From an email response posted to Baen's Bar BuShips dated August 17, 2004:

Admiral Hemphil and Fearless' deployment

    There's also been some discussion of "Horrible Hemphill" and her effect on the RMN's tech base/tactical doctrine evolution. Did Hemphill expect the Fearless to go into fleet service after the initial war games, or was the ship a pure testbed? How, exactly, did Hemphill's vision of new LAC doctrine tie into the development of current RMN LAC doctrine? How much -- if anything -- did she have to do with the new tech which made the Shrike possible in the first place? How much did she have to do with Ghost Rider, and the evolution of the RMN's new weaponry in general? There seems to be some belief that after screwing up so royally with the Fearless, and pushing for the deployment to the fleet of that armament combination (and, possibly, proposing an attritional LAC doctrine with LACs which would have been complete nonsurvivable) she should have been locked out of weapons development in the RMN. There's also been some suggestion (I think) that she is directly responsible for the losses suffered by Fearless in OBS because she did not retire the ship or restore its original armament (or at least press someone else to do so) after it proved a resounding failure in the fleet exercises.


    Sonja Hemphill is not the Antichrist some people seem intent upon making her. Since the Barflies tend to read much more closely and to discuss these things among themselves, I'm going to give you a little bit of information which, in some ways, might be considered a spoiler. It should be, I think, given where I've been going with Hemphill in the books lately, but you never can tell.

    Basically, Sonja has an abrasive personality, a huge amount of faith and her own judgment on technical matters, and a certain narrowness of focus which drives her directly from Point A to Point B. She is at least as intolerant of people unable to keep up with her mental processes as Hamish Alexander is intolerant of those unable to keep up with him. And while she is nowhere near the tactical incompetent some people seem to assume she must be, she is definitely a proponent of the theory that quantity has a quality all its own. Her entire approach to the evolution of new war-fighting technology stemmed from her analysis of just how bloody and indecisive traditional fleet combat had become. Since the "traditionalists" seemed unable to find a tactical solution to the problem, she approached it by looking for a technological solution.

    Sonja is not the equal of Shannon Foraker when it comes to extrapolating tactical applications of technological advances. She is, however, almost certainly Shannon's superior when it comes to driving through those technological advances in the first place. Her abrasiveness and self-confidence are both fundamental reasons for her success in this regard -- since she started out basically having to fight every single major innovation through against the entrenched opposition of the Traditionalists -- and also help to explain the reasons why she is so detested by many of her opponents. Someone once said that crossing swords with Jackie Fisher left [one] feeling as if one had been run over by a bus without suffering actual physical injury. The same thing tends to happen when someone challenges Sonja's theories. It should be noted, however, that Sonja Hemphill has never used her own rank as a club to beat up on someone junior to her who disagrees with her. She has, indeed, handed several of her juniors their heads, but what many people have failed to note (because they just plain don't like her very much to begin with) is that (a) she has never destroyed a junior officer's [carreer] out of spite or simply because that officer disagreed with her and (b) she has ripped off the heads of those equal -- and senior -- to her in rank in precisely the same terms. Where Sonja sometimes does herself a disservice in these exchanges is that she may react to something she thinks someone said, rather than to what they actually said. This is partly a consequence of how long and how hard she has had to fight against a basically closed mindset.

    None of the above ought to be taken to suggest that Sonja Hemphill is an infallible genius. Many of her ideas have proved to be nonstarters, or else have required substantial input from other people to make them work. What Sonja does is to simply radiate ideas and concepts by looking at things which the traditional mindset has simply labeled "The Way It Is." Frequently, she runs far ahead of where she can reasonably expect to get to in the short term -- thus her efforts to evolve a new LAC doctrine exposed her to ridicule from the Traditionalists, because the tools to make her new doctrine workable simply didn't exist. However, she recognized that. The new missile pods are a direct consequence of Hemphill's having dug in to evolve and build the technology she needed to make the new doctrine workable. She continued to have some operationally questionable concepts, but one thing about her, was that she never claimed that she had all the answers. What she claimed she had was a set of questions no one else was willing to ask. Where Shannon Foraker, with her greater ability to figure out how best to employ new technology, might well have gone on to formulate the definitive version of the new LAC doctrine, Hemphill couldn't, which was why Alice Truman was required to do the job.

    There are very few new goodies in the Manticoran technology bag which don't have "Horrible Hemphill's" fingerprints on them somewhere. She never figured out how to make the FTL com work -- what she did figure out was the practicality of the concept and the identification of what someone was going to have to develop to make it work. The lightweight missile-drivers used in the missile pods were her brainchild. She was a direct hands-on participant in the development of the new super-dense fusion bottle technology. She was involved on the ground floor in the conceptualization of the Ghost Rider applications of the new technology. And it was during her stint at the Weapons Development Board that the parameters of the MDM development program were established and put into place. And she was one of the early proponents of the pod-layer concept, which (be it noted) she incorporated in her initial proposal for the Trojan conversions.

    As far as Fearless' function in her scheme of things, she regarded the ship purely as a technological and tactical testbed. Honor's initial success against Sebastian D'Orville's flagship delighted Hemphill, because it appeared to be a vindication -- finally! -- of her determination to find technological ways account of long-standing tactical impasses. When it turned out that her brainchild didn't work if the other side knew it was coming, she got angry, and her anger showed in her communications with Honor. Her anger was even more intense because of the fact that things had looked so good in Honor's first ambush scenario. It was possibly unprofessional of her to allow that anger to show, and especially to make Honor feel that it was directed at her, but Hemphill did not ask to have Honor sent to Basilisk. In fact, she wasn't consulted at all. And if she had been consulted, she would have pointed out that the Fearless conversion had been carried out as part of a test program and that the test had not been a success. She would not have advocated [assigning] Fearless to a duty station where there was the least possibility of the ship being called to action. Now, she didn't protest the ship's deployment to Basilisk or argue that the ship must immediately be withdrawn from active duty and either restored to its original configuration (not going to happen; Fearless was chosen in the first place because her small size, age, and limited utility had her earmarked for disposal but she was large enough to serve as a testbed for the notion of a cruiser-mounted gravity lance) or immediately scrapped. Arguably, she should have. And practical reality, however, the decision was properly up to the people who had authorized the test exercise in the first place, which happened to be Edward Janacek's Admiralty. In fact, the officer who should have insisted that Fearless be withdrawn from service with her proper armament was undoubtedly First Space Lord Webster… who didn't. He horse-traded with Janacek, instead. Why? Because he didn't actually expect anything untoward to happen on Basilisk station, either. And he had other priorities rather than worrying about one, obsolete light cruiser which would certainly be scrapped at the end of its present commission, anyway. Indeed, he might actually have thought that allowing Honor to retain her command, even in Basilisk, would have been kinder than informing her that her ship was to be immediately scrapped. In short, Sonja Hemphill is not the appropriate person to blame for the fact that Fearless was committed to a combat situation with the armament she carried at the time. She is the appropriate person to blame -- or credit -- for the fact that Fearless had that armament, but, again, she never contemplated the ship's being used as anything but a testbed, unless, of course, the weapons combination have proved a brilliant success. Which she was quite well aware by the end of the fleet exercise it had not.