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.)

Saturday, March 12, 2005

NYT Article on USS San Francisco

(Intel Source: The Sub Report) It looks like the Navy is going on the offensive against perceptions that CDR Mooney of the San Francisco was punished for no reason. The New York Times has this article in tomorrow's paper (registration required) that has as it's sources "Navy officials" who gave interviews this week. Excerpt:

"Navy investigators have found that the officers on a nuclear submarine failed to take into account a variety of danger signs before the vessel smashed into an undersea mountain in January, Navy officials said in interviews last week.
"The officials said crew members on the submarine, the San Francisco, did not look at some navigational charts of the South Pacific that might have prompted more caution. The sailors also should have checked the water depth more frequently and should not have been traveling at high speed, the officials said."

Interesting. Hopefully one of these "officials" mis-spoke when saying that they should have paid more attention to South Pacific charts, since all indications are that the collision happened over 450 miles from the South Pacific... it'd be fairly ridiculous to hold all boats responsible for any weird chart readings within 500 nm. It's also interesting that they say that they should have taken more frequent soundings, and shouldn't have been going so fast. I'll be watching to see if they say they just shouldn't have been going so fast in general due to nearness to potential shoal water/minimal sounding data, or if this is related to whatever soundings beneath the keel they may have received before the grounding. While I recognize that the Navy's actions in firing CDR Mooney were probably necessary simply because of tradition, I still say that CDR Mooney just came up on the wrong side of the "big ocean, little ship" odds, and would venture that most fast boat skippers would have been operating the same way in the same situation.

Staying at PD...

Update 0849 13 March: Here's a longer version of the same article that doesn't require registration.


Blogger Vigilis said...

This opinion is not intended for SSN-711's crew or survivors. I respect their right to harbor any and all the feelings they choose. This counterpoint is for citizens who have heard only one side of the San Francisco affair. It is as cold as the ocean's depths, but offered in good faith.

From Navy training "...authority of the commanding officer is commensurate with his responsibility." Like his authority his responsibility is absolute. This was underscored in approval of SSN-711's course selection, acceptance of standard charts, and setting of operating procedures used in transit.

The ex-captain is in relatively fine company. "Unknown seamounts" have been struck by several U.S. subs before (I know well) and their COs, very good fellows, were each relieved of command. There will always be new seamounts as seabeds expand (tectonics) and change (vulcanism). There will never be perfect, current information. While much of it has been telemetered at any time, oceans remain largely unexplored.

The history of relieving command at sea after accidents has been consistent and purposeful. How does the old saw go... being surprised is not the offense, being inadequately prepared is? Remember, criminal charges are usually not involved.

The NAVY is maintaining the highest standards for command fitness, a stance which not only favors preparedness over slack, but which goes against popular culture's "being in touch with our feelings."

Bubblehead got it exactly right about a small boat in a vast ocean. The slender tails of some probability curves intervened more than once, though. All things considered, fate was remarkably lenient ---almost the entire crew survived.

Perhaps a third or second-world navy could easily have forgiven the captain. It is a much greater tribute to the lost sailor and his captain, however, to have served the navy of superior performance.

3/13/2005 5:48 AM

Blogger Mark Tempest said...

Vigilis is exactly right about the nature and consquences of command.

Just out of curiosity, assuming that the boat had to file some sort of track with higher authority, would they ever get a heads-up "look out for the sea mount" message back?

3/13/2005 11:47 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sub tracks are assigned to subs by higher authority. Athough they try to route around islands (and always around other allied subs) it is incumbent on the sub's crew to ensure that the track is safe for navigation.

3/13/2005 12:54 PM

Blogger Lubber's Line said...

The issue of responsibility of higher authorities beyond the CO is covered well in an article from Proceedings Jan 2002 after the Greeneville incident.


This excerpt describes a similar grounding of the Theodore Roosevelt (SSBN-600) 30+ years prior.

"The submarine force has learned the hard way that the special navigation problems of modern submarines require special attention, and it has put the right training in place to eliminate ignorance as an excuse for submarine groundings. Three decades earlier, the same misuse of charts that brought the Greeneville to grief was the primary reason that the USS Theodore Roosevelt (SSBN-600) hammered Stantons Bank submerged at 18 knots. From this near-tragedy and similar incidents that followed, the submarine force established a mandatory submerged conning and navigation course for all officers assigned as navigators. This training—subsequently made part of every formal course for officers—covers every element of fault in the Greeneville incident."

My point in citing this article is that an argument can be made that if fault is to be set it should not end at CO. There are other factors to consider such as Squadron oversight, certification and training as well as submerged navigation procedures and chart accuracy. All this with a well founded understanding of the consequences that any investigation well have on the Navy and Submarine mission effectiveness.

3/13/2005 2:35 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eagle 1 and Kenny,

You are correct Kenny, a higher authority does assign tracks, and even the speeds at which to travel those tracks.
The primary purpose of the Higher authority is to prevent MI (mutual interference). There is alot out there besides the U.S. Sub fleet. Allies (sub and surfaced), Surface Pukes (all of the ASW crap they throw in the water), Survey ships,etc,etc...
The Boat is responsible for the 'safe navigaition' of the ship. I am still waiting to see if they fire the Navigator.

NavET stationed Overseas

3/13/2005 3:57 PM

Blogger Mark Tempest said...

My earlier question was not based on pure ignorance, since I was destroyer navigator many years ago. While the CO and I were both in the line of fire for "bad" navigation and we tried to keep our charts as accurate as possible, we did file our route info with higher ups (we plotted our own track, unlike, I gather, the sub force) and on rare occasions got diverted so that we would miss some major surface storm.

I was just wondering in a "non-classified" manner about the level of briefing accompanying the track assignments...Of course, our "deconfliction" problems were slightly different than that described so elegantly by NavET.

3/13/2005 5:29 PM

Blogger Chap said...


The difference between skimmers and bubbleheads in this case is that you guys send off a navtrack, and we don't. We'll be given a general idea of where to be, and that's about it. To quote the old rule:

Quantum Mechanics For Submariners
It is not possible to simultaneously know the ship's location and schedule.

3/13/2005 9:43 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


As far the level of briefing on the track is concerned that would depend on the op. Normal transit like the SFO, none. The subs have to maintain a list (and it is a huge list) of charts that are required to be onboard.
A boat could be heading into a port and then just get turned around, crammed full of food, to get into the middle of something. This sort of thing happens alot.
Here is the scary part though. Before a chart can be used to navigate on, it must be reviewed by 5 people (the last one being the CO) and signed. Sometimes just hours, even min, before the boat gets to the chart boundry.

NavET stationed Overseas

3/14/2005 12:50 AM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

The commenters are right that for normal transits, there's no briefing on track-specific information. In some cases there are well-known problems with certain water, but I don't ever remember any warnings (an example is this one shallow spot off San Diego where several boats have hit bottom in the last 65 years, most recently USS Jefferson City). As far as speed, the assigned track doesn't specify your exact speed at every point, but it does have an average speed you need to make good over time, so the boat can choose to do it at a moderate speed, or, as San Fran apparently did, go slow for certain evolutions, then speed back up to make up the lost ground.

3/14/2005 3:14 PM

Anonymous Isabella said...

Well, I don't really think it will work.

8/30/2012 10:42 PM


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