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“Call It a quality of life. Call it a matter of readlness. But do not fall to call it the first principle of war fighting. Provide sallors with tools that allow them to fight and win”


One of the tools that allows sailors to .fight mid win is training and, as we enter the 21st century, two major developments which effect training are emerging. The first development is the downsizing of the fleet. As the submarine fleet becomes smaller the importance of training as a force multiplier increases. The second major development is that, in the words of Admiral Emery, “Russia has seized the undersea initiative” in the area of submarine technology’. As the technological advantage of our submarines erodes, the importance of training as force equalizer and as a hedge against future erosion increases. (Although the SSN 21 and the NSSN are designed to restore the technological advantage, the low production rates and uncertain futures of these platforms will limit the rate of that restoration.) Given the increased importance of training due to these developments, it is essential that the submarine training is the best it can be.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the training currently provided by the Naval Submarine School (SUBSCOL) is not as efficient or as effective as it could be.

The Current Approach

Today, the submarine school employs a one-size-fits-all approach to training. All submarine officers attend the same school and are taught the same material regardless of their ultimate assignments. The material taught is mainly applicable to Atlantic Fleet fast attack submarines. Students not going to these particular ships are taught information that, while nice to know, is not directly pertinent to them. They must dump much of the information they are taught and then arrange to learn the right information once they get to their boats. This approach is not efficient because all submarines and all submarine billets do not have identical training needs. This approach is also not effective because it guarantees that all of the material will not be applicable to all students. In fact, the current approach can be quite frustrating. In the words of a recent Submarine Officer Advanced Course (SOAC) graduate, the current purpose of SUBSCOL seems to be ‘”to make you want to be at sea” instead of being at school.

The inefficiency of the current school is especially pronounced for students who will serve on SSBNs. Almost on Third of the current curriculum focuses on systems and missions not applicable to boomers. To compound matters, there is a large volume of SSBN specific information that is either not taught or is outdated (by several years in some cases). As a result, SSBN officers must attend follow-on schools to learn this material. This leaves many of these officers questioning the usefulness of their original SUBSCOL training.

The bias toward SSNs will become leas acceptable as the size of the SSN fleet decreases through the end of the decade. By the year 2000, SSBNs will account for more than one-third of all submarine officer billets., This means that the needs of a large portion of the students who go through SUBSCOL and the needs of a large portion of the fleet will largely be ignored. The bias toward a specific fleet’s procedures produces similar effects to those discussed for SSBNs. The main differences are that less material is involved, but more students are affected. Clearly one-size does not fit all.

The Multi-Tiered Approach

In contrast, a multi-tiered approach would acknowledge that officers going to different types of submarine have different training needs. Under this approach, SUBSCOL would not be a single training facility, rather, it would be a network of training facilities integrated to provide the best trained officers to the fleet. Under this system, all submarine officers would initially attend a common school to learn universally applicable subjects but would then go to training facilities at their ultimate duty station to learn class specific topics. Students would only be taught information that was relevant, and just as important, all relevant information would be taught to the students before they left the SUBSCOL pipeline. There would be not additional schools required after graduating. When the graduates went to the fleet, they would be up to speed and ready to go to sea.

The principles of this multi-tiered approach can be applied to all SUBSCOL courses. ‘Ibis paper though will only focus on the SOAC course as a representative example of each tier. Representative curriculums for each tier of the other SUBSCOL courses are shown in Table 1.

The first tier in the SOAC curriculum would be vastly revised form its current form. This tier would cover universal topics such as approach and attack tactics, anti-diesel submarine warfare, tactical oceanography, basic navigation, and Target Motion Analysis (TMA). It would also cover subjects applicable to all department beads such as supply fundamentals, military justice, and leadership. For the first time, the SOAC curriculum would also teach ship handling skills and provide the students with handson time maneuvering YIBs or YPs. Topics would also be presented on jointness and bow other Services operate. Much of this tier would be taught by post department bead officers. This would allow students to learn from the valuable experiences and insights of these seasoned officers who have been there. Utilizing these officers would also provide additional duty assignment opportunities for XO(SS) and CO(SS) officers.

The first tier of this SOAC curriculum would feature extensive use of tactics seminars and student versus student wargames. This would encourage the exchange of different viewpoints and ideas and allow students to bone the skills they are taught against thinking opponents instead of canned scenarios. The new format would also stimulate students to develop and test new, innovative tactics that will be required for the future. Ideally, a system could be developed that would allow two or more different attack centers to go head-to-head so that all participants would receive the most realistic training possible.

The first tier school would not be based around a competitive series of exams and rote memorization. Instead, the primary emphasis would be on providing the students with fundamental principles, promoting tactical innovation, and encourage the exchange of ideas. Individual awards could be presented hued on ship handling ability, most innovative new idea, and tactical proficiency. The total length of this tint tier would be out three months.

The second tier of this approach would take place at the training facilities in each homeport. All department heads going to the same type of submarine at the same port would attend the same school. The purpose of the second tier would be to teach those unique weapons, senson, missions and procedures used by each class of ship.

This training would be more classroom orientated than the first tier and would feature the same hands-on/button-pushing emphasis of the current SOAC curriculum. In fact, it would closely parallel the core topics currently taught with the exception that all of the material would be relevant. In this tier, all SSBN officers would learn the fundamentals of Emergency Action Messages, strategic connectivity, the basics of the SIOP, etc. All SSN officers would learn the fundamental of battle group operations, active sonar employment, offensive electronic warfare, etc. The length of instruction would be approximately three months.

In the third tier, all department heads would receive training unique to their individual billets. This tier would closely resemble the current follow-on schools given to SSBN navigators and strategic weapons officen except all department heads would attend these schools-including engineers and combat systems officers. Training would include a mixture of classroom and hands on training. Sample curricular might include conventional weapons handling supervisor certification and peacetime safety rules for weapons officer. Navigators might be taught port-specific Surface Piloting and Navigation (SPAN) trainer and Security Manager responsibilities, for example. Engineers might be taught plant-specific operating procedures and class material concerns. The length of instruction of this tier would vary depending on the specific billet and would be about two months long.

Advantage of the Multi-Tiered Approach

The multi-tiered system has many advantages compared to the one-size-fits-all system. First and foremost, it matches the training product to the specific needs of each submarine. This method of training would be more efficient in that graduates of SUBSCOL would not need to attend other schools to receive necessary training. Besides being more efficient, this type of training would also be more effective by only teaching students material that was relevant to them. This would result in more student interest and less student frustration

The multi-tiered approach would also ensure that all submarine officers had a thorough understanding of the combat systems on their specific class of ship. Much of the combat systems training received by officers today, especially by junior officers, is one in an informal, often hectic fashion. Too often the goal of current training is not to learn the systems, but simply to get a signature on a qualification card. Consequently, it is not uncommon for officers to leave their ship after an entire tour with a poor understanding of these crucial systems. The class specific training offered in the multi-tiered approach would eliminate this problem and standardize the level of knowledge of all officers.

Shifting much of the training to facilities in each homeport provides additional advantages as well. For one thing, it ensures that these valuable facilities and their staffs are fully utilized. This would ensure the facilities will continue to receive the best possible funding and allocation of resources. Conducting two tiers of the training in each homeport would also provide students with more time to take care of their families and personal affairs before going out to sea. Officers would not have to show up at a new duty station just in time to get underway for a deployment. The additional time spent at the officer’s ultimate duty station would also give more stability to the sea-shore duty rotation. This would improve the quality of life of submariners and their dependents. A final advantage is that each training facility would teach the actual procedures used by the boats. As a result. students would not be taught outdated information and would gain familiarization with the actual references they would have access to underway.

In the specific case of the revised SOAC curriculum, additional advantages can be realized. Shortening the length of the Groton portion of the school would save the Navy money by eliminating Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moving costs. Students would only need a single PCS move from their shore duty station to their ultimate duty station. This would give additional stability to families by requiring one fewer relocation ordeal. In addition, the third tier of the SOAC course would provide engineer officers with plant specific training they normally have to learn on their own. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the revised SOAC curriculum would place renewed emphasis on innovation-a traditional hallmark of the submarine service.


Shifting to this type of multi-tiered system does have its disadvantages too. For one thing, the shorter length of instruction at a common location provides detailers with less flexibility to modify orders. The shorter Groton tier of the revised SOAC curriculum would also result in this portion becoming an unaccompanied tour. This might result in additional family separation for those students who currently bring their families with them, but that would be partially offset by shortening the family separation of the current SOAC geographic bachelors. In addition, the extended length of instruction would delay the reporting dates of some officers. The inconvenience of this delay would be largely countered by the fact that these officers would not need. to go to any additional schools after reporting aboard.

There would also be financial implications of shifting to the milt-tiered approach. It would cost money to alter and restructure the current system. New curriculums and lesson plans would need to be developed, current facilities might need to be modified, and billets might need to be moved or created to account for this approach. Shortening the first tier portion of the SOAC curriculum would also mean per diem might have to be paid to some students. While these disadvantages are not trivial, they do not outweigh the advantages of the multi-tiered approach.


In conclusion, the importance of training as a force multiplier, a force equalizer and as a hedge against future technology is increasing. Given this fact, the submarine service can no longer afford a one-size-fits-all mentality towards teaching its officers. It is time to fix submarine school-not because it is broken, but because it can be much better. Efficient, effective, and specialized training that meets the needs of both the students and the fleet is required to propel the Submarine Force into the next century. This training must recognize the different training requirements of different assignments, it must promote innovation, and it must provide sailors with the tools that allow them to fight and win. The training that can best meet the needs of the next century is the multi-tiered training approach.

As a final thought, consider the words of Admiral William A. Owens, USN(Ret.), former Vice Chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff and submariner:

” ..sometimes caution can lead to stagnation; and failure to adjust to global changes, advances in military technology, or innovations in the conduct of war can lead to the same kind of disasters that cautious bias about change and innovation was supposed to prevent. I think we are in such a period. The world swirls with changes that a few years earlier were simply unimagined. The kaleidoscope of international relations seems to twist so much faster now. Technology pushes beyond the frontiers we took as impenetrable limits only a few years ago. The world of incremental change in which we lived in the last four decades has ended, but history has not. In this new era, it is far more dangerous for American military institutions, and for the U.S. Navy in particular, not to change.”

Naval Submarine League

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