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.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Article on San Francisco NJP

Here's an article by Bob Hamilton of the New London Day (registration required after today) that has some background information on the thinking that may have gone into the Commodore's Masts for the 6 USS San Francisco crew members earlier this week. Excerpts:

"Sources said the sailors were all punished as a result of an administrative proceeding known as a commodore's mast, which lasted 10 minutes or less for each of the men and focused on two areas of inquiry: whether the crew had obtained the most recent charts on board and whether it exercised sufficient caution when there was evidence that the charts being used might be faulty. The executive officer, a lieutenant commander, and the navigator, a lieutenant, received permanent punitive letters of censure, Navy sources said Tuesday.
"The assistant navigator, a senior chief electronics technician, received a similar letter and was stripped of his Navy enlisted classification, which ousts him from the submarine force.
Three other enlisted men, all members of the San Francisco navigation team, were demoted one rank, one of them from electronics technician 1st class to electronics technician 2nd class, and two others from 2nd class to 3rd class...
"...The punishments, and the lines of questioning, seem to support claims by Navy sources last month that the submarine had not updated its charts with notices to mariners, some dating back to the 1960s and some made as recently as last year, that would indicate a seamount in an area where the water was supposed to be several thousand feet deep.
"In addition, the same sources said, the navigation crew had taken a sounding that showed the water to be thousands of feet shallower than on the charts. Though still showing ample water under the keel for safe operation, the discrepancy should have prompted more caution, the sources said."

For me, the thing that jumps out is the statement that the boat "had not updated its charts with notices to mariners... dating back to the 1960s". I was taught that when you prepared a chart, you went back through the Notice to Mariners only as far as the date the chart was prepared, it being assumed that the chart contained all applicable Notes up to the date it was printed. If the Submarine Force is in fact expecting that all boats have been updating all charts with all Notices to Mariners back to whatever date, I'm sure that the Tactical Readiness Examination teams have been checking that on each exam. (Note: the previous sentence is sarcastic -- they don't check that.) This just confirms to me that the Sub Force is really reaching here, and this saddens me; in trying to find their way in this new unipolar world, they seem to be falling back on their old habits of shotgun-blasting everyone who is involved in anything that brings negative publicity to the Force. As far as the charge that the soundings they received were significantly different than charted, that is a fairly serious shortcoming, but again one that I believe was shared by many boats in the fleet (not that it's a problem now, of course.) I base this only on the small sample of boats that I've been on -- at a flank bell in deep water, soundings are not as accurate as they are in shallow water and slower speeds. What I would do is keep taking soundings until I got one that matched. If the sub force expects that every boat that was doing a flank bell treat a bad sounding at flank in deep water as basically a yellow sounding (which sounds like what they expected, and which, to be honest, is probably what the letter of the law required) I think they could have done a better job of stressing that if they think now that it is a punishable offense not to do it.

More on this later... Staying at PD...

Bell-ringer 0023 25 March: Here are some comments on the comments to this post over at Chapomatic. Also, Lubber's Line has a post on the next generation of the Submarine Voyage Management System.


Blogger Vigilis said...

Well said. Reading between the lines, however, it is fairly certainty that what happened here is a case of statements by the CO, XO, and Navigator propelling and deflecting "s_ _ _" downhill. Not a surprise in today's legally charged environment. If any one of the junior officers utilized legal representation (the CO, at least was due) to mitigate personal culpability, the ET1 was severely disadvantaged by (my guess) his lack of same. Was the ET1 guilty of malfeasance? Probably not, but he was undoubtedly charged with an actionable dereliction. Could it have turned out any differently? Except for him, NO. The overriding question here is which of the junior officers had LAWYERS?

3/23/2005 4:49 PM

Blogger submandave said...

OK, I'll be the bad guy here.

Despite the wording of the article I'll assume that there is no actual or intended requirement to verify a chart against NOTAMs prior to the publication date. If the chart on which they were navigating had outstanding NOTAMs, though, especially the fabled "discolored water" report, somebody deserves a weenie whacking. This report seems to imply that the junior ETs failed to properly update the chart and noone in the Chain of Command verified them. Again, weenie whacking time.

It also is unclear when the suspect sounding was taken (i.e. at Flank or prior to ringing up the bell). It is also unknown if the ET on watch reported the discrepancy. This should have been a Deck Log entry, signed by the OOD. Regardless if it should have been treated as a Yellow sounding or not (I can't remember the Navigation SORM and don't know what the CO's Night Orders may have directed), a failure of the ET to report "does not match charted depth" would be a problem. Granted, I do not know if the discrepancy was reported or not, but I offer this plausible scenario as an example of a mistake that may have contributed to the accident and would also deserve weenie whacking.

While it is popular to think of the brass as a bunch of CYA bastards looking for a scapegoat it is not always the case. I'd never try to convince anyone that it doesn't happen, but there are enough other things out of whack in this case for me to reserve judgement and trust the Commodore is being just.

3/23/2005 5:16 PM

Blogger Lubber's Line said...

Ok just a couple of observations from a former NavET from the ‘80s before QMs were sent back to skimmer duty.

What was in all those un-referenced Notice to Mariners reports? Was it the discolored waters report as submandave points out or was that from prior to the chart date?

The Day article says “Minutes after diving (from PD), and while traveling at a high rate of speed, the submarine hit a seamount in an area where official Navy charts list 6,000 feet of water.” I would think that at PD is when the last sounding was made at something other than a flank bell. Was that the yellow sounding or did it match the charts?

I’m wondering if the Navy should rethink putting QMs back on Submarines. The QMs did all the voyage planning and chart maintenance when I was making patrols. Us NavETs concerned ourselves with keeping the Inertial Navigators from drifting off to La La land, listening for raster scans at PD and manning the piloting party into and out of port.

Over at my blog I posted about a new chartless voyage planning system the Navy is testing. No More Nav Charts on Subs? Are the lessons learned with outdated or poorly maintained charts going to further reinforce the need for such a system?

3/23/2005 8:54 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to SubDave’s comment,
It also is unclear when the suspect sounding was taken (i.e. at Flank or prior to ringing up the bell). It is also unknown if the ET on watch reported the discrepancy. This should have been a Deck Log entry, signed by the OOD. Regardless if it should have been treated as a Yellow sounding or not (I can't remember the Navigation SORM and don't know what the CO's Night Orders may have directed), a failure of the ET to report "does not match charted depth" would be a problem. Granted, I do not know if the discrepancy was reported or not, but I offer this plausible scenario as an example of a mistake that may have contributed to the accident and would also deserve weenie whacking.
If the soundings do not check with charts, come shallow and investigate. When I was on USS Asheville (and qualified as a NAVSUP (Navigation Supervisor), We had Thomas Cain on board as The ANAV), we were transiting from Guam to Australia in the summer of 2001 and found an uncharted sea mount.
Note: Due to being outside of 12 nm from shoal water (less than 100 fathoms) I was standing Diving Officer and was actually on watch at the time.
Petty Officer Jolliff was on watch as QMOW and noticed that soundings on the LSR (line scan recorder or the paper trace) did not check with chart.
We came shallow as specified by COSO (CO’s Standing Orders) (150’) and mapped the Sea Mount and submitted the NTM (Notice to Mariners) via COMSUBPAC to NIMA. For logging the discrepancy in the deck log, this would only happen if the QM state the discrepancy to the OOD and he (the OOD) desired to continue to run fast and deep.
Several differences to remember about the different “flights” of boats:
No BSY-1 boats have the BQN-17 Fathometer which is located outboard on the port (left hand side of the boat while facing forward) side of Control, and the QM stands outboard of the MK19 plotter and faces inboard towards the plotter with his back normally to the fathometer.
On BSY-1 Boats, the QM stands between the two MK-19 plotters facing outboard towards the port plotter and can glance up and observe the LSR on the MPC (Multi-Purpose Console, it is a fathometer and a lot of other functions). This is how USS Asheville found the Sea Mount.
In all cases, soundings are verified correct by DRO (Digital Read Out), LSR and aurally. One second between ping and return equals 400 fathoms.
Charts, where to begin?
Lets take the case of chart 19366 (Pearl Harbor Harbor Chart), the current edition is 36th. When NIMA issues a new edition of a chart, the chart is updated with all of the current NTM for that (36th edition includes the 35th edition and all corrections). Any new NTM’s for the chart is for any changes found after the latest edition was released. When a new chart edition is released, it is sent via snail mail to all boats, and when you go to NIMA, the web site will tell you what the current edition is. What people are missing is that these charts are not the only charts for a specific region/area.
When performing voyage planning, ALL charts of ALL series needs to be consulted. This includes charts with a numbering sequence of X, XX, XXX, XXXX, XXXXX and the echo charts (which are classified). The only chart sequence that is directly updated via NTM’s are the XXXXX (i.e. 81023) series. The other charts, you have to update by specifying the upper right and lower left corners of the chart, which results in all of the NTM’s for that grid square.
As for the “weenie whacking”, lets reserve judgment until the report is released.

Rat Bastard

3/23/2005 11:17 PM

Blogger Alex Nunez said...

FOX News has a link to the story on their homepage this morning, but their coverage essentially sucks. There is more (and better) information in Bubblehead's post on the punishments and in the readers' comments than on that major news site. Really valuable discussion going here for anyone who's genuinely interested in the story. Thanks all.

3/24/2005 5:50 AM

Blogger Chap said...

1. Commodore's mast versus admiral's mast means leniency from the senior leadership. CSG7 has more tools available to him to award mastees than a commodore does.

2. If a chart has NTMs dating from the 1960's, it's an old chart and there was nothing with which to make a new edition. That region has lots of soundings from HMS Bounty-era lead lines. Not very accurate; not dense sounding info.

3.The choice of speed made by the ship was not necessarily due to external direction outside the ship. You go fast, you add risk. No idea who was OOD but they would share responsibility. Was the Nav driving?

4. If the ANAV got thrown out of the sub force, there was much more done badly at the enlisted level than was previously mentioned.

5. I know enough TRE team members to know that PacFlt guys on ships right now got charts checked for correctness. (A given chart will have all the corrections listed in the NTM, so you can see if there's a good process for correcting charts. I liked to take a randomly selected approved chart when I wasn't a Nav, and just check the heck out of the thing for correctness. If there was a mistake, there might be a problem in the process, and we could improve.)

6. If they violated the NODORM and used the wrong tripwires for soundings, they were wrong. As a served Nav I had to get educated to set the minimum expected such that a thousand fathom change shallower than what I thought would be there, even though perfectly safe with regards to ship at the moment, was still an abnormal event requiring action--and specifically not "there's something wrong with the fathometer". This happened often enough that it was occasionally a pain to get racked out, but it worked.

7. Command responsibility does not preclude individual responsibility. A man is dead and a submarine nearly lost, and these men were the ones responsible for the voyage plan. In light of that, the normally useful cries of "screwing the little guy" come across as too shrill for truth. They got busted a rank. Think of other offenses that would warrant such a punishment and you see it's pretty small. It's not to say they aren't good people or that others senior to them are more culpable. These men are not children and we respect their responsibility when nothing goes wrong. I don't see a Clayton Hartwig-level coverup, and demand more proof of wrongdoing from those who cry "where are their lawyers".

8. Electronic charts are coming "real soon now" and have been "real soon now" for a long long time. It'll take a while to finally get accepted, and right now the double plotting can cause confusion.

9. QMs are on the boat, go through the same training, but have the added burden of training to ALSO be NavETs and RMs. Most controversial part of the whole "rating merger" concept. I hate losing the rating badge like I hated the TM's putting the propellers on but it doesn't seem to have caused an enormous calamity--we still collide and ground about the same as we did before we did the merger in 1997.

3/24/2005 2:40 PM

Blogger Vigilis said...

Stating the ET1 had to have been charged with actionable dereliction is not crying he was charged unjustly. From what has been revealed, it is accurate deduction of fact.

Asking "which junior officers had LAWYERS?" seems quite apart from "demand(ing) more proof" of wrongdoing" or "crying" "where are their lawyers." It is a request for specific information regarding unusual NJP circumstances.

3/24/2005 4:17 PM

Blogger Chap said...

What was unusual about the NJP? Collisions and groundings happen once or twice a year on each coast for the sub force, more often some years. Add that to other interesting circumstances and you get plenty of this kind of event.

And NJPs don't usually have lawyers present; that's why it's nonjudicial. Never seen one at a mast and I've attended my share. For a flag mast there will occasionally (always? Help me out, judge!) be one hanging around the back, but not representing anyone at the far end of the table. (As a matter of fact the convening authority is the sole arbiter of what gets awarded and a lawyer's presence--not representation, presence--might just spin up the convener.)

More of a response over at my place.

3/24/2005 11:36 PM

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10/27/2005 11:40 AM


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