The year 2000 looms with a promise of great challenges for our Submarine Force. The Force will be reduced to 50 or 60 attack submarines with which to accomplish its more- than-fair share of national security objectives; the balanced budget timeline will be near terminus, inflicting greater fiscal pressure on every military branch and community; and the Regional Maintenance Center (RMC) concept will be fully in place, with an impact on submarine readiness that may vary from none to notably adverse. The need to be prepared to wage littoral warfare against a technologically advanced enemy provides the framework for addressing these challenges.
Fortunately, the tactics and strategy of submarine warfare in the littoral are not new to the Submarine Force, nor is the littoral a strange or unfamiliar place to us. We’ve all been there and while there, exercised the full range of our submarines’ mission envelope. This claim goes back to the very inception of the Submarine Force.
An accurate and simple assessment of the Submarine Force’s future is that we must do more with less, relative to the Cold War. We will have more tasks and more regions of potential conflict. We will have fewer ships, proportionally less manning, and less money to pay for maintenance, operations, and training. These strains contribute to the overarching challenge of maintaining the warfighting effectiveness of the Submarine Force and, inextricably, the quality of life of our officers and enlisted.
The RMC concept, not yet fully developed, is part and parcel of the trend toward less. Not only does the RMC reduce and centralize submarine maintenance activities, it also seamlessly combines them with those of the surface fleet. As an unavoidable result, the Submarine Force will lose much control of its maintenance. Neither the submarine captain nor the squadron commander will any longer be in a position to establish or modify maintenance priorities in fine-grained detail. Neither will they be able to ensure the next boat scheduled for underway can meet its commitment while also maintaining the highest readiness across the squadron. The consequence we can expect is that our tradition of greater material readiness (relative to the surface fleet) may be forever lost. To minimize the impact on readiness, many jobs otherwise appropriate for the RMC may be assigned to ship’s force (the likely outcome) or deferred to a future maintenance period.
Solutions to these challenges will come from each level of the Submarine Force hierarchy, from Washington to the waterfront. The waterfront’s contribution must be much more than a comment or two at a round table discussion gathered to craft a new NWP. We, the operators, must be the ones to determine everything from how to fight our ships to how to maintain material readiness in the age of doing more with less. The real measure of success for a captain and his ship will be their ability to get underway on time, fully combat ready, and deploy to a hotly contested littoral region half way around the world for employment across the broad mission envelope and for an extended duration.
The size and makeup of the deploying wardroom and crew-and therefore the number of officers and enlisted that stay behind; what watches they man; who will man them; and for how long-are the nuts and bolts issues. The questions are made more complicated by the devilish details: when do we sleep, eat, field day, perform repairs and PMS, thrice weekly aerobic workout, do laundry, and, not to be slighted, train? We cannot wait for the new attack submarine (NSSN) to be delivered to the fleet with all the issues, the challenges, answered, as if it is the deus ex machina. Instead, we should develop the solutions now and let NSSN derive from these solutions. USS ATLANTA (SSN 712) began to test a new concept in war patrolling in early December 1995. The experiment is not complete, so the method is still in a state of flux. But it is time to share the ideas with the Submarine Force.
In the littoral war, we can expect to begin our war patrol by traversing or engaging and destroying a gauntlet of extremely capable diesel submarines. With that success, we’ll be allowed passage into puddle-shallow waters that are heavily mined here, and crowded with deep draft merchants there. A few hundred miles into these waters will be our surveillance station, Tomahawk launch baskets, Special Operations Forces (SOF) support area, mine field to be mapped or neutralized, or a combination that may include all four. We’ll be close to land and an enemy port for the duration, so a diesel submarine or patrol boat may be on top of us without warning. As a result, we’ll always be ready to snapshot both a torpedo or a Harpoon. After many weeks in this environment, the battle force will arrive with an invasion force; we must stay right where we are because we’re the sole source for the most important surveillance.
The Tactical Readiness Exam (TRE) is three days of simulating a war of this ilk. The exam is three days of nearly continuous battle stations. Less than 18 hours into the venture, the toll of fatigue is readily apparent. The officers and crew hang on for the next two days as our combat effectiveness, the ability to accomplish the mission without being killed, ebbs by the hour. By day three, it’s easy to accept that pure exhaustion caused Commander Sam Dealey and USS HARDER to become the prey of a Japanese minesweeper in August 1944. 1 We allow ourselves to operate like this because we don’t think TRE simulates a real war patrol any more than ORSE simulates any imaginable two days of propulsion plant operations.
Variations of three section watch rotation punctuated by battle stations have been tried and successful during TRE. But this success only slightly mitigates the criticism; the officers and crew still emerge from the exam utterly exhausted. The best schemes to date allow maintaining sufficient combat effectiveness, but only until the end of the exam. We must develop a means of maintaining combat effectiveness for many weeks or months of unabated high tempo, high stress operations, a requirement that is the essence of submarine warfare in littoral war.
After we rejected three section watch with battle stations, a facile response would be to put everyone in port-and-starboard, six hour watch rotation. This requires care to man only watches that are really required to fight the ship in all but an extreme case. Much of the rest of the ship’s routine would remain close to normal. This plan maintains the ship at the heightened state of combat effectiveness much longer, but debilitating fatigue is inevitable. The interval of effectiveness is probably about three days, once again the time to administer a TRE.
The port-and-starboard rotation provides the right number of watchstanders, so it has merit. But the disqualifying flaw is the short duration of the off-watch interval. During a nominal six hours off watch, no more than five are available for sleep. In a 24 hour day, that just isn’t enough to stay combat ready. That second six hours off watch also isn’t enough time to do everything else. As a result, many of these ancillary things that must get done, even in war, don’t.
ATLANTA has applied what may appear as a simple variation of port-and-starboard watch rotation. However, the rotation and its timing are only elements of a comprehensive plan of in-port and underway manpower management to i prove combat effectiveness. To begin with, the off cers and crew are assigned to an 8-4-4-8 watch rotation. Each member of the crew can expect to stand eight hours of watch, followed by a four hour period devoted to off-watch duties (PMS, repairs, training, cleaning), followed by another four hour watch. This regimen concludes with eight hours off watch, a large measure of which is sacrosanct personal time. During this time, he’s expected to get between six and seven hours of sleep. Then the cycle begins again. This routine divides the crew into two war fighting teams, given the names Strike Forces Alfa and Bravo. A team can fight the ship through any multi-mission scenario augmented only by the Captain as Approach Officer and Executive Officer as Fire Control Coordinator.
Details are what matters, and there are plenty to address. The first is that, no matter what you call the watch rotation, it’ s still port and starboard, and therefore unpleasant. Six or seven hours of sleep after a 16 hour day, day after day, is still a grueling regimen. We can ease (certainly not eliminate) the burden by scheduling some regular relaxed times. All day Wednesday and every weekend from Friday 1600 until Monday 0800 should have nothing scheduled except brief supervised cleanup by the off-going watch. During these rest times, combat effectiveness remains 100 percent because a full Strike Force is on watch.
This plan leaves 32 hours (two four-hour periods on each of Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday) to do everything else. This requires meticulous scheduling and aggressively carrying out the schedule. But still there’s not enough time: training for any group must be scheduled twice; some maintenance must work to completion once it begins, even if it takes more than the eight hours of back-to-back four-offs; equipment doesn’t break on schedule, and some equipment cannot wait for repair.
The solution was found in developing a Tiger Team concept. Certain watches are not required to be manned all of the time. For example, the Radioman of the Watch and ESM Watch serve little purpose during much of the time away from periscope depth. Tactical plotters are often unemployed, just as the majority of the weapons loading team. We designed these and a few other watches as a Tiger Team.
The Tigers are available for tasking at the Officer of the Deck’s discretion. A Tiger must be able to return to his Strike Team post within seconds, so he can’t crawl too far into a bilge, can’t stand a proficiency watch, nor can he do anything that once he starts, he must finish. We’re careful not to refer to them as secured or stood down when they are assigned an ancillary function; instead, we called this ready status. Tigers are called back to their watch by passing the word on the 1MC “man battle stations” without sounding the general alarm.
Training for division and departments while manned for war patrol is impractical because every session must be scheduled twice, a significant crimp on a very tight schedule. As a fruitful solution, all underway training was for the watch section or logical sub-groups within the watch section. Very soon after watch relief, unless the tactical scenario precluded, one hour of operations-oriented training was conducted throughout the boat. After watch relief/meal/cleanup, another session was held for the off-going watch section. In retrospect, it makes sense that all underway training is directly related to employing and fighting the ship, while in-port training, by default, became devoted to theory, maintenance, and similar topics.
Meals were served between each watch, with the noon meal the lightest, often resembling midrats. The meal that by its fare most resembled supper was served from 2300 to midnight. We noted early that attendance at meals was drastically reduced-the crew would rather sleep more and eat less. This caused us to review how we did wake-ups. With the crew’s concurrence, we stopped doing the traditional roving-messenger wake-ups one and a half hours before nominal watch relief time (e.g., 1030 for the afternoon watch). Instead, one hour before nominal watch relief time (e.g., 1100), the messenger conducted all-bands reveille (those sleeping are all oncoming watchstanders). This gave the crew a welcome 30 extra minutes of sleep twice a day.
Such a rigorous watch routine has the potential to take a toll on the officers and chiefs. They just cannot get their job done if they are on watch 12 hours every day. ATLANTA’s 110 man war patrol makes provision to prevent this. Applicable watch stations are double manned, such that an officer or CPO will stand his port-and-starboard watch only every other day. He is gainfully occupied by bis many other duties in the interim days.
This plan works well with as few as 110 officers and enlisted men onboard, including non watchstanders (Chief of the Boat, corpsman, leading yeoman, leading storekeeper, leading MS). This manning also allows a combination of up to 10 dedicated under-instruction watches or riders without hot racking or berthing in the Torpedo Room. This is particularly relevant because every man having his own bunk contributes per se to the longevity of combat effectiveness.
This manning allows 25 members of a nominally sized crew to remain at home as the boat gets underway. These individuals, officers and enlisted men, will be either in school, on leave, or a combination of both during the deployment’s duration. Detailed planning will cause every port call to be a change-out of stay-behinds for deployers. Leaving behind 20 percent of the officers and crew for each underway period contributes well to a liberal duty section rotation in port. Maximizing the number of stay-behinds during an underway permits aggressively minimizing the number of officers and crew on leave or in school during the in- port period, perhaps allowing us to achieve genuinely a five section duty rotation. Because schools and leave are minimized and the duty rotation is optimized, greater manpower is available for the increased ship’s force maintenance resulting from RMC availabilities.
Many more details remain; for some we’ve developed solutions. Not the least of the unresolved details are the necessary modifications to the SSORM, operating guidelines, TYCOM Training Manual, and many other long-practiced bibles. As well, we’ve tested this war patrol method during only two five-day underway periods, admittedly not a definitive test. We foresee that a minimum of three weeks underway is necessary to refine this proposal and make it credible. While we await that opportunity, we welcome feedback that we can use to improve and further test the concept.
This method of deploying and fighting the ship, if adopted, clearly dictates future Submarine Force manning requirements. It means that the sea-going portion of the Force must be always manned to about 120 percent of what is actually needed to fight the ship for an extended interval. For Los Angeles class boats, that 120 percent is 135 officers, chiefs, and sailors. For the NSSN, the temptation may be to determine the size of the crew to fight the ships, build in berthing for that number, assign only that number of personnel, then size the Force accordingly-a mistake that would perhaps leave us proficient at fighting TREs, but incapable of fighting the next war.