As I complete 3 years in command of one our finest nuclear attack submarines, I have many thoughts that seem important–a few of which may be of interest to the readers of the Submarine Review.
PEOPLE. People come first to mind. The people today are superb! . . . both the officers and sailors. They seem to be a cut above the mold of the young men who entered the service in the early-seventies. Recognizing that there are ne’er-do-wells in today’s group, I think that today’s young men as a group exhibit a degree of patriotism, personal pride, and enthusiasm that was notably and painfully lacking a half-generation ago. Whatever the causes for the changes, I know that the young men I am serving with are doing their country proud, day after day-and mission after mission they have proven themselves to be most deserving of our respect and support.
SENSORS. The AN/BQQ-5 series sonar is a quantum jump forward from previous sonars and has provided today’s skippers with many tactical tools not readily available 10 years ago. Day-to-day tactical use of very long tracking ranges, very high speed tracking, and multiple contact tracking are but a few of these tools that have helped me to conduct missions that were both very successful and very exciting. On the other hand, I have noticed no great additions to my tactical tool bag from the changes in our ESM, RDF or radar sensors. True, the equipment has been updated, but the tactical impact of any increased equipment capabilities has not been significant in comparison to the sonar changes.
COMMUNICATIONS. The high-speed satellite communications systems have revolutioniz~:·d the submarine radio room. We no longer have the small, cramped radio receiving room that was energized three times a day to receive the submarine broadcast at tens of words per minute. Now we have the small, cramped Communications Center that is nearly always in action, processing both incoming and outgoing traffic at many times the speed and volume of a few years ago. The satellite has made it possible for the force commander to exercise effective operational control of a tactical encounter thousands of miles away, and to smoothly coordinate several submarines in support of a single or associated mission. The satellite has also made it possible for the force commander to talk to the skipper on scene, and it is pleasing that the boss has shown great restraint in this area. There has been no move in the direction of giving rudder orders from afar. Instead, the increased communications capabilities have been used to improve the support of the skipper on the scene.
WEAPONS. The MK-48 torpedo is a quantum jump forward from previous torpedoes. Its capabilities, and associated submarine tactics, are not adequately evaluated in fleet exercises because our firing signals would not be detected by the targets at normal firing ranges (they would, however, notice the torpedo in the real world). However, the MK-48 has been shown over the past few years to have shortcomings, and the skipper’s choice of firing position has been one of them. The addition· of the cruise missile (HARPOON) to the submarine arsenal over the past few years has been disappointing. Not only are we hampered by an apparent shortage of missiles, but the combination of small warhead and long range isn’t what I’ve needed in my task force encounters. At any rate, with the existing limitations of both HARPOON and the MK-48, the weapons area is in need of another quantum jump forward.
RICKOVER. The departure of Admiral Rickover has not changed the operations or effectiveness of the Division of Naval Reactors as viewed from my boat. It is still impressively responsive with technical assistance, and the nature of the information which skippers must provide to the organization remains essentially unchanged. The Fleet Commander’s Nuclear Propulsion Examining Board is still impressively effective in enforcing existing standards and in setting improved standards through the challenging annual examinations. The unique, direct communications between the 4-star boss and the 3-stripe skipper in the Naval Reactors chain has also not changed. There is still immediate, personal feedback provided in this channel in response to shipboard performances, both good and bad.
OPPORTUNITIES. Submarining today still provides great opportunities for personal achievement just as it still provides strong challenges that always test and sometimes exceed the capabilities of even the best skippers. Each area of a submarine’s operations–propulsion pl~nt, tactics, food service, intelligence collection, etc–still requires the day to day dedication of many talented people to make things work. Nothing is in automatic! The people, from the skipper on down, need daily training and skilled coordination of their efforts if the ship is to succeed. And the fruits of success are surely as sweet as they’ve ever been. Today’s submarine missions provide great levels of excitment and pride in success as a team working in a most demanding and hazardous environment. There is very much a feeling of service to country and of great challenge and opportunity evident in the crew of today’s submarine.
CAPT. KEN LEE, USN