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.)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

"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...


Blogger Vigilis said...

Interesting: 'Men are being relieved on that ship as we speak because of a complete breakdown of the command and control process.'

Wow, I have said from the very beginning that the OOD was not on the bridge as he should have been. I look forward to eventual facts that prove me wrong, or to being correct.

10/06/2005 4:22 PM

Anonymous Bernie said...

13 years and five boats and never been on station? How could I have pulled that off? Yes, I have been on station. Officially, I was authorized to wear 8 Expeditionary Medals. They all went into the trash for each time our time "On station" was spent field daying and drilling. One CO even went so far as to break off an op becuase he would not allow the spec op to interfere with his drill schedule.
Another time, we broke trail to keep up our drills schedule and the CO had a masive temper tantrum when we could't re aquire.
Then there was "The Ice Machine incident". The Ice machine broke while on station. The CO Ordered it repaired before dinner. We tried to explain that we couldn't break into the R-12 system while submerged. His reply was that if there wasn't any ice for dinner he would bust all of us. We opened the system and had a toxic gas casualty. It then went to a dpeth control casualty because we couldn't maintain PD in the rough weather. We were detected and had to break station all because the CO wanted crushed ice.
We had DCT servo valve spring a leak. We were informed that we couldn't repair it because "It would disrupt the cleanliness of the ship. We had to station a "Wipe watch" to wipe up the drops as soon as they fell for a month until we returned to port.
Another time on Spec op. the CO determined that the ship was not clean enough so we had to field day four days a week. One day, we had two field days back to back because the CO found "Dust floating on the water of the Commode" Five Boats, all the same.
Even our time on station was nothing more than an ORSE /NTPI Work up.

10/06/2005 8:14 PM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

Authorized eight Navy Expeditionary Medals? Very impressive. Of course, nowadays each individual Sailor is actually authorized only one Navy Expeditionary Medal for submarine "missions vital to national security" (i.e. after you have one NEM for one such mission, you're not authorized a repeat star for additional missions) and I'm not sure the rules were ever different; however, I'm assuming you meant that the boats your were on were authorized to give eligible crew members NEMs eight times.
It sounds to me like you must have had very bad luck. My experiences were much different -- no drills run on station any of the times we were there. I've talked to others who had the same complaints as you (CO/XO who says the ship is only built to take the reactor to sea) but interestingly they always seem to forget the names of the CO/XO who said this when pressed.

10/06/2005 8:57 PM

Blogger PigBoatSailor said...

Bernie, geezus, go cry your sad song somewhere else. This had nothing to do with the post. Show some respect for your host, Bubblehead. We have heard your BS, and it is all played out here.

10/07/2005 5:06 AM

Anonymous Bernie said...

First of all pig, since bubble mentioned me indirectly, I am authorised to respond. The Expeditionary medal was only actually habded out once and I tossed it. The other seven ops, the CO simply made a 1Mc announcement as to what medals & ribbons we were authorised to purchase. The only time it ever really mattered was during personell inspection. The CO did fail me once because I wasn't wearing all of the ribbons and medals I was "Authorised to wear"

10/07/2005 9:05 PM

Anonymous Bernie said...

Another Theory

My reserve units primary source for divers are ships divers from the boats. As such, we are a home for disillusioned submariners.
One Det OIC served as Navagator on board the Sam Houston. In sharing our sea stories, he mentioned an interesting story.

In the 1950's and well into the 60's, the Submarine force was commanded by WW2 Veterans. These Skippers developed a very agressive operating stature.
With the introduction of nuclear power, these Skippers were eager to see what they could do with thier new found speed and independence from having to snorkel. In the early days of the cold war, these Skippers punished the Soviets meclessly. many of their crazy exploits are spoken of in the book "Blind mans Bluff".
Even into the 70's, while there were few WW2 vets even in the upper ranks, their students were now in command and eager to follow in the footsteps of the WW2 vets.
On thier historic summit, Nixon And Bresneve signed a treaty to limit "Naval incidents" The Soviets specifiacally mentioned the Sub Force. There were several proposals for reeling in the agressivness of these submarine skippers. one was to copy the Soviet system and embark "Political officers" abaord every deployed boat. (Naturally, this was not acceptable) What they came up with was to push for incresed reactor safety and thus step up inspections and force skippers to maintain an agressive drill and training schedule. In short, by keeping the Skippers mind on the next ORSE, NTPI, TRE, and othr inspections, they intended to reel back the agressive actions of the submarine force. In my View, this provides one logical reason for the changes I have seen over the years.

10/08/2005 1:37 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a middie, I was on board the Philly also for about a month and having spent time on board and getting to know the way that Cdr Oxholm ran the ship, the way the events are being told are quite the opposite of the concerned-till-paranoia type of attitude that the CO sometimes had. It's sad to hear he lost his command over an accident so strange.

12/25/2005 1:53 AM

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