In Clear the Bridge, Dick O’Kane wrote about TANG’s I return to port from her second war patrol:
“Again working priorities, payday for the ship’s company and buses to the Royal Hawaiian took precedence …
“We glanced back at our ship’s washed out paint jobs, nmning rust by the exhausts. Grudgingly, I admined that she needed sprucing up. When we would next see her, she would be a camouflage haze gray with white beneath, the color of a gull”
While it seems unrealistic to parallel current fast attack submarine operations to the high stress experienced in World War II war patrols, I contend that a refit crew system is a viable option to modern fast attack operational schedules. After all, the refit crew system was in place well before the war. The refit crew system is the turnover of a submarine for periods of in-port repair from its operational crew to a refit crew.
With the current down sizing of the entire submarine force, there is no time like the present to reevaluate the SSN’s normal operating cycle and upkeep/refit periods. With approximately 154 submarine crews (88 SSN and 66 SSBN blue and gold crews) gainfully employed in 1991 being reduced to less than 100 crews by 1996, there is a large resource of trained subma-rine refit crew members available. With some modifications made to repair activities we could implement periods of repair for our fast attack submarines executed by special refit crews. This could provide a period of training, rest and relaxation for the operational crew, especially after an extended deployment.
How would the refit crew system be implemented? Basically, refit crews would be utilized for periods of extended upkeep and selected repair availabilities of at least six weeks. New construction and overhaul ships would be manned with opera-tional crews. The refit crew will consist of a command qualified repair officer and a full complement of officers and crew qualified to stand in-port watches. The refit crew must be
capable of getting the ship undeiWay in the event of inclement weather or emergencies. The refit crew’s primary objective is to complete repairs and/or alterations in a refit package provided by the operational commanding officer and squadron commander. Crew turnover for the refit period should take no longer than three days. During refit, the operational command-ing officer and other supervisory personnel will conduct periodic spot checks of the progress of repairs. The responsibility for final receipt and acceptance of the work would remain with the operational commanding officer. The acceptance and tum over period after the refit should take no longer than a week. Turnover will include underway sea trials with members of both crews.
How many refit crews would be needed? No more than ten refit crews on each coast would be sufficient to implement this system. Restructure of current repair activity manning augment-ed by additional personnel, resulting from ship decommission-ings, could provide more than enough qualified people, while still downsizing the entire force. Each squadron will be assigned a number of refit crews based on the number of submarines assigned. The refit crews will work directly for the submarine squadron commanders, vice a separate support facility. This will streamline the refit process through direct repair support.
The operational crew, during the refit period, could enjoy some quality time in home port followed by a training period similar to that experienced by our Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine counterparts during off-crew. We lose too many good people due to arduous operational schedules, with no light at the end of the tunnel. Furthermore, it is impossible to provide quality in-port training while trying to conduct a major repair period. Enhanced morale, greater selectivity for reten-tion and higher quality training will result in a higher state of readiness of our fast attack submarines.
With the current down-sizing, it is an ideal time to adopt a relief crew system. Perhaps such a system could be considered by other forces such as the surface warfare community. In any case, the relief crew system will ensure a better quality of life and improved performance. Our people are the highest priority.