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Captain Mel Lyman’s interesting article on SSBN weapons C3, “Crimson Tide-They Got It All Wrong” reflects a generally misunderstood facet of the beginning of the Permissive Action Link, PAL, on nuclear weapons. PAL’s began as unlock devices on nuclear weapons carried on tactical aircraft in Europe in the ’50s. The weapons were controlled by the United States but were to be delivered by aircraft of NATO allies. There were times the aircraft were in a tactically ready status, armed with the weapons.

To address the question of control by the United States, unlock devices were installed on the weapon. The aircraft crew had to get a coded number from an American unit stationed on the base as custodians, enter that code into a device on the plane which would allow them to release the weapon and permit the weapon to arm. The code was held centrally and provided to the American unit after authorization to use the weapons had been granted. Picture a young Air Force Captain standing along the runway apron, holding a large blackboard with several numbers written on it. Crude but effective. This solution satisfied both countries involved in the delivery and answered the concerns raised by the Turks, for instance, about arming Greek aircraft.

Sometime after this circumstance in the late ’50s and early ’60s, the Air Force, planning the C3 for the Minuteman missile, reduced the Command Capsule Crews from four men as had been in Titan launch centers to two-man teams. Among the techniques to provide an increased level of surety against an unauthorized launch, the Air Force decided to install Permissive Action Links in these new weapons. The two-man silo crew needed an outside input in order to arm and launch the weapons. As I understood the reasoning some years after the fact, this decision was made by the Strategic Air Command/Air Force without consultation or pressure by outside agencies or interest groups. I suspect that the surety and safety personnel at the national laboratories may have been more than passive observers in this effort and of course, the scientific personnel at the laboratories were always happy to have a new challenge or mission.

It was significantly later, the late ’70s, that the issue of the inadvertent or unauthorized launch of Navy-controlled weapons was generated first by advocates of land-based missiles and then later by academics who generally found the control of nuclear weapons wanting. It is instructive to recognize the most eloquent spokesmen of this latter group had their practical experience in the Air Force deployments.

The Navy’s position that too many people were required to make an authorized or inadvertent launch possible was never accepted by people who believe that mechanical interlocks are superior to personal ones. Even after the installation of the devices outlined by Captain Lyman, there remain people who fear inadvertent or unauthorized launches. These will undoubtedly continue to agitate for further inhibitors, but their real aim is nuclear disarmament. While that goal is a laudable one, it is political, not military, and ought to be approached as such rather than to advocate constraints which are at once costly and secondly downplay the importance of the personnel selection, training, and procedures associated with nuclear weapons.

Jerry Holland

Admiral Holland served as Director of Theater and Strategic Nuclear Warfare on the OPNAV Staff in 1962-63.


May 17, 1999

Please accept my sincere appreciation for the outstanding support that the Submarine League gave during the recent Sailor of the Year season. The League’s contribution went a long way in malting this year’s week-long event one of the most memorable for our submarine sailors. I can’t tell you how many positive comments I received from the nominees and their spouses about how much they appreciated the Submarine League’s support and what it personally meant to them.

Again, thank you for having an impact on our enlisted submarine sailors’ lives.

Sincerely yours,
Charles J. Dreer
Force Master Chief

Editor’s Note: 1he NSL Board of Directors, at their 3 June meeting, approved an annual expenditure of $4,000 for “Submarine Force” ballcaps and T-shirts to support two dedicated boot camp submarine divisions al Recruit Training Command.


See: Lieutenant John Vlattas, “Shifting From Blue to Brown: Pursuing the Diesel Submarine Into the Littoral, “TM Submarine Review, April 1999, pp. 90-96.

Lieutenant Vlattas has sounded a wake-up call in the littorals. We must pay attention.

Points Made

1. The diesel submarine wi11 provides low target strength, smaller size to ping on, and consequently lower return. When in motion it will have a lower electronic signature, minimal cavitation, and produce little Doppler.


A large SSN (we don’t have any small ones) will provide high target strength, larger size, and higher returns. (SHKV AL, a submarine-launched rocket torpedo available on the open market today, could be fired from a bottomed diesel and would come screaming toward us at 200 knots.)

2. The shallows will produce high fast contact rates due to higher ambient noise, ray path bending and reflections, and bottom debris. The shallow water zones closest to shore will be areas where freshwater from estuaries mix with the ocean water creating unpredictable layers with gradients not seen in the oceans.

Reinforcement of Argument:

Some question whether our active or forthcoming SSNs are capable of operating submerged in freshwater.

3. The nuclear submarine is from four to ten times larger than its conventional counterpart. The design of the nuclear submarine also prevents it from being as maneuverable in shallow water as the diesel and makes it unable to perform such tactics as bottoming.
Reinforcement of Argument:
The length to diameter (LIO) ratios of the front line and forth-coming SSNs are too high to provide the agility required in littoral waters.
I agree with the proposal to procure diesel submarines for SSN training in littoral waters. It is also important, in my view, to re-examine the SSN design concept and to develop smaller, highly maneuverable SSNs.

Dick Boyle


My name is Gary Coombe and I served in the Royal Australian Navy between 1966 and 1987, !) and in submarines from 1972. I am currently writing a fictional book about a U.S. Navy submarine sailor based at Fremantle, Western Australia during World War II. The book is all but complete with all the action scenes reconstructed from numerous publications but I need some information to flesh out the main characters. I would greatly appreciate any anecdotes, stories, yarns, and jokes of the era, along with social information pertaining to where you went, what did (within reason), how you got there, etc. I have already received some data from veterans living here in Western Australia but would welcome more.

Gary Coombe Suite 3, 68 Petra Street
Palmyra, 6157
Western Australia
Phone: 61 8 9319160
Fax: 61 8 93191007

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