"Submarine Force Ethos"
Earlier this week, I slammed Soldiers For The Truth submarine "expert" Lt. Raymond Perry, USN (Ret.) and his most recent article on the collision between USS Philadelphia and M/V Yaso Aysen. I used sarcasm and an unfriendly tone in doing so. It turns out I wasn't the only one unhappy with the article; an active duty submarine Lieutenant wrote in to SFTT to note some of the inaccuracies, but he was more gentlemanly, so they posted his letter on the front page (no specific article link yet).
Here's some of what he said:
"First of all, submarine doctrine as taught from SOBC all the way to PCO training is a bit more dynamic and slightly less restrictive than a single, all-encompassing "stay outside of 10k" statement. While there is a minimal range that a contact can come within without the CO's direct consent and obviously the M/V Yaso Aysen came within that range, there is far more to any collision than a simple black-and-white statement can illustrate. For example, contact density, geographical constraints, and the simple necessity to get from point 'A' to point 'B' (they were getting ready to pull into Bahrain, after all) can all force a skipper to have to allow another contact to get closer than desired.
"I had the pleasure of serving as an officer on board the Philly not too long ago. News of her collision both surprised and shocked me, especially since I still had many friends amongst her wardroom and crew. Furthermore, CDR Oxholm was one of the safest and most prudent (to the point of near-paranoia) skippers I had ever served under. "What can go wrong?" was the most often heard statement prior to any evolution on board that ship. The ship's motto was even changed from, "Whatever it Takes" to, "Whatever it Takes... To Do It Right" all to alleviate the captain's fears that it could be misunderstood as permission to act outside of the rules.
"Obviously, I cannot discuss details of what happened that night. Men are being relieved on that ship as we speak because of a complete breakdown of the command and control process. However, some amazing and even heroic things did happen that night (has anyone asked the question, "how could two hopelessly tangled ships become un-tangled, without sinking, and only hours after the shock of a collision?"). LT Perry does make some great points in his article (btw, CDR Oxholm did have a statement of common sense in his CO's Standing Orders (COSO)) and does a good job of identifying the simple fact that Philly and her OOD could have prevented this from occurring. For now, all I ask is that hard and truth and personal conjecture be separated or at least identified. There are still a lot of facts about this collision that are unknown to the general public."
These are all excellent points. I just wanted to add a few words about what USN Perry Lt. referred to as the "Submarine Force Ethos" with respect to risk mitigation while operating on the surface.
The Submarine Force is all about safety. At least one frequent commenter on this blog thinks that the emphasis on safety, particularly regarding the reactor, makes subs basically worthless when it comes to warfighting -- with due respect to my readers, he doesn't know what he's talking about (from what I've gathered, he never actually got out "on station"). Nevertheless, the importance of ship and reactor safety is constantly pounded into our heads. One of the biggest areas where it's discussed is collision avoidance.
You see, modern U.S. attack subs don't really have any "compartmentalization" -- that is, unlike most warships, you can't have one section of the ship flood, and block it off from the rest of the ship, allowing the ship to stay afloat. As a result, any hull breach is potentially fatal to a submarine. As a result, we're trained to take extra caution when operating on the surface, and invoke the "General Prudential Rule" sooner than we might otherwise. Where (Ret) Lt. Perry got it wrong was coming up with such a ridiculously large number for minimum distance for maneuvering that it sounded comical, and the active duty Lieutenant called him on it.
That's why what happened on the Philly really surprised me. As the letter mentions, we really don't have all the facts yet, but it does seem like there was a breakdown in the way the ship normally operated that night. We'll really have to wait for more info to see what really happened.
Staying at PD...