Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


Captain Jim Patton is President of Submarine Tactics & Technology of North , CT. He is a retired officer who commanded USS PARGO (SSN650). He is a frequent contributor to THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.


At the Naval Submarine League Technical Symposium at APL Johns Hopkins last May, RADM Joe Walsh, COMSUBPAC, essentially threw down a gauntlet to the Submarine Force when he shared his observations that junior officers no longer seemed to be the resident experts on the newest Fire Control processes and techniques, but were relegated to lesser duties during Battle Stations – leaving the operation of the Fire Control systems to admittedly well-trained and competent Petty Officers. This was not the scenario that he, and others of his and previous generations of submariners were used to. A justifiable question begging an answer is- if, at the Ensign and LtUg) level, fire control skills arc not acquired, refined and polished, at what point prior to Command will they be, or will future COs become totally dependent on their admittedly well-trained and competent Petty Officers?


The acquisition of human skills involves three distinct and necessarily sequential steps. First, Concepts must be taught (Fama is not intuitive to most); second, Procedures (solidly based on valid concepts) arc studied; and third,is practiced. In such as baseball, concepts (hit a ball to land where nobody is) and procedures (fail three times and someone else gets to try) are almost trivial, and technique is everything. For a sub-atomic particle physicist, concepts arc everything with procedures and technique being almost non-existent. Submariner is somewhere in between.

Significant problems can arise if the CPT steps aren’t taken in the proper sequence. It is no accident that in our naval nuclear propulsion business one is taught the concepts of the 4-factor formula and sub-critical multiplication long before doing a pull-and wail initial reactor startup.

If young officers arc having problems assimilating the skills necessary to operate the Fire Control System on their first boats, could at least a partial part of the issue be that they arc being trained (procedures and techniques) on a system other than what they will have rather than being educated on the universal concepts behind all of those systems? The 4-factor formula and sub-critical multiplication are as applicable to the OHIO’s S8G plant as they were to SI W of NAUTILUS.

There are many elemental truths associated with Fire Control Systems, Target Motion Analysis (TMA) and relative motion (which arc really essentially all the same thing). One of these is the title of this article which, when armed with, enables the rapid derivation of the Ecklund range formula surely existing, in some digital form or another, in Fire Control System. A million or so years ago, when the author was the XO to then CDR Bruce DeMars on the fine ship CA VALLA, he required me to start all wardroom meetings with a brief mental analysis quiz that was over in about 2 minutes – these quizzes consisted of about I 0 simple problems presented some 7 seconds apart (i.e. what is the reciprocal of bearing what is the speed-across-the-line-of-sight of a 24 knot target with a stbd 18 SOB what is the range to a destroyer type target that is 0.8 divisions in high power 306 Hz line shifts to 308 Hz – what has been the change of speed-in-THC-Linc-of- sight?; etc.). The object was to acquire the ability to get almost the right answer very quickly, and depended on exploiting a number of simple rules – i.e. for reciprocals either add 200 then subtract 20 (for small numbers), or subtract 200 then add 20 (for large numbers); for sine values, every 6 degrees is a tenth and every IO degrees is a sixth; for telemetry ranging all ships arc 100 feet tall except those that aren’t; for range rate, 3000/freq … knots/H z.

As might be expected, the initial exam results were awful, but surprisingly soon everyone was getting 9 or I 0 out of I 0 correct every time, having developed the of exploiting the thumb rule concepts. Those who attended tactical team training at Submarine School during the early 80s probably remember being given a cassette tape containing dozens of such drill questions for their on-board use as desired.

A very real explanation of why paper plots hung around so long could be that there are few evolution that, at least subliminally, educate one on the essential elements of TM A better than manipulations of a strip or expanded time-bearing plot or looking at a contact evaluation plot from across the Control Room. If they are no longer taught in SOBC, perhaps they should be- regardless of whether they’re used in the fleet anymore or not.


I am certainly not in a position to know what is or is not presently being done in SOBC, and absolutely have no right do to be judgmental about things I am ignorant of- perhaps all of the above is already operative and these words arc but the ramblings of a “ustabc”- I would hope that is the case. If not, the observation is made that enlisted pipeline time limitations make it appropriate to train (minimum concepts, but heavy on system-specific procedures and techniques) our admittedly well-trained and competent Petty Officers, but to assure a seamless evolution from Division Officer to Commanding Officer, there is no alternative but to educate (heavy on concepts, adequate on non-system specific procedures and techniques) the wardroom bosses of these exceptional Peuy Officers. After all, these young officers actually become PCOs at the completion of SOBC and will require a firm foundation in fundamentals as specific features of Fire Control (and other) systems change many times during their decade and a half of apprenticeship

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League