In the era of Star Wars technology and artificial intelligence, the subject of automation sounds pedestrian. Have not decades of submarine command-control development brought with it a highly automated, well-tuned fighting machine? Perhaps so, if one is content to compare a submarine to a battle cruiser. But any comparison between the levels of automation in the B-1 bomber and in a submarine would show the submarine to be unusually manpower intensive. Certainly there exist differences in task complexity and costbenefit relationships between the two fighting machines, but, can we assert that our utilization of men in submarines reflects sound practice in our current technological environment?
The answer to the above question is, certainly not! There exists an important difference between submarines and aircraft that was not mentioned — cultural differences. differences that overpower the rational analysis and the subsequent application of modern technology to ships and submarines. It will be extremely difficult to place this discussion on an objective plane, since a cultural bias is closely held and the contemplation of a cultural revolution may be seen as heresy. Yet any discussion of advances in submarine control through task automation will be a waste of time unless the cultural issues embedded in shipcentered navies are faced. In fact, the cultural foundation of our ship-centered navy is absurd! No objective system designer, starting from a clean board and working within a competitive market, would propose such an irrational employment of human skills. The performance and cost penalties would be all too obvious. These penalties have not been exposed because ship system designers neither start from a clean board nor, more importantly, work within a competitive environment. Aircraft are finely tuned fighting machines that blend the skills of man and machine because aircraft are designed and fought within an open and competitive environment.
The cultural biases embedded in naval shipcentered design may be stated as follows:
- Ship officers shall not exercise hands-on control of systems; and
- All enlisted men shall both operate and maintain systems.
Yes, there may be some exceptions to the above, but the tradition prevails. An officer exercises control through others. His job has no meaning unless he is surrounded by men. Officer performance is judged in terms of his presence, his choice of orders, and his verbal clarity in delivering these orders. In this sense, officers are cast in the role of back-seat drivers, which would be suicidal in a race car or in an aircraft about to make a landing on an aircraft carrier. The man at the controls not only must operate under the shadow of a back-seat driver, but he must double as a qualified mechanic as well.
The origins of culture are found in history. Through a historical perspective a given practice may be found to be appropriate. Thus, in the time of sailing ships we had conditions that justified the practices which we have inadvertently continued. Then, control actions required muscle. Maneuvers were slow, man power was cheap. maintenance was unsophisticated, and the addition of quarters did not penalize ship performance. The more men the better. A heavily manned ship could rally more close-in Cire power, absorb greater attrition, repair damage more quickly, and organize a greater number of prize crews. Shipcentered navies became famous Cor busy-work which included both watch standing and maintenance tasks. As new technologies were introduced, the old culture remained. With the introduction of steam power, engineering crews were added, each man being required to stand operational watches and to maintain the engines. The introduction of torpedoes, radios, radar, and guided missiles followed in the same pattern. The design of today’s fighting ship is the result or a bottom-up process wherein the hull serves as a base upon which are assembled a collection or subsystems, each with its own operator-mechanics. The system design does not emerge until a set of printed operational manuals are prepared and distributed. These manuals cover a number of routine and emergency situations and suggest a script for the dialog between the officers and the men at the controls. For example, for a submarine shipcontrol system, should the man operating the stern planes find that the controls are jammed, he is to report: “STERN PLANES JAMMED ON _____ DEGREES DIVE.” The Officer of the Deck takes up dialog from that point. The OD announces: “BACK THE MAIN YARDS” -no, that last order is wrong, we are in the twentieth century, aren’t we?
A critical penalty associated with the belief that enlisted men should both operate and maintain systems is the requirement Cor watch standing: any single operational station requires three men rather than one. It is instructive to consider how a typical nuclear submarine watch stander distributes his time during an average, 10-hour work day. The figure below shows the fraction or time a watch stander spends performing each or seven classes of activities. Of these seven, the vital functions are OPERATION, PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE, and CORRECTIVE MAINTENANCE. This data shows that only 20 percent of the watch standers’ time is devoted to operating tasks and that 19 percent of their time is applied to maintenance. Thus only 39 percent of this teams’s effort is allocated to the vital activities. CONNING, SUPERVISION, MONITORING, and RECOHD/LOG keeping are secondary functions which can absorb man-hours substantially out of proportion to their contribution to ship performance. These activities account for 61 percent of the watch standing manpower. Perhaps these percentages are not startling, but these numbers were developed for a 36-man watch and a crew of 108 watch standers. These men contribute 1080 man-hours of work per day, a value equivalent to a one-half man-year of work in civilian life. This effect is even more spectacular in Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines — since these ships provide for not only three watches but two crews as well. Let us for the moment assume that the manning requirements for maintenance remain constant. From the above percentages then, we would find that a ship would require only 20 maintenance-qualified men. This leads to the question: “Do we really need 88 more watch standers on board, the majority of which are maintenance-qualified, to operate the ship?” This question can only be answered by setting aside the ship-centered, make-work culture and addressing matters of operational design from a clean board. It is through this process that the potential for automation in submarines will become clear. It does take much courage to project a reduction in manning requirements between a factor of two and four. But the central issue is not manpower reduction; that is simply the byproduct of sound system design.
If the submarine is to become a well-tuned fighting machine, it must be addressed as a system design beginning with a clean board, and within a competitive environment, devoid of any shipcentered cultural bias! This design process would start with the identification of the objectives of command, followed by an exploration of the performance parameters which serve to support the objectives. The system would be · tailored operationally so that COMMAND IS IN CONTROL. Today’s “command-control” systems are cover-ups for the failures of the ship-centered culture. Through operational design, decisions concerning the relationship between man and automation will come naturally. Voice communication will supplement, rather than dominate, the control functions. An operational crew devoid of backseat drivers and off-duty mechanics will emerge. Operational effectiveness and ship safety would be enhanced. Further, with a dedicated maintenance team, the quality maintenance will be equally upgraded. This alternate manning concept parallels that of aircraft with a flight crew and a ground crew. In submarines the ground crew, of course, would be required to go along on the mission.
The proposed undertaking is objectively straight forward; subjectively it may range between the difficult and impossible.The payof should be spectacular!
John s. Leonard
(Ed. Note: The Soviet’s 43-knot ALFA — a well automated, 3700-ton nuclear attack submarine -was reportedly designed to be operated by 17 men 16 officers and one rating. Jane’s Fighting Ships 1986-97 however lists her complement as 40.