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In Admiral McKee’s remarks at the Submarine League Symposium on 9 July 1987, he made the point that there’s more to submarine warfare than just ASW, _and he challenged the audience to begin an examination of fundamental laws or commandments of submarine warfare. In the course of his presentation Admiral McKee identified what he considered to be four basic axioms:

  • Remain undetected.
  • Shoot first  and  at  short
  • Maintain  propulsion.
  • Know your  ship.

This article uses Admiral McKee’s remarks as a starttng point to initiate what should turn into an interesting, long-term dialogue in the pages of THE SUBMARINE  REVIEW.

Remain undetected. Whether a submarine’s mission is strategic deterrence, antisubmarine warfare, antisurface warfare, land attack, sur-veillance, swimmer delivery, minelaying, trans-port, or a host of other possible employment options, a submarine has the most freedom of action when no one is certain of exactly where it is. A submarine must have quietness built into it, be properly maintained, and be operated in a quiet, stealthy manner. The Commanding Officer must be aware of the enemy’s various means of detecting his submarine and operate so as to minimize all of them.

Shoot  first  and  at  short  range. The ship that shoots first has the advantage: be has a weapon in the water and the other ship is in a reactive mode .The  target ship’s  immediate concern becomes self-preservation. A counter-attack is more of an afterthought and the further away you are when you shoot, the longer the weapon runs  and  thus  increases  its  chance  of detection.

Maintain propulsion. It’s a vitally important concept, but I’m not sure I agree with Admiral McKee’s including it as an axiom of submarine  warfare:  I think it more rightly belongs as “the first law of submarine engineering.”

Know your ship. Knowing your ship is the first step in being able to efficiently fight your ship, and it’s critical to survival in case of battle damage.

Admiral McKee stopped after discussing the preceding axioms, and challenged his listeners to develop more. Here, then, are several more inputs:

  • Know your people,  and  treat  them fairly.
  • Know your enemy.
  • Train as frequently and as realistically as possible.

Know your people. and treat them fairly. The major difference in performance between submarines is due to a human  factor: how  well  the  leaders are  leading.

The detailing process results in a random distribution of talent throughout the submarine force. Those ships that do well seem to be superior because their people are better motivated to excel. This motivation comes from positive leadership — by leaders who are comfortable in positions and who take time to know their people. A man’s attitude towards his assignment may be formed before be even settles onboard — what he’s heard about the ship’s reputation, what “welcome aboard” help he’s received, bow smoothly he’s checked aboard when be reports, and the impressions he gains as be meets the ship’s leaders. Motivating a man during this critical period is extrememly important, but so is a continuing and genuine concern for his well-being and that of his family. The co, XO and COB need to frequently tour the ship, both in port and at sea, talking with the crew about their specific jobs, and about their concerns. Division officers, chiefs. and other senior petty otricers should be genuinely concerned about their people and their equipment. If there’s a critical job in progress or some division is working a major project over a week-end, the key leaders should be concerned enough to come to the scene for first hand reports and to lend encouragement (and insight). When your people know you’re genuinely concerned about them, they’ll go out or their way to meet or exceed your expectations.

Unfortunately, besides strengths, people have weaknesses: A good leader knows the limitations of his people and plans accordingly. A relatively inexperienced OOD should be backed up with an experienced Chief of the Watch. A weak Fire Control Technician or the Watch should be supervised by a sharp OOD, and so rorth. Thus, if each watch section is confronted with a similar challenge, they each perform equally as well, since an insightful leader has balanced their strengths and weaknesses.

One   item  which  is extremely important in dealing with a group or people is fairness. Both the appearance and the reality of fairness need to be scrupulously maintained at all times, or the crew will be fractured with internal discontent. There are no secrets on a submarine.

Know your enemy. You have to study the enemy’s history, learn the details of his equipment, and try to put yourself in his shoes. Recall the scene from the movie Patton the night before Patton was to engage Rommel in the North African desert. Asked why he was so confident of victory in the forthcoming battle, Patton replied, “Because I’ve read his bookl” It’s too late to learn the characteristics of Soviet torpedoes when sonar reports “torpedo in the water.” An ESM report of “Weteye, signal strength four” should elicit an immediate response from an OOD, plus call . up in his mind a matrix of possible platforms and their threat to him. Forewarned is ~orearmed, and the more we learn about our potential enemies now, the safer we’ll be in the long run.

Train  as  frequently  and  as  realistically as possible. The submariners of WW II had a source of motivation we’re lacking today — a lot of their friends had gone out on patrol and never returned. You can’t wait to train until a war’s about to start, or assume that your firefighting skills carry over from the last underway. The key to successful performance is training, and a prime ingredient in worthwhile training is realism. Unlike athletes, who train to participate in a given event on a certain date, a submarine crew needs to be ready to handle a ~ull spectrum of tactical and emergency situations any time, day or night. If all the fire drills are conducted in the engineroom, how well will the crew handle a real fire in the torpedo room or sonar equipment space? We ought to train and drill as if our lives depended upon it. Someday they might.

I had originally thought about entitling this article “The Ten Commandments of Submarine Warfare,” but adding my own ideas to Admiral McKee’s still leaves us two short. Are there more fundamental commandments of submarine warfare? I look forward to seeing these themes developed in subsequent issues of the SUBMARINE REVIEW.

Naval Submarine League

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