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