In response to Lieutenant Gittleman’s article in the October 1997 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW, I emphatically agree that we should shift to two-crew SSNs. I am a submarine junior officer who has just completed a three year tour on the USS Portsmouth (SSN-707) and is now stationed at the Nuclear Power Training Unit at Charleston, South Carolina. I most likely will leave the Navy after my two-year tour at NPTU. However, if I knew that our SSNs were switching over to the French-style two-crew SSN rotation outlined in Lieutenant Gittleman’s article, I would become a career man without hesitation. The bottom line as to why I will probably get out is the relentless nature of the onecrew SSN operational schedule.
For me, it is not the extended periods of time away from homeport that makes the SSN schedule seem relentless. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at sea, whether it was local operations off Southern California or forward deployment in the western Pacific. What makes the SSN schedule seem relentless is the massive amount of work SSN crews do in port in between the at-sea periods. Besides a stand-down after a deployment and a short stand-down during the winter holidays, the only respite SSN crews receive between at-sea periods are intense upkeeps with their long working hours and frequent duty days. It would be hard to exaggerate the boost in an SSN’s crew’s morale if they were guaranteed a significant block of time within the operational cycle during which the crew did not have tM boaJ and could concentrate on getting some rest and catching up with family. For me, it would be enough of a boost to keep me in the Navy for another sea tour.
For those that think the above reason for going to two-crew SSNs is just another case of a Generation X submariner whining, there is another convincing reason to switch over to two-crew SSNs-training. Too often during my sea tour we just paid lip service to the submarining ideal of making training our top priority when we were in port. Because of the intensity of our upkeeps the prevailing attitude towards training nearly always became “we’ll squeeze training in” on this day or “we’ll fit in an attack center” on that day. Needless to say, this is not the right way to approach training. If SSNs had a significant block of time during their operating cycle during which the only objective was to train, the training would be infinitely more effective because the distractions of an intense upkeep would be gone.
The other factor that would boost training effectiveness is that the SSN off-crew would be able to utilize the Submarine Training Facility to its utmost potential. During my sea tour, the times we sent personnel up to SubTraFac to learn or hone a skill, whether it was a small skill such as periscope observations or an involved team skill such as VLF(A) tracking, I was impressed by the facilities and expertise that SubTraFac bad to offer. Almost immediately, the benefits of this shore training became apparent in the way we did business. The problem was that we did not take advantage of SubTraFac as much as we should have due to the pressures of our upkeep schedule.
As far as proficiency goes, if the off-crew uses its training period effectively, proficiency will suffer very little. There is a lot of truth to the axiom that the only way to maintain proficiency is to be at sea, but any rustiness that the off-crew may have accumulated will be canceled out by the fact that when the off-crew returns to sea, they will be well-rested, happier, and more knowledgeable.
If the Submarine Force is to drop down to 50 SSNs in the near future while continuing at present tasking levels, it just makes too much seme to go to two-crew SSNs. Everybody wins: morale will skyrocket, and consequently so will retention. Training effectiveness will improve dramatically, malting SSNs more formidable than ever. In his article, Lieutenant Gittleman proved that the Navy will save money and get more sea time by going to two-crew SSNs. As for me personally, going two-crew SSN will be what prevents me from returning to civilian life, and I believe there are a lot of other submariners who feel the same way. SSBNs have used the twocrew system with tremendous success. We submariners should follow that lead if we want to make the most out of a 50 SSN force.