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, August 31, 2005

USS San Francisco and Chart Discrepancies

(Update with discussion of Chap's excellent latest post at the bottom)

A Navy Times writer has an update on USS San Francisco's surface transit from Guam to Puget Sound. SFO arrived in Pearl for a short liberty call on Friday, and will continue her voyage this week:
"Fortunately, the weather cooperated during San Francisco's 11-day Pacific crossing, said Cmdr. Kevin Brenton, commanding officer.
"It was a very uneventful crossing," Brenton said.
"San Francisco left Guam on Aug. 17, and arrived in Pearl Harbor on the afternoon of Aug. 26.
"The trip from Guam to Puget Sound may be the longest taken on the surface in the history of the Navy's nuclear-powered sub fleet, he said."

That last sentence sounds like it might be right. I know of several boats that have gone from San Diego to Pearl or Puget on the surface (old 594s going for decomm after their submerged ops certifications were pulled) but Guam to Puget might take the cake. It's probably not the most arduous surface transit for a nuke boat, though, due to the Pacific's normally nice August weather. I remember a few years ago USS Seawolf (SSN-21) had to return to Groton on the surface across most of the North Atlantic after they had a problem with their emergency blow system... a couple of my JOs from the Connecticut were riding them for quals, and got more surfaced OOD U/I time than they'd ever bargained for.

Back to the San Francisco -- you may remember that one of the reasons the Sub Force came down so hard on the Nav Team was that they hadn't identified some chart discrepancies; this was enough to fire the CO, and punish the rest of the team. So, you'd assume that since other COs haven't been fired, that this was the first time a Nav team had ever missed chart discrepancies. Think again...

An unclassified COMNAVSUBFOR message came out yesterday that provided an update on the number of chart discrepancies reported as of 01 Aug by fleet units since April. The message said 98 discrepancies had been reported, of which 26 had been closed, and 33 Notice to Mariners had been written. Now, let's assume that at least one of those discrepancies covered an area that was in the water assigned to a submarine at some point after the discrepancy existed, but before it was found. Why haven't that CO and Nav Team been brought up on charges? Obviously, that would be silly, but it still serves to confirm my point that the CO and Navigation Team of the 711 were punished, not because their actions were so different from the fleet norm that it constituted negligence, but because they were unlucky.

Going deep...

Bell-ringer 0528 01 Sep: Chapomatic "throws the bullsh*t flag" on my post over at his place, and I sleepily respond. The points he brings up are all valid, and are all pretty much what I always thought when I was active duty. I'm not sure what made me change my mind; it might have been that I had orders to be XO on USS Hartford (SSN-768), and would have been there the day she ran aground off La Madd if I hadn't gotten med disqual'd, and I deep down wonder if I could have prevented that tragedy. (Notice I'm not saying that punishments weren't appropriate there.) It might have been the actions of the Navy in punishing everyone doing anything "wrong" during the USS Jacksonville's most recent collision, including the EOOW because the throttleman was polishing brightwork on watch -- wrong, yes, but if every EOOW who ever had a throttleman polish something on watch got a career-ending letter of reprimand, there wouldn't be many senior officers in the Force. (As a disclaimer, that CO on Jacksonville was my XO on Topeka, and I liked him a lot. I caught myself a few times saying to fellow submariners, in describing him after the collision, that "He was a good man", as if his goodness was past tense now that he had screwed up.) It might have been any of the other times I saw people punished for "pulling the black marble". I've always felt that intent in doing something wrong was more important than doing something wrong unintentionally, and that if the Sub Force thinks that they need the extra example of career-ending punishments to get people to take the lessons learned from the SFO grounding to heart, they don't understand submariners very well.

Please keep the discussion going in the comments while I'm at work...

Update 2332 01 Sep: Chap has many more thougts over at his place, and I respond. The thing is, I think that everything Chap says is "right", while I also think what I say is "right", even though the two points of view disagree. Maybe you need that kind of mental gym ability to be a submariner...
Anyway, here's part of my response (edited slightly):

"Deep down, I actually agree with a lot of what you’re saying — I’m still a nuke at heart. San Fran wasn’t perfect. There’s no need to get everyone worked up and air all our dirty laundry publicly. We’ve always punished the unlucky before, so it wouldn’t be fair to those who’ve gone before not to punish them now.
"On my first WestPac, we had this one exercise with USS Ranger and her escorts where we were supposed to “attack” them as they did an unrep. It wasn’t on a range, there were no real rules — in hindsight, it was a recipe for disaster, compliance with FXP-1 notwithstanding. We got ahead of them, simulated the attack, radioed them with our "triple Oscar" and our bearing, and went deep. We were heading back up to PD a few minutes later with the CO on the scope, when one of the constant bearing traces on the AVSDU started breaking sharply, and we went back down. I was on Fire Control, and stacked the dots to figure out that we had just been zoufed by a frigate (USS Ford, if I remember right) at about 200 yards. Had we hit the frigate (they were charging down the bearing the “torpedo” had come from) there would have been a lot of damage, maybe even a sinking (or two). Everyone involved in planning and approving the exercise would have been fired, and rightly so. But, because we were 200 yards to the north of where the frigate just happened to go, no one cares. So, because of this piece of luck, or act of God, or whatever, no one was punished. Imagine a parallel universe where everything happened the same up to the point we opened contact after our first attack on course 270 instead of course 280. In this scenario, the DIMUS trace doesn’t break (it truly is a zero bearing rate), there is a collision, and everyone would have been punished because of the poor planning. Identical planning as in the scenario where no one was hurt, but different results because of pure luck. Is this justice? I don’t think so. Is this the way we’ve always done it? Yes. Does this dichotomy promote safer and more effective submarining? Maybe… but I don’t think it does."

34 Comments:

Blogger Chap said...

Bellringer with a rather large SUS, and "BRAVO SIERRA" on the gertrude.

Discussion at my place; drop me an email for details if you need them afterward...

8/31/2005 11:48 PM

 
Blogger Subsunk said...

Bubblehead,

There, but for the grace of God, goes all of us. It was luck. Of course, you know we "make our own Luck", and there is some truth to that quote, but SF's grounding due to chart discrepancies was a case of luck pure and simple. Most of our fates are determined by the decisions we make in the absence of perfect information. Failure due to that imperfect information, while it may lead to dismissal, court-martial, inquest, or NJP, is still failure. Most of us submariners will never forgive ourselves for failure, no matter whose fault it is, or even if no one is to blame, because we are trained to be perfectionists and we all want to do well for ourselves and for our men.

When was the last time you served with someone who wanted to fail? When was the last time you served with someone who deliberately sabotaged an event by acting ignorant or undermining a superior's authority to cause a grounding or collision, or even just to get the "Old Man" fired? It has been many years since those kinds of people served in our Navy. Probably since the fleet was unable to get underway due to race riots in the late 1970s. And we know why those things happened.

While they may not have deserved to be relieved, you and I know that was the only choice available for the loss of a shipmate, and the punishment they are suffering at the hands of their own guilt is probably many times worse than the suffering imposed by Uncle Sam's Navy. That is as it should be. And that is because they are Men who suffer the responsibilities and duties of their positions with Honor and Integrity, instead of dragging their service, their Navy, and their shipmates through the mudslinging of a national trial and spectacle.

While I sympathize with the 711s navigation team, I recognize they have been sacrificed on the altar of Navy integrity, and they have accepted that sentence for the good of their Service and their Country. I hope they will continue to serve with honor, whatever profession they may move onto, and will not be bitter at their fate. It is the fate God and Neptune have imposed on them, but it is also the stuff of which legends can be made if they recover their lives through hard work and the principles they learned in the Silent Service.

God Bless 'em. Press on.

Subsunk

9/01/2005 9:30 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good discussion, esp Subsunk's comments. Notwithstanding all that has been said, one issue lingers like stale fart. Why has no individual/organization outside of the ship publicly admitted even the slightest degree of fault in this horrible accident? Their fault is clear as day to nearly everyone EXCEPT those who seem to have a vested interest in boxing this problem within the hull of a single submarine.

I think that's why Bubblehead posted this - not to re-hash the whole damn incident, but to highlight yet another indicator of systemic issues that the Navy refuses to acknowledge publicly. This hypocritical behavior dishonors the heroic sacrifice of Joey Ashley and his SFO shipmates. These men embodied the Navy core values not only in saving their ship and each other, but also by quietly accepting their punishments even though there were significant mitigating circumstances. Post-grounding investigation of force-wide navigation problems, such as those highlighted by the chart discrepancy message which inspired the original post, have confirmed the depth and breadth of the systemic issues which led to SFO's grounding.

So what's the point? No one expects the SFO punishments to be overturned. As far as I know, no SFO Sailor has ever publicly challenged his guilt. They humbly accepted their fate and hopefully are getting on with their lives. For me, the issue is deeper - it gnaws at my core, and it gnaws at many people's core, I think. Why? It's the core values! Honor, courage, and commitment. Maybe that’s another reason why Bubblehead posted this – something is gnawing at his core and he can’t let the issue die.

On 60 Minutes, I believe Dan Ashley, the man who lost more than any other in this tragedy, said it best when he commented that it would sure would be nice to see someone higher up stand tall like Commander Mooney and accept responsibility for his actions. No one expects more heads to roll, but all of us should expect more of our leaders. Subsunk seems to imply that by admitting fault outside of SFO, we might drag the Navy through the mud. On the contrary, if those outside SFO responsible for contributing to this disaster (SUBNOTE, charts, etc.) would stand up and admit fault, then we - the collective we of Navy and SubForce - would become exalted. This confession would cleanse our soul and we could tackle the remaining corrective action from this tragedy with a clear conscience.

I sincerely doubt any public admission of fault outside of SFO will ever occur - it's too late to backtrack now. The Navy dropped enough markers along the way that it's working on navigation issues, although it always fell far short of the core values by publicly placing all the blame for the grounding on SFO. And so the saga appears to be drawing to its conclusion: by quietly standing by while SFO Sailors sacrificed themselves on the “altar of integrity” as Subsunk tell us, senior Navy leaders have proven themselves unequal to the core values they claim as their own. In my mind, short of repair or decommissioning of the ship, this is the final dreadful chapter of the SFO grounding. I thank God every day that our Sailors have forgiven their senior leaders and continue their loyal service in the cause of freedom.

As a person who still works with the Dept of the Navy, I was faced with the decision to risk personal backlash, or post anonymously, or withhold comment altogether. Since anonymous posts are accepted on this blog, I chose discretion over valor.

9/01/2005 11:03 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would not call it sacrifice...I would call it accepting the fact that serious mistakes were made. Look up the chart, check where the grounding took place and ask yourself "Why were they going so fast that close to shoal water?"

If you want to check, Look it up in the pub.....They did not follow procedures.

Were they unlucky? Yes!

But what they did after was a testament to the Navy and the Submarine force...

They heroicly brought a severly damaged unit back with honor, and unfortunately loss a shipmate.

I think the Navy took the appropreate action.

ET2/SS

9/01/2005 4:27 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A little perspective from the 1950's thru 1970's SAC B- 52 crew force.

General Curtis LeMay many times showed complete lack of sympathy for bad luck. "There is no difference between bad luck and incompetency, the result is the same." Usually some of the wrong people died.

On the flip side, few will refuse an early promotion, because they were just lucky.

The down side of this philosophy is it can keep us from taking chances that might win big time, as long as we are lucky.

It is better to be lucky than good?

9/01/2005 4:27 PM

 
Anonymous Bernie said...

The nuclear navy demands 100% perfection 100% of the time. They punish potential disasters mush less actual mishaps. When I was on the Louisville (SSN-724) SURON-11 had a policy where 2 below average grades on an ORSE was grounds for a CO getting relieved.

9/01/2005 6:17 PM

 
Blogger Chap said...

On the flip side, few will refuse an early promotion, because they were just lucky.
Well put.

Ping and return. You made me go think, darn you!

9/01/2005 7:00 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which Jax collision are you referring to? The tanker in '95? Or have they run into something else since then?


TM1(SS) (ret)

9/01/2005 9:12 PM

 
Blogger Bubblehead said...

Yes, I was talking about Jax's collision with MV Saudi Makkah in May of '96.

9/01/2005 9:38 PM

 
Blogger Bubblehead said...

I'll have to flesh out my thoughts a little more, but another point I have is that if the SFO's problems could have been so easily predicted to result in this kind of problem, why didn't the Sub Force try to prevent this from happening? Have TRE scenarios where a boat gets routed into water where there are chart discrepancies. Have them get their MOVEORD late, and see which COs refuse to get underway (which the C7F report intimated SFO should have done). I always got frustrated when Big Navy acted like anyone could have been able to predict and prevent some problem, when actually no one, from the Admirals on down, knew this was likely in this day and age. Why not get the lessons learned out there w/o the (basically redundant) punishment?

9/01/2005 9:45 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what were you doing still on the reciprocal bearing???

9/02/2005 5:52 PM

 
Blogger half said...

yeah! why wuz you there? Being triple trickiy? :>

9/03/2005 4:50 PM

 
Blogger Chap said...

Some extremely thoughtful comments and thanks. Good points all.

I understand the SFO's delay in making chart preps was also due to a day off--the investigators may have been talking about that instead of refusing to get underway (which was a common command qual question along with "bad weather, do you go into port?" a few years back).

I used to say to the guys in the Box that the Nuke way was of course annoying and wasteful but it worked, and the risk of it not working is a barrier to innovation. Similar to the question we're working now.

I understand your point about possible improvements. The time to work them is now, or a year ago, not right after an incident, though.

And I still grate with the guy who commented about "Those admirals covered their asses" et cetera. Admirals fire COs--that's their job, to evaluate the otherwise unaccountable--and they do it regularlike in all the communities pretty evenly. It's not some grand conspiracy.

I guess also that my sensitivities on this pegged high after the guys with no sub knowledge kept saying how the poor Greeneville CO was "such a nice guy and what a terrible thing, hasn't he suffered enough? Make him an O-6 now!."

I tell you, it sure is nice to debate this rather than Katrina aftermath efforts...

9/03/2005 11:31 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Must throw the flag on one minor point by chap...

I was there, I know - SFO did not delay chart preps for the reason chap stated.

In the only apparently acceptable vein of assigning fault (ie. blaming of everything on SFO)...the sole reason charts preps were delayed was because SFO did not exert enough pressure on CSS-15 an CSG-7 to receive their SUBNOTE within published timelines. In fact, chart preps began before the SUBNOTE was xmitted with draft messages that SFO had requested on several occasions.

9/04/2005 12:08 AM

 
Blogger Chap said...

Fair enough--I'm getting that info second hand, could be wrong. (I also know that one can call the QMs at Group and get the gouge from them before the message even gets routed, but that's not usually done except for an extraordinary circumstance.) What timeline do you remember?

I'd agree that a time crunch is an aggravating factor but not as important a factor as the operational things in situ.

OT: It is rather difficult to push staffies in positions like that to speed up such things--but embarrassing that shop in front of the boss helps (although fraught with risk).

Saw a few extra photos this week, too. I once got stuck for a few minutes in the San Fran's sonar access trunk underway by getting my belt caught on a wireway, on my way in, since the lines were there and I am not a small man. Of course "on my way in" means I was pointing towards the sphere and unable to be heard if I had to call for help. Looks like where I got stuck would have been a very bad place to have been at the time...

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