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, July 27, 2006

Submarines And Group Pictures

You know how they always take "group photos" of all the ships that participate in an exercise or group deployment? And you know how the submarines are always tucked safely away from the middle of the action? Have you ever wondered why that was? Well, I'll tell you...

Consider the "graduation photo" for the recently completed RIMPAC 2006 multi-national exercises. Here's the best shot of all 30+ ships. Can you see the submarines? (Hint: I think there are six of them):

Couldn't see them? Here's a link to the hi-res version of the picture; blow it up, and look to the far left and right; you should be able to see three submarines in each outboard column.

For the group photos, sticking the submarine off to the side is a common tactic; another is sticking the subs up front, as seen in these pics:

[The top image is from RIMPAC 2000, the bottom one is of USS Birmingham (SSN 695) with the Nimitz Battle Group in the IO in summer '93.]

So why do the Battle Group Ops guys stick the subs away from the center of the group? The reason is simple -- submarine guys do NOT know how to do "station keeping" (staying in formation when steaming on the surface), nor do we want to learn. That's something skimmers do -- submariners have too much on our minds to practice something we only have to do during dumb photo ops. Just stick the sub up front, tell it to maintain a constant course and speed, and let the surface ships guide off the sub -- that's the smart way to do it.

Actually, there is one photo I found where the sub is smack dab in the middle of things; it's a shot from this page of the Lincoln battle group with an unidentified SSN:

You can see from the wake that the submarine is a little bit wobbly. I didn't ever read about a collision from this incident, so I guess it worked out OK, but the guy who wrote the OPORD for this photo shoot should have been written up for hazarding a vessel just on general principles.

Update 0035 28 July: I suppose I should mention that they do have a couple of RIMPAC photos up at Navy NewsStand where you can actually see the submarines: this one of USS Chicago (SSN 721) and USS Columbia (SSN 771), and this one of USS Key West (SSN 722). I note that the text that goes along with the picture of the Key West says that it's "sailing in formation" even though there are no other ships in sight -- as it should be. (I also note that the text describing all the group pictures says there were 28 ships and submarines in the formation, whereas I counted at least 31 -- my best guess was 33 -- in the picture at the top of this post; maybe some of the Russian "trawlers" that were inevitably watching the exercise joined the parade of ships unbeknownst to the PacFleet Journalists Mass Communications Specialists...)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The subs also don't handle as well on the surface, obviously. You being an "O" would know better if that is relevant in a photo op, but I was told that that is the reason that the skimmers circle the sub during subfamex's. The exception of course was that we circled the carrier when doing a subfam with them because they aren't so agile either.


7/28/2006 7:03 AM

Blogger Vigilis said...

For starters, the flagship would always be central in a photo op.
Not only is it the largest, but you can guess the rest...

While sub skippers could be the Flag's favorite officers (probably not), an entire submarine wardroom is usually not as high on the food chain as one or two departments on cruisers, for instance.

We can somewhat appreciate the safety rationales (LOL) given for marginalizing submarines in these group photo ops. One must remember, however, that ranks above O-5 are political. It helps to keep one's good name in the forefront of memorable events. Photos like these also have a habit of being displayed with little brass plaques in quaint places like Capitol offices, the Pentagon and U.S. embassies worldwide.

Besides, there might be a safety rationale that was not mentioned at all. Keep the little boats out in front or off to the side simply to minimize the risk of not seeing and plowing into them (career ending moves). Afterall, if we were the Flag, how much would we trust the concentration, alertness and reliability of our non-volunteer crews?

7/28/2006 3:30 PM

Anonymous chrys said...

Guess the thrilling sight of these dedicated, coordinated in sync vessels isn't the same when you're on them. I remember working at INSCOM - - sounds good - important info - important people. Just another job when you're right there. Thanks for gathering and sharing these groups.

7/28/2006 6:42 PM

Blogger Chap said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7/29/2006 2:53 PM

Blogger Chap said...

I disagree with the other guys. I've seen where either or both the current ops boss and the CO of the ship suggested something simple for the submarine due to handling and time constraints.

Some vitally important considerations:
--The sub is usually not there and if attending has some other event to go run to. Time with the boat is limited.
--The boat doesn't exactly look like much on the surface compared to the other things. Check out this Tandem Thrust photoex we did back in the day. You see us there, waay back there? Boy do we look cool or what? (Yes of COURSE we looked cool. It's just that we might get mistaken for a lens smudge.)
--Lots of moving parts getting the SOE complete. Sometimes the boat has to come creaming in at the end there.
--When's the last time your OOD read the FXP? Like, never? Would he know how to crisply shift screen or wheel if it bit him on the leg? You get what you practice, and you practice what's important; we don't UNREP.

Some of you guys read too much conspiracy theory stuff. It's not all soap opera in brass, you know.

7/29/2006 3:00 PM

Blogger Chap said...

xxx "screaming"

first day on the new keyboard. Yeah, that's it.

7/29/2006 3:02 PM

Anonymous Lee Hickerson said...

CVN CO: "OOD, What is that? Steer towards that small black spec in the middle of the wake that's bigger than ours."

7/31/2006 1:45 PM

Blogger RM1(SS) (ret) said...

During the '98 deployment, they solved the problem of what to do with the sub during the photoex by giving us coordinates that put us about 50 miles away from the rest of the battle group.

7/31/2006 4:28 PM

Blogger ex-nuke bubblehead said...

You know, it's just that targets,, excuse me! Ah, skimmers just like to show off!

8/02/2006 11:34 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The submarines are actually ahead of the carrier way off on the Starboard Side. The front one is the Columbus, then the Japanese boat, followed by the South Korean boat, with the Pasadena controlling the group the aft end. It took the better part of the day to maneuver this many ships into position, and the RIMPAC photo you have is the one that was taken as the Helo with the actual camera took off just prior to the Skimmers steaming up past the subs. We held the group position including the submarines for close to an hour before we (meaning the submarines) turned hard to starboard to break formation and all but one but went back to their waterspace and submerged to continue the war games. I'm sure many more photos will be available by the end of the week when everyone else pulls back in.

7/29/2010 2:10 AM


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