Richard D. Laning Jr. had an interesting article, in the July issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW, dealing with the Submarine Reserve. He raised a number of questions. I have no answers at present, but think it may be useful to review how the Submarine Reserve program came to be where it is today. That might provide a background for some in the active force to comment on the utility of the current Submarine Reserve, and what, if anything, they might suggest as a new approach.
In 1969 Reserve Units were focused around reserve status diesel submarines in various ports, which served to provide basic submarine qualification training. The Reserves regularly embarked in active diesel subs for underway training. Essentially the Reserve Unit Commander was told
“Act as ir it’s your submarine and carry out the scheduled operations. If I, the CO, or my watch-standers see that you or your men are about to do something dangerous, we will step in and take over. Otherwise it’s yours to operate.”
It was clear that reserve units were qualified to carry out their assigned mission of activating reserve diesel submarines and manning them in wartime as well as providing relief crews for diesel submarines.
At this time however, those missions were becoming less and less realistic. It was less and less likely that SSs would be activated from the mothball fleet in the future. Their acoustic sensors would be no match for newer Soviet submarines, and they themselves were noisy at best, even on the battery — because of lack of streamlining.The reality was that in a future war, relief crews would be needed for a much larger number of SSNs than for sse. It was obvious that the Submarine Reserve program was in need of modification to matoh it more closely to the active force so that it would be prepared to effectively support the active submarine force in wartime — a force of eventually all SSNs.
However there were problems in maintaining an adequate level of training of reserve nuclear submarine personnel. Admiral Rickover maintained such high standards of qualification for operators of naval nuclear power plants that it would be impossible to maintain personnel in that state without frequent training sessions either on active SSNs or on nuclear power plant simulators. The shortage of SSNs alluded to by Laning, and the high priority of other employments for their available operating time precluded the first possibility. Admiral Rickover’s lack of enthusiasm for nuclear power plant simulators effectively eliminated the second alternative. Given the full training loading of the various reactor prototypes, there was no possibility of relief there either. It was clear at that time that there was no realistic possibility of maintaining the qualification of submariners to operate nuclear power plants once they had left active duty.
The other part of the training problem involved advanced acoustic sensors and fire control systems. NAUTILUS and SEAWOLF, and the SKATE and SKIPJACK classes had basically the same sonars, fire control systems, and weapons as the TANG and BARBEL class diesel subs. However with advances to 594 and 637 class submarines, the newer sonar and fire control systems in those classes were entirely different and more capable than the newest SS systems. There was no way that proficiency in operation and maintenance of the more advanced systems could be maintained using existing Submarine Reservists.
What then might mobilization needs be? SSN relief crews would be needed. Their role, if WW experience was useful as a guide, would be to carry out refits while the regular crews were in rest and recuperation from their patrols. Therefore recent experience in submarine repair would be most appropriate.What about personnel for new construction SSNs? Whether any replacement SSNs could enter combat before the end of hostilities seemed unlikely. In any case there would be a fallback supply of nuclear submarine personnel in the second crews of SSBNs. In wartime, it appears that SSBNs might operate at far less than 100S personnel rotation after each patrol.
The possibility or a program of placing SSNs in a reserve status so that current systems would be available for reserve training has not been considered. SUch a proposal would be dismissed out of hand, because of the high demand for SSN time in high priority operations.
Attempts to recast the Submarine Reserve program into a new mold would move submarine reserve personnel into units associated with submarine bases and submarine tenders. This would take advantage of the submarine experience of former active duty personnel and utilize them in repair and other support functions. Although there is no doubt that you don’t require submarine qualified personnel for repair and support billets, those officers and men so qualified have leg up on unqualified personnel in doing the job, all other things being equal.
Gradually all the submarine reserve units have been changed over to base/tender support units and associated reserve training SS have been scrapped. Richard Laning made a number of points. The first three: that utilization or reserve submarine officers and enlisted men has been marginal (considering their level or experience in SSN operations and the cost or training them); that many submarine reserve billets have only a remote association with submarines; and that reserve submariners are stranded ashore. It ~ a loss of valuable submarine experience not to fully use that experience in the reserve component. Perhaps the pertinent question is, does the current Submarine Reserve program meet the mobilization needs of the active submarine force? If it does, then the stranding or reserve nuclear submarine personnel ashore may be a fact.
There probably can be made a case for more SSNs for wartime employment, either for patrol operations or for providing ASW training for our own forces. The POM, in the past at least, always called tor more submarines than were in approved force levels . But it seems unlikely that some older SSNs could be kept in a reserve training capacity, with a mission or maintaining reserve units qualified to operate them in wartime.
As for conventional submarines in a reserve training role, available SS suffer from the same lack or modern equipment which drove the change in direction or the reserve submarine program 19 years ago.
Enough on background. Richard Laning has aired an interesting topic. The active side of the submarine community might talk to the adequacy or the current Submarine Reserve Program to meet its mobilization needs.