What Makes A Good Submarine CO?
Recently, a series of articles in the online edition of Time got me thinking about what makes a good CO. The articles don't directly address the topic, but they make one think about the mindset, attitudes, and morals of submarine COs. The articles are here, here, and here, for those who want to read them. An additional post by a sometime TSSBP commenter is here.
*** IMPORTANT ADMIN NOTE: It's likely that some of you will be able to figure out which former CO is being discussed. That's not the point of this post, and any comments speculating on the identity of said CO will be deleted. ***
As we all know, some COs are jerks, some are nice guys, and most are somewhere in between. We can see which type(s) are rated as most successful by the current Navy hierarchy by seeing who gets the Squadron command and eventual flag slots after their command tours. In generally, the absolute jerks and the "nice" guys don't do well -- it's the middle-of-the-road guys who are most likely to get their own flag aide to pick up their dry cleaning. My question is: Are the kind of officers we're selecting for command the right kind of COs we'd need were we to go to war?
At the beginning of WWII, the U.S. Submarine Force, to be honest, didn't do very well. Sure, our torpedoes were sub-optimal and we hadn't developed the tactics that would eventually win the war, but the existing batch of COs in December 1941 tended to be too timid and didn't press home the attack on the enemy. Only when they were replaced by young, sometimes hard-drinking and partying firebrands did we successfully wage war on the Japanese Empire.
Are we that way today? Are the "young firebrands" of today's force being passed over for command, or leaving the Navy early? Would we pay the price were we to find ourselves in a submarine war in the near future. I'm going to answer the last question first: I don't think so. Our technological supremacy for the foreseeable future (next 10-15 years) is so formidable that we'd still easily defeat any potential enemy. It just might take us a couple of weeks longer than it might if we had more aggressive COs, but we'd be less likely to lose a boat.
So that brings be back to the original question in the previous paragraph -- is the NR-dominated CO selection process and the "zero defect" policy of firing COs at the drop of a hat making us too timid in submarine operations? Have we forgotten that sometimes you "want a man with a tattoo on his dick" to do the job? Or are the people who can't live by the Navy Core Values not trustworthy enough to be given the responsibility of command in the modern world?
The original linked articles described, from one side, a CO who seems to have issues being honorable in his dealings with at least some other people. But does this mean such a person is by definition a bad CO? Or do we need COs willing to skirt the rules (of the Navy, or of decent society) once in a while? Read this study and let us know in the comments (without mentioning names! Anecdotal evidence carries the same weight whether you name the boat/CO or not).