“Major command” is a term that as a young midshipman conjured up thoughts of battleships, cruisers and carriers as a stepping-stone to Flag. Those thoughts were tucked in the deep recesses of my mind as I attacked the important tasks at hand — getting through Nuclear Power School, Prototype, Sub School, qualifying in submarines, qualifying as a nuclear engineer, qualifying for command while running an onboard division, department, or being the Executive Officer. During the latter part of my first twelve years in the Navy, I felt I was going to reach the goal or every line officer — command at sea. So simultaneously I rekindled the thought or “major command.”
Just where did today’s submariners go for their Flag ticket?
In the diesel-boat era it frequently meant surfacing to get a cruiser or amphib group because of the limited number of submarine squadron commands. But today such options are closed to the nuclear submariner. By the early sixties, moreover, the submarine force was absorbing the best and brightest prospects or the Navy, who after a shore tour or a second command tour on a first generation Polaris submarine were hopefully going to go on to command of a squadron. There, of course was, what appeared to be a second echelon major command, — the submarine tender — from which a token few might be selected for Flag. During this heyday of submarining, with many or the top Academy and NROTC midshipmen and conscripts from the surface community being brought into the submarine force, there was no shortage or top-notch talent for the submariners” fair share or Flag selections.
However, as the number or nuclear submarines grew and the number or squadrons and tenders remained essentially constant, the opportunity for a major command, and therefore eligibility for Flag, dwindled.
The advent or a second generation strategic weapons system, i.e. the TRIDENT, made a major command. Based on the fire-power and overall cost or this platform this seemed clearly warranted. But was the submarine community ready to believe that TRIDENTs were truly a major afloat command?
To many, TRIDENTs were only another submarine command. With about the same size crew, more but similar equipment, the same training requirements, etc., they garnered no greater respect in some circles than any other submarine command — and they certainly were not considered on a par with squadron or tender commands. This was brought to view when I had an opportunity to read a fitness report or a Captain who was leaving a TRIDENT command. Its words essentially said that this man’s sterling performance indicated that he was ready “to assume a major command.” What should have been meant, in reality, was another major command.
Is another type or major command necessary, and will the submarine force be able to sustain TRIDENTs as a major command when nominally twenty TRIDENTs, requiring forty captains, become a reality in the 1990s?
The first question as to whether TRIDENTs were recognized as a major afloat command was seemingly answered by the clear recognition or TRIDENT as a major command with the selection of Captain Richman to flag rank. He had evidently served his major command as a TRIDENT Commanding Officer. While, the current assignment of post TRIDENT Commanding Officers are now to positions heretofore reserved for post Squadron Commanders or tender Commanding Officers,
The answer to the second question is not so apparent, especially with the current nadir in the ranks of eligible submarine Captains and most post command Commanders — to fill the many required billets. It is however believed that the desire to remain on active duty and assume TRIDENT command has been intensified with the new bonus arrangement and the clear indication that post TRIDENT Commanding Officers are competitors for Flag.
As a recent TRIDENT Captain, I can heartily support TRIDENT as a major command — based on the principle that the strategic deterrent posture for the United States into the 21st century is structured around the TRIDENT. As such it deserves the same consideration and recognition as other submarine major commands.