Editor’s Note: THE SUBMARINE REVIEW normally does not publish works of fiction useless there is a specific reason to do so. This is the second time these pages have hosted such a work and the purpose now is to highlight the approaching problem of a Submarine Gap. We have all known of the coming shortfall ill force .structure be rs under that which was previously determined to be necessary. With the apparent re-emergence of Russia as a force, and the acceleration of the emergence of China. we may be faced with both forces to collider al the same time our force of submarines is at its lowest.
In 1998 THE SUBMARINE REVIEW published a two part fiction work with a vision of the future for submarines in the year 2050. Predicting the is necessary for determining the warfare requirements of long-lasting, expensive capital investments like submarines. It is well recognized, however, that although some such prediction is necessary. it is very difficult to do successfully enough to warrant large excursions in the development path. Tire 1998 effort ill these pages relied Verne-like derivation of a future elision using the skills of a proven novelist, Mr Joe Buff with five submarine novels to his credit.
The introduction to Part I of tire 1998 fiction piece offered as tire logic for doing a Verne-like derivation of a vision of the future, the following three part reasoning:
The vintage Porsche was purring along a Long Island back road as the seven o’clock weather report announced that it promised to be another cool, clear spring day around Narragansett Bay. LT Bill Townsend absorbed this with pleasure, as he downshifted to second at 4000 rpm to negotiate an approaching s-curve. He’d be going to sea this morning, and the visibility would be good . Bill realized that he could easily save ten or fifteen minutes on the trip from his apartment at Westhampton Beach to Sag Harbor if he took the expressway, but he thoroughly enjoyed this early morning solitude and opportunity to exercise his automobile. Perhaps these were two of the primary reasons that he had decided to become a career submariner. He was by no means an introvert, but he did find the small, professional, and closed society on a submarine very much to his liking. Problems were bounded within a few hundred feet by the pressure hull, responsibilities were clearly defined with individuality encouraged, and there were deep personal relationships with juniors and seniors alike in which everyone’s strong and weak points were known and accepted. He also received the same, almost sensual, pleasure from the close fitting, well designed mechanical perfection of his ships as he did from his car. To him, a polished main engine journal bearing was beautiful; a well groomed sonar system was exciting; the infinitesimal leak rate of a reactor grade valve was fascinating.
Bill hadn’t always felt this way about his profession. He had stood very high in his Naval Academy class, but initially had every intention of getting as much as possible from the Navy, getting out as soon as possible, and then selling his considerable talents to the highest industrial bidder. He was going to be a first string player in the national game of maximizing remuneration for a minimum of effort. His first ship, his first CO , and the 30-day Energy Embargo crisis of2012 had changed that outlook, however. For the first time, he had felt the challenge of a job where sheer intelligence was not enough; where only total effort and involvement permitted survival; where one became so busy that it wasn’t noticed that years went by, pay was inconsistent with energy expended, and self-serving selfishness was completely overwhelmed by the sting of responsibility. Perfection was impossible. Demands and standards continued to increase. You felt as though you were doing a terrible job with schedules and deadlines closing in unmercifully. You went a little beyond your native ability and still didn’t quite meet all of the requirements. Then, to no one’s surprise but your own, you found that by almost doing the , by completely revealing your maximum capabilities, you had been judged outstanding, given a medal, and identified as a front runner.
Bill wouldn’t ever forget his initial interview by Dave Cone, Commanding Officer of USS NORTH CAROLINA (SSN 777) – then Ensign Townsend’s first duty station. Bill had been aboard about a week, and had been seeking the lowest acceptable energy level- how to do a good job without donating too much of his time or thought- how to appear busy enough to avoid assignment of collateral tasks. In five minutes of small talk with CDR Cone, Bill realized that he was completely naked before the Skipper. Behind the disarming grin and the homey Appalachian mannerisms, the C .O.’s twinkling eyes said, “I know you’re lazy, I know you’re insincere, I know you’re smart. I like you, and you arc going to love this ship and your job in spite of yourself.” That relationship had continued to grow through the years and Bill now counted RADM Cone among his closets friends, never ceasing to be amazed by his perceptiveness.
It was almost a year to the day later that they all were subjected to the test of combat. The Russians attempted to en force their demands for a total West European disarmament and disestablishment of NA TO by establishing an energy embargo against the European Union. Not only were the oil and gas pipelines to the West and such as Ukraine, the Baltic States and Georgia turned off, but as many as 50 Russian SSNs, SSGNs, and Air Independent Propulsion SS were quickly deployed in choke points from the Persian Gulf and other petroleum sources. As in nearly all conflicts, the preconceptions of peacetime tactical planning didn’t match the situation. Our 25 SSNs (and another dozen or so EU and NATO boats) were individually superb, and far more than a match of the opposition, but because of the two decade one-a-year submarine building holiday, there were not enough of them to both escort tankers and their transit routes and choke points. First one, then several other tankers were attacked and sunk, propelling the crisis into a confrontation short of General War between NA TO and Russia.
Limited submarine and other ASW resources were allocated to direct support, or convoy protection roles. This accounted for some Russian losses, but did not substantially reduce the tankers sunk by submarine-launched missiles. Patrol aircraft found many, and successfully attacked a few submarines (of both sides, unfortunately). U.S. submarines deploying from New London , Norfolk, and Hawaii were being attacked in shallow continental shelf waters before diving, which forced reallocating some scarce SSN re· sources to coastal defense roles. On arriving at Liverpool two weeks into the conflict, having provided direct support to a convoy from the Persian Gulf from which 4 of the 6 tankers were sunk at a cost of I Russian SSGN and one AlP SS , CDR Cone requested, and obtained permission to loiter 2 weeks in the northern Norwegian Sea en route to New London. Eight days and I 9 torpedoes later, 9 enemy submarines had been sunk by the NORTH CAROLINA- nor while they were transiting out to do battle, but while transiting home to replenish . Convoy protection and Direct Support operations were then terminated and virtually all friendly submarine assets were placed off Norway, Gibraltar, and South Africa in this reverse-barrier role. A week later the energy embargo ended as the Russians realized they could not recover their submarine assets without unacceptable losses.
The awards ceremony, at which CDR Cone received his Medal of Honor (and Bill his Silver Star), was still vividly remembered by all that had been there. In accepting his award, and the Presidential Unit Citation for the ship, Dave Cone, with a voice strained with emotion and frequent pauses to regain his composure, stressed to all how it was not he who had carried the day, but his men – his officers; that he would have been unequal to the task if it had not been for their tireless efforts not only in the busy days of battle, but back through their years of training, the building of a proper ship, and the seemingly thankless and endless series of peacetime reports and routine maintenance. He was, he said, as more than one handkerchief came out of pockets and purses, far prouder to have been a member of the crew of NORTH CAROLINA, as forever indicated by the bronze NC authorized to be worn on the Prcsidetial Unit Citation ribbon , than to have been singled out by an accident of rank and events for the Nation’s highest award.
The Porsche idled into the Submarine Squadron 24 parking Jot and coasted to a stop in a space marked Reserved for Command Pilots. He never ceased to be amused by the nomenclature of his position. It was strange after the years of restrained animosity between Airedales and Submariners that we should virtually copy their organization and terminology for the SSL ‘s. It was very logical though. In fact, the SSL ‘s were even built by traditionally aerospace-oriented companies – Boeing and Grumman as an immediate post-crisis corrective action to fill the artilleryman gap for the decade or more until a somewhat cold SSN production line could be reinvigorated. They wcren ‘t at all substitutes for real multi-purpose nuclear submarines, but had succeeded in casing some of the scheduling burdens, provided a degree of homeland- security-like coastal defense/anti-drug capability and provided marvelous training services for not only the Submarine Force, but also other ASW forces. When deployed in an expeditionary role with their ASN tender, they showed the flag, but also incurred some of the downsides always associated with foreign-based forces.
The SSL design incorporated the best of the low space and weight and modular replacement techniques of aircraft, but was also made to approach traditional submarine reliability. Lessons were also gleaned from the early 2 I” century’s failure to affordably build Littoral Combat Ships- small surface combatants. Another aviation-inspired feature of the SSL program was that as a Command Pilot, he was not totally responsible for all operational, administrative, and maintenance requirements of specific vessels as he would be when he eventually progressed to command an SSN . In two successive missions, he would more than likely be placed in charge of two different vessels with two different five-man crews.
From the boat launching, Bill could sec the tender, USS RICKOVER (ASN-4 I), anchored in the Jee of Gardner’s Island. RICKOVER was a smart ship. It was rather ironic that name be given a ship whose mission was the support of non-nuclear submarines, since throughout his career, The Admiral (capital “T” in “The” differentiating him from all other Admirals) had violently, and successfully, opposed any division of manpower, material, industrial or financial resources away from the development and perfection of an all nuclear Submarine Force. However, when it became apparent that the limited mobility and endurance of SSLs as compared to SSNs would require that the additional support required because of this missing mobility and endurance be just as expeditionary as the submarines themselves, several of these nuclear powered submarine tenders were authorized the first of which recycled the name freed up when HYMAN G. RICKOVER (SSN 709) was decommissioned.
He had about a five minute wait for the next boat, and he could spend it speculating as to which of the I 0 SSL ‘s attached to the squadron he’d be assigned today. SSL-12 had entered the tender’s docking well yesterday for hull work, and SSL-8 wasn’t due to come out of the welJ until this coming Thursday. SSL ‘s 3 and IO were providing submarine services in the Narragansett Bay OP AREAS and wouldn’t be back for a week. Four others had just arrived at Rota, Spain after a trans-Atlantic direct support mission for some Sixth Fleet Auxiliaries and were refueling there alongside USS LONG (ASN-43). That left only the SSL-4 and SSL-13 available. He hoped it would be the 13 boat. In spite of the fact that some of the Squadron personnel were superstitious about the hull number, SSL-13 was Bill’s favorite. Its Maintenance Crew Chief, Senior Chief Williams, was outstanding. He was a gruff old Auxiliary man who had been Chief of the Boat on three SSBN’s before being selected for the SSL program. He would constantly complain of how assigned crews would treat his boat poorly, just as he used to carry on about the opposite crew on his FBM ‘s. When asked if his boat was ready to sail, Chief Williams would invariably indicate that he needed at least two more days of work on it, and he’d wanted to paint it out this time, and couldn’t they assign the mission to the 8 or 12 boat. The Squadron Engineer had come to learn that if Chief Williams estimated the remaining maintenance were anything less than a week, then the boat was beautifully prepared, and was the most ready unit in the Squadron.
The launch had arrived at the dock, and a young sailor jumped smartly out to make it fast. He snapped to attention and popped Bill a very military salute, “Good Morning Commander Townsend, how arc you today’!” Bill smiled, returned the salute, and complimented the young sailor on the cleanliness of the motor launch.
En route to the tender, Bill again reflected on the wisdom of his deciding to remain in the Navy and the Submarine Force. Deciding was probably not the appropriate word he thought, amused. At first, he had been too busy to do the necessary paperwork to resign his commission, and all at once he had found himself too involved with friends, accomplishments and goals to consider it.
Bill was one of the fifteen command pilots assigned to the Squadron. The men who flew the SSL ‘s enjoyed privileges and respect on the tender and in the Submarine Force reminiscent of World War II air groups on a carrier. His recognized title of Commander was one of these amenities. The officers and men of the Squadron crews also had their own messing, berthing, and recreational areas aboard the tender. A pay differential existed for the crews above the normal submarine pay. Whether officer or enlisted, selection for a tour in this program was regarded as a high indication of performance and potential. To be considered for a tour of SSL duty, a man first had to excel in his duties aboard an SSN, SSGN or SSBN. Following a tour, the individual would return to the SSN/SSGN/SSBN community with a significant background in submarine sensors, weapons, and tactics – it was a variant of the way the old research submarine NR-1 had been manned. The program was still new enough that the full impact had not yet been fell, but all were agreed that it should prove to be the spawning ground of superlative Commanding Officers, a marked contrast to lhat one period in the late sixties and early seventies when it appeared that a Submarine Force was evolving with consummate engineering skills, and little more.
As the launch pulled alongside RICKOVER, Bill noted that the SSL-13 was alongside one of the hydrogen fueling stations, and, judging from the frost on the fueling line, was being topped off. The trim of the boat told his submariner’s eye that the liquid oxygen tank age had already been filled. So, the 13 boat would be going out today. Bill waved to Chief Williams, topside on the 13 , as the launch tied up at the accommodation ladder and received a barely subdued scowl in return- further confirmation Bill would take the Chiefs boat from him today.
RICKOVER ‘s ood greeted Bill at the quarterdeck and informed him that his mission briefing would be in the Commodore’s stateroom at 0900. Bill thanked him, and walked toward the Squadron ready room to check the duly roster and get a cup of coffee.
The 30-day Energy Embargo crisis both proved and disproved the validity of the Admiral’s efforts. His products were an order of magnitude superior to the opponents, and a one-on-one contest was no contest at all. In the final week of the war, during the inverse barrier phase, no U.S. SSN was successfully attacked by a Russian submarine, while, counting NEW Mexico’s initial 9, 20 Russian submersibles were sunk. The cumulative kill ratio for all submarines committed during the war was about 10/3 for NA TO/Russian forces and 1611 for U .S Russian forces. Even at that kill ratio, however, the war was very nearly lost. A week or so longer of near zero European logistic support would have resulted in either an improbable escalation of the conflict, or incalculable damage to the western alliance. There simply had not been enough submarines to perform all of the missions, many of which did not require the speed and endurance of the nuclear boats. After the war, it was decided to continue to build the nuclear attack submarines to their planned level in numbers and excellence, but also to develop less expensive platforms capable of mass production and able to relieve the SSN ‘ s of the more mundane jobs of coastal defense and convoy support. The result was the SSL. One hundred and nineteen feet long, displacing 508 tons, and with a crew of six, the ship was powered by fuel cells driven with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. It was capable of crossing the Atlantic Submerged at 12 knots, and, due to its small size and titanium hull, could operate at more than a mile in depth. It was quite a technological achievement Five I 0-boat squadrons were now operational, and plans were to peak at a level of JO squadrons by 2027, at which time they would begin to be decommissioned as the force levels of SSNs recovered. Serious consideration was being given, however, to leverage SSL technologies and experience to build small manned vehicles that would piggyback on mother ship SSNs to extend ISR capabilities into much shallower waters and for other missions.
The coffee pot was full in the ready room and Bill drew himself a cup. The duty roster was posted on the bulletin board and confirmed his speculations:
Good, it had been awhile since Bill had made some approaches. Also, Jim Perkins was coming up for his Command Pilot board, and letting him make a run or two would help get him ready. Bill was glad to see that Ski would be his Propulsion Tech. They’d served together while Bill was Engineer of the old SSBN WYOMING, and had been friends since. He was, perhaps, the best equipment operator Bill had ever seen, and he’d managed to master the SSL’s fuel cell plant, sensor, and weapon installation with the same thoroughness he’d exhibited with WYOMING’s reactor plant. His good humor and quick wit were an added bonus. A little prone to getting into minor trouble on liberty, but a great guy to bring to sea. Bill was happy with the other crew assignments also, all experienced, all pros. It should be a good week.
It was about time for his Mission Briefing and Bill started up toward the Commodore’s cabin. CDR Dolan was another individual Bill thought of very highly. As a young submariner, Bill had come to equate flamboyance with expertise among his seniors. So many of the good CO’s had seemed to be colorful and very visibly self· confident. Bill had not met, nor had he initially been prepared for, CDR Dolan’s personality. He was quiet, reserved, and a master of understatement. It wasn’t until Bill had seen his performance that he realized that no flamboyance was necessary. CDR Dolan had gained his enviable reputation from results, and expected the same from his subordinates. He was also a first-rate humanist, and his sincere concern for the problems of those working for him gained their complete respect and dedication.
Bill knocked and entered the Commodore’s cabin at 0858. CDR Dolan was seated at the table with a cup of coffee and a copy of the OPORD in front of him, a cup of coffee and a copy of the OPORD at the seat to his right.”Good Morning, Commodore.” “Good Morning, Bill, have a seat. How was your weekend?” “Fine, Sir. I got a chance to do a little fishing with one of my neighbors. Would you and Betty like a couple of Blues?” “We’d enjoy them, if you have some to spare. We’re having some people over next Saturday afternoon. Why don’t you plan to stop by and bring a date?”
“Thank you , Sir; I’ll be there.” Bill envied the way in which the Commodore could put one completely at ease in the first few minutes of conversation. His direct, honest manner was the same regardless of whether he was speaking to an Admiral or a Seaman. Bill knew that he could, with equal ease and effectiveness, honestly and directly apprise an individual of his shortcomings. It wasn’t too awfully long ago that a similar meeting in his cabin had begun with, “LT Townsend, your handling of the SSL-8 in last week’s exercise was not what I considered satisfactory”, and followed with a list of a half dozen specific examples. It was an emotionless and thorough confrontation, and had pulled Bill back from a temporary decline he’d been in. Lesser seniors would have let it ride, reneging it in the next fitness report, or exploded in self-righteous rage. “Bill, I’m sure you’ve checked the duty roster and seen you’re taking the 13 boat out this morning. Do you have any comments about the ship or crew assignment?
“No, Sir, its fine. I hope to let Jim Perkins do most of the Command Pilot function to help get him up to speed for his board.” “Good. I was going to recommend that. I gave him to you since I consider you the best qualified to groom him up for the board. Drop up and give me a briefing on how he does when you get back.” “Yes, Sir.” Bill felt a little uneasy. If it was embarrassing being called to task by someone this good, it was even more embarrassing being praised.
“Herc’s your OPORD, Bill. There’s nothing unique about it. The HAW All is leaving for six months in the Med next week, and this will be her last bit of work-up. Sam Macintyre’s the skipper, and he’s got a good ship. I think you’ll find her a worthy playmate. Is there anything else the Squadron can do for you before you leave?” “Not that I know of, Commodore. I’m going to look the boat over and talk to Chief Williams now. I’ll call if anything comes up.” “Fine, Bill – see you Thursday.” Chief Williams was in the Control Room as Bill dropped through the access hatch. He and one of his maintenance crew were just completing the underway check-off list on the weapon/sensor control panel. “Morning Chief, the boat looks great.” “Well, Mr. Townsend, all the preundcrways check out, but I’d rather have had time to paint out the motor room, and the #I fuel cell water pump has a squeak I wanted to square away.” “I’ll tell Ski to watch the pump. Anything else I should know?” “W c loaded four M K-62 exercise weapons last night. The data on them had already been loaded into the weapons computer. An, Sir, tell that clown Barnes that if I find any more candy wrappers behind the ship control panel, I’ll break his head.” ” O.K., Chief we’ll take good care of your boat.” Bill took the completed check lists from Chief Williams and couldn’t help noticing that the Chiers expression was not unlike Bill’s father’s when he had first given Bill the keys to the family car.
Bill took the lists into the living spaces for review. Twenty-three pages of tests and checks, done and certified by two independent persons exactly in accordance with the latest revision of the Ship’s System Manual. The biggest single thing contributed to the Navy by the first twenty years of the nuclear power program was the emphasis on precise procedural documentation and verbatim compliance with operating procedures. When the first mention of cryogenic submarine propulsion had been made, the operational community shuddered at the thought of liquid oxygen and hydro- gen running around inside a pressure hull, even though the Germans and others had long since managed similar approaches with such as their Type 2 J 2s and 2 I 4s. There had, in fact, been some rather spectacular events at Grumman during the development work, but during the three years since the first SSL had been accepted by the Navy, there had not been one incident involving inadvertent energy release on the boats or on the tender. Total Safety – another part of The Admiral’s legacy. It was 0935, and Bill’s review had just been completed when Jim Perkins knocked on the bulkhead. “Commander, I have the crew mustered topside, and I’ve briefed them on the trip. Would you like to speak to them?” “Thanks, Jim, I will. Isn’t your Command Pilot board scheduled for next week?” “Yes, Sir I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a little nervous about it. I hope I find some time to study this week out.” “Well, Jim, I don’t think you will; but, I don’t really think that it is bookwork that will do you the most good at this point. I intend to let you pretty much run the show as Command Pilot during this operation. I’ ll be looking over your shoulder, and I’ll be here if you need any advice, but you’ll be calling the shots. You’ll be pretty busy, since you still have your First Officer duties to manage, O.K.?” L TUg) Perkins was somewhat startled by the news, and a few moments lapsed while he digested it. “Yes, Sir- thank you- I hope I can justify your confidence.” “I wouldn’t be doing it unless I thought you were ready. Has the Watch and Battle Bill been prepared?” “Y cs, Sir. It’ s posted on the bulletin board, and it’s been promulgated to the crew. I gave you the 08-12 and 20-24 Pilot watches, as usual.” “Thanks, Jim, but go ahead and give me your watches, and you take the day watches. As acting Commander, you’ll need the nights for rest while 1 watch the ship.” The two of them proceeded topside where L T(jg) English called the crew to attention. “Good Morning, Commander. The crew is present and ready for sailing.” “Thank you, Mr. English. Put the crew at ease.” “Crew, at case!” ” Gentlemen, you ‘vc already been briefed on our mission this week, and I’ve nothing further to add. There is one special aspect of this week’s work, however. Mr. Perkins is due for his Command Pilot board next week, and I’ve directed him to act in the capacity of Boat Commander for the next four days. All messages and reports normally made to me will be made to Mr. Perkins. He will pass on to me that which he feels is necessary for me to know. I’ve sailed with all of you in the past, and I’m confident that you will contribute the same effort and professionalism in Mr. Perkin’s behalf as you’ve previously done for me. Thank you.”
A nod to his second officer brought the crew back to attention, and Bill turned to go below decks. As he dropped down the hatch, he heard the order “Station the Maneuvering Watch – Crew, dismissed.”
The last few minutes prior to the underway of a warship arc generally hectic. Even as small, compact, and automated as it was, the SS L-13 was no exception. L TUg) John English had manned his station as maneuvering watch Pilot at the ship control panel. Once the liquid oxygen and hydrogen had been loaded aboard, a certain minimum energy drain from the fuel cell stack had to be maintained to consume residual boil-off. This was accomplished by a small auxiliary cell. Now that higher demands for propulsion power were imminent, John was systematically bringing on more segments of the energy bank. Although he had accomplished these same steps dozens of times before, John was precisely following sections of the Ship’s System manual which he periodically called up on the multi-purpose, touch-sensitive flat-panel plasma display immediately in front of the pilot’s chair. This same display selectively presented stored intelligence in formation, ship system performance parameters, the current tactical situation, and any of the literally dozens of other functions. Petty Officer Bronski was in the machinery space, his maneuvering watch station, monitoring the performance of the remotely operated valves and breakers. Petty Officer Jones, the assigned sensors tech, was at his station, the Weapons/Sensor Control Panel, and was conducting final radio and underwater telephone checks with the Tender, Squadron, and accompanying tug.
Barnes, the weapons tech, stood his watch at the secondary controls for the Main Motor and control surfaces, in case of a failure. Bill was amused to notice that a candy bar wrapper of the type Chief Williams had mentioned was poking out of Petty Officer Barnes’ shirt pocket. Men weren’t supposed to eat on watch, but as good a sailor as Barnes was, some minor infractions could be overlooked as long as they wcrcn ‘t too overt. If Bill ever was so careless as to catch Barnes eating on watch, he’d have to call him down on it. In the meantime, however, Petty Officer Barnes and the ship would work better if he was allowed to satisfy the same compulsion he had for chocolate that others have for tobacco or coffee. Jim Perkins, as first officer, was responsible for the navigation and piloting, and would normally be spending most his time searching for landmarks on the video display of the non hull- penetrating pho tonics mast. The boat commander was free to stand back and overview the entire proceedings, giving guidance and direction as necessary. Bill told Jim that he would accomplish the piloting this time out, knowing the weather was good enough to do that and still monitor Jim’s actions as acting Commander.
“We have the Squadron’s permission to get underway,” reported Jones from the WIS console. ” Very well,” replied the acting Commander, with just a trace of nerves in his voice. ” Control, Bridge, what is the status of under.vay readiness?” said a speaker at the Ship Control Panel. Jim looked at Bill and Bill nodded agreement. ” Helm, inform the bridge that the boat and boat Commander arc ready to get underway.” Stated Jim with a tone of rising confidence.
Bill had recognized Tom Norris’ voice as the Duty Officer of the Deck. Command Pilots were periodically assigned as Duty OOD ‘ s, and this week it was Tom’s turn. Surprisingly enough, the port egress and entry problem had been one of the most controversial issues of the whole SSL development program . The questions revolved around an OOD on the bridge, his safety if any significant seas were running, and the traditional CO/OOD ‘ship relationships. Proposals were made for the ship to be towed in and out of port, but very real problems existed in making up the tow in open waters. For awhile, it had looked as though the entire SSL program would collapse due to pressure on this one point. It was then that one of the Boeing human factors engineers assigned to the project spoke up . “I’m not that familiar with Naval tradition, and I’ve never been on a submarine, but is it really vital that the OOD be physically located on the ship? For years, a man on the ground has been ‘flying’ down aircraft in poor visibility by giving instructions to the pilot over radio. That would seem to be a hell of a more insur- mountable problem than what we’ve got. In any case, the individual steering the ship can ‘ t sec where he’ s going. What difference does it make if he gets his orders from an OOD on his ship over sound- powered phones, or from an OOD on another, more seaworthy ship, via radio or underwater telephone?” Not so surprisingly, the concept worked. The OOD rode a tug several hundred yards ahead of the SSL, and gave maneuvering orders via radio or underwater telephone. He had no responsibility for the tug’s position on maneuvers, but only those of the SSL. As any sailor knows who has second-guessed a ship’s underway or landing from the safety of a pier, it is sometimes easier to judge the relative motion, wind, and current effects when you’re removed from the ship itself. In addition, since the tug preceded the submarine, and had a deeper draft than the SSL, the 000 had merely to conn the SSL in the tug’s wake and was prealerted to any navigational hazards along the track.
“Control, Bridge; LT Norris has the deck and the conn. Rudder amid-ships – answer bells on the Main Engines, answer all stop.”
Bill smiled. In its own inimitable way, the Navy had kept all the terminology exactly the same as if the were actually topside. In the heat of a difficult maneuvering watch, even he, as Boat Commander, often subconsciously lost sight of the fact that this wasn’t so. Only once, in eighteen months as a command Pilot, had Bill had to exercise his prerogative to assume the conn and direct the ship’s motions using video periscope data. That had been when the tugs gyro had failed and the Duty OOD had ordered an erroneous course. It had been very foggy, and the tug had not noticed their heading reference drifting off. On their radar, due to the bad gyro, it looked a s though the SSL had begun to turn out of the channel, and the duty OOD had ordered a large course change to bring it back in. Bill had seen the tug drifting out on his radar, and, based on his First 0fficer’s excellent piloting skills, was sure enough of his own heading and position to answer back.
“Negative, Bridge. This is the Boat Commander – I have the deck and the conn . Be advised you arc leaving the channel.” Bill had stopped the SSL until the situation cleared, but the tug went aground 50 yards to the right of the channel. Bill had then continued in on his own, trans ferring the conn to another Command Pilot on the tender for the final stages of the landing. It had been proof of the value of redundant piloting capabilities in restricted waters. lfhe had been in tow, it would have been a terrible mess. “All back one third.” Crackled the speaker. “Answers All back one third,” answer John, as he advanced the Main Motor power lever to the appropriate position. The boat shuddered slightly as the astern bell came on. Ships, like people and organizations, seem to inherently protest against moving backwards. “All back two thirds, left full rudder.”
The boat moved out from the tender and began to swing its head to starboard. Through the scope, Bill watched CDR Marsh on the 0-3 deck of the tender. As he zoomed up to an X8 magnification, Bill recognized the look of mixed pride and envy on the Commdore’s face. It was something only a seaman would understand. Proud to be a part of the mechanism that was getting a warship smartly underway, but envy of the Commanding Officer of that warship, who was about to re-enter the world of complete and total responsibility and authority. A man could spend 16-18 years at sea and when shore duty came, tell his wife and kids how great it would be not to be separated for long periods anymore. I-Le would mean it, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t feel a loss watching ships go to sea without him. If coming back from sea was the greatest feeling in the world, then by not going, you cheated yourself out of this euphoria.
The Maneuvering Watch went well. Bill enjoyed the chance to regain his piloting skills, and got the perfectionist’s thrill when three bearings to landmarks on the beach would neatly intersect right on the intended track. The ship turned to the southeast and passed a line drawn between Montauk Point and Block Island. They were in International Waters now, and there were few visual contacts. It was time to assume local control and release the tug. Bill glanced over at Jim to sec if he had arrived at the same conclusion. Jim was engaged in conversation with Petty Officer Jones at the WIS console. Jones was describing a minor problem in the passive video display, and what corrective action would be necessary before the rendezvous with SSN-70 I tonight. 8 ill decided to give him a few more minutes. Jim finished that conver- sation and walked to the navigational plotting to review the boat’s position and intended track. Then to Bronski, to ask about the propulsion plant performance during the maneuvering watch. Jim was operating in top notch First 0fficer style keeping his finger on the pulse of everything on board “Jim, can I speak to you, please?” “Y cs, Sir.”
Bill bent over the plotting table to get some measure of privacy without committing the overt act of calling Jim into the living spaces. “What arc your intentions on releasing the tug?”, he asked. “Oh, well, I guess we could release him now.” Answer Jim.
“I agree – don’t forget that thcre’re half a dozen of people up there serving you. They’re interested in doing a good job, but they’re also concerned about not having too long a haul back to the barn. I’m sure it’s apparent to them that they’re not really necessary anymore, and not being released will result in one of two conclusions we’re either unprofessional or inconsiderate.”
Jim flushed slightly, “Yes, Sir, l wasn’t thinking.” “But you were, Jim. That’s the point l want to make. You were totally thinking about the current facets of your job. Your mind was I 00% task oriented. That’s great as a First Officer or any other member of the crew. As a Command Pilot, it can lead to disaster. Never let yourself get more than 50° o involved in anything. Keep the other 50% on a plane above the here and now – reviewing, thinking ahead, questioning yourself and others, and inventing solutions to yet to occur problems.”
Bill smiled. “Others will call it ESP, but it’s just good Command thinking. 0.K., turn them loose now there’s no harm done. You’re doing tine, but I’ll keep nitpicking you on these tine points.”
Jim grinned acknowledgement of his status, and picked up the nearby communications mike. “Bridge, Control : I’m ready to relieve you of the deck and the conn.” The rapidness of the reply confirmed Jim’s intuition that the OOD and the tug personnel were anxious to be released. ” Bridge, Aye: steering course 131, all ahead standard, two visual contacts: one small fisherman bearing 235, range 5000 yards with a starboard 70 angle on the bow he appears to be dead in the water; one merchant, inbound, bearing 030, 6000 yards, port 130 angle on the bow. He is past CPA and opening.” “Very well, I relieve you of the deck and the conn. You are released- Thanks for the help.” “Glad to do it 13, and good luck to you this week, Jim.” “13 Aye, securing the net.” Jim appeared a little surprised that Tom Norris apparently knew he was acting Boat Commander. He hadn’t been around quite long enough to realize that nothing goes on in an SSL Squadron that escapes the grapevine. “Commander Townsend, my plans arc to dive at the 20-fathom curve, go on up to full and get to the rendezvous point an hour or so early in case they’re any communication problems.” “Good, Jim – that’s real Boat Commander logic.”
Bill watched Jim’s confidence increase by an order of magnitude simply on that one complement. It appeared that Bill was picking up a little of Cone’s and Marsh’s ability to manipulate subordinates’ emotions at will. It was a powerful leadership tool, but Bill was still in awe of the dangers of using such a talent unwisely. It was just as well that it was hard to come by- hopefully, but the time one achieved it, he’d also achieved the maturity and wisdom to use it properly.
As the 20 fathom curve got closer, the sonic beacons from the off-shore fixed fishing installations and oil rigs were detected on the sonar. The devices were really ingeniously simple. An application of similar above water visual signals, such as red lights on radio towers or running lights on ships, each type of underwater obstruction in waters greater than 20 fathoms emitted a signal whose frequency modulation identified the type and depth of the hazard. Even deep draft ships had these devices. As with most safety devices, it had taken a disaster to father these innovations. In 2009, a Chinese SSBN coming to periscope depth had been struck and sunk unknowingly by a 200,000 ton tanker in the South China Sea. Charge and counterargument had been passed between Washing- ton and Beijing when the loss, but not the cause, was discovered. Fortunately, a neutral deep diving Korean research sub located the hull, and by comparing commercial tracks with the position, and docking the suspected tanker, the truth of the incident evolved before national prides created a confrontation. Bill since had reason to be thankful for the beacons. When a ship drawing 80 feet is pointed right at your position, not much noise gets through the I 000+ feet of hull between you and her engines.
Bill had the ship control panel watch as they crossed the 20 fathom curve. He slewed the video periscope to the East and could see a dozen wind turbines and three of the big oil rigs tailing off over the horizon. They hadn’t been kidding when they speculated about the wind and oil resources southeast of New England. Maybe when he retired from the Navy, he’d get a job driving one of those SSL-like boats the oil companies used to check the wellheads and the pipeline runs into Long Island Sound. “Sounding, 22 fathoms, Sir.” Reported Petty Officer Barnes from the W /S console. “Very well, inform Mr. Perkins.” “Aye, Aye, Sir.” Replied Barnes as he rang the living spaces. Jim appeared through the door to the Jiving spaces, and Bill made the standard report, “Sounding is 22 fathoms, the boat is rigged for dive and 6 miles ahead of track, request permission to submerge to 80 feet and increase speed to full in accordance with your instructions.” “Very well, submerge the boat.”
The main vents were opened, the video periscope and communications mast lowered, and the boat started down towards 80 feet. Bill advanced the main motor controls and watched the corresponding displays indicate increased RPM, speed, fuel cell amperage, and H/0 2 now rates. Everything was working smoothly. A yellow warning light and an associated buzzer actuated at the common alarm panel. When interrogated, the readout indicated “HI H 2 0.” “Better have someone take a shower, Jim,” said Bill. “We’re at 80% potable water, and will be making it pretty quickly at this full bell.” “I’ll volunteer,” laughed Jim. The characteristics smell of the diesel-electric sailors was one bit of tradition no one had minded giving up. On a normal mission of 15 days or so, the ship would operate at more moderate speeds to conserve fuel, but on a short operation such as this, the boat was hardly constrained at all in the use of FULL or FLANK bells.
The transit to the assigned operating areas was uneventful. Depth was increased in several hundred foot increments to remain at about 75% of the corrected sounding.
“Officer of the Deck – sounding I 000 fathoms,” reported Barnes. “We appear to be crossing this curve about 2 miles ahead of our SINS position. I recommend we get a navigation fix now before we move on over to the rendezvous point.”
“I concur. I’ll get Mr. Perkins’ permission.” Bill rang the living spaces and spoke to Jim who had just finished dinner and was getting ready to come on watch. “Mr. Perkins, 000; we’ve crossed the I 000 fathom curve about two miles ahead of track. I recommend launching a N av buoy to get a Glob al Positioning System satellite fix.” “Permission granted – launch the buoy. Please inform me of the results.”
Jim was warming up lo being in charge, thought Bill. He’ll do all right. “Petty Officer Barnes, launch a GPS Nav buoy.” “Aye, Aye, Sir,” and Barnes programmed the mus1er computer to calculate ship maneuvering constraints based on buoy rise rate and ship’s depth. “Sir, recommend 7 knots to assure the fiber optic tether lasts for the duration of the fix.” “Very well,” and Bill dropped to shaft turns for 7 knots. “Buoy away, Sir.” “V cry well.”
Again, Bill reflected on what tapping of other areas of stat-of- the-art had brought to the Submarine Force. Submarines had always played with buoy-like devices fired from a miniature torpedo tube about 3 inches in diameter, but they had been extremely unsophisticated compared to what aerospace expertise had since given them. The signal launcher as such had long since disappeared, and the 13 boat’s superstructure was literally honeycombed with externally stowed devices of every kind. Buoys to communicate via, the Nav buoys, evasion devices; some floated to the surface, some sank, some were rocket propelled and others served as an acoustic/RF interface which enabled the submarine lo have two-way connectivity to aircraft or other entities with radios using acoustic transmissions. There were anti-aircraft missiles and other highly classified devices which would drive any potential adversary’s radars or sonars wild. These were all programmed and controlled from the W IS console.
“Satellite reception indicated,” reported Barnes, as both his plasma display and monitor speaker responded to a cryptic series of beeps and whistles from the buoy. After about 2 minutes of this data, the display flashed : FIX COMPLETED – FIX QUALITY 4.8 – RESET I.SS NM AT 136″ – INSERT? – “Good fix, Officer of the Deck, recommended SINS reset is about 2 miles to the Southeast; shall I insert it?” “Yes, insert the fix .” Jim had arrived in control and had monitored the conversation. He nodded approval and walked over 10 the Ship Control Panel as Bill returned to a Full bell. “Ready to relieve you, Sir.” “Very well,” said Bill. “Steering 140″, depth 4000 feet, all ahead full. No ships alarms, no contacts evaluated as ships, obstruction beacons held on either quarter- opening. No unexpected orders.” “I relieve you of the deck and the conn, Sir.” “I stand relieved,” replied Bill, and he punched in the appropriate closing deck log entry into the computer’s memory with the input deck on the front of the SCP.
The Navy would never get rid of logs and readings, but this was a lot less painful way to collect these mountains of data . Virtually every piece of equipment on board was sampled by a recording device with the capability of manual input, such as the Deck Log, of facts or opinions. Upon completion of a mission , a magnetic tape reel was given to the Squadron staff who could analyze to their heart’s content and file for future reference. For example, a good deal of the work list for maintenance crews such as Chief Williams headed was automatically prepared by computer analysis of equipment parameters on these tapes.
Petty Office Bronski had already relieved Barnes on the W S console as Bill left Control to conduct a traditional after watch tour of the ship. “Barnes, how about popping one of those fish and chip dishes into the microwave for me while I make my tour? I’ll whip you at cribbage after dinner, if you feel up to it.” ” Yes, Sir,” Barnes smiles, ” I feel up to it!” Bill wasn’t that good a cribbage player and knew Ski would probably win; but he enjoyed the camaraderie of the game, and the others got a big kick out of beating the Boat Commander.
As he entered the machinery space, 8 ill heard that squeak in the H 2 0 pump that Chief Williams had mentions. It was pretty loud, but the motor casing wasn’t any warmer than normal. He made a mental note to get readout from memory on the trend since underway. He thought that Chief Williams would have taken a harder stand on its repair if it had been this loud before.
Bill finished his tour and returned to Control to report the results to the OOD. “Conditions satisfactory below decks, Jim; except that the fuel cell Hp removal pump’s a little noisy.”
“I noticed that earlier, Sir. The first thing I did when I got on watch was to get a readout on its current and accelerator readings. Herc’ s a hard copy for your review. Notice that the current has been running only a few percent over normal load demand, but the vibration reading took a 5 db jump about an hour ago, and have since remained steady. Looks like a bad bearing, but it seems to be holding its own.” No flies on this guy, thought Bill. He ‘ s analyzed it perfectly. “Good, Jim, you’re way ahead of me.” The dinners were just coming out of the microwave oven when Bill returned to the living spaces. They were pretty good, as good as you would get on United Airlines, but were still a far cry from the steak and potatoes of the nuclear boats. “Thanks, Barnes, Whatever you having?” “Oh, I’m going to try the Lasagna.” “You mean, with an Italian wife, you’ve got to go to sea to get Lasagna?” ” You’re right, Sir.” Laughed Barnes. “She gets on a different foreign food kick every once in awhile and docs it to death. The last month it’s been German- knockwurst, liverwurst, this wurst and that wurst. I honestly don’t know which is the wurst!”
Bill grinned and offered his condolences. He knew Barnes liked to kid about his wife and her gourmet cooking. He also knew they were a thoroughly devoted couple with two great little kids. Barnes was really sharp with a quick wit. Bill expected to hear any day now that Barnes had been accepted into a Navy sponsored college program leading to a degree and a commission. He really deserved Dinner didn’t last long, and the cribbage board appeared out of the game and library locker. “Penny a point, Sir- double for skunks?” “No way, sailor- you’re hard enough to beat when it’s just for fun! By the way, I intend to be up for this whole watch, if you want to get some sack time.”
With n six man crew, there were three two-man watch sections. Both of the individuals on watch were pretty much constrained to their stations, the W /S console and the SCP. In order to be assured of having a free body to check a machinery space, or provide a head call relief, or wake someone up, the off-going watch was responsible for reaching a mutual agreement where at lease one of them would be up and about. Normally, they split the four hours into 2 hour segments, keeping the OOD informed of who the ready man was. “Thanks anyway, Sir, but after a few games, I’m going to run a few more internal check on our exercise weapons. I checked with the Squadron Weapons Office this morning and found out that this series of MK-62 ‘ s has been having a higher than normal rate of post-launch failure.” “O.K., but don’t forget we’ve got a busy day tomorrow – don’t burn yourself out.” “No. Sir, I’ll.. …… ”
There’s a premonition, a sixth sense that submariners develop concerning the General Announcing Circuit, or I MC. It might be used a dozen times an hour, but there arc times that the click preceding a message will cut through the fog of sleep, and will stop conversation in mid-stride. Such was the click that cut off Petty Office Barnes ‘ sentence. An infinitely long half second later came : “FIRE IN THE MACHINERY SPACE” followed by the continuing gong of the General Alarm.
From this point, the human responses of Bill and Petty Officer Barnes were Pavlovian in nature. As the ready body, Bill first moved to wake anyone in the bunkroom. John English and Petty Officer Jones had already rolled out, and were getting into trousers and loafers. Barnes, as the off-going W /S console operator had proceeded to the scene, to be followed shortly by the on-corning SCP watch, L T(JG) English. Bill moved from the bunkroom to control to relieve the W /S console operator of casualty control, andJones was right behind him to man the secondary motor/planes control station. “Officer of the Deck, Machinery Space reports heavy smoke, recommend deploying Emergency Breathing Apparatus,” an- nounced Bron ski from the WIS console, in a calm but forceful voice. “Very well, deploy EAB”s.”
Jim pushed a button on the SCP, and a dozen plastic masks dropped from the overhead throughout the boat, one not more than a couple of steps from any place a person might be. The arrangement was not unlike that of commercial airliners, and the transparent masks, which covered the eyes, nose, and mouth, were connected to the 0 2 stowage through a system of tubing and regulators. It wasn’t the most comfortable way to exist, but the ship could be operated for an entire mission in this manner, if the atmosphere becomes contaminated.
Immediately followed the casualty, L T(jg) Perkins had com- menced other standard procedures. The boat was angled upward about 20’ from the horizontal, and speed had been increased to maximum.
“Machinery Space reports fire was in #I H 2 0 removal pump. Power to the pump has been secured locally, but the motor insulation is smoldering,” announced Bronski through his EAB. “fuel cell pressure increasing.”
The casualty had gone well up to this point, and Bill had not felt to need to comment or offer suggestions. In accordance with standard practices, he would not relieve the W 1S console operator of casualty control until either the initial problem was entirely in hand, or it was apparent his intervention was necessary for the safety of the boat. The last report had concerned him, however; with no H 2 0 removal capability, and the FLANK bell now being answered, cell pressure was building up. If it reached the point where internal reliefs lifted, there could be a serious explosion hazard with the smoldering motor in the same space. A glance at the SCP showed the boat at 800 feet and rising at about 600 feet per minute. “Mr. Perkins, have you considered isolating and inserting the cells?” “Sir, I think we can make it to the surface before the reliefs lift!” “Officer of the Deck, isolate and inert the fuel cells!”, barked Bill. “Aye, Aye, Sir,” Jim lifted protective covers on two SCP switches and actuated them. Through the hull one could hear the main power breakers open and the H 2 and 0 2 emergency supply valve shut. A hissing sound indicated that the cell’s interior was being flooded with nitrogen. The lights blinked almost imperceptibly as the boat’s service loads were picked up by the backup Lithium-ion battery pack and the ship’s speed began coasting down. Depth was steadying out at about 500 feet.
Jim continued his direction. “Mr. Perkins, make minimum turns on the Emergency Propulsion Motor, make your depth I 00 feet. Weapons/Sensor console, make a careful search and report all contacts.”
The respective individuals acknowledged the orders and the EPM, a very small motor integrally built into the same casing as the main motor, was energized. This was capable of moving the boat at a few knots with very low power drain from the battery pack. “No close contacts, Sir,” announced Branski. Depth was now 100 feet and the SSL had been maneuvered through a large course change to insure a thorough search for contacts. “Very well – Mr. Perkins, surface the boat.”
This had been the hardest part of SSL operations for Bill to get used to- surfacing from a hundred feet. No slow approach to periscope depth followed by a visual look. The SSL was just not optimized to operate at periscope depth, and it was actually safer to just pop on up.
The sound of the high pressure air hitting the Main Ballast Tank had the same reassuring sound as it had back on the NORTH CAROLINA and WYOMING. It was one of the most pleasing sounds in the world at the end of a two-month patrol.
As the SSL-13 hit the surface, Bill raised the video periscope and swung it around the horizon. The full darkness of night hadn’t yet covered the sky, and a clear horizon showed no visual contacts. “Petty Officer Bronski, I’ll relieve you of the WIS console. Where do we go from here?” Asked Bill.
Well, Sir, I think the water removal pump was the only problem, and I can just isolate it and line up #2 pump. We will need to purge the fuel cell, however, and I think we could all use a little fresh airin the boat so these masks can be secured . “Right, I relieve you. Go on up to the Machinery Space and take a look. Mr. Perkins, secure from fire; open the head valve and ventilate the boat.” “Aye, Aye, Sir.” Jim appeared a little shook over the events of the past 5 or so minutes since the fire. Now that only he and Bill were in the control room, Bill faced the issue head on. “Mr. Perkins, you endangered the boat by not isolating and inciting the fuel cell. Do you have an explanation of why you hesitated?” “Sir, my plans were to get to a safer depth, 200 feet or so, then shut down the cell and go on the EPM while we squared the problem away. I felt if I could avoid inerting the cell, then we’d save ourselves a surfacing and cell purge, and not hazard reaching the rendezvous point late.” “Jim, you remember your reactor prototype training. Tell me, what was the biggest difference you noticed between operating that shore-based reactor and operating the reactor at sea on your first ship?” “At the prototype we’d shut the reactor down for nearly any problem. At sea, a conscious effort would be made to resolve the difficulty while maintaining maximum propulsion capability.”
“Exactly- always be sure of the factors on either side of the ‘calculated risk· equation. If there is no overriding reason for continuing on, then act on the side of conservatism. If this casualty had happened in a battle condition, you would have been com- platelet justified in trying to ‘guts’ it out. The chances arc that there would have been no problem. However, right now we are in a peacetime situation with nothing exceptional to be gained by risking a complication ofa minor problem. We’ll be back down in an hour, and since you were prudent enough to stay ahead of track, we’ll probably still make rendezvous on time. Even if we couldn’t, it’s just a question of sending a message to the Squadron, who’ll notify HAW A II of our delay.” “Y cs, Sir. I understand your point.” “0.K., Jim , let the Squadron know our status, and also ask Jones to relieve me at the W IS console so I can sec how Bronski’s doing.” As Bill had guessed, the plant was back on the line within an hour, and the 13 boat was back down and headed towards rendezvous at a Flank bell. They would still arrive a little early, and barring no communications problems, wouldn’t lose any exercise time. “Possible submarine target bearing 142, Sir,” announced Bron ski from the WIS console. “V cry well,” answered Jim. “Start trying to raise her every three minutes on secure acoustic link. I’ll maneuver to give you data for target solution.”
Within 10 minutes, the 13 boat’s fire control computer had solved for the target’s course, speed, and range. Moving in on an interception course, acoustic com ms were established in another I 0 minutes, and the target identified herself as HA WAii. “13, this is HAW A II.Glad to have you here. You’re pretty quiet all we’ve heard is your comms call-up. Can you make yourself a little noisier for the weapon runs? OVER.” “HAWAII, this is 13 – Roger- WILCO. 13 is ready to COMEX at any time following your exercise instructions- OVER.” “13, this is HAWAII- Roger. HAWAII firing ship on first run. Standard exercise run #6. I will open to South. COM EX without signal at 0100 local time- OVER.” “This is 13 Roger, OUT.”
During the rendezvous, the SSL-13 had remained well beneath the maximum operating depth of HAW All. Sonar performance at these great depths was exceptionally good, and gave the SSL-13 a tremendous acoustic advantage over any adversary. “Petty Officer Bronski, what arc the conditions of standard exercise run #6?” asked Jim “I’m calling it up now, Sir,” replied Bronski as he manipulated the input panel for the ship’s computer. In a few seconds, the WIS console’s multi-purpose display flashed up an alphanumeric display describing the exercise. “Target ship I 00 to 300 feet, speeds up to 12 knots, course changes of up to 30 ‘ no less than 20 minutes apart. We have to pass within 20,000 yards of the initial point. Attacking ship must remain below 400 feet. If an encounter doesn’t take place within 2 hours of COM EX, both ships return to the initial point in assigned depth zones to communicate.” “Very Well,” replied Jim. “They’re starting off with an easy one. I’ll open another 5 miles to the North, then get on up into ourzone. Be ready to augment our noise level to that of a Virginia class.”
“Aye, Aye, Sir,” and Bronski again turned to his display to call up the appropriate control settings for the boat’s acoustic augmentation equipment.
By 0100, John English and Petty Officer Jones had relieved the watch, and the boat was in its depth zone. John swung the ship around to the South and Jones energized the equipment which made the SSL sound like a much bigger, more powerful target. This additional noise would make it harder for the SSL-13 to hear HA WAll, but it was the SSN-776 who was receiving the services on this run. The 13 boat would get its chance to play attacker later on in the day.
“Looks like we may have gotten past them, Ski,” said John at about 0245. The 13 boat had gone right over the initial point, something Jim thought HA WAil wouldn’t expect, and had since been opening to the East. With any kind of luck, HA WAii was muddling around somewhere to the Southwest wondering where her playmate had gone. It was almost as much fun being a good target as it was being a good attacker.
Jim had hung around the control room after being relieved savoring the in-charge feeling as acting Boat Commander. He would be going back to the initial point and communicating with HAW All as the in this exercise. “High speed screws bearing 270!” reported Jones from the W ,s console. Just then the secure acoustic com ms speaker crackled. “Mark. Weapon in the water.”
Petty Officer Jones pressed a button on the WIS console which put all pertinent ship parameters such as position, speed, course, etc., at that instant into computer memory. At the same time, an acoustic ping was put into the water which would be answered by a transponder on HA WAII to give the computer an accurate range at time of fire. Bearings to the torpedo were also being recorded constantly. With all this data on magnetic tape, Squadron Operations would be able to completely reconstruct the entire engagement with minutes. “Weapon closing, zero bearing rate,” announced Jones. “Very well.” Answered John English.
Standard exercise #6 did not provide for post-launch evasion on the target’s part, and John maintained course and speed as required. In a real engagement, the Control Room would be hopping at this time, and the master computer would be recommending evasive maneuvers and types of countermeasures to be released.
An audible thump was heard through the hull and on the sonar speaker. If it had been a real M K-62 torpedo, that thump would have meant that the weapon had sensed it was 200-300 yards from its target, and had released a circular pattern on 17 rocket-propelled shaped charge projectiles. Even though each projectile carried only a few pounds of explosive, they traveled at over 150 knots and would penetrate several inches of even the toughest pressure hull. During the weapon’s development, there had been skeptics who thought that a one or two inch hole in a submarine pressure hull would not be an effective kill mechanism. These skeptics did not include, however, any submariners who had seen even a 1 i inch pipe carry away at any kind of depth . When the immediate effects of uncontrolled flooding and its associated disastrous effect on electrical equipment was combined with the jct of molten metal which immediately precede the water, it was enough to ruin anyone’s day. Furthermore, it was likely that the target would be hit by not one, but two, three, or four of these projectiles. Even given the possibility of surfacing after such a hit, a submarine on the surface, unable to dive, and probably without propulsion, is really as good as sunk. In any case, it’s no longer capable of performing its mission. “Warhead release, Officer of the Deck.” “Very well, Jones. Establish secure acoustic comms with HAW All and get the exercise instructions for the next run,” replied John. Bill was up and about now, getting ready to relieve for the 04-08 watch. “How’s it going, Jim?” “Fine, Sir. We just finished the first run. John and I thought we’d given him the slip, but he put a pretty good shot right up our kilt.” “Squadron told us they were pretty good. We’d better not underestimate them. Have you written any Night Orders yet?” “No, Sir, I got interested in following the exercises, and just stayed on through the watch.””Well, even though it’s not always the most fun thing to do, a Boat Commander owes it to his crew to keep well rested. You’d better write some and turn on in. Besides,” Bill grinned, “what about John’s morale, would you have liked it as SCP watch if the Boat Commander hung over your shoulder for the whole watch on a routine exercise?”
The start of a grin on John’s face told Bill that he’d hit pretty close to the mark. “Y cs, Sir,” smiled Jim in return, “Good point. I just wanted to make sure everything went as well as possible.” “I understand, Jim. I’d probably be doing the same in your position. But, seriously, tuck away in your memory bank that your success as a Boat Commander will be determined not by how well things go in your presence, but how well they go in your absence.” “I’ll remember that, Commander. Thanks!”
They got another three exercises off uneventfully during the night, each of increasing difficult for HAW All. In only one of them did the SSN 776 fail to make a near perfect approach. She apparently had gotten off on the wrong target, and by the time she’ d discovered the mistake, was unable to find and attack the 13 boat before the 2 hours from COM EX had elapsed.
At 0930, after another good run by HAW All in which the 13 boat had successfully countermeasure and evaded HAW All’s first weapon, only to turn into a second weapon, HA WAii had driven out at slow speed and loitered at a point towards which she had felt the 13 boat would turn in evading the first unit. It had been a beautifully executed attack. When the 13 boat did, in fact, turn as HAW All had expected, the second weapon was seeded up and headed at the 13 boat. Bronski had heard the increasing torpedo noise only a few seconds before the sound of warhead release. “HAWAII, this is 13; great shot. Ready to copy instructions for the next exercise run – OVER.” “13, this is HAW All; it’s your turn now. What arc your desires for services? OVER.” Jim glanced over at Bill. “Commander Townsend, I’d like to do a long range interception problem. It’ll take quite a bit of time, but we’re well ahead of schedule, and I think the crew needs the practice. Standard exercise# 12 best fits this type of approach.” “I concur, Jim. Besides, the 776 would probably enjoy the restafter being at Battle Stations most of the night.” “HAWAII, this is 13; thank you. Request you open to the East for Standard Exercise Run # 12. Barrier front North-South centered on rendezvous point. Comcx when ready. Finex in accordance with run # 12 instructions or at 2400 local time – OVER.” ” 13, this is HAWAII; Roger-WILCOX-OUT.”
This exercise would allow the 13 boat to practice one of her primary m1ss10ns that of denying passage of an enemy submarine across an imaginary 50 mile long line in the ocean. HAW All would open out at least 50 miles from this line, and would be completely unconstrained in her tactics to cross it, except that she must remain between 0 – 400 feet in depth. The 13 boat would have to remain below 500 feet. The exercise would terminate if the 13 boat successfully attacked, was attacked itself, or if HAW All succeeded in crossing the line. If no encounter was made, both ships would return to the rendezvous point at 2400 tonight to communicate. “Bronski , track her on out as she opens, even though I’m sure she’s smart enough to keep that from helping us guess how she’ll be coming back,” said Jim from the SCP. “Aye, Aye, Sir- she’s building up speed now, and on course 083.” “Very well, we’ll be establishing a North-South track with 30 mile legs 5 miles to the East of the barrier line. What docs the computer advertise as best speed and depth to detect a 15 knot VIRGINIA at 300 feet’!” “Aye, Sir. Calling it up now.” Petty Officer Bronski fed the target data into the W IS console. Sensors had been continuously monitoring such things as seawater temperature as a function of depth, and the computer had built up quite a knowledge of local oceanographic conditions. “Recommend 4500 feet at 5 knots, Sir. Most probable detection range computes as 43,000 yards.” “Very well, W/S console,” answered Jim.
Now start the waiting. It would take quite a while for HA WAii to open out and start back. There were interfering contacts to sort out. It might be 4 – 8 hours before HA WAii was heard, and then there would be anywhere from 2 6 hours of maneuvering to safely close the target lo weapons range without being counter detected. It had been an astute observation when someone had descriptiveness as “Days and days of sheer boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror.” It was about 1430 in the afternoon and the 13 boat had just swung back to the North when Petty Officer Jones turned to John English: “Officer of the Deck, twice now in the last hour, this merchant ship we’ve been tracking now at bearing 045 has seemed to break into two contacts for a few minutes, and then remerge. I thing it’s very suspicious.” “I agree, Jones. I’ll get a hold of Mr. Perkins. Keep tracking the merchant and sec if you can get a good solution.” Bill came out to Control with Jim to observe his tactical logic. L TUg) English explained what they had seen.
“HAW All could very well be riding on in under the cover of that merchant’s noise,” Jim thought aloud, “but I’d sure hate to get sucked on up to the North and let her slip by behind us! Jones, do you have a solution on the merchant yet?” “A pretty good one, Sir. She’s at about 12 knots, and on her present track should pass out of our area about 20 miles to the Northeast of the barrier line.” “Then, if the 776 was with her, she’d have to break off and dash for the northern end of the line before she left the area! How long do we have before she’d make her move, if that’s the case?” “About 4 or 5 hours,” answered Jones. “We’d have to make about I 0 knots good to get within weapons range before she takes off. I don’t think we’ll have enough signal level to track her if we go much more than 8 knots.” Bill watched Jim tum over the alternatives in his mind. If that was her, he’d have to move now. If it wasn’t her, then he’d be giving away the ball game by breaking off from this search plan. “It’s the only dope we have at the time, and it sounds like the thing HAW All would do,” Jim said decisively, “Officer of the Deck, start an approach on the contact. Run at Flank Speed for 30 minutes followed by I 0 minute periods at 4 knots to get good looks at the target.”
Bill was pleased. It was a calculated risk, well thought out and firmly taken. It might be the wrong one, but it was less bad than vacillating, and if one is to do the wrong thing, he should still execute it with clan and style .
The boat surged ahead and Jim and Bill returned to the living spaces. They’d both be returning to Control for each of the slow listening periods. “Are you as sure of your decision as you sounded?” asked Bill. “Not at all,” answered Jim, “but I’ve got a gut feeling that it’s the best move at this point.” “Me too, Jim; except that ‘gut feeling’ you refer to is based on more than just a statistical probability. That’s why it takes five or six years to train one of you gents up. If every decision a Command Pilot or Commanding Officer had to make was completely backed up with factual data, then we could just program that binary beast in the basement to fight one of these things. I like to see you trusting your intuition on an ill-defined problem. An awful lot of time and effort has gone into making that intuition pretty depend- able.” Jim smiled, “Maybe you should save your Kudo’s until after we shoot?” “We’ll see,” replied Bill with a grin.
The 13 boat proceeded up towards the merchant on this fast/slow pattern. The first three listening periods gave no further clues to the HAW All’s whereabouts, except that a good solution was obtained on the merchant- 12.5 knots, course 285, obviously headed into New Your harbor. On the fourth look, however, after Bill and Petty Officer Barnes had relieved the watch, the target had definitely split into two contacts. “I think that’s her!” announced Barnes, as he cycled through different modes of the sonar systems to aid in identifying the type of target heard. “If it is, it looks like she’s broken off to the southwest and is building up speed.” “Very well,” answered Bill, and he turned towards Jim, standing behind Barnes, in expectation of some further instructions. “Officer of the Deck, man Battle Stations. Start maneuvering to separate the contact of interest from the merchant and pin down the solution.” “Officer of the Deck, Aye.”
Battle stations were manned in minutes. John English relieved at the SCP, Bronski went forward to monitor the Machinery Space, and Barnes and Jones manned the respective W capons/Sensors portions of the WIS console. Jim was directing the approach with Bill filling the first officer role of providing tactical backup to the Command Pilot. “Sensor station, what’s your best solution?” asked Jim. “Target bears 032, course 262, speed 20 knots, range 28,000 yards,” replied Jones. At the 13 boat’s extremely deep depths, the target’s sound rays were arriving at the sonar significantly dis- placed from the horizontal. Just how much displaced they were was an excellent indication of range. “Very well. Attention in Control Room. We have a target to the Northeast, classified as USS HA WAii. I intend to shoot one MK-62 exercise torpedo from a position about 10,000 yards on the target’s port quarter. Weapons station, make unit #2 ready in all respects.” “Aye, Aye, Sir,” and Petty Officer Barnes performed the necessary evolution on his panel to cock the torpedo. “Sensor station, what is the optimum approach vector to arrive at the firing point?” asked Jim.
Bill remained silent, impressed by Jim’s expertise in manipulating his party. It was quite the same as watching an accomplished director bringing the best out of a symphony orchestra. “Optimum own ship course and speed is 318 at 8 knots. Closet Point of Approach will be on the target’s port beam at 800 yards, well outside counter detection range. Firing point will be reached in 38 minutes.” “Very well. I intend to pass on through CPA to the desired firing point only if the target continues on its present track. Be prepared to shoot earlier if any change in target course or speed is noted.” Bill thought he’d have played it a little differently. He didn’t like getting any closer to a target than was necessary to get a shot off. However, Jim’s logic was pretty solid, and if he wanted to play it this way, it was his run. HA WAii tracked right on down its track as solved as CPA was approached. Suddenly, the sonar monitor chirped and the sonar display flashed an alphanumeric message. ACTIVE TRANSMISSION PROBABLE U.S. VIRGINIA CLASS SSN COUNTER DETECTION PROBABILITY – 0.3
Knowing how difficult a passive target the SSL-13 was, especially with HAW All at 20 knots, the 776 had wisely chosen to echo range on the last few miles of her dash to the barrier line. The computer had given HAW All a 30% chance of detecting the I 3 boat, but that was assuming nominal sonar operators, and nothing they’d seen of the 776 so far would indicate she was nominal in any respect. Bill was interested in watching how Jim would handle this development. “All stop, right IO degrees rudder, steady course 355. Firing point procedure,” barked Jim. Good, thought Bill. He was slowing to reduce any relative speed, or Doppler, clues of any echo returned to HAWAN; he was pointing the target to reduce to cross-sectional the size he was presenting for an echo; and he was going to get his weapon off before 776 evaded or counter fired. “Weapon ready,” announced Barnes. “Solution ready,” announced Jones. “Boat ready,” announced John English. “Final bearing and shoot,” ordered Jim, and a second later the 13 boat shuddered as the weapon left its external stowage tube. “Target has slowed and turned towards,” reported Jones. This probable meant that the first shot would miss. “Make unit #3 ready in all respects,” countered Jim, “All ahead Flank.” Bill gave Jim a mental uncheck for getting the second unit ready, but he was curious about the Flank Bell. Range was now about 6000 yards, and if HAWAII hadn’t detected the 13 boat actively, this increased speed would make passive contact likely. “High speed screws, bearing 000- closing,” reported Jones. “V cry well weapons station, release target simulator, set course I 80.” HA WAii had counter fired. The target simulator on course 180 was a good move. Hopefully, it would run the 776’s weapon on out to the South without it’s detecting the 13 boat. “The first unit should have hit by now,” reported Barnes. “Evaluated as a miss.” “Very well,” replied Jim. “Jones, what’s range and bearing to the target now?” ” Range 4300 yards- bearing 359.”Very well, come right steer course 359. Weapons Station, I intend to pass directly beneath the target. As we do, I’ll release unit #3 in circle search, 30 second delay in acoustic enable.” “Weapons Station, Aye, Sir,” replied Barnes.
Bill now saw what Jim’s intent was. By pointing at HA WAii at maximum speed, he’d probably gotten inside of her weapon’s enabling range. Sonar had since confirmed that the unit was chasing the target simulator down to the South. He was also taking advantage of what surely was a tight situation aboard the 776 . They were tracking the first unit shot at them, surely heard the target simulator and probable evaluated that as the 13 boat trying to outrun their unit. Jim was giving them no time to discover their mistake. With both ships pointed at one another, the range was closing at more than a mile every 3 minutes. In another few minutes he’d pass directly under them, and essentially mine that part of the ocean. The 13 boat would be well clear before the weapon came alive acoustically, and it would be looking right up HAW All’s stern. “Range, 800 yards,” announced Jones. “Firing Point Procedures,” barked Jim. “Weapon ready.” “Ship ready.” “Final bearing and shoot.” Again a shudder, then the sensor station indicators seemed to go wild for a minute as the 13 boat passed under HA WAii. The next 30 seconds would be long ones as the 13 boat opened the firing point. Did HAW All put it all together? Was she maneuvering astern of the 13 to evade the weapon and get another shot off! A minute passed, then a but a much more subdued, distant thump than they’d heard when they were target. “Good show, Jim!” exclaimed Bill, “a bit swashbuckling, but a solid hit!” “Thanks, Commander- I think I was pretty lucky!”
Before it seemed possible, the exercises had been completed and it was time to head back in. HAW A II released the 13 boat with thanks, and the crews of both vessels left better prepared to operate their ships and with a profound professional respect for the other’s abilities. It had indeed been a good week. Jim was looking a little drawn from the events of the past few days, and managed to get some wel1 earned rest on the transit into the 20 fathom curve. When the boat surfaced, the sun had just risen on another beautiful Spring day. Everyone’s fatigue dropped from their shoulders as they headed in. No one is ever too tired to be fired up for an inbound maneuvering watch.
The tug met them just outside the slot between Montauk and Block Island, and in short order they were back alongside the tender. Bill owned the crew until the start of the next working day, and he told the First Officer to shove them all off until the next morning. One of the biggest aggravations used to be having the duty on the first day in, and having to grub through all the official mail which had accumulated during the ship’s absence. This didn’t happen in the SSL Navy. One, the maintenance crew took responsibility for the boat as soon as it tied up, and, two, virtually all the administrative work for the entire Squadron was done by a part of the staff who existed just for that reason.
The first person aboard the 13 boat after it tied up was Chief Williams. Bill watched the Chiefs eyes dart around the control room – probably in search of candy wrappers.
“Hi, Chief, we had a pretty good trip except for that H 2 0 removal pump. I’m getting ready to run the monitor tape up to the Squadron now, and you’ II probably have a complete readout early this afternoon.” “Yes, Sir, Commander. If you’re going to be leaving, I’ll get my crew on down and start on some of the obvious stuff. It’s going to take me a month to get this thing back in shape, so I can’t sit around waiting for a work list.” “O.K., Chief, we’ll get out of your way. Thanks for the use of your boat.” Jim was waiting for Bill topside. He’d helped supervise the hookup of the declining rig until the maintenance crew arrived. “Thanks, again, Commander, for letting me get into the thick of things this week. You were right, nothing I could have studied would have helped me more.” “No problem, Jim, I think you did pretty well. Why don’t you get on over to your bride now. I saw her car at the boat landing as we were mooring. Sec you tomorrow.” “Yes, Sir, see you tomorrow.” Bill dropped the monitor tape off at Squadron Operations, then briefed the Squadron Engineer on the material problem before going to Commodore Marsh’s cabin. Bill knocked on the Commodore’s door, and quietly opened it. “Come in, Bill- have a scat- how did everything go?” “Fine, Sir, except for the one problem we sent the message on. I’m sure Chief Williams will have that squared away in a day or so, however. Jim Perkins ran just about the whole show. He’s very talented. Still a few rough edges in implementing a good command philosophy, but all the necessary ingredients arc there, and I noticed a tremendous rate of improvement as the week progressed. He has a superb tactical sense, and his overall grasp of the hardware is as good as I’ve seen.” “Thanks, Bill, I appreciate the objective viewpoint. I’ve got good feelings about him too. Barring his having problems on his board, which I think unlikely, I’ll probably have him fill your place in the Command Pilot roster.” ” I don’t understand, Sir; what do you mean ‘fill my place?”
Commodore Marsh grinned, “Well, Bill, while you were out there shooting the tail off of HAW All, things were happening here too. When you get to look at the mail tomorrow, you’ II sec that, one, you’ve been selected for Lieutenant Commander, and two, you’ve got orders as Executive Officer on MASSACHUSETTS.” “l thought I’d have another 4-5 months here at Squadron 24. This is a real surprise.” “That’s the trouble with you hot shots, Bill, if you ‘re too good they snatch you back away from me. Seriously, congratulations. You deserve the promotion and MASSACHUSETTS deserves you . The XO billet opened up on it and 1 put your name in the barrel as a prospective relief.” “Thank you , Sir, I only hope I’m up to it,” replied Bill sheep- ishly. “We’ II talk about it tomorrow. Get on home now and relax. I know what kind of strain it is to let someone else do your job on board without interfering. Thanks again for the briefing on Jim Perkins. Sec me tomorrow and we’ll settle out the details on when you want to leave and all.”
Bill’s drive back to his apartment was a little more subdued than his trip out four days ago. He took the highway instead of his favorite back roads. His mind was too busy with the news the Commodore had given him to really enjoy the working of his car. In the monotonous four-lane drone of traffic, he could try to assimilate everything. He wasn’t sure that he was pleased or disappointed. It would be nice being promoted, of course, but he’d just begun to feel he had a handle on being an SSL Boat Com- mander. The MASSACHUSETTS was one of the new VIRGINIA class variants which picked up a lot of the functionality of the old Ohio-class SSGNs, and whose advanced molecularity even allowed her to be quickly reconfigured for deployment as an SSBN if necessary. She had only been commissioned a few months, but already had an envious reputation due to the manner in which her skipper and crew had built here and handled her on shakedown. It would be a real challenge to step in as XO and help maintain the momentum. Maybe he could inject a little of the SSL philosophy into the organization. Bill had come to realize that SSLs had not turned out to be much of a warship for a nation that aspired to maintain its position as the world’s dominant sea power without extensive foreign basing- as opposed to one that only needed to protect its own shores. However, they had managed to free up otherwise insufficient numbers of SSNs for the more important missions that only larger, more capable multi-mission submarines could execute until the negligent post-Cold War SSN gap began to be corrected. Perhaps most importantly though, they had given Bill and countless other young submarine officers the opportunity to acquire priceless tactical and professional skills and better perpetu- ate the flow of Submarine Force culture to those apprenticed to them.
By the time Bill arrived at the Southampton Beach exit, he had become totally enthused about the forthcoming adventure. He could hardly wait until the morning to find out where and when he would report to the ship. Again, Bill had subconsciously risen to the lure of the Submarine Force. The better an individual, the more important it is to keep him working above his head. Never let the competent stagnate in a comfortable position of complacency. Keep the challenge intense, the demands high. From a distant past, the ideological teachings of The Admiral again reached out to touch Bill’s life.