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, August 31, 2013

Should We Attack Syria?

With an American submarine reported to be among the assets on standby for a possible attack on Syria, and the President announcing that he'll ask Congress for authorization for such an attack, I figure we should discuss how Congress should vote.

Normally, I would be in favor of any excuse to reduce the military capabilities of a Ba'athist dictatorship, but I've got some serious concerns about this one. For one thing, we'd be intervening in a civil war in which the side we'd be aiding in our attacks aren't necessarily people we want to be helping. Also part of the discussion is whether the U.S. even wants to be the "world's policeman" any more, like we were in the '90s. I'm leaning towards "no" on that last question.

There's no doubt that using chemical weapons against civilians is a dick move, and while I wouldn't put it past the al Qaeda-linked portion of the Syrian insurgency to use chemical weapons against civilians in areas under their control in an attempt to get a Western military response against the regime, I think there's a pretty good chance the Syrian government launched this most recent attack. So, while it's definitely not nice to gas people, is it that much of a worse action than blowing them up with high explosives that it defines a "red line" requiring American intervention? For this mindset, I blame the previous Administration.

In coming up with a justification for attacking Iraq, the Bush Administration settled on the possession of "weapons of mass destruction" as a causus belli. I always thought they should go with either 1) the Iraqis are continually shooting at our planes enforcing the UN-authorized "no-fly" zone in southern Iraq, or 2) we got attacked on 9/11, and therefore we, as a sovereign country and the baddest-ass dude on the planet, claim the right to overthrow the governments of 1-3 countries we don't like whenever we get attacked, and if the rest of the world doesn't like it, they can suck it. [Note: (1) would probably be the easiest to justify.] I'm guessing they focus-grouped the potential reasons and came up with WMDs as the one that polled best, and, let's face it, it was a "slam dunk" that Iraq had chemical weapons. (The last line was clearly writ ironical, as subsequent history has shown, but at the time everyone "knew" the Iraqis still had chemicals and nerve agents -- they had used chemical weapons in the '80s against Iran and still had them in 1991, based on the evidence we found when we went into southern Iraq in the First Gulf War. It took us some time after the war to get our intelligence assets into place, but we figured that we had confirmation in 1995 from the Kamel defection. Since we didn't see any indication that any weapons were being destroyed after 1995, when we had assets in place, and since we didn't believe Kamel's public statements that everything had been destroyed before that, we were pretty sure they still had WMDs.)

If we do attack with a previously-stated restriction that there won't be "boots on the ground", would this be enough to "deter" other states, or even Syria, from continuing to use chemical weapons? What if a tyrant is willing to trade having $100 million worth of crappy Russian weapons and a few empty buildings destroyed in exchange for us using $250 million worth of Tomahawks, especially if the tyrant gets the support of the "America is always wrong" crowd to boot? Suppose we were to say "You Arabs don't like chemical weapons being used in your part of the world? Let the Arab League handle it."? While I'm adamantly opposed to the isolationist/Ronulan view that we need to bring all our troops home, why can't we just let two groups who both hate us continue to kill each other while we stand aside?

For the upcoming Congressional debate, there is one thing of which I'm sure -- I really want the debate to be over "should the U.S. intervene in Syria and, in general, be the world's policeman" and nothing else. I really hope the House doesn't attach some dumb-ass "repeal Obamacare" amendment that would turn the debate into a cheap political stunt, but I'm not very hopeful on that score. I want to see Congress do their job and debate this important issue. And I kind of hope they reach a consensus that it's not our job to intervene unilaterally. (Note that if Turkey, a NATO ally, goes to NATO with a request to intervene since they fear the Syrian chemical weapons will be used against them, we should eagerly join in a NATO effort. Since, as I mentioned above, I almost always support an opportunity to blow up Ba'athist air defense and command-and-control infrastructure.)

[Also, kind of off-topic, I've been really disappointed in the "amateur hour" nature of the Administration's response to the whole thing. I don't think the new SecState is really up to the job.]

What do you think? Should we attack Syria?

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Submariner Looks At Fifty

"Once you're over the hill, you start to pick up speed" has always been one of my favorite pithy greeting card sayings. As I turn 50, I realize I have no problem with this birthday, as I also had no problem with turning 40. (It was 30 that really got me, when I realized I wasn't a kid anymore.) I figure a half-century on earth is a good time to look back, take stock, and charge into the future.

Back when I turned 30, I was just finishing up my JO tour on USS Topeka. (My 29th birthday is discussed here.) I'd been a hard-charging JO, putting career ahead of family, doing what I needed to do to get command of a submarine some day. As I evaluated where my life was heading, and looked into my childrens' eyes, I realized that my priorities were wrong -- I needed family to rank above job. I still did a good job at work, but stopped doing the extra "after work" socializing that I figured was useful for making contacts but took away from family time.

I did a good enough job as NEWCON Eng on Connecticut that NR invited me back for a bonus NEWCON tour on Jimmy Carter (sandwiched around a Battle Group SLO job that got me another deployment), and I was doing OK career-wise (screened for XO third look), but it was clear I was never going to make Admiral, even though my NR Technical Score was probably high enough to get me at least an overhaul command. And I was OK with that. I had orders to be XO on USS Hartford when my asthma (which I had successfully kept out of my medical records until then) got bad enough that I wasn't able to pass the swim anymore on the PRT. I got medically disqual'd from subs, failed to select for O-5, and prepared to transition to civilian life.

(Regarding the Hartford, she ended up grounding off La Madd during what would have been my XO tour. I still don't know if I would have been able to prevent it had I been in Control. Had I not, that would have ended my career anyway, no matter how much schmoozing with Captains I'd done earlier in my career.)

During my twilight tour, I did an IA at CENTCOM (discussed here). There, I learned some important things about how the world worked outside of the Navy. I'd always assumed that the higher-ups in government and business really knew what they were doing if we'd just trust them. What I actually learned is that the big bosses might be idiots, but there are always just enough pockets of competence to keep things moving along, and the big bosses, even if they're morons, have gotten where they are because they've learned to identify and exploit those pockets.

So what have I learned in 50 years? I've learned that one's worldview depends on one entering argument -- whether or not one believes that they have a soul. As we've seen the rise in atheism and agnosticism in Europe start to spread to the U.S., I'm predicting that America will start to divide along the lines of atheists vs. religious people. Personally, I fully fall into the camp that believes I do have a soul. I know it can't be proven (in the same was that the existence of gravitons can't be proven experimentally, and I believe they exist), but that's the way metaphysics works. There are things that happen inside my head that I can't explain with biochemistry, and I choose to explain it by the existence of a soul that exists outside of four dimensional space-time. Since a soul offers no evolutionary advantage, it must have been created by God. When America is divided into camps that can't even agree on this entering argument, it will be difficult to reach common ground on many issues, but I have faith that the genius of the American system will allow us to survive and thrive.

Politically, I've learned that extremism is considered extreme because it just wouldn't work in the real world. While Libertarianism sounds good, with its "everyone should live by the Golden Rule" philosophy, world history has shown that it just won't work -- it would only take 1 or 2% of the population that wants to control other people to make the system crash to the ground. Likewise, I can see where progressives of good intent can think "the people of Scandinavia seem to be happy with their Social Democracy, so it should work in America too", but I realize that it actually wouldn't work here -- our multiculturalism would work against it, and, let's face it, the only reason it works in northern Europe is that we're subsidizing their defense and medical research and education costs. If we revert to benevolent socialism, we'd have to stop that subsidy, and it would collapse over there. I've come to believe that we need to continue steering a course between the extremes in order to continue to grow into the future -- realizing that compromise is not a dirty word in public policy, that it is NOT a legitimate function of government to go out of its way to humiliate citizens who are going through a rough patch, and continuing the consensus of the last half of the 20th century that we need to keep conflict away from our shores by killing the people who need to be killed in other countries. You think that's not nice? Please point out any lessons from world history wherein a large, non-mountainous country can survive just by being nice to everyone (without having treaty protection from "mean" countries).

The most important thing I've learned, as I alluded to before, is that Family is the most important thing on which we can concentrate. Young parents out there may think that all they need to do is get their children safely to adulthood, and they've done their job. My wife and I have done that, and our hearts are still filled with worry for our kids -- did we give them the right tools to make it through life? The worries, though, are completely outweighed by the joy that our children bring to us. If I could give any advice to my children, it would be "Find a partner to travel through life together, and pass on what you've learned to your children. Realize that the only way a marriage can truly work is if both people are willing to subvert their own selfish desires to the needs of the family. That way leads not to restrictions in your life, but the unbridled Joy of the most fulfilling life possible."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

PCU Minnesota Video

The shipyard released a propaganda video from a recent PCU Minnesota (SSN 783) media availability:

It's not too bad. I would have liked to have seen more shots of the screens on the Virginia-class boats, but I was most happy to see a crew in poopy suits instead of the dumb-ass aquaflage you normally see on underway videos nowadays.

Monday, August 19, 2013


A ship's checklist for a visit from then-VADM Rickover has been floating around:
Preparation Checklist for VADM Rickover
 USS (Ship’s Name)
From: Executive Officer
To: All Officers
Subject: Preparation for VADM Rickover, USN
The following arrangements will be made by officers indicated to insure the Admiral’s comfort during Sea Trial ALPHA:
- Two full sets of khakis available in XOSR with sox and belt. Shirt size 14-32; trousers waist 30 length 29.
- Menu – Clear menu with OIC prior to 10/26. Fruit available – grapes/apples/etc. (fresh orange juice). Keep bowl in XOSR full. No milk, eggs, cheese, etc. Have margarine and skimmed milk available.
- Insure RM’s check out on Marine operator procedures. He will want to make ship to shore calls.
- Have late airlines schedules available to XOSR desk.
- Disconnect MC system, buzzers, dial-X. ringer in XOSR. DO NOT disconnect pantry call button. E Div. Officer see XO for details.
- Turn all MC speakers in the WR Country down to low, pleasant, but discernible level. He will talk to crew and it should be heard in Wardroom. IMC speaker outside XOSR disconnected.
- Ship’s force film badge and dosimeter Doctor deliver personally.
- Provide plenty of (SHIP’S NAME) stationary, envelopes, and pen available in XOSR desk.
- Do not pull in shore phone connection until last minute when getting underway and then with CO’s permission.
- Have foul weather jacket (Khaki) available in XOSR with jacket patch (leather name patch) and (SHIP’S NAME) patch. The jacket must be expendable.
- Rig for RED only when required by Standing Orders and with permission of OIC.
- Insure toilet articles such as soap, towels, etc. are available in XOSR.
- Insure at least 500 plain envelopes on board
- Insure latest weather reports are available immediately upon request.
- Insure stock of message blanks available in the XOSR desk. (Deliver to XO).
- Insure Engineer is in Engineering spaces any time Admiral is there.
- Insure bunk ready on barge for Admiral if he desires to use it. Be prepared to serve Sat.evening meal to Admiral and guests on the barge or boat if he desires.
- LT (NAME) should handle arrangements for departing.
- Insure brow hanging on crane on arrival. He may leave immediately.
- Have 2 stop watches available for Admiral in Maneuvering and one in XOSR. Flashlight in XOSR.
- Minimize use of 1MC. Emergencies and essential traffic only (and then use in a modulated unexcited voice).
- Have one yeoman available to take care of stenographic needs.
- Provide copy of local newspaper and Sunday’s New York Times (if possible) in XOSR. Also provide recent magazines (Time, U.S. News and World Report, Harpers, Newsweek, etc.)
- On scrams don’t fiddle around warming up mains. Get back on the line safely but quickly. Don’t forget to order a gravity taken.
- Provide dental floss in XOSR medicine cabinet. (Deliver to XO).
- Insure we have equipment for transfer to small boat.
- Have transportation sedan ready (on one minutes notice) clean, fueled, driver standing by, etc. (SO5 sedan).
- Be prepared for full camera coverage (Polaroid, 35121 and speedgraphics).
- Insure plenty good books and reading material available in XOSR and Wardroom (Librarian coordinate with XO).
- Insure embossing machine and at least three different colors of tape available. Provide plenty of tape.
- Check installation of flexowriters. Yea, XO and one Trial Alpha RM (Crypto Repair Trained) check out with Tech Rep. by Friday 10/23/
- Insure barber available in instant call with hair cutting equipment.
- Minimize use of Dial-X in Maneuvering.
- S.S. Pierce lemon drops.

I can confirm that, even in post-Rickover days, a local NR Rep will meet with the CO/XO/ENG before the NR Admiral gets underway on the ship for Alpha Trials. (I went through such a meeting before Alpha Trials for SSN 22.) We didn't get a checklist -- it was all verbal -- but it didn't include demands for free uniforms or hundreds of envelopes. The rep did tell us that the Admiral at the time seemed to like Diet Dr. Pepper.

Did you ever interact with ADM Rickover, or any of his successors?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

SSBN 730 (Blue) COB Masted, Relieved

From the Navy website:
The Blue Crew chief of the boat (COB) of the Trident ballistic missile submarine USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN 730) was relieved of his duties Aug. 15 after being found guilty of violating Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in a Captain's Mast proceeding at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.
Senior Chief Fire Control Technician (SS) Jason B. Vega-Cruz was awarded non-judicial punishment and was removed from his position by Cmdr. Jon Moretty, Blue Crew commanding officer, after a formal investigation substantiated allegations of involvement in an inappropriate relationship. Mbr /> Vega-Cruz, who had served as Blue Crew COB since July 2012, has been administratively reassigned to Naval Submarine Support Center Bangor.
Chiefs of the Boat are the senior enlisted leaders of Navy submarine commands and have a great deal of responsibility for their unit's assigned Sailors and their mission. They strengthen the chain of command by keeping the Commanding Officer aware of existing or potential issues of concern as well as procedures and practices which affect the mission, readiness, welfare and morale of the Sailors in the command.
I'll be honest... I'm glad they at least did the investigation and mast before he was relieved -- let the system play out before taking action.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Indian Submarine Suffers In-Port Explosion, Duty Section Feared Lost

Indian Kilo-class submarine INS Sindhurakshak (S63) suffered a series of onboard explosions shortly after midnight local time, and is apparently sunk at the pier. This article says that duty section of 18 men, including three officers (one the XO), has been declared dead.

The last article also featured speculation from a retired Indian submarine Admiral that a battery well hydrogen explosion triggered onboard ordnance.
Says Admiral Singh, “In the Kilo Class submarine, the ammunition compartment is located directly above the battery compartment, in the forward part of the vessel. A fire in the battery compartment could have ignited or detonated the ammunition on board.”
If it was a battery well explosion, it draws eerie parallels to a previous hydrogen explosion on the same boat in 2010 that killed one Submariner.

Staying at PD...

Update 2115 15 Aug: Here's an updated story listing the lost crew members names, and speculating that the more powerful explosions were onboard ordnance cooking off.

Update 1555 19 Aug: It looks like they're leaning towards an "ordnance cooking off somehow" explanation.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

USS New Mexico Returns From Deployment, Makes News

USS New Mexico (SSN 779) returned from her maiden deployment today; here's a video of the return:

The homecoming even made the national news! I've always had a commitment to discuss submarine issues that make the national news, so I figured I should comment on this one. The story from The Day has this controversial line: "The deployment was the first for the vessel as well as for 70 percent of the boat's 132-man crew, whose median age was 20". I'm not sure that statistic passes the common sense test; I'm gonna have to throw the bullshit flag on that one. Are they seriously saying, with all the training Submariners receive prior to getting to their first boat, that half of them were still 20 or under? With the propensity of the people in the demographic for potential submariners to at least try some college before joining the Navy? I'll have to see an audit of the crew records to believe that one.

Oh, and an MM2(SS) from the boat proposed to his boyfriend on the pier.

Looks like the boat got port visits in Norway, Scotland, and Spain. About average for what was probably a Northern Run.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

When A LT(j.g.) Gets A "Good Idea"

Navy Times has an article about a proposal on the USNI Blog from LT(j.g.) Zack Howitt to recognize the skimmers doing Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) missions. Excerpt from the initial blog post:
Of all the missions the Surface Navy does, Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) might be the least sexy. It involves sitting in a small box in the middle of the ocean for weeks, usually far away from land or even any commercial shipping traffic. Ships on station need to be in a specific engineering and combat systems configuration at all times so they can track or engage a target at a moments notice. This means there aren’t many opportunities for training, ship handling, gun shoots, swim calls, and other evolutions. Sometimes, a poor middle-of-the-ocean satellite uplink makes the internet unusable, and “River City” could be set (meaning the internet is turned off completely) for bandwidth constraints or upholding Operational Security (OPSEC) due to mission sensitivities. Depending on the ship’s heading and location, TV-DTS (the Navy’s satellite TV connection) could go down as well...
...What is needed is a real way to recognize BMD service to the fleet, starting with the most junior Sailor. In fact, we need to do more than recognize it; we need to make it prestigious among the Surface Warfare community. One platform with a comparable mission is the Strategic Ballistic Missile Submarine (SSBNs). Besides the fact that SSBN patrols are much more predictable in terms of deployment schedule, their missions are similar. Like BMD ships, they go on patrol for several weeks at a time, in a small box, at a secret location in the ocean, waiting for an order to shoot a missile that most likely will not come. However, because the Navy have taken basic steps to appreciate them in their past, the importance of their deterrence mission, as an integral part of the nuclear triad, is without question. SSBN Sailors are awarded a special uniform device, called the SSBN Deterrent Patrol Insignia (more popularly known as the “Boomer Pin”). This device is the only of its kind in the Navy and can be worn even in addition to their submarine warfare devices on all their uniforms...
...I believe BMD is worthy of having its own special uniform device like the Boomer Pin, but creating a new BMD Service Ribbon is more realistic since it would probably require less red tape to be implemented. Similar to the eligibilities of other service ribbons, one award of the BMD Service Ribbon could be given to all personnel who are on station for 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days over the span of one deployment or every one year if forward-deployed...
And here's some reaction from the Navy Times article:
A BMD badge, critics contend, smacks of being merely an award for good attendance.
“There are lots of long, boring, or constrained patrols out there that don’t get a service ribbon,” one active-duty USNI reader commented on the blog post. “If we used ‘painful but important’ morale-ribbon logic, we might justify a ribbon for everything from INSURV to painting.”
So what do you think of the young officer's idea? While we can chortle and guffaw at the poor skimmer crew that occasionally loses internet connectivity when we think of the "FamilyGram" concept, is there a chance he's on to something, and that this is the sort of "out-of-the-box" thinking that's need to fight and win wars in the 21st century? Feel free to pile on weigh in in the comments.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

USS Miami To Be Decommed

From The New London Day (may require premium access):
The Navy notified Congress on Tuesday it plans to stop repairing the USS Miami and remove the submarine from the fleet.
In April, the Navy discovered additional cracking on board the submarine, which was severely damaged after a civilian worker set a fire inside the submarine at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, in May 2012. The cost of the repairs increased from an estimated $450 million to $700 million, according to the Navy...
Staying at PD...

Update 1805 07 Aug: RADM Breckenridge explains the reasoning behind the decision. Excerpt:
The combination of these effects — sequestration effects in 2013 and the expanded scope of work — resulted in two adverse consequences: the bulk of the repair effort was pushed from FY 2013 to FY 2014, and the cost estimate increased from $450M to $700M.
Sequestration could levy a devastating burden on FY 2014 maintenance spending, causing the potential cancellation of up to 60 percent of scheduled availabilities. The shift in Miami repairs and the increased cost estimate means that without $390M in additional resources in FY 2014, funding the repairs would require cancellation of dozens of remaining availabilities on surface ships and submarines. The Navy and the nation simply cannot afford to weaken other fleet readiness in the way that would be required to afford repairs to Miami.