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.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

"Every Ship Can Be A Minesweeper -- Once"

I got one of those "Military Humor" E-mails at work today, and I saw a picture I hadn't seen before:

This got me thinking about my time as the Submarine Liaison Officer on the Carrier Group SEVEN staff during the John C. Stennis Battle Group "Millennium Deployment" in 2000. Other than spending 9 of the first 11 months of my post-DH "shore tour" at sea, I found that a Battle (now "Strike") Group job is one of the easier gigs for a submarine officer. Once I got qualified to stand TFCC Watch Officer, my underway routine usually consisted of being in the Tactical Flag Command Center during our attached submarine's scheduled PD trips, reading and writing messages for a couple of hours, and standing 4-6 hours of easy watch a day. Compared to what I was doing during my previous tour as Eng of Connecticut, I was operating at about 15% of capacity. This left me with a lot of free time. I read a lot, and got really good at Minesweeper; I could clear the large 100 mine fields in just over 100 seconds. (Side note: It seems to me that the new optical mice don't give you the quick response that the old trackball ones did for things like Minesweeper.) For those who enjoy Minesweeper, here's a funny video.

What's your favorite underway time waster?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Containment Breach?

New reports of higher general area radiation levels around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plants in Japan are raising fears that primary containment has been breached. Since we reached the limit for number of comments on my earlier posts (here and here) I'm opening up a new thread.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Somebody Set Up Us The Bomb"

From ICEX-2011, word comes that USS New Hampshire (SSN 778) is in need of Oxygen Generator repairs:
The machine that produces fresh air aboard the USS New Hampshire submarine failed during a mission under the vast ice cap of the Arctic Ocean last week, prompting the submarine to use an alternate oxygen candle system instead.
Hamilton Sundstrand... is sending a representative to a temporary ice camp to investigate the problem with the oxygen generator, said Navy Commander John McGunnigle, captain of the nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarine.
Daniel Coulom, a spokesman for Hamilton Sundstrand, confirmed late Monday that company staff would travel to the ship to help repair the oxygen generator, but said it was too early to speculate on what caused the problem.
We know about this because, even in the Arctic, submarines can't get away from VIP cruises and underway media availabilities. This is nice for those of us not there, however, because we get back cool pictures like this one of New Hampshire surfaced through the ice:

We also have this picture of my old boat USS Connecticut (SSN 22). I'm not that familiar with the O2 Generator on Virginia-class boats, but I assume they're like the ones on Seawolf-class boats that I know. I know the Navy has been backfitting the Los Angeles and Ohio fleets with the newer "bombs" that are much more advanced that the one I learned on USS Topeka (SSN 754) in the early '90s.

What's your favorite story about the O2 Generator crapping out?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Libya No-Fly Zone Approved

The UN Security Council approved a "No-Fly" Zone over Libya, 10-0 with five fairly significant abstentions (China, Russia, Brazil, India, and Germany, who apparently had problems the last time they fought in Libya). Secretary Clinton had said earlier that enforcing such a restriction would require bombing Libyan air defenses, which is correct from a military perspective. I note that the Arab League was the group really pushing for the No-Fly Zone; do you think that they will provide more than token participation, and not even that until after all the hard work is done?

Update 1416 19 March: It looks like the attack has started. Based on open-source info, it looks like at least USS Providence (SSN 719), USS Scranton (SSN 756) and especially USS Florida (SSGN 728) might be in position to support the attacks. (A Pentagon briefing I'm listening to now confirms that submarines were part of the initial attack by U.S. and British naval forces, in which ~112 Tomahawks were fired at about 20 targets.)

It's amazing -- we're able to launch an attack even while President Obama is on a foreign trip. It's almost as if the President can do more than one thing at a time, and that he doesn't feel the need to micro-manage the On-Scene Commanders. I assume those who think he should have cancelled his trip believe the President should personally approve each missile fired by the military.

Update 1735 19 March: Here's confirmation from the Navy that those boats mentioned above were the three American submarines involved in the initial salvo of Operation Odyssey Dawn.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


COMSUBFOR announced yesterday the commencement of Ice Exercise 2011, which this year will feature USS New Hampshire (SSN 778) and the world's most powerful attack submarine, USS Connecticut (SSN 22). It looks like Navy Live will be posting about ICEX, so that will be a good source of official info. As always, any mention of the Connecticut in the Arctic gives me a chance to post one of my favorite pictures of my old boat:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Japanese Reactor Accident Thread

Continuing the thread and comments from my earlier post.

A timeline of the first 4 days of the crisis is here. The BBC live page is here. The most recent story from the New York Times, after the #2 reactor building suffered an explosion, is here. This statement from 7th Fleet that they've detected low levels of contamination in Yokosuka shouldn't be that surprising, but it's certainly not good news. Here's a link to the Nuclear Energy Institute page discussing the casualty.

The bottom line, as I see it, is that unless you are working in the reactor complex itself, you shouldn't have any real health worries. There's no need for you to buy KI if you're not on the east central coast of Honshu. That being said, the fact remains that, as one of my commenters in the earlier thread said, a major utility company is injecting seawater into three reactors that have all suffered explosions to buildings associated with their reactors, so that's definitely trending in the "bad" direction on the good/bad scale.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Japan Earthquake Tsunami Hits Guam

From the COMSUBPAC Facebook page:
Everyone on board is safe but USS Houston and USS City of Corpus Christi mooring lines broke free from the pier at Alpha wharf at Naval Base Guam due to the tsunami wave. Tug boats from Naval Base Guam responded quickly to the situation. Both submarines are safe and under the control of the tug boats. Crews are currently working to moor the submarines safely to the pier.
Prayers going out to everyone in Japan and throughout the northern Pacific affected by this natural disaster. Have you ever been in the middle of a major storm or earthquake?

Update 1411 11 March: It's hard to find non-hysterical reports of the reported emergency at the Japanese Fukushima Daiishu reactor complex, but this one seems to be the most level-headed. Secretary of State Clinton doesn't come off as sounding all that technically-minded ("We just had our Air Force assets in Japan transport some really important coolant to one of the nuclear plants", apparently not realizing that "coolant" is "pure water"), but you can't expect everyone to have a clue about nuclear power.

Update 0837 12 March: This CNN report says they've "begun flooding the reactor containment structure with seawater". As I remember, that's pretty far down the list of actions to take in response to a casualty (in that it means you're never planning on using that reactor again), so if true it sounds like they're in pretty bad shape.

As far as the Guam submarines, word on the street is that the duty sections of both boats did a really good job, especially the Duty Officer on the outboard unit. Those duty section training sessions where you talk through various "what would you do if..." scenarios must have paid off. (In this case, "a tsunami breaks you away from the pier and parts the lines and shore power cables while you have diver's tags hanging".)

Bell-ringer 1224 12 March: Here are English-language press releases from the owner of the plants.

Update 0534 14 March: Apparently the Reagan passed through a very low-level plume about 100nm off the coast, but it was enough for them to pick up. And the explosion at the 2nd plant apparently caused problems at the 3rd plant as well, so that they'll have to wreck it by injecting seawater too.

Update 2022 14 March: I guess I shouldn't be surprised -- many Americans are buying, and maybe using, unnecessary KI tablets.

We're about to lose the ability to see more comments as we go past about 200, so I'm going to open up a new thread on the topic.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Brit Reactor Design Flaws?

Here's a story from the Guardian talking about how the British MoD's "senior nuclear safety expert" is warning that the new generation of UK submarine reactors are potentially "vulnerable" to accident. Excerpts:
The MoD's senior nuclear safety expert warns that the safety of submarine reactors compares "poorly" with that of nuclear power stations, and there could be dangerous leaks of radioactivity. There was also a risk of "multiple fatalities" from submarines failing to surface, he says.
Yet the reactors are being installed in a new £10bn fleet of Astute submarines. And they are still under consideration for the submarines due to replace those that carry Trident nuclear missiles from 2028...
..."Current UK practice falls significantly short of benchmarked relevant good practice," he warns. The pressurised water reactors that run submarines are "potentially vulnerable to a structural failure of the primary circuit".
This could cause "a release of highly radioactive fission products" and "a significant risk to life to those in close proximity and a public safety hazard out to 1.5km from the submarine", McFarlane says.
"Current designs of UK and global civil power plants have systems for safety injection of coolant into the reactor pressure vessel head and passive core cooling systems," he adds...
...The MoD is also trying to decide on the type of reactor to drive the submarines destined to replace the Vanguards. The declassified MoD document discloses that there are several options still under consideration.
One, known as PWR2, is "essentially" similar to the Astute class, while another, PWR2b, has "significantly modified systems to improve platform safety and survivability". A third, PWR3, is described as a "new propulsion plant based on a US design but using UK reactor technology".
While the article does contain some "the sky is falling!" language that one would expect from the press for anything nuclear, it's not as bad as many I've seen. What was interesting to me is that it appears that the Brits went away from just licensing U.S. reactor designs (with concomitant NR oversight) in favor of indigenously-designed plants, with predictably bad results. Our Brit brothers should have learned by now -- if you want good reactors, let NR design them. Some pale British substitute organization is no replacement for the real thing.

[Be careful about posting NNPI, please, when discussing this article.]

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

NNPTC In The News

Against my better judgment, and only because so many people have written in asking me to post it, here are links to several stories (here, here, and here) about a student at Navy Nuclear Power Training Command who is apparently being processed for separation for a violation of barracks rules. Excerpt:
"My friend just came over to watch some shows. It was a long week at school cause we put in a lot of study hours and on top of going to school and he came over to watch some shows on my computer and we passed out," said Jones.
Jones' roommate walked in to find Jones and the other male sailor asleep in the same bed. According to Jones he and the other man were wearing clothing. Just days later, the Navy charged Jones with unprofessional conduct...
..."Two sailors, regardless of gender, sleeping in the same bed together is considered unacceptable," said Thomas Dougan, a spokesman for the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command. Dougan added sexual orientation played no role in this case. The sailor found asleep with Jones remains in the Navy after accepting his punishment and having his pay docked.
I'm not hopeful, but is there any chance we can have a discussion on barracks privacy rights or how the Navy sometimes trumps up charges when they want to boot someone, and not have this devolve into the umpty-squadrillionth "the world is going to end when gays and women get on submarines" discussion?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Enterprise "XO Movie Night" Videos Released

In case you wanted to see all the "XO Movie Night" videos from the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) case we discussed earlier, you can find them here, helpfully divided up into "objectionable" and "non-objectionable" categories, along with links to the Command Investigation. You can also read a story about all the senior officers who will get stern letters in their permanent records here.

Update 1604 03 March: Apparently Naval Reactors didn't get a chance to review the Command Investigation before it got released, which surprises me because some of the complaints involved improper use of anti-contamination suits. Check out Appendix 5, page 3, entry for 25-Mar-06: "Appears in this video performing various activities wearing a yellow, anti-radiation suit." Really? Anti-radiation suit? And no one on the Fleet Forces Command staff who read the draft report caught that?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The XO's Main Job...

I'm hearing that the CO and CMC of USS Stout (DDG 55) were fired in the middle of a Med deployment for bad behavior on the beach. (Link to follow when I get to a real computer.)

One of my old XOs told me that they stressed in PXO that one of his most important jobs would be keeping the CO out of trouble on liberty.

Update 2100 02 March 11: Here's the Navy Times story on the DFCs. The problem with posting about a story without reading it, based only on a partial paragraph from a Facebook post I read on my phone while performing D-1R at work, is that I assumed, and probably left others with the impression, that the CO and CMC were involved in the misbehavior on the beach. As the story makes clear, the CO and CMC were not accused of participating in the shenanigans, just in failing to prevent them.Here's the official Sixth Fleet press release. Excerpts:
The relief of Borchers occurred due to a loss of confidence in his ability to address a pervasive pattern of unprofessional behavior in overseas ports and a substandard command climate on board following an investigation into multiple allegations of crew misconduct...
...Additionally, one officer, five chiefs and one petty officer were removed from the ship following Non-Judicial Punishment proceedings for misconduct during incidents that occurred while on liberty ashore. Offenses included fraternization, orders violations and disregard for naval standards of conduct and behavior, which contributed to poor crew morale and a hostile command climate.
I wonder what led to the "hostile command climate"? I can see poor morale if the fraternizers were showing favoritism to their partners, but "hostile command climate" seems out of place. Maybe the JAGMAN investigation will get released soon and we'll find out what that means.