Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Friday, February 11, 2005

San Francisco CO Permanently Relieved of Command

According to this press release from Commander Seventh Fleet, CDR Kevin Mooney, CO San Francisco during her recent grounding, has been officially relieved of command and issued a Letter of Reprimand following non-judicial punishment ("Admiral's Mast") on Saturday, Feb. 12 at Seventh Fleet HQ in Yokosuka, Japan. The report goes on to say:

"Following the submarine striking an underwater seamount Jan. 8, (commander of U.S. Seventh Fleet, Vice Adm. Jonathan W.) Greenert reassigned Mooney to the staff of Commander, Submarine Squadron 15, based in Guam. During the conduct of the investigation into this incident, it became clear to Greenert that several critical navigational and voyage planning procedures were not being implemented aboard San Francisco. By not ensuring these standard procedures were followed, Mooney hazarded his vessel. "

The statement "hazarded his vessel" seems to imply that CDR Mooney was charged with violation of Article 110(b) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Improper (Negligent) Hazarding of Vessel. By disposing of the matter at Non-judicial Punishment, the Navy has decided not to court-martial Captain Mooney. Another report of this action, with updated information on the San Francisco herself, can be found on the Navy Times website. This article explains:

"The Navy also announced Saturday that while no decision has been made about whether to repair or decommission the 23-year-old Los Angeles-class submarine, the damage is so extensive that officials have decided to temporarily repair it and sail the sub off the island to a nuclear-capable shipyard in the United States, where a more detailed assessment can be made.
The temporary repairs will take about three months and will allow the sub, now resting in a Guam drydock, to transit the ocean, said Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, spokesman for the Pacific Fleet Submarine Force in Hawaii. The trip will likely take place this summer, he said.
The crew, meanwhile, will remain in limbo on Guam until officials decide the submarine’s fate, Davis said."

While this action was not unexpected, and while I haven't seen the official investigation report (and I'm not likely to), I will be very disappointed if it turns out that CDR Mooney was relieved for taking actions that are common throughout the fast attack fleet. (The crowd over at Ron Martini's BBS is also discussing their feelings about this news.) "Drawing the short straw", or coming up on the wrong side of the odds when operating under the "big ocean, little ship" theory that's common among submarine COs seems to me to be the wrong reason to end an officer's career. It remains to be seen how this action will change the operating habits of the submarine force as a whole. In the early days of WWII, many of the peacetime submarine commanders were too timid to take the fight to the enemy. The result, according to this excellent article from Undersea Warfare, was as follows:

"Our relatively poor submarine performance early in the war was due to a number of factors. First – as in the opening phase of any conflict – gaining combat experience, shedding peacetime attitudes, and winnowing out “less-aggressive” and tactically-inept commanding officers took months of actual fighting."

I only hope that in taking this action against CDR Mooney, the Submarine Force leadership isn't encouraging excessive caution in peacetime that could not easily be cast aside in the event of war. I was always taught that the submarine force should "train like it fights". While I welcome any changes to operating procedures that would reduce the chance of another tragedy like that on the San Francisco, we must recognize that it is impossible to remove all elements of danger from submarining, and I hope we don't lose combat effectiveness by trying to do so.

Staying at PD...

Update 1027 12 Feb: Thoughts on this from some of the other sub-bloggers can be found here and here.

This CBS News report, written before the Admiral's Mast, contains one obvious fallacy, which makes me less likely to believe one potential piece of new information contained in the article.
First, the fallacy:

"Normally, a sub relies on its sonar to detect underwater obstacles, sending out pulses of sound and listening for an echo. But the sonar is useless at high speeds because all other sounds are drowned out by the noise the sub makes..."

The truth is that only in very rare situations, such as transiting the Bering Straits to get to the Arctic Ocean, will a submarine use active sonar as a topographical tool. The rest of the time submarines rely on charted water depths and the fathometer (which I guess is a form of active sonar, but not useless at high speeds).

The potentially new piece of information, which contradicts what I've heard elsewhere, is this:

"... before the San Francisco began its high speed run, the crew took depth soundings, which revealed the water was shallower than shown on the chart — another warning sign the captain apparently failed to heed."

I had heard from various "frequently drunken sources" that the sounding taken just minutes before the collision had agreed with the charted water depth; perhaps the investigating team decided to apply a stricter standard to what constitutes a sounding that "checks with charted" than is normally used. Since I would be surprised if anything other than an unclassified executive summary of the accident investigation will ever be released, it's possible that those of us who are limited to printing unclassified information may never be able to determine what really caused the grounding. What I can determine, though, is that Captain Mooney and the crew of the San Francisco represented the Submarine Force with honor, and that their bravery and skill in dealing with the collision and its aftermath should never be doubted

Robert Hamilton of the New London Day has an article on the CDR Mooney firing (will require free registration after one day) that has this statement that I believe everyone needs to keep in mind:

"The news stunned several Navy sources who have been following the accident investigation, particularly because Mooney's actions after the accident were characterized as heroic by everyone familiar with the situation. Despite extensive damage to the ship, he and his crew got it to the surface and kept it floating long enough to limp back to its homeport of Apra Harbor, Guam."

Whether CDR Mooney and his crew really did make mistakes in navigation planning and risk assessment, or if this is just a case of punishing the Captain just because tradition requires that he be punished, is still to be determined IMHO.


Blogger bothenook said...

i think i'm going to puke. this just brings back why i got out of the navy after 8 1/2 years. i hate seeing a promising officer and leader get dumped on just because the higher-highers need to show they are taking some kind of action. and you are right about how this is probably going to adversely affect the future submarine ops. i can't even imagine a sub skipper today that would take the kind of operational chances we took as standard operating procedures even as little as 20 years ago.

2/12/2005 1:10 AM

Anonymous Former NavET said...

Joel, the New London Day piece I though was the better of the reports. I’m curious to find out what the “several critical navigational and voyage planning” standards that were violated. Obviously if the soundings before the grounding differed from the charts that would be one the violations, but I’d be interested in knowing details. Was the deviation 1 fathom, 10 fathoms, 100 fathoms, and what would be considered a reasonable deviation given the area’s remoteness? The sounding difference seems to be a new piece of reporting.

There was no word in the news on the Navigator or senior Quartermaster’s fate. Although I understand the CO holds the ultimate responsibility for the operation of the boat, any breach in standards for navigational and voyage planning will fall squarely on those two individuals. It’s more than CO who’s going to be hung out to dry in this one.

As far as there being a serious error in the ship’s fixed position I find that possibility remote (probable bias on my part). I didn’t have any experience with fast boats but on SSBNs the Navigation systems were redundant as hell, Inertial, Satellite, Loran, etc and all cross-checking each other, something to do with carrying Ballistic thingies. I’m sure you fast boats came close to the same level of navigation system redundancy.

If the Day’s report about retrofitting the Atlanta’s bow section to the San Fran comes true or if she is decommissioned my bet is she’s going to PSNSY Bremerton Wa. (not Bangor). From what I understand PSNSY is where the Nuke Decomms go so their RC can be cut out and barged to Hanford WA to be entombed.

Former NavET

2/12/2005 10:13 PM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

I think they probably used the most restrictive definition of what soundings "check with charted" to determine that mistakes were made. In deep water like they were, and at a flank bell, I would guess that the soundings wouldn't be terribly accurate. Would that mean a prudent navigator should slow periodically to get a better check? Perhaps that will be one of the lessons learned.
I've heard rumblings that the Atlanta bow won't work for some reason, so it'll be interesting to see what they end up doing. One idea I've heard was converting her to an MTS (Moored Training Ship), but my feeling is that they'd have significant technical issues to resolve if they wanted to do that without refueling her, so I'm not sure that would work.

2/14/2005 12:40 PM

Anonymous boomer said...

As a Turkish Navy Commander and someone who served with Cdr.Mooney in the flanks of NATO, I believe ripping apart a good officer's carrier because of incorrect navy maps is a mistake. I am a surface ship driver, and I know that it is not so uncommon for ships to be grounded due to the mapping errors. I know, I know, whatever your crew does or does not do is the Captain's responsibility, but I am relieved that Vice Adm. Greenert praised Cdr. Mooney's previous record and his leadership after the event. Still it hurts when you hear bad news about a friend and respected collegue.

5/25/2005 9:58 AM


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