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ALBACORE was the Navy’s high-speed, experimental submarine with the whale-like hull,driven by a very large propeller and a specially designed high-capacity silver zinc battery.

Paralleling the ALBACORE tests and trials in the late 1950s were those of two British high-speed, hydrogen-peroxide research submarines. Much rapport developed between the American and British submarine forces over these three submarines, and not a little bit of competition, too. So, we had a marvelous exchange of data and human experience to rely upon, as these research submarines went through their high-speed operations.

There is a similarity between aircraft and submarine “flight” in that each vehicle performs tri-axially in ita operational envelope. This flight character is predictable in a specific mode of operation with the control system positioned at certain settings at an established speed over a specific period of time.

For example, underwater tests conducted by ALBACORE showed that when she was moving at very high speeds — over 30 knots — maintenance of a satisfactory path through the water required considerable skill, anticipation and automation.

An aircraft conducting similar maneuvers, like high-speed turns, experience changes in flight performance, but not exactly similar to those of the ALBACORE. This is due to differences in the lift dynamics involved.

Turning back to the modern high-speed submarine, we find similarities between its control concepts and those of multi-engine aircraft. While there are significant differences in speed and size between the submarine and the aircraft, they become more equal for computerized control purposes if the limited operating envelope of the submarine is considered. How submarines will perform in their operating envelopes and their predictability, seem related to the lessons I learned about control systems for high-speed submarines — when I was commanding officer of the ALBACORE, some thirty years ago.

The naval architects of the USS ALBACORE provided her with specially designed control surfaces and a fully automated control system so that she could be used in high speed maneuvering tests, acoustic evaluations and tactics. Her controls were designed for operation with one to four men, with or without selected automation. We learnec to prefer a single operator or possibly two men. using full automation.

Most of ALBACORE’s high-speed submerged operations under varying situations were intended to provide information which formed the basis not only of how similarly configured combat nuclear submarines would perform within their operating envelopes, but also to establish the parameters of the best man-machine relationship.

Before ALBACORE’s tests of her automated ship control system, the wardroom officers went up to Lakehurst to fly in blimps and learn how to use a one-operator fully automated flight control system which had many similarities with the system installed in ALBACORE. Then, prior to ALBACORE going to sea to test a program, the David Taylor Model Basin calculated the event and determined with considerable accuracy what was probably going to happen. Of course, in those days of the midand late 1950’s, computers though not as capable as those of today, still gave consistently good results.

One test trial was with ALBACORE traveling at a certain depth at speeqs in excess of twenty-five knots; go into a thirty degree dive, and when a specified rate of descent was reached, to reverse propulsion or controls. At times in this maneuver, we took heels of over forty degrees with down angles around fifty degrees — learning from this important lesson about ship equipment and human performance.

It was evident that ALBACORE performed significantly better with automated controls programmed by a single operator than she did with a standard four-man team of diving officer, helmsman, bow planesman and stern planesman. In fact, a very intelligent, alert and well-trained person — using man override of the automated controls — assured that there would be no human failures due to lack of coordination or human slowness of reaction.

Recovery from high-speed malfunctions provided another lesson. We learned that use of full-rudder in high-speed maneuvers could, if applied quickly, stall the ship out to a safe recovery position.

Later, in other tests and exercises at sea, we found that in automated flight ALBACORE was frequently quieter than when in a manual-operator control mode. We found also that when operating at high speeds the ship’s sonar detection range of certain surface and submerged targets was somewhat longer than when in human operator control mode.

Using this experience and knowledge, and relating it to operations against ASW forces, particularly the tracking and attack of high-speed destroyers, ALBACORE was operated deep, at top speed and with single-operator, fully-automatic control. Targets were quickly closed, ALBACORE was brought smartly to periscope depth, the target was locked in, firing was simulated and then ALBACORE was spun on her tail to go after other destroyers.

If conditions were considered just right, ALBACORE was moved into an optimum position relative to the target. In such a situation, while holding the speed and maneuverability advantage, ALBACORE could fire at very close range with low relative bearing change — or might scoot under the target releasing simulated verticallylaunched missiles, at very short range.

ALBACORE’s Executive Officers were trained to be at the controls during high-speed operations. Both Lou Urbanczyk and Ted Davis, became highly proficient single operators and I, as commanding officer, prized their abilities. We worked as a team. I concentrated on the fire control problem and they on the ship in its tactical moves to complete the action. If we were doing tests or dangerous trials, the highly qualified single operator using fully-automated ship control was always uniform in performance and steady as a rock.

I recall an exercise in the deep water off Key West in which ALBACORE was pitted against SARSFIELD, another destroyer, and overhead VPs and blimps. We had superb results to the enjoyment of ALBACORE guests, the CNO, Admiral Arleigh Burke, and Lord Louie Mountbatten, First Sea Lord. In this engagement, ALBACORE closed the destroyers at high-speed and fired “green flares” against both, went deep, skirted the MAD and sound buoy barrier and arrived at the Sea Buoy ahead of schedule, returning to port undetected.

From our experiences on ALBACORE and those of her other commanders, we learned how to best exploit and use speed, people, and ship controls. Later as submarine division commander of nuclear submarines PLUNGER and sister subs, we tried some aggressive but fundamental single-operator, automated ship control tactics in fleet exercises and in some special situations. The interest of Will Adams and the other skippers was high, but unfortunately we were limited by policy and automated controls which were less flexible than those of the ALBACORE.

A recap of what this ALBACORE experience demonstrated shows that in any environment in which vehicles perform — space, atmosphere or underwater — the vehicle operator can be provided the predictability of performance of his platform. Consequently, he knows what actions to take to maintain the desired performance or correct or overcome any abnormal ship behavior caused by an irrational element in the control loop.

For instance, the irrational behavior of an electrical, photonic or mechanical unit  due to degradation or failure is correctable through fault-sensing-correcting or redundant element features in the control loop.

Irrational conduct or malperformance in a control loop is overcome by either someone else’s override or in sophisticated control loops by machines which sense such faults and through offsetting features provide prompt reaction.

What I found to be difficult to counter in an irrational inductive situation in the control loop was when the vehicle operated beyond the boundary of safety. This condition continues to exist for both aircraft and submarines when the vehicle structure passes through recovery altitude. In the case of an aircraft it crashes into something, or a submarine passes through crush depth resulting in structural collapse. To prevent ALBACORE from being endangered near the boundary we had certain prescribed procedures.

Theoretically, to emulate performance predictabilities, when irrational behavior influences are induced, modeling or simulating with machines can be first used before operations are conducted with programs designed to experience what is desired to happen. Later, under known and programmed conditions the machine in flight or under sea will then perform in a uniformly consistent manner in carrying out prescribed control functions.

On the other hand, individual operator performance is difficult to emulate with models or simulating machines because each human is different. The differences vary widely depending on individual physical, emotional, mental and cultural characteristics as well as the level of training and discipline of the individual operator in the control loop. We have not as yet been able to establish dependable “measurements of human effectiveness.” It is possible, however, to have some confidence in what an operator might do in certain situations if the human’s norm of experience is established over a long period of time.

However, even this human norm will react erratically or differently under stress  and fatigue conditions.

But, the problem of predicting human performance in the control-loop emulation through simulation grows increasingly complex if more than one operators’ characteristics are placed in the control system. The system’s performance obviously becomes more variable and, thus, less consistent. If a human supervisor is placed over several operators in the control system, then performance certainly becomes even less predictable.

In simple control situations such as moderate steady speed in flight, automated control with human override is superior to human control alone because well-designed, and tested machines do not get fatigued, bored or distracted as do humans. Machines can be programmed to carry out uniformly specific functions if the situation is then interrupted suddenly. In addition, the need for assurance of predictability of flight is why a single-operator automated system is used to control air and spacecraft regardless of mission, platform size or flight environment. As aircraft become more maneuverable and faster, their designers turn to higher-performance control machines to offset: human limitations in sensing and reacting, a lack of uniformity or performance, and, limited adaptability to performing multiple requirements simultaneously. Today, aircraft operations transition smoothly through takeoff, normal flight, maneuvering and landing, as these functions are accomplished with man-machine systems.

It is interesting to note the new control concepts for future jet fighter aircraft. The Soviets are experimenting with ground-to-air programmed control for the fighter aircraft, freeing the pilot to do other functions. In the newest of U.S. fighter designs, computers will fly the plane at speeds beyond human reaction capabilities, the pilot can intervene up to a point as needed.

Many years have passed since the days of ALBACORE, but I have always maintained a strong interest in automation and tactics. The development of better control systems and expert knowledge computers have helped to improve the predictability of performance of vehicles in which they are employed.

I believe that someday a nation with nuclear submarines capable of diving to over 4000 feet while traveling at speeds in excess of forty knots will be “flown” with automatic controls with pilot override. Such submarines will maneuver at low risk and more effectively than others more restrained. Such boldly operated and capable submarines will not face the inherent dangers and limitations of multi-operator controls. Rather, they will be the best in their environment.

Vice Admiral Jon L. Boyes, USN(Ret.)

Naval Submarine League

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