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.)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

USS Missouri (SSN 780) Commissioned

USS Missouri (SSN 780) was commissioned this morning in Groton. Here's her seal:

If you'd like to see a video of the ceremony, you can find it here. Looks like it was nice weather (low 70s, partly cloudy), as opposed to the cold weather during the Dec. 1998 commissioning of USS Connecticut (SSN 22), the only one I participated in. (I was the "officer in charge of the formation that stood on the pier for the whole ceremony".) Anybody have any good stories about formal boat ceremonies?

Update 1346 31 July: Here's a news release from SUBGRU 2; they say hi-res photos of the ceremony will be available here later.

Update 1353 31 July: Here are some of the first pictures, including the one where they cycle the masts and antennas after the ship is officially placed in commissioned and manned:

Whenever I saw this, I always wondered why we went to all the trouble to water the masts when cycling them inport when it clearly doesn't hurt them to dry-cycle in the case of commissioning ceremonies.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Idaho CD-1: A Bellwether For America's Future?

As the midterm elections approach, most of the talk is about whether or not the Republicans will be able to take back the House of Representatives (or even the Senate). More than that, this election seems like it will be a referendum on whether or not Constitutionalism (represented mostly by the Tea Party and Libertarians) has the strength to re-emerge as a dominant force in American politics for the first time since basically the end of the Polk Administration. I submit that the Congressional election this year in Idaho's 1st Congressional District between Democratic incumbent Rep. Walt Minnick and Republican challenger Rep. Raul Labrador is a key battle between those who seek to return American political philosophy to the Jacksonian era and those who prefer a more modern interpretation of the Constitution. Basically, if the Paulites and their ilk can't win here, it's unlikely they'll be able to ever emerge as more than an occasionally humorous sideshow to the main ebb and flow of the American body politic.

Idaho is a very conservative state (Sen. McCain got 61.3% of the vote in 2008, even higher in the 1st District); the only reasons that Walt Minnick was able to win in 2008 is that 1) he's a fiscally conservative social moderate who would be a Republican in most other states, and 2) his opponent in 2008, then-Rep. Bill Sali, was a complete buffoon. This year, however, adds the dynamics that most of the 1st District electorate has been fairly unhappy with President Obama's policies, and the Republican nominee is a perfectly normal person. However, in coming from behind to win the Republican primary against an establishment candidate with one of the worst-run campaigns in modern history, Rep. Labrador had to position himself pretty far to the right -- well into the territory being staked out by the Tea Party.

Rep. Labrador, knowing that he really can't attack Rep. Minnick on his record (Minnick was the only Democrat to receive the endorsement of the Tea Party Express, although Minnick later rejected the endorsement), seems to be running the campaign as a referendum on Speaker Pelosi. I'm not really sure that's going to resonate among the vast majority of voters here in Western Idaho, but it's probably his best shot. Unlike other districts where there might be 35% of the electorate who will always cast their ballots for one party or the other with the opponents fighting for the middle 30%, this district seems to have about a 45-25 split favoring the Republicans (the 49% Sali got in 2006 and 2008 seems to be a floor). Most of the "Pelosi Bad, Boehner Good" voters are included in the already-locked-in 45%, so Labrador needs to focus on winning 5% of the "floating" 30% of the electorate to win. Currently, Minnick is up in the polls, and has about a 16:1 advantage in cash on hand.

This money will enable Rep. Minnick to use Rep. Labrador's own stated positions against him, with little opportunity for Labrador to respond. Examples of Rep. Labrador's positions beloved by the Tea Party but unlikely to find favor with the broader electorate include:

1) Repeal the 17th Amendment (also known as the "Sell Idaho's Senate Seat to whichever company can give the highest paid 'consulting' jobs to the wives of 53 Idaho lawmakers" plank);

2) Return to the Gold Standard (aka the "Give all our gold to China when they cash in their Treasury Bonds" philosophy);

3) Withdraw the U.S. from the United Nations (or the "Look how well our decision not to join the League of Nations worked out" plank);

4) "Publish all campaign donations on your website, including date, name of parent organization as well as the donating entity, and the amount of the donation". (Actually, Idaho voters will probably like that pledge; the problem is, Labrador isn't fulfilling it; his webpage contains no such information. I'm sure he'll say that his "pledge" only takes effect if he wins.)
Here's the deal. The May primary election showed that only about 7-10% of the electorate really supports the extreme Paulite/Tea Party positions (based on the clearly "Constitutionalist" candidates for Governor and the 2nd District Congressional races getting only about 25% of the vote with 30% turnout, in an election where the Constitutionalists would seemingly be much more motivated to vote than the general public). They think there are more of themselves because they're loud, and they mostly hang out with themselves, creating a self-perpetuating fantasy that most people agree with them (or would, if only their voices weren't censored by the mainstream media).

Basically, it comes down to this -- if the Constitutionalists have any hope of becoming a real political force in this country, they need to win this election. This would be the one to win, since they have a personable candidate (one whom I happen to think doesn't actually believe in all these extreme positions he's officially supporting, based on no real data except for one meeting) and a district that reflexively tends to vote for anyone with an "R" after their name. Unfortunately for them, since their actual political views aren't supported by the vast majority of the "floating middle" (or the political elite who give actual money to candidates), they aren't that likely to do so. The Minnick campaign, I'm sure, wants a race where voters get a chance to compare Minnick's experience as a businessman, a veteran and a bipartisan problem-solver to Labrador's record as an attorney and politician; if they can define the campaign that way, they'll probably win. It'll be an interesting 3+ months until November 2nd.

Guest Post: Military Housing Programs

Brandon Fischer, who writes for VA Benefits Blog, submitted a guest post about Military Housing Programs:
When government housing is not provided, it can be difficult for Navy service members to find adequate housing overseas. For those who are able to come back to the states and find rentals, living expenses can be hard to keep up with while on extended or permanent duty. That’s why the Department of Defense provides both the Basic Allowance for Housing and Overseas Housing Allowance programs.

Both programs allow service members to obtain housing that’s affordable or, as of 2005, with no out-of-pocket expenses whatsoever. It can also help lenders to discover what mortgage payment plan would be best for veterans looking to buy a home through the VA home loan program as opposed to renting.


BAH is for service members who cannot obtain government quarter with the U.S. The DoD compensates the military member, giving him or her a monthly allowance based on the local housing costs in which he or she resides. Other factors determine how much a service member receives such as pay grade and dependency status.

People with dependents can get about $300 more than single persons. Persons without dependents receive what’s called Partial BAH. There’s also BAH II and BAH Diff for persons paying child support.

Sometimes BAH rates are subject to decreases and increases. However, individual rate protection prevents the fluctuations from affecting the service member in a negative way. This also applies to OHA.


Members stationed overseas who are not furnished government housing, are eligible for OHA, according to the DoD. If a member is serving an UNACCOMPANIED overseas tour, the member is eligible for BAH at the "with dependents" and “without dependents” rate.

Overseas housing allowances change bi-weekly. That’s because the overseas housing system is set up to pay service members for both housing and utilities. Rental ceilings oscillate all the time. However, members still dot have to pay any out-of-pocket expenses and can actually net a little extra funds based on the system.

Taking Advantage of All the Opportunities

For Navy members, a whole list of allowances could be accompanied with the BAH and OHA programs. The Navy Times posted a whole spread about the different allowances available.

For Navy members coming back to the states, they might choose to buy a home. Monthly BAH payments could be put towards mortgage payments. And with programs such the VA loan, military personnel could save a lot of money on both monthly and initial costs. If a veteran or active duty member is interested in buying a home with BAH funds, he or she should talk with VA lending consultant as soon as possible.
If anyone else would like to submit guest posts on relevant topics, I'd be happy to look post them (after stripping out any links that are too commercial). Send me an E-mail [joel(dot)bubblehead(at)gmail(dot)com] and let me know if you'd like to write something for posting here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

PCU Missouri Arrives At SUBASE NLON

Here's a video of PCU Missouri (SSN 780) arriving at SUBASE NLON in preparation for her commissioning on Saturday morning:

Here's a story about the move. This reminds me of one of the more embarrassing moments of my Navy career, although Missouri had a much better time of it than I did when I was Eng on then-PCU Connecticut (SSN 22). When Connecticut made her first trip up the river to SUBASE from Electric Boat in 1998, we weren't "underway on nuclear power"; we came up the Thames pulled by a tug and with a puppy diesel welded to the deck. This was because Big Navy had forced our CO to sign the transfer documents for delivery of the boat to the Navy despite the fact that the diesel was inoperable (reportedly in order to meet a delivery deadline in the contract so EB could get a big bonus -- those SUPSHIP guys need jobs when they retire!), so NR wouldn't let us start up the reactor without an operational diesel (understandable). As a result, our "triumphant" entry into SUBASE came in the form of a dead-stick move. Humiliating.

Monday, July 26, 2010

And A Submarine Shall Lead Them

Once again, we see a "group photo" from a big naval exercise where the submarine is front and center. This one is from the current "Invincible Spirit" exercises off the coast of Korea, with USS Tucson (SSN 770) leading the fleet:

Here's a close up of Tucson from the same event. I've blogged before about why submarines are almost always in front of the formation in these group steaming photos, or more rarely off to the side -- it's because submarines have absolutely no tradition of station-keeping in formation steaming, so it's easiest just to let the sub be the guide. In the description of the picture above, the Navy Mass Communication Specialist who wrote the caption made the common mistake of calling the submarine "USS Tuscon" (I've blogged about that before as well). I think we can all just agree that the spelling and pronunciation of "Tucson" bear no relation to one another, and leave it at that.

For those wondering about the RIMPAC 2010 group photo, here's a video of the parade, with USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) leading the way. They claim there are four submarines in this formation, but they must be way out of the way. (Here's a still picture of the formation, and even in hi-res I don't see any submarines.)

Sailors Missing In Afghanistan

From the official Navy website:
Washington (NNS) -- The Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead extended the following statement on the events in Afghanistan:

"The thoughts and prayers of our entire Navy go out to the missing Sailors serving in Afghanistan and their families. We have been closely following the situation from the outset. These Sailors represent two of several thousand Sailors serving on the ground in Afghanistan in support of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan. Forces on the ground in Afghanistan are doing everything they can to locate and safely return our missing shipmates."
Our prayers are with the missing Sailors and the families of all concerned. Similarly, please keep Idaho native Army Specialist Bowe Bergdahl, captured over a year ago, in your thoughts. When the missing Sailors' identities are released, hopefully those of us who might know them won't put out any personal information on the 'net that the enemy might use to exploit the situation.

Update 0740 29 July: The remains of one of the Sailors were recovered on Sunday, and now there's word that the second Sailor's body has been found.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

RIMPAC 2010 Videos

RIMPAC 2010 is going on through 01 August; for those who didn't get enough when they were a PACFLT Sailor, here are a bunch of videos for you to relive the experience. The only submarine one I could find is this rather boring one of USS Pasadena (SSN 752) leaving Pearl:

Anyone have any favorite memories of large multinational exercises? I just remember how long morning colors took when all the different nations' boats were in port if one was unlucky enough to get caught outside.

Monday, July 19, 2010

USS North Carolina Photos And Story

Here's a really good story, with embedded videos, about USS North Carolina (SSN 777). Almost 30 pictures of the boat can be found here, including this one of the Command Center:

The CO is CDR Wes Schlauder, who was Weps on USS Connecticut (SSN 22) when I was Eng. He done good. He has a fine boat -- even if it's a lot slower than his Department Head ride.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Stupid Shall Be Punished

Now, we all know initial reports are often erroneous, and there might be some other explanation for this, but if this story from Bangor is even halfway true, it looks like some Submariners haven't learned the first lesson of submarining. Excerpts:
Two Navy sailors were in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center on Friday night after an explosion involving military equipment that the men may have taken from a submarine without permission...
...The men, both active duty and assigned to a submarine at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, had apparently taken Oxygen Breathing Apparatus equipment, Wilson said...
...Wilson said the men had apparently knocked off the tops of the canisters and were using them to "huff" or get high. The men were also apparently throwing the canisters onto an open fire in the yard in order to make them explode...
...Wilson said detectives were trying to find out all the details, adding that witnesses at the address "are not the most reliable." He said the men could be facing some "pretty serious" charges given the circumstances.
No mention in the story about whether or not alcohol was involved. I'm sure the Submariners in the Bangor area will now be subjected to some sort of "Safety Standdown" where they learn not to throw OBA canisters into the fire because of a few idiots. Kind of like this "Dilbert" cartoon:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Do Away With Boomers?

From the New York Times, we find that the old "if we just get rid of nuclear weapons then everyone will love us and there won't be any more war" crowd is alive and still writing. Excerpts:
As the sea leg of the triad of nuclear deterrence, the Trident submarines provide “the nation’s most survivable and enduring nuclear strike capability,” as stated by the Navy. Their mission is to launch a massive and final lethal blow in the event that the worst has happened: “nuclear combat toe-to-toe with the Ruskies,” in the memorable drawl of Major T. J. “King” Kong, the Slim Pickens character in “Dr. Strangelove.”
MAD makes sense in a rational world: the Russians or Chinese would never try to wipe us out, because we would then wipe them out. They want to live well and prosper, as do we.
But MAD makes less sense at a time when the enemies of civilization are cave-dwelling religious fanatics who target cartoonists and kill innocent children at soccer telecasts and think, if they die in nuclear Armageddon, a sexual reward awaits them in heaven...
...Why not a much larger reset? The deterrence would still be there, even with a pair of submarines, let alone the dozen-plus out there now, not to mention the new class of extraordinarily costly submarines under construction.
These new submarines may cost about $8.2 billion each to build, the Congressional Budget Office reported a few months ago. The first one, always the most pricey, may run up to $13 billion, which would make it the most expensive Navy vessel ever built. In May, Defense Secretary Robert Gates questioned whether the cost of all these new ships was worth it in the big view of getting the most safety for the most buck.
His legitimate query was greeted by a collective ho-hum. MAD and all its budget-busting infrastructure is just so much a part of the scenery now.
What we will get for those billions are sleek new nuclear-armed behemoths to replace the sleek old nuclear-armed behemoths, all in service to a dinosaur policy. Once the subs are in use, they will likely perform the same tired mission, ready to fire the last shot in a world going down. Meanwhile, above the surface of the ocean, crazed religious leaders in tents and Flintstone huts plot murder against innocents using Radio Shack rejects.
While it's true that SSBNs wouldn't be much use against terrorists hiding in caves (or rather, would be extreme overkill) the theory that "the Russians or Chinese wouldn't try to wipe us out" doesn't pass the test of history. Sure, I'd be willing to say that a nuclear war between superpowers is very unlikely for the next 20 years, as the Ohio-class boats end their service lives. However, as Great Britain learned at their peril back in the '30s, you really can't base defense funding projections on a theory that "not much politically will change in the next few years". The lesson learned from WWII is that one must always prepare for a potential enemy's capabilities, vice intentions, as intentions can change relatively quickly. With this lesson in mind, it's obvious that we cannot unilaterally give up the most survivable leg of our nuclear deterrent while our potential adversaries maintain the capability to act against us with impunity.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Submarines In Commercials

One thing we don't see enough of is submarine-themed commercials. Here's one:

Another one (in Polish) is here. What's your favorite use of submarines in commercials?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

TDU-Launched Comms Buoy

I found a couple of neat articles (here and here) on a new system that's supposed to start testing next year. Part of the "Comms at Speed and Depth" (CSD) Program, it's described as a communications buoy that links a submarine to the Global Information Grid through a miles-long tether; the 40 inch long buoy is launched from the TDU, then floats near the surface while the submarine continues operating normally, in constant communications with bothersome bigwigs. Other than concerns about running at speed and depth with the TDU Muzzle Ball Valve open, it sounds like a promising concept to me.

Military Justice

I've been on a jury for the last 10 days, of which I ended up being the foreman. It was an instructive and sobering experience; quite a few tears were shed during deliberations. (I did learn that the urban legend is true -- ambulances can trip traffic lights in their direction. I also learned that there are still people who use MySpace.)

As I was sitting through hours of chain-of-custody evidence on the forensics, I started thinking about the differences between civilian and military justice. I've heard that military justice actually does a better job of finding the "truth" (whether a person actually did the thing they are accused of doing) at the expense of some rights for the defendant that have evolved over the years in civilian courts. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but I suspect it might be.

I was lucky enough never to have to face military justice during my time in the Navy, but I did attend several Masts as part of the chain of command of the accused, and served on a couple AdSep Boards. My most memorable story involved, as usual, the good ship Topeka during our '92-'93 deployment. While we were on a Mission Vital To National Security, we were allowed to grow beards. The caveat was that if you had to be in the Wardroom during a Captain's Mast, you had to appear clean-shaven (this applied to the defendant's whole chain of command). As a result, none of the Department Heads got all the way through the Mission with a full beard; I was lucky enough to miss out on that. Our XO, even though he went to every mast, still ended up with a full beard several times; he was one of those people who could grow a functional beard in about 5 days. (Off topic, we ended up shaving the letters "XO" into his back when we did our Shellback Ceremony that deployment.)

Anybody have any good stories about the military justice system?

New Submarine Blog

Check out Underway Life, a new blog by a submariner. He's already got some pretty good posts up.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

PCU Missouri Finishes Alpha Trials

PCU Missouri (SSN 780) just finished Alpha Trials out of Electric Boat in Groton on the Fourth. Here's a picture of her heading out to sea:

More pictures can be found here. Just for the record, I wanted to point out -- not for purposes of argument, just stating a fact -- that I was the fastest American submarine Engineer ever on Alpha Trials when I went out on Connecticut in 1998. And, depending on whether or not the Russian Alfa-class boats did full power runs on their Alpha Trials, I might be the fastest ever worldwide. So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

New Navy Submarine Recruiting Video

Here's a new submarine officer recruiting video the Navy put out last month:

In the news, here's a story about a "flying submarine" that DARPA is working on, and here's a story about the most advanced drug-running submarine yet found. While the drug-running sub is about 100 years behind what we're building, it's still a pretty impressive achievement.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy Fourth Of July!

In celebration of our Independence Day, The Greeneville (TN) Sun is putting out a special 40 page supplement about USS Greeneville (SSN 772). Now that's a good submarine / namesake city relationship!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Two Indian Submarines Bump

Two Indian Kilo-class submarines collided last week when one that was trying to land hit the sub it was going to moor alongside. Excerpts:
Two Kilo-class 877EKM attack submarines collided with each other at the Naval Bay in Mumbai-half-a-km from the Gateway of India-last Monday.
Officials said the "minor accident'' took place when INS Sindhukesri was parked at the bay and INS Sindhuratna was returning from patrolling; the latter-being towed by a small tug boat -hit the parked Sindhukesri.
"The accident was not too serious as Sindhuratna's engine was switched off and it was being towed by a small tug. These are minor accidents,'' an official said, trying to downplay the incident.
This article has a "helpful" picture of what happened. I like to make fun of journalists who make basic mistakes in writing about submarines, but I can't help but think there was some translation error in this paragraph that appears in both linked articles:
Both 2,300-odd-tonne vessels have low noise levels. That could be one of the reasons why they got too close to each other without anybody noticing.
Yes, it's clear that two surfaced submarines, probably during daylight, couldn't notice each other -- when one was moored and the other was trying to park alongside -- because they were so quiet.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Norfolk Naval Shipyard CO Fired

From Navy Times:
The commanding officer of Norfolk Naval Shipyard has been fired less than one year after assuming command.
Capt. William Kiestler was relieved Wednesday. Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, cited a loss of confidence in Kiestler’s ability to command. There was no mast, according to NAVSEA spokeswoman Pat Dolan.
The loss of confidence stems from “a series of events over the past few months,” Dolan said. Specifically, there was a “failure to ensure critical maintenance work was being performed according to procedure and loss of situational awareness with respect to the status of ongoing submarine projects.”
Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va., is one of four shipyards specializing in repairing, overhauling and modernizing ships and submarines. The ballistic submarine Tennessee and fast-attack sub Montpelier are in the shipyard for scheduled maintenance. Dolan said she did not know whether the failures have affected the yard time for either sub.
In addition, the submarine tenders Simon Lake and McKee are in the shipyard for decommissioning.
I pretty much only had experience with NAVSEA in Groton, so I don't know if the culture in Norfolk was any different. As a general rule, the Repair Officers in Groton did a pretty good job. Anyone got any horror stories about NAVSEA types screwing up on their boat?

Three SSGNs In 7th Fleet AOR

Over on the 7th Fleet Facebook page, they posted photos of the three SSGNs in the AOR on 28 June. They are USS Florida (SSGN 728) doing a Fast Cruise after crew exchange in DiGar:

USS Michigan (SSGN 727) pulling into Pusan, Korea:

And USS Ohio (SSGN 726) in port in Subic Bay:

This is pretty cool, but this is what they're supposed to do, so I wouldn't read too much into it (like the idiots who think that a normal carrier swap in the Arabian Sea somehow means we're about to attack Iran). Now, if all three SSGNs were in Diego Garcia...