Submarine Officers are by definition warfare specialists. They are trained to fight and their readiness to go to war has not been questioned. The ability of the United States Navy to send almost its entire submarine fleet to sea on very short notice has been proven in major exercises. This demonstrates that the material readiness of the submarines is high. But what of the tactical readiness of the wardrooms?
Submarines are manned almost one hundred percent by nuclear trained officers. Their history of operating nuclear reactors is exemplary and this gives them the sometimes affectionate nickname of “Nukes”. The real question that needs to be asked is, can these nuclear-trained officers also be just as effective submarine warriors. Or more simply put, “Arc they Submariners or Nukes?”
Today’s submarine officers are, from the very start of their careers, classed as Nuclear Officers. Their training begins at Nuclear Power School for 6 months and at a Nuclear Power Prototype for another 6 months. Finally, prospective submarine officers arrive at the Submarine Officers Basic Course. Only then do they actually learn something, albeit very little, about the art of operating a submarine. The Basic Course teaches submarine officers about the basic systems, organization, management, and operations of a submarine and touches on the basic tactics involved in operating a submarine during peacetime and against a hostile enemy.
After the Basic Course, young junior officers report to their first submarine with enough knowledge about nuclear power plant design and their operations, yet they are invariably sent into the engine room to qualify as Engineering Officers of the Watch. Three months later, they emerge as qualified EOOWs and attempt to gain knowledge of the rest of the ship to further their qualifications.
The qualification process leads a junior officer to becoming a Diving Officer of the Watch, Surfaced Officer of the Deck, Ship’s Duty Officer and then seven months later, the proces of qualifying as an actual Submerged Officer of the Deck begins. For the junior officer, the total time which it takes to complete all of these and the final submarine qualifications is about thirteen months. The junior officer is exposed to some tactical information and operations — about the same amount as a driver education student is exposed to freeway driving. The qualification process gives the young officer a minimum 1mowledge of the submarine and during his at sea evaluation he is tested on his safe-operating abilities. Rarely is there a test of the junior officer’s ability to fight the submarine. Once the junior officer proves he is a safe operator, he is awarded the gold dolphins.
The junior officer considers this a major achievement and then begins to focus his attention on administrative matters. The major reason for this is that his C.O. views the newly qualified officer as no longer being burdened with qualifications and thus is able to handle a larger share of the paperwork. It is then up to the junior officer to take advantage of his new found freedom and apply himself to learn everything he can to become a real submarine warfare specialist. The junior officer, on his own, needs to increase his knowledge of tactics and become the warfare specialist that everyone expects. This requires extensive effort on the part of the individual. The average junior officer will find himself becoming overly involved in the actual operations of a division and this can take most of his time. But, the junior officer should count on his Chief Petty Officer to run the division properly while he serves in a supervisory capacity — thereby freeing himself to study and learn tactics. This gives the junior officer a chance to learn the art of submarining.
Throughout his time onboard his first submarine, the junior officer should keep himself focused on the idea of being a warfare specialist.
The role of the Commanding Officer in the training of junior officers is of vital importance. The Commanding Officer should take every opportunity to train his junior officers in all aspects of operating and fighting the submarine. This requires an extraordinary amount of time and energy. But, the amount of administrative work that the Commanding Officer has to sort through might easily drag down the best of men. The very good Commanding Officers take every open time slot to get their junior officers qualified as OODs while putting them in challenging situations whether real or imaginary. At sea this means having sonar run a tape simulating a threatening enemy ship and observing how the junior officer reacts. This also includes the sending of even the more experienced officers to sea on other submarines when the submarine is in drydock for an extended period of time. The Commanding Oflicer must be the impetus for warfighting training and he must instill in his junior officers the drive necessary to keep warfare competence at the top of their priority list. And, the junior officer must continually strive to take every occasion to exercise his ability to operate the submarine aggressively and to keep his entire watch section proficient in detecting, evaluating, attacking, and evading a potentially hostile enemy.
Training during peacetime to prepare for war is a form of deterrence. The wardroom that keeps its readiness and knowledge-level high knows that it will be the wardroom that makes it back from a successful war patrol.
The amount of training seminars that the junior officer attends in one week is awesome. As a minimum he will enjoy one hour of divisional training, one hour of departmental training, one hour of EOOW training, one hour of DOOW training, one hour of Officer training, and one hour of training on his collateral duties (Quality Assurance, Scuba Diving Officer, Sound Silencing, etc.). As anyone can see by this list, there is only one place that tactical training can be incorporated — into Officer’s Training. But Officer’s Training is usually not used for the purpose of developing tactical proficiency. Normal topics include Suicide prevention, Safe Navigation/Piloting, and Grounding and Collision avoidance. While all of these topics are necessary and important, can we say that tactical proficiency is less important?
Today, the amount of scheduled time that a submarine officer is able to spend on gaining tactical knowledge and improving the chances of surviving in battle is at best minimal. The tactical training of all officers should, however, be IJlade the number one priority of every ship in the Navy. The training schedule should reflect this with at least one hour of every day devoted to tactical training. This would put the emphasis on warfighting. An increased amount of time devoted to tactical training will help to stress the importance of being a submariner first and a nuclear officer second.
Another yardstick to measure nuclear training against submarine training is the time spent for advanced training in each area. Some of the junior officers are able to attend a two week school, Junior Officer Tactics Training, which further increases the junior officer’s knowledge of how to operate and fight the submarine. This is in stark contrast to the required extensive two-month school, Prospective Nuclear Engineer Officer course. This teaches the developing junior officer everything that Naval Reactors feels is important to learn about the nuclear power plant.
The examinations that the submarine goes through do liLLie to help improve the tactical proficiency of the junior officer. Every year a submarine experiences the Operational Reactor Safeguards Exam and the Tactical Readiness Exam. Prior to and during the former exam junior officers are hard at work preparing for this test. Each reactor exam requires three Engineering Officers of the Watch to train the watch sections and stand the watch during the exam. In dramatic contrast, the tactical exam tests the submariners tactical abilities, but the role of the junior officer is reduced to that of an evaluator or coordinator. What is really tested is the Commanding Officer’s ability to fight the submarine. This reasoning seems to point to the fact that the CO will be on the CONN during any hostile encounter and that battle stations will be manned; but during a casualty in the propulsion plant, the Engineer will not be in charge of reactor operations and the junior officer and his watch section must handle the casualty alone. These are starkly different views. The junior officers need time for actually operating the submarine to increase both their confidence and their knowledge of handling the submarine. The tactical exam needs to be restructured to test not only the functioning of the battle stations team but also the ability of the junior officer and watch section to successfully engage a target of opportunity during hostilities. This improves the ability of the Commanding Officer and his junior officers in their warfighting.
The United States Submarine service has not been accused of being unable to fight successfully. This is in part due to the large margin of acoustic advantage enjoyed by our submarines and to the relative ineffectiveness of enemy anti-submarine surface and air platforms. But both of these aspects are changing for the worst. Current and future submarine officers must learn to fight a submarine which is almost equal to enemy submarines and not as easily hidden from the other enemy forces. To account for these equalizing capabilities, the submarine force must first acknowledge that there is a deficiency in the tactical training of the officers and then add to the training pipeline’s extensive requirements to emphasize tactical proficiency. This will ensure that the submarine force maintains its warfighting edge and its tradition of having the highest warfighting readiness of any section of the U.S. Navy.
The Submarine Officer should be a warfare specialist. The nuclear training that he receives is required to ensure the safe operation of the naval nuclear reactors. However, there is little doubt that this training should be supplemented with an increase in tactical training.
Submariners or nukes? The answer is both. The important thing is that out junior officers be trained to be submariners first and foremost. There is no insignia showing nuclear qualifications. The gold dolphins have a submarine in the middle – not a nuclear reactor. This fact should be brought to the attention of anyone questioning whether they are “Submariners” or “Nukes”
LT Wade H. Schmidt, USN