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SSN FIRE CONTROL-THE NEED POR SYSTEMATIC TRAINING

A major problem in today ‘s submarine community is the blind faith of its people in machines and
their search for a panacea made of blinking lights and electronic wizardry. Humans are felt to be
fallible. Therefore glorious testaments to mechnical and computer ingenuity are fabricated and expected to not only replace the human mind but perform minor miracles. Machines are presumed
to automatically produce perfect solutions and perform flawless weapon presets. All this is expected–without human intervention. The MK 117 fire control system, for example. was envisioned by some as a complex machine that could do any thing.

Obviously this is an exaggeration. But the point is that this type of thinking–the worship of machines–overlooks the human element. Machines alone will not sink ships. High technology has not yet replaced training. If anything, the advent of the MK 117 has increased the training requirement for people involved in the fire control problem.

The October 1983 edition of Submarine Review carried a significant comment regardinn· the
introduction of the MK 117 fire control system: “A widespread conviction grew that training
facilities would not be required and that adequate training could be achieved on the job–but cooler
heads prevailed.” The controversy over training required for the MK 117 thus reflects a general
and still unresolved problem in SSN fire control training: the lack of a coherent, systematic
approach to training. There are those who tend to ignore the need for training–the believers in the
“spontaneous training” theory. (This theory holds that a sailor, when placed within five feet of a
weapon control console, will form a symbiotic relationship with the machine–resulting in
instantaneous training through electromagnetic osmosis.)

Even among those who acknowledge the need for training, however, there appears to be little
consensus regarding the type and depth of training required. The current status of SSN fire control
training is reminiscent of a huge jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. It is a fragmentation of training efforts. Land-based training, on-board training, and implementation training all occur, but with little integration and little coherence. There may be a “quickie” crash introduction to new software with the introduction of changes to equipment on board; classroom training may or may not be adequate or timely; on-board training may be extensive or nominal. Because of this training hodgepodge, the difference in relative level of fire control expertise among submarines can be significant. There is nothing to ensure uniformity.

Fragmented training is not necessarily a shipboard phenomenon, however. Thanks to Admiral Rickover, personnel involved with the nuclear propulsion plant receive systematic, rigorous training and assessment both on land and at sea.

An emphasis on performance assurance is a matter of common sense. The engineering readiness of an
SSN must be high in order to support the ship’s mission and ensure its safety. It is ironic, however, that while enormous effort is expended to ensure that personnel are capable of operating and
maintaining the equipment needed for SSNs to operate, we do not place equal emphasis on whether
or not these submarines can perform the major task for which they exist–to destroy the enemy.

School Training

Fire control training at the classroom level faces several obstacles. First there is the problem of scheduling classes to coincide with hardware and software. Fire control training may consequently occur much later or much earlier than practical. Second, school training results in a reduction of available fleet manpower along with signifiant dollar costs. Costs in turn mean constraint on the time used for schooling. With time a scarce commodity, there is a continuing trade-off between the amount of knowledge to be taught and the time available to teach it. It is possible then for enlisted personnel to emerge from a fire control course twirling encoders on the fire control console to create a perfect dot stack of estimated position dots producing a solution involving target course. speed and range.
yet not grasp the relationship between the dot stack and the reality it represents. Similarly.
an officer who has completed a HK 117 training program may understand the theory behind the
machine yet not be able to efficiently use the encoders–since adequate training time was not
available.

Adequate training encompasses far more than familiarizing an individual with concepts and
equipment. It includes the time spent reinforcing that training, applying the knowledge and skills
derived from different types of scenarios. Reinforcement training requires time. but unfortunately this type of training must often be sacrified in order to first develop basic skills.

None of this is an indictment of the instructors nor the training methods used at the schools. It
is merely a recognition of time constraints. Schools alone cannot be held totally responsible for meeting the needs of fire control training. Rather, there must be a coordination of land and sea training efforts through a systematic approach to integrating these two types of training.

On-board Training

The SSN community has an on-board fire control training package SORAT (Submarine Operational
Readiness Assessment and Training) which addresses individual through team training on the plots and the MK 81 console. This program, however, is used at the discretion of the individual submarine CO. The wardroom’s dedication to training governs the level of training effort. The SORAT fire control
package may lie dormant in the bowels of some submarines for years, its existence acknowledged
only by the fire control technician who brushes the dust off long enough to insert material changes.

A multitude of reasons are given for shunning structured fire control training. Such reasons
range from “It’s too difficult to set up a team exercise” to “We don’t have time,” In fact. the “We don’t have time” chant is heard so often that one begins to wonder if its memorizing is required. It indeed may be a true statement; but then something is definitely wrong. A serious distortion of priorities has taken place if requirements for supporting the ship’s mission (administrative duties, engineering, etc.) have been allowed to overwhelm requirements for performing that mission. What good is an attack
submarine that can’t track and destroy the enemy? The fact remains that a high training priority and
effect! ve training sys.tem are required. There should be no waiting until a war is threatened before priorities are restructured.

Of course, it may be felt that the operational experience and training gained in at sea exercises
sufficiently fill a submarine’s training needs and consequently a structured training program is not
required. This assumption however has several shortfalls. First, operational experience is a matter of opportunity; with the acquisition of critical knowledge and skills fragmented and likely to be deficient. Further, this approach relies heavily on the training expertise and knowledge level of the crew members who happen to be available. In short, operational experience alone lacks a systematic approach as well as control required to ensure that adequate training occurs and that a submarine reaches a satisfactory level of combat readiness. Periodic operational training also has limitations. There are the constraints imposed by artificial exercise conditions and limited geography for the
exercises. Budgetary considerations and scheduling problems also enter the picture. Further, operational training involves the participation of the entire submarine. It does not lend itself to the careful training of an individual crew member nor does it account for the training of all members of a particular team.

Sometimes, fire control training on board is inadequate because the wardroom believes that its
crew has had adequate classroom training. “They spent two months at the trainer.” “My 11en have
been to MK 117 school.” This is all too often a faulty assumption. First, classroom training cannot be expected to completely fill the training requirement. Second, even if sufficient time and resources existed for thorough classroom training, refresher training would still be a necessity. Skills are lost when not used regularly. Training is an on-going process and skills require constant practice. For example, the officer who mans the MK 81 console only at times when his ship goes to battle stations will not be able to maintain a high skill level without regular refresher training.

Submarines where relevant regular fire control training is conducted can be easily distinguished
from their counterparts which satisfy a requirement for fire control training through having occasional lectures. Such disparity in training effort can be attributed to many causes ranging fro~ ingrained philosophies to a lack of accountability. But the net effect is the same–a lack of unifor~ fire control expertise among submarines.

A key component of the problem lies in the isolation of the various training elements. Each of the training areas–classroo~ training, on-board structured training, operational training–exist as separate entities . There has been no systematic attempt to int grate the training elements. Hence, this lack of integration means that the role of on-board training is ill-defined in relation to the large
training effort. How can on-board training ~eet the fleet’s training needs unless coordination of
efforts between the training co~munities occur?

These obvious problems in achieving adequate training also suffer fro~ subtle obstacles grounded in human perception and attitudes.

Equipment versus Training

Consider that famous line muttered by all self-respecting submariners: “In my day, all we needed for a fire control solution was an angle on the bow, a bearing, and bearing rate. ” Today, however, the Mk 117 has made the fire control problem¬† significantly more complex than that. The Mk 81 operator is now inundated with hundreds of pieces of data to sift. through, multiple modes to consult, and numerous weapon presets to be made. Does he understand how the data fits together? Does he know which pieces can be safely ignored or which are crucial? Does he know when or how to utilize data from a differenct mode? This is far ~ore than his predecessors had to cope with. Not only has the equipment failed to replace the person, it has put significant new requirements on a person’s skills.

The Navy spends billions on equipment, yet when dollars are short, it is training that is sacrificed. Equipment is visible evidence of money spent; you can reach out and touch it. Equipment is exciting, impressive, something which is documented. Either it works or it doesn’t and either the money was well-spent or the product is inferior. You can’t do this with training, however. Training is an intangible that takes place over time. You cannot reach out and examine a man’s brain to reveal where the money has gone. You have not exchanged dollars for something you can touch. Therein lies the rub.

But even when adequate training dollars have been budgeted, the nebulous nature of training makes it vulnerable to budget cuts with the rationalization that training can “always be conducted somewhere else.” The “somewhere else”, of course, rarely materializes.

Additionally, to ensure that training money has been well spent it is necessary to assess people. And this is another area of controversy. There are those who believe that assessment is required–that there must be some method of evaluating the current status of submarine combat readiness to ensure a preparedness for war. There are others who fear that the word “assess” is a six-letter word with a four-letter meaning. Without assessment, however, training dollars are difficult to justify. How then can the need and its outcome be documented?

Complacency

There is an attitudinal problem which arises from an assumption of technological superior! ty. Such complacency adds to the problem of achieving an adequate training emphasis in fire control. There are at least two serious flaws with this assumption, however. First, as stated earlier, tehnological superiority ultimately relies on the humans who exploit it. The Mk 117, for example, may have capabilities that exceed those of an enemy’s fire control system. But without adequately trained personnel who can exploit the system’s capabilities, the advantages of better technology are reduced if not eliminated. It can no longer be assumed that the U.S. has marked technological superioity in submarines. To do so in dangerous. The technological advantages previously enjoyed may be gradually diminishing. As the technological edge continues to narrow, the key to combat superiority will more and more result from training. Our submariners must be better trained than their adversary, better able to utilize equipment capability, and better able to collate information and then respond rapidly.

To accomplish this, a well-structured, cohesive training concept is necessary–with programs that ensure integrated, systematic training on land and at sea. Unless the required investments of time, money, and effort are made for training our fire control personnel, the millions spent on machines will have been squandered and our technological advantage seriously reduced, with our submarine force far less effective than supposed.

F. BAIRD

Naval Submarine League

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