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.
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."