War air campaign. For most of the last six years, the delivery
of information in these three main subject areas has remained the
fundamental raison d'etre of
important changes have since taken place.
First, the web is a much larger place than it was six years ago.
There are many more sources of information online today than there were in
1995, a fact that has diluted much of the value of the original site
content. As an example: the centerpiece of the original Vulture's
Row was a squadron-level accounting of deployed carrier air wings,
which in 1995 was (for someone with no direct service or industry
connections) something that had to be painstakingly assembled by means of
a great deal of open source research. Today, the same information is
available at the casual researcher's fingertips through at least a
half-dozen websites, including official U.S. Navy information channels.
The Naval Historical Center's section on naval aviation has become so
complete in recent years that much, if not all, of the current content
offering on Vulture's Row is now
superfluous. This general situation applies in varying degrees to most of
the website in its current form.
second major change took place in my own personal circumstances. In 1995,
I was an undergraduate in political science at the University of
California at Berkeley, specializing in international relations and
security studies, with something of a minor regional focus on Russia and
the former Soviet Union. There was therefore a great deal of natural
subject-matter overlap between my "occupation" at the time and
the research and maintenance of this website. Indeed, I think that much of
the original value of the State of
the Russian Navy stemmed from the fact that I had (a) regular and
continuous access to U.C. Berkeley's academic research stacks, including
its collection of FBIS daily translations of Eastern European open media
reports; and (b) both the time and an academic reason to undertake the
laborious process of sifting through these and other open sources in hopes
of finding rare gems of relevant information.
better or for worse, six years later I find myself in a somewhat different
position. The demands of my current professional life jealously lay claim
to the majority of my waking hours, and while my occupation remains
fundamentally analytical in character, it does not ordinarily involve work
with sources directly relevant to the subject matter of this website. The
unhappy reality is that I no longer routinely have time in the quantities
necessary to consistently work with the open sources, build the analytical
picture, and engage others in the collaborative exchange of information
that was the underpinning of the site as I originally envisioned it.
. . . Looking Forward
light of these changes, the site needs to be reoriented if it is to
continue to serve a useful purpose. First, I have two observations, both
of which relate to what I am convinced that I (and this site) should not attempt to do.
few years ago, when many of the really valuable information sources were a
step or two removed from a lot of potential consumers, there was a real
need for intermediaries to perform the aggregation and reporting function.
Today, in a web now populated with primary sources and professional or
near-professional collectors and aggregators, I am no longer equipped to
usefully serve as one. Let me be clear: this is really no tragedy. From
the perspective of an open-source researcher concerned with high-quality
data, my obsolescence is a very good thing. But this cause for celebration
does leave behind a website designed and built around a requirement that
has since evaporated.
With all of this in mind, I intend to shift the primary focus of this website away from fact collection and toward the preparation of processed material at an "intermediate" level of analysis. To elaborate: imagine an analytical spectrum that measures the total amount of filtering and analysis required to prepare a particular information product, beginning with simple collection of raw unprocessed data at the "low" end, and ending with the preparation of highly-contextualized "politico-econo-socio-military" analytical product at the "high" end. In more concrete terms, the "low end" is represented by factual answers to specific questions such as "what is the diameter of the bow torpedo tubes in a submarine of class X?" The "high end" is represented by general analytical conclusions, estimates, and educated guesses derived from many raw facts placed in context, which seek to answer very broad questions such as "to what extent is the defense industrial base of country X (including submarine design and production) being realigned toward the export market?" There are plenty of existing resources serving both ends of the spectrum, with the low end largely covered by the general media and specialized news sources, and the high end largely covered in the public arena by foreign and defense policy journals. But the area that I am targeting lies between the extremes, at an altitude sufficient to discern important trends in the critical intangibles (which can be nearly invisible if one is too narrowly focused on the hard details), but well below the dizzying heights of strategic policy. This broad middle ground is characterized by a free-ranging level of inquiry, and embraces the sort of educated speculation about specialized topics that inspired amateurs like myself have always found engaging.
What This All Means . . .
so goes the overtheorized conceptual explanation of what is about to
happen to this site. Coming
back down to more practical terms, I am reorganizing this site into
several primary research directions called "programs," a term
that I have intentionally selected for its breadth and flexibility.
As I use the term here, a "program" describes a cluster
of related open source research activity, which may include the
maintenance of any combination of knowledge resources such as articles,
databases, FAQs, current development notes, and annotated catalogs of
links. The reorganization will be a gradual process, and it will
proceed on a section-by-section basis.
Needless to say, there is a great deal of work to do.
have drawn up some preliminary design plans for the overhaul of the site,
although I do expect those plans to change as things progress.
Some things that are currently in the design specification:
Updates to Existing Content
I mentioned before, this process is going to require a great deal of work,
and by necessity will be a gradual one.
Nevertheless, I am committed to making it happen.
My primary motivation is a selfish one: this will allow me to
maintain some degree of currency in the subjects for which I have held a
deep-seated intellectual passion during all of my adult life.
But I do hope that there are others out there, both
“professionals” and “inspired amateurs” alike, who have found and
will continue to find this site interesting, and perhaps useful.
I’d like to thank all of you who have written over the years,
whether to provide or request information, exchange thoughts, or simply to
provide a few words of encouragement. I look forward to interacting with many of you in the years