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, December 31, 2009

"...Rocket's Red Glare..."

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the commissioning of USS George Washington (SSBN 598), the first ballistic missile submarine. As an early celebration, USS Alaska (SSBN 732) completed the 130th consecutive successful test launch of a Trident D-5 missile during a DASO.

Service in SSBNs might not be as glamorous and exciting as being on an attack boat, but the bottom line is that our strategic capability is the cornerstone of our national security, and as the most survivable leg of our nuclear triad, SSBNs play an unmatched role in our defense. I'm thankful there are men out there on strategic patrol during this holiday season so that my family can sleep soundly at night.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good catch Joel. Missed that anniversary!

12/31/2009 11:25 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Navy Times' "Scoop Deck" blog has a post with a photo of the first Polaris launch. Post points back to this blog. You can find it on Navy

12/31/2009 11:37 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to, one Trident D5 without a warhead costs 30.9 million dollars. 130 test launches have now cost taxpayers over 4 billion dollars in rocket hardware alone.

4 billion could buy one Nimitz class CVN or two Virginia class SSNs.

Seems like 130 test launches is a bit excessive the keep crews proficient and a missile system reliable.

But then again, what do I know?

12/31/2009 12:10 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The launches really have little to do with crew proficiency, as most sailors would be lucky to participate in one during a career. Rather the launches represent a top to bottom verification of the entire system, while also proving the capability to launch on a regular basis.

12/31/2009 12:24 PM

Anonymous retcob said...

I was the Dive for a launch of two D5s from TN in '96. I remember the focus we had on our task. It was as if each individual was tuned into one mind. We were called in off alert patrol, entered the EHW in KB, swapped out 'heads, got underway, reached our launch area, waited patiently for our orders, and launched. We had practiced that routine so many times that when the time came to perform it was as if doing it in a dream sequence, easy.

We came from every state in the Union, from all sorts of backgrounds. We volunteered, went to submarine school or nuke school, got our orders, and reported aboard. We drilled and drilled, and did all the other things it takes to make a great submarine crew. When we were told to demonstrate our nation's capability to wreak havok upon another nation, we did it with watchwork precision.

For fifty years those demonstrations have gone on 130 times. They cost a lot of money. But since 1945 we have not had to launch a single nuclear weapon in anger because we show the world from time to time what we are capable of doing. The rockets red glare sends this message in no uncertain terms: Don't Tread On Me...It'll hurt.

12/31/2009 12:39 PM

Anonymous Carl said...

Unfortunately the other crew got the opportunity to do the DASO launch after the 634 overhaul in the late 80's. One of my peers did get to ride on one of the support vessels and got a great picture of the launch.

Used to be (and probably still is) that the crew test is demonstrated independently of an actual launch. But an actual launch proves the hardware system functions correctly. It's the only way to aboslutely be sure that a system is functioning properly. Incremental or partial system performance tests have been shown to, at times, be inadequate.

$4 billion dollars in 130 launches seems to be an efficient use of funds to ensure the systems work as designed. I'd rather we have one less Nimitz class carrier where neither the carrier nor the SSBN launch and missile systems are proven to work after a major overhaul. A launch platform that has a high probability of failure is not an effective deterrent.


12/31/2009 1:29 PM

Blogger PANPAN said...

When you consider how much our government wastes on aid to other countries this is not that much to keep the peace and not see one fired for real.

12/31/2009 1:41 PM

Blogger chief torpedoman said...

Carl said: …But an actual launch proves the hardware system functions correctly. It's the only way to absolutely be sure that a system is functioning properly.

I understand that in the early Polaris days each crew would actually launch two missiles for DASO, but that got cut back so that by the time my boat (SSBN 610) finished an overhaul at Mare Island in 1975, only one crew got to shoot only one missile.

There is another ways to test the whole launching system short actually launching a missile. It is called a sabot launch. Not sure if they still do that or not, but a seal is placed on the launch tube support ring and the tube is filled with water. A wafer is placed on top and when you shoot it is one big water slug!

Good pic here: showing a surfaced sabot launch.

Anyway we were set up to do a ten shot ripple launch of sabots at launch depth on our sea trials.

I was a young TM3 Launcher Technician (back when TMs ran the missile compartment) stationed in the lower level. SSBN 610 was an air launch boat (no gas generators) and the lower level crew has to hustle to do their part in a ten shot ripple launch. I think we got to about number 5 when a breather valve seal parted in upper level missile and flooding was called away. The rest of the launch was cancelled. We were having a blast too.

As far as none launched in anger, one of the early boats (was it the Patrick Henry) actually got to launch a real Polaris nuke at an Island, though it was not launch in anger.

12/31/2009 2:00 PM

Blogger chief torpedoman said...

Found it. It was the Eathan Allen.

Frigate Bird was the only US test of an operational ballistic missile with a live warhead. This test involved firing a Polaris A1 missile from a ballistic missile submarine. The missile was launched by the USS Ethan Allen (SSBN-608) at 13:18 (local) from a position 1500 nm east-northeast of Christmas Island. The re-entry vehicle (RV) and warhead flew 1020 nm downrange toward Christmas Island before re-entering the atmosphere 12.5 minutes later, and detonating in an airburst at 11,000 feet. The system tested was a combination of a Polaris A1 SLBM, and a W-47Y1 warhead in a Mk-1 RV. The Mk-1 RV had a beryllium heat-sink heat shield, and with the 717 lb warhead had a gross weight of 900 lb. The missile/RV demonstrated an accuracy on the order of 2200 yards. This warhead had a yield-to-weight ratio of 1.84 kt/kg, but the higher yield Y2 variant tested in Dominic Harlem doubled the yield and nearly doubled tht YTW ratio to 3.61 kt/kg.

12/31/2009 2:04 PM

Anonymous Jim Armstrong said...

I served on the decommissioning crew of the GW. She was decommissioned in January, 1985.

12/31/2009 2:08 PM

Anonymous retcob said...

Nice research, Chief! Thanks!

12/31/2009 5:28 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That would be $4 billion over about 20 years, or $200 million/year, on average. Here's a small rundown of what that's bought you in 130 successful D5 flights in a row:

- The remainder of the D5 development flights required to get to IOC (I don't have the number handy--it was probably several after the last flight failure. PEM-1 was the famous "death spiral" but there was at least one failure after that).

- (Re)certifying the crews and the weapon system at new construction or after ERO.

- Providing up to date reliability and accuracy data to STRATCOM. Without flight tests the warfighter has no idea what they have to fight with.

- Providing critical engineering data that helps identify trends before they result in a flight failure some day.

- Opportunities to fly "experiments." Ever hear of Conventional Prompt Global Strike? The Navy is the only service that has fully demonstrated that they can do this NOW. (But I hear the AF has some great PowerPoint slides....)

- And, most importantly, outwardly demonstrating to our adversaries that the weapon system WILL WORK, EVERY TIME.

Money well spent? Hell yeah!

In a few more years the D5 will surpass the C4 as the longest fielded SLBM in the US. It is planned to remain in service until 2042! The fact that the D5 has gone 20 years with such a record is an incredible tribute to the sailors, gov. civilians, and contractors who designed and maintain it.

Unfortunately too many folks in the DoD and on the Hill aren't willing to recognize that as a weapon system ages you need MORE money to maintain it...not less. We'll see how much longer it is until the next flight failure. When that happens, however, it will not by any means be a negative reflection on those involved in the program--they have already proven themselves many times over.

12/31/2009 7:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

1962-1967 on USS Andrew Jackson SSBN 619B. Entire comissioning crew no previous experience with SSBN. Skipper Al whittle Jr. and CHENG Whitey Mack came from Seawolf just out of yard with replacement reactor. Entire crew front end of the boat( including O-gang) came from diesel boats. One Missile Tech came from Regulus shooter USS Barbero SSG 317. First sea trial one week after Thresher went down. Blue crew shot one A2 missile, Gold crew shot one A2 and first A3 test shot. Partial subsafe installed CNSY 63-64 during PSA. Tested EMBT blow pier side only. Never used underway because concern ballast tank flood ports not large enough coupled with freezing strainers in embt blow piping. Boat restricted to 400 Ft until first overhaul.

Made six blue patrols. By patrol five only four CPO's onboard for blue crew. TM1(SS) from torpedo room and MM1(SS) leading Auxillaryman standing Diving Officer Watch along with the COB. Remember, commissioning all the 616, 640, 637 class boats back then.

Used to shoot two sabot missile tubes on each sea trial after upkeep. Patrol five shot one OT A2. Same drill. Called in off patrol early, changed out warhead with T and E head alongside Holland in Rota Spain. Back on patrol, shot the missile, 1500 mile shot splashdown within 500 Yds. target area. I went aboard as TM2(SS)torpedo room and deck div PO left as TM1(SS) Launcher Div CPO, standing COW U/W and inport Duty CPO. Pretty heady stuff for a 25 year old, all seemed so normal back then.

I lucked out when I went back to sea in 1970. Caught the lead ship of the last class of diesel boats built, USS Barbel SS-580. Skipper when I went aboard her had been my 619 Blue commissioning crew Weapons officer.

Pretty exciting stuff in the early SSBN days. Got pretty boring once into the patrol cycle. I was glad to leave when I did, I was not a volunteer for that program. Got a set of orders to new construction after shipping for six on the fleet snorkel boat I was on in 1962.

Test questions for you guys. In what ballast tank was the Station keeping anchor windlass located? Did the early polaris boats ever use the Gyro Stabilizer that took up the entire lower and middle level of AMR 1? What were ULCER and LACE?

Keep a zero bubble..........


12/31/2009 8:34 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous stating 4 billion is too much on tests over the years... I'm probaly biased here because I actually served on two of these awesome war machines. Conservative estimates put the Iraq War bill in the trillions when all said and done. All under the guise of weapons of mass destuction that never really existed...I'll do the math for you here... A dozen new carriers, about 24 new boats, the war on poverty solved in the U.S.,health care for every American are just a few of the things we could have had instead.

12/31/2009 9:13 PM

Blogger chief torpedoman said...

Great post DBFTMC(SS)
I remember my sub school instructor in 1972 telling me about the early days of Polaris new construction. Carte Blanche on the optar for awhile.

He said if you went to submart with a $600 chit, you had better not comeback with more than a couple of dollars unspent.

Did you get to go to factory training on the breather valves. He told some stories about wild parties there.

Let’s see, the Station Keeping Anchor windless was in the forward mbts, I think 1 or 2 on starboard side.

Never saw a gyro stabilizer on the 608 class in AMR1 or anywhere else. Lower level AMR1 was supply and Engineering log room.

I heard about ULCER in Launcher Tech school. I believe it was supposed to evaluate the wave heights prior to launch.

Don’t know about LACE.

I don’t think I will stump an old sea dog like you, but I remember an oolie or two.

When you leave the Nav Bus in UL Ops, what form of transportation takes you to AMR1 UL?
What did “shocks to launch” mean? Where was the “eight ball” located and what was it used for?

12/31/2009 9:27 PM

Blogger chief torpedoman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12/31/2009 9:27 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chief Torpedoman,

station Keeping Anchor Windlass located in MBT 3A. It was removed when we drydocked after launching in Sept 62. Leading TM and I thought the station keeping anchor space in TR would make a nice bunk room for the TM's. Skipper had other ideas. It got turned into a barber shop with a real barber chair, sink etc.

Top half of Gyro Stabilizer on 619
was cut up in pieces and hauled out through the AMR1 hatch after launch. Remainder was welded in place and was basically ballast. It took up most of the lower level of AMR1.

Underwater Launch Current Energy Recorder monitored water movement across the missile deck during launch. there were 10 probes raised by external hydraulics spaced every four tubes. I think the system was tied into MK 84 FCS and would stop the launch if too much current across missile deck. Don't remember what LACE stood for. It was not in use anymore when we went on first patrol in 64. Shocks-to-launch; air actuated shock cylinders were pressurized during tube denote sequence to stabilize the launch tube within the mount tube. Holdown-clamp ring was also retracted during denote sequence.

I did in fact go to factory training at the DAHL Company in Bristol Rhode Island in spring of 63 after I moved back to the Missile compartment. No parties as I recall.

Early 616 Class boats had MK 17-2 launch system, air eject. My experience was always worked well. 624 and later class got MK 21 Gas Generator launch system. "Dirty system" compared to air launch although much simpler system to operate and maintain.

I do remember "Polaris Hold" on every chain wrench that Sears-Roebuck in Charleston received for a long time in 63-64. Lot of SP money back then.

Dang! 45 years ago. Funny how a lot of this stuff is so easy to recall.....

Keep a zero bubble.......


1/01/2010 12:34 PM

Blogger chief torpedoman said...

DBFTMC(SS)USNRET Good memory. In case the reset of you young guys are wondering, all boats prior to Poseidon conversion has two missile tubes. An outer mount tube and in inner launch tube, the Polaris missile having a much small diameter than the Poseidon.

Hydraulic "leveling" shocks were in the annalar space between the tubes. Lockouts or were pressurized prior to launch and used to “lock” the inner launch tube during launch. Hence the term “shocks to launch”.

Between the Nav Center in Ops UL and AMR1 UL there was a Missile Compartment “Trolley” which consisted of two parallel rails running fore and aft between the tube. Two electrically controlled “trolleys” ran down these rails and sort of “jumped” up to peer into the tube and check the missile alignment.

The “eight ball” was a huge sphere in MC LL outboard tube 8. It and the “seven ball” on the opposite side were filled with compressed nitrogen.

Just curious, was a better way ever found to stow the big sugar, flour, and coffee cans, that stacking them around the tubes in MC LL and tying them down with white line? Later on we went to nets.

1/01/2010 1:49 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chief Torpedoman,

616 Class boats had N2 stored in bottles in banks between the frames. Missile Gas System along with launch air bottles filled every frame bay port and stbd side in the Missile Compartment lower level.

I can still hear the alarm bell of the trolly's running back and forth between tubes as they were prepped to fire. Nah, maybe thats just my constant tinitus.

Type 11 periscope. Six Million dollars in 1962 for a scope that only shot stars to update the SINS. Water cooled, electro-hydraulic positioning, computer programmed. Another one gone but not forgotton.

We shot a sixteen tube ripple fire pierside at Mare Island prior to first sea trials during fast cruise. We put a guy topside aft of the sail just forward of the missile deck with headphones as a safety observer. Everyone overlooked the fact that there were still plywood covers on the missile tubes. First three tubes to fire 15 seconds apart launched huge plywood disc's into the Napa River or onto the pier. Pierside yard workers took off running when the first disc headed their way. Phone talker was saying , "thats cool as hell!" Launched two more before we could halt the tube firing sequence. Geeze, it was a lot of fun back then!!

Keep a zero bubble..........


1/02/2010 1:54 PM

Anonymous weehawker said...

My son has been assigned to the U.S.S West Virginia. He should go there after CSRR School. I am not savy to all you speak of here on this site, but it means so much to me, being of father of a potential / future Bubble Head, that I am able to get on this web site and learn from you Submariners. I served in the Army during Jimma's Term as Commander in Chief ( remember, we didn't go to the olympics ..... ), so it really didn't count; however, I want to thank all of you for you service to our country, and i hope my son lives up to all you have done. Thank you all. Cordially, John in Georgia.

1/06/2010 5:03 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

John in Georgia,

Glad to hear about your son. Please let him know the truth. It is going to suck giant donkey wongs for the first year. No way around it, everyone goes through it, most survive.

This is not to scare him, it is to make him ready. The best advice: work hard, stay positive, study, study, study and when he thinks he's got it, study some more. He will have days that will make him wish he was never born. But he will also have great times and make friends that will last him a lifetime.

Things will get better slowly as he gets qualified his watchstations, finishes his mess cooking duties and then better yet after qualifying submarines. Work hard during this tour and then decide whether the Navy/Sub force is his calling. If he stays in it will always be hard...just the nature of the business. There are always more watchstations to qualify, training to do, and months at sea.

John, the best thing you can do when he calls home and cries about how much life sucks (this will happen, sometimes a little more subtle than others) is to let him get it off his chest, give him some fatherly advice and then tell him to suck it up and get back to it.

I wish him luck throughout his career and be safe!

Jim C.
Retired ANAV

Ps. tell your son to come back in a year and tell us how it is going!

1/07/2010 8:55 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

Ah, the good old days. Hide with pride. Static loop tests in the Norwegian Sea in the winter. Sweeping snow out of the eject chamber while loading birds in the Loch. Type 11 ops in sea-state four. Nasty ASTI. 'DASO is a four-letter word.' Cat Futch. The Greenhouse. The Mousetrap.

65 birds downrange. 13 while in the boat submerged (6 DASO shots on 6 different boats while in SP-205, a 7-missile ripple A2 FOT while Gun Boss in JOHN MARSHALL BLUE - HOUSTON was only other boat to fire 7 missiles in a single op). 52 as Director of Navy Tests on the Eastern Range, sitting in the old Range Control Center at the Cape. Also a 14-tube sabot ripple submerged in GEORGE WASHINGTON - MC middle deck started bouncing in rhythm after second tube and worried the whole thing was going to resonate the hull in two.

The reliability and cost control of POLARIS, POSEIDON, and TRIDENT were absolutely stunning. POSEIDON's observed WSR (weapon system reliability) was so far above its engineering target that it equated to having two more boats on patrol for free.

I was one of the original 20 diesel subschool students shanghaied into FBM weapons and SSBN duty instead of diesels. In 1968 the force was running out of nuke officers, highest resignation rate ever, some year-groups essentially disappearing. More SSNs were coming into commission and there weren't enough nukes to go around - no one was getting shore duty, nobody thought it was fun. Our group - 19 NESEPs, one OCS guy with prior weapons time - started the SMS/GSO community of non-nuke gunners in SSBNs. Many of this original cadre found there way back to diesels, two to diesel command.

And a one-question qualie for the old FBMers: what was LOOK gear? If you know, you'll understand the 'excitement' when it lit off with 38 high-events while patrolling in the Med. I was OOD and it scared the shit out of me ... and the CO. Answer on how that happened when someone tells us what was LOOK?

1/09/2010 8:32 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Off-topic but perhaps appropriate given the amount of historical reminiscing in this thread. VADM J Guy Reynolds (USN, ret) is suffering from cancer and is now in hospice. He was the first officer to qualify in submarines without having served on a diesel boat. Served as COMSUBPAC in the mid 80s and is the President of the Naval Submarine League. Please keep him and his family in your thoughts and prayers.

1/09/2010 10:37 AM

Blogger John Byron said...

Guy was one of my heroes. He made tough jobs look like fun. And he went out of his way to mentor baby-ducks like me. Really sad to lose him - I understand these are his last days. God bless.

1/09/2010 1:02 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


No luck on LOOK gear. My SSBN time was 62-67 was it onboard then??.

Jim Denzien was my counterpart in Missile house as Missile Gang LPO at that time. I think you know him. Saw him at SSBN 619 reunion in Sept. He and I were two of thirteen plank owners to show up. He went on to NESEP and served on two of the Tang class boats out of San Diego.

Keep a zero bubble..........


1/11/2010 1:59 PM

Blogger John Byron said...


"No luck on LOOK gear. My SSBN time was 62-67 was it onboard then??."

I think LOOK was A2 boats only and it didn't come aboard until about '69 as I recall.

Know the name Jim Denzien but not ever in same crew. Sorry missed the boat reunion in SDGO. Wife's first husband died and was tangled up with getting a huge extended family to Arlington for burial. Not cheap but healing for kids and grandkids.

1/11/2010 2:14 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Roger on the funeral. Just buried an aunt and cousins husband between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sure messes up the holidays.

How about another SP guy? John Friend? I worked for his wife Patwhen she was AcDu Navy Lt. at Holy Loch in 85-86. He was Sq 14 weps. Before that he was weps on my old boat 619 I believe. Last time I saw him was CoC for the Lockheed Office in Sunnyvale in 95-96 maybe?? He was CDR then.

Keep a zero bubble...........


1/12/2010 3:55 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

Again, know the name but not much more comes to mind. I'd have been his detailer and probably put him in that job - 1100 guys in the community then.

Be well.

1/12/2010 4:32 PM


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