Denizens of the Deep – the bond between submarines and their crews 3

failure is not an option

From the very beginning of submarines, the vessels have been compared to a steel coffin or a sewer pipe closed on both ends. But to the men who have sailed on them and especially to the men (and now women) who built them and then drove them below the waves into a sea of uncertainty, they gain an almost mystical property. These underwater “denizens of the deep” become an all-encompassing force that changes a person forever. There is a bond that builds between crew and boat that lasts well beyond most other bonds.

Not all who sail on them love them. From the moment you come aboard the boat it presents a challenge to the physical and mental capabilities of the sailors who operate them. You are the newbie, the non-qual. All of the school and learning you have done to date means nothing to the boat or to the men who have been there before. You will only become part of the crew by giving up a part of you and becoming a part of the force that makes the boat operate at her best. There is nothing less than perfection expected form each sailor in the qualification and many hours of sleep will be sacrificed along the way to earning your “fish”. But it’s not even that simple. While you are learning, you must also contribute.

Endless days and nights beneath the darkness of the deep sea, you find yourself pushed and pulled at the same time. Pushed to contribute in achieving the mission and pulled in your own testing. There simply is no place for second best and you learn to hate the challenge while clinging on to every small victory. Line by line, you complete each level of achievement only to be given a newer and harder task. Respect is rare for a newbie and privileges even rarer. The pressure can be relentless but that pressure ensures that you will be ready to respond when called upon.

Each person must be stretched to the limit because in the end, the sea and the enemy beyond the edge of the horizon are unforgiving of mistakes. A missed valve could cause a catastrophe just as easily as an unseen mountain. Everything inside the hull has a risk of one kind or another and everything outside the hull presents a danger to the unprepared. No detail is too small and no amount of preparation is too much. There are no second chances when you are driving relatively blind in an ocean filled with the great unknowns.

The mission can be great or small but it is always faced with the same consequences if you fail. Unlike a normal job where missing a goal or schedule might mean an admonishment or a chance to do it over, the submarine only allows you the chance to get it right the first time,

One day, you reach the end of your checklist. You sit across the table from other men who have been tested and you reach down inside to remember every detail of every system and schematic you learned. You rattle off details about tank capacities, frequencies, weapons characteristics and hundreds of other details. After a long time they send you out into the passageway so that they can discuss your fate. Sometimes there will be a look up for some small detail that you missed. Sometimes you are judged not ready at all with a list of things to relearn. But on one special day, the leader of the board sys, “Congratulations. You have earned your dolphins.”

From that day you belong to a unique group of people. You become the teacher for the next person in line. You grow a unique bond with the boat that tested you and allowed you to meet the challenge. The boat becomes a part of your life in a way that will last as long as you live.

Now the test really begins. Will you be able to use that knowledge and skill under any circumstances? Will you discover that while you have learned much, there is still much more to learn? The sea learns too and so does your enemy. Both continue to probe for weaknesses every single day. This is a mighty warship after all and the war is never fully defined. You can talk about what you will do in a storm but until you ride the storm, you cannot predict how you and the boat will respond. You can practice countering an enemy but he has the ability and the skills to do the unexpected. Your survival is based on all of the crew responding with everything they have and the boat with all that is has. There is no second place in this undersea war.

A million miles and a thousand dives later, it’s time for the boat to come home. Like the grey haired old men who built her so long ago, she is tired and deserves a rest. The smooth lines of many years ago are slightly puckered with age. Driving to test depth and back again will do that to the old girl. She creaks a bit more when she dives but she still manages to put on a head of steam when she needs it for that last big run. But up ahead, she sees the pier waiting. There are men there with ropes ready to tie her down for the last time. Other people are waiting with wrenches and torches standing by to cut her apart and prepare her for the end. The bunks will all be stripped, the galley will close down forever and the power will come from long black lines attached to the shore that gave her birth. The periscope will soon be taken out and the memory of all the things she has seen will disappear into the mists of time. The phones and communications circuits will growl nor more. Slowly, the watch standers will rotate off, never to be replaced

On the saddest day ever, a band will play and her remaining crew will gather for a ceremony that all knew would come someday. There is no more somber a day than the day when the flag of the country she defended so well for all of those decades comes down for the last time. She has flown that flag at sea and in foreign ports all over the world reminding them of her mighty power and the power of the nation whose symbol she represents. She has lent that flag to the family members of shipmates who have gone before. Now it is her turn.

It’s hard to escape death. You can delay it, but in the end, the life that she represented is finally ended. The memories will last as long as there is a crewman alive who sailed her. But she will never again feel the salt air blowing waves across her bow. The angles and dangles she once performed will be nothing but a fading sea story. The rushing speed that you feel below your feet as the hull pierces the dark depths of the ocean will only live in the imaginations of those who have felt it. Her best stories will never be told out of respect for the boats and crews that take her place. But the grey old men know. They look at each other with faded eyesight and see a group of twenty something year olds who once mastered the ocean in a highly unconventional way.

As the USS San Francisco transitions to her new role preparing another generation for the challenges to come, I will always stand with pride when her name is called. I hope that any man or woman who has ever been a submariner can say the same about the boats they rode. It was my greatest honor to sail on board her and it was an even greater honor to sail with you all.

Mister Mac

USS San Francisco SSN 711 Alumni Association

alumni-association-1

 

I won’t be there, but my heart will Reply

News about the inactivation of the USS San Francisco (SSN 711) has finally been released. It appears that it is coming in the next few months. The ship will be refitted and used as a Moored Training Ship (MTS). It had been a goal of mine to see her one last time while she was still a warship but that seems to be out of the question.

God Bless the men who have sailed her through good times and bad for the past 36 years.

 

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I won’t be there.

I remember the first time I saw you. I’m not sure what I expected to see, but you surely weren’t it. You were disheveled, ragged and covered with dirt and dust from the rough environment you were in. You were like a new child that hadn’t even taken its first steps yet. I watched you grow. Day after day through winter storms and a summer hotter than I could remember, you took shape. Soon enough, it was time to break free and become the part of most of our lives that would change us forever. I still see you with twenty six year old eyes and I still get goose bumps when I see you where you were always meant to be. Gliding through the water on your way to the dive point. The day you hit 1000 dives must have been very special. I remember your first. I remember praying that the men and women who built you did so with all of the care in the world. When you broke free from the surface and started showing your real gifts, it was the greatest adventure of my life. Looking around at the others who were with us, I could see the looks on their faces. Screaming through the water, diving up and down, turning so fast, it pulled men to the edge of their seats. It wasn’t my first time, but it is the one that I cherish the most.

You’ve logged a lot of miles. You’ve seen so many places. You’ve had challenges that would have broken others. And now your journey is almost over.

I always felt like you were my mistress. I married my Debbie the same year we met and so many times you pulled me back. I dream about you and I dream about the brave men who kept you safe even in the worst of times. I am grateful for their service every day and I thank each and every one of them. So many are not here anymore and in our old age, the list keeps getting longer.

They tell me you will be a school. That seems appropriate. You have already taught a few generations how to be submariners. It’s something you do well.

I wanted to come and see you one last time but I won’t be there. The thirty six years since we met has been hard on me too. I always say I left my heart on the San Francisco but the truth is that my heart is wearing out faster than you did. I pray that the surgeon’s hands will be as true and steady as the hands that built and rebuilt you.

I will be there in spirit though. I’ll be carrying a clipboard as I make my rounds throughout the boat. I’ll smell the cooking in your galley and feel the boat rising beneath my feet. As I enter a darkened control room, the boat will glide to periscope depth, rocking back and forth in the open sea. Somewhere in the night, the Dive is keeping the planesmen focused and the Chief of the Watch moves his hands like a maestro across the ballast control panel making adjustments. Everything will be performed flawlessly and the mission will be completed well. This is how I will remember you old friend.

Oro en Paz, Fierro en Guerra

“Big Mac” SSN 711 Plankowner

 

There are no routine days at sea on a submarine 4

Thresher

 

It was just another day at sea. Routine in many ways but in others it became an eternal reminder of the dangers associated with operating a submarine. The sea is unforgiving and the impact of any small failure becomes magnified beyond control within moments. I have sat in a chair, strapped in holding the yoke that controls the planes. I have stared at the numbers on the darkened panel a few feet in front of me as the numbers clicked off the change of depth. You can feel the pull of gravity as the boat descends deeper and faster with each passing moment. On another day on another boat, we were too heavy and the surface had just released it’s grip on us. Bow heavy, we were going deeper and deeper when we lost propulsion. The fairwater planes were jammed in a rise position and I pulled back as hard as I could on the stern planes to try and slow the dive. Test depth came and went. The boat creaked and men quietly prayed. “Conn, maneuvering, propulsion has been restored”. We slowly climbed back to a safer place between the ocean’s floor and the typhoon that still raged above us. I still have waking nightmares about that night. I clutch my pillow to my chest like it was the outboard yoke, straining with all of my might to will the boat back from the deep.

I often imagine what it was like on the 10th of April 1963 for the planesmen as Thresher made that last dive.
I salute my brothers still on eternal patrol.

Mister Mac

In memory of those we have lost

Cold War 2 – Russia Rising Reply

Headline:

Russian military plans buildup from West to Pacific

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia is to beef up its military forces all the way from its western border to the Pacific islands amid ongoing strains with the West, the military said Friday.

Perhaps Putin and his Comrades should remember the last time they tried to use coercive measures to blackmail the world into submission.

Here’s a little reminder:

#blackhullsmatter

 

Stand by for action, its going to heat up all over again.

Mister Mac

Submarine Construction Update Reply

I was sent an article today that is very important to those who follow naval ship construction. The author is Hugh Lessig, a writer for the Daily Press at  http://www.dailypress.com/

I am reprinting his article with permission.

New Generation of Submarines Is Biggest Question for Huntington Ingalls

Hugh Lessig, Daily Press, Dec 3

“The biggest question facing the nation’s largest military shipbuilder is how will Congress pay for the next generation of ballistic missile submarines, the head of Huntington Ingalls Industries said Thursday.

Aircraft carriers and amphibious warships aside, CEO Mike Petters said the funding strategy for replacing Ohio-class submarines is the number-one issue for the industry, not just the company.

“That could become our greatest opportunity and could also become our greatest risk, if it’s not done right,” Petters said at the Credit Suisse Industrials Conference in Florida.

The Navy plans to replace its aging Ohio-class submarines with a new 12-boat fleet. It wants to purchase the first submarine in 2021. By 2026, it will buy one each year.

But the new subs come with a significant price tag, so Congress created a special fund to pay for them. The National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund is separate from the Navy’s annual shipbuilding budget, and two lawmakers are credited with pushing it: Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, and Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn.

They are major advocates for the only two U.S. shipyards that build nuclear-powered submarines: HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding and General Dynamics Electric Boat of Groton, Conn.

Some questioned whether a submarine program should be funded outside the Navy budget. Supporters say the nuclear-missile-armed subs are a national asset because they constitutes the undersea portion of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

Newport News and Electric Boat are expected to share the work of building the Ohio-class replacement boats, although those details haven’t been worked out. Electric Boat recently cut the ribbon on a new facility in Quonset Point, R.I., to build components for the new subs. The company has added 600 workers in the past year, according to Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.

If Congress uses the deterrence fund like a savings account, socking away money for big bills coming due in the 2020s, the military shipbuilding base can stay healthy, Petters said. If it has to find the money for the subs in its annual shipbuilding budget, that could spell trouble.

At a Forbes-chaired hearing earlier this week, Eric J. Labs, a Congressional Budget Office senior analyst, laid out the sobering math in the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan.

The 2016 plan calls for buying 264 ships at $494 billion over three decades, according to the Navy’s numbers. CBO estimates those same ships would cost $552 billion — and the price is higher when mid-life aircraft carrier refuelings and other work is included.

In other words, if the shipbuilding budget remains static, “the service would not be able to afford its 2016 plan,” Labs said.

He also looked at how the Ohio-class replacement boats impact the 30-year plan.

The first Ohio-class replacement sub is estimated to cost $12.1 billion, including initial research, development and engineering, the Navy says. Boats that follow will cost about $5.7 billion on average. CBO’s estimates are even higher: $13.2 billion for the first in class and $6.8 billion for the 2nd through 12th ships.

Bottom line: With a static shipbuilding budget and a big-ticket submarine fleet, the Navy would end up buying 192 ships over 30 years, not its stated goal of 264, Labs said.

That’s a big concern for HII, which builds destroyers and amphibious warships at its Ingalls Shipbuilding division in Pascagoula, Miss. Those ship programs are more likely to be affected than the aircraft carrier program at Newport News, because the law requires an 11-carrier fleet. There is no such protection for other surface combat ships.

“If the decision is, we’re going to pay for (the new submarines) out of normal shipbuilding accounts, then many, many programs will be impacted over a long period of time,” said Petters. “That will have a tremendously negative impact to the entire shipbuilding industrial base.”

One thing is clear: The new submarines will be built.

“This is a national priority, and it will happen,” Petters said. “It’s a question of, will it crowd out anything else?””

Mister Mac

More…

If you want a Safe Space, here’s a thought Reply

SUBSAFE is a quality assurance program of the United States Navy designed to maintain the safety of the nuclear submarine fleet; specifically, to provide maximum reasonable assurance that subs’ hulls will stay watertight, and that they can recover from unanticipated flooding.

SUBSAFE covers all systems exposed to sea pressure or critical to flooding recovery. All work done and all materials used on those systems are tightly controlled to ensure the material used in their assembly as well as the methods of assembly, maintenance, and testing are correct. They require certification with traceable quality evidence. These measures increase the cost of submarine construction and maintenance.

SUBSAFE addresses only flooding; mission assurance is not a concern, simply a side benefit. Other safety programs and organizations regulate such things as fire safety, weapons systems safety, and nuclear reactor systems safety.

From 1915 to 1963, the United States Navy lost 16 submarines to non-combat related causes. Since SUBSAFE began in 1963, only one submarine, the non-SUBSAFE-certified USS Scorpion (SSN-589), has been lost.

History

On 10 April 1963, while on a deep test dive about 200 miles off the northeast coast of the United States, USS Thresher (SSN-593) was lost with all hands. The loss of the lead ship of a new, fast, quiet, deep-diving class of submarines led the Navy to re-evaluate the methods used to build its submarines. A “Thresher Design Appraisal Board” determined that, although the basic design of the Thresher class was sound, measures should be taken to improve the condition of the hull and the ability of submarines to control and recover from flooding casualties.

SUBSAFE certification is carried out in four areas; Design, Material, Fabrication, & Testing. The exact procedures are documented in the initial design & construction for new submarines, while undergoing routine maintenance in naval depots, and in the fleet maintenance manual for operating submarines. During each step, quality evidence is collected, reviewed, approved, and stored for the life of the submarine. This process is reinforced with external and internal audits.

ous Sub safe space

How the US Navy almost missed “The Boat” 1

Holland and Amphitrite

Prior to World War 1, the General Board of the United States Navy was the primary instrument used for directing the strategic future of the U. S. Navy. This General Board had been instituted in 1900 as a way to provide expert advice to the Secretary of the Navy and was made up of nine admirals nearing the end of their time in service. The Navy leadership had already discounted, “by doctrine and experience” the need or importance of building submarines. Even the emphasis on the future use of submarines was questioned. In a report to Secretary Josephus Daniels in 1915, the General Board stated:

“The deeds of submarines have been so spectacular that in default of engagements between the main fleets undue weight has been attached to them… To hastily formed public opinion, it seemed that the submarines were accomplishing great military results because little else of importance occurred in the maritime war to attract public attention. Yet at the present time, when the allies have learned in great measure to protect their commerce, as they learned a few months earlier to protect their cruisers from the submarine menace, it is apparent that the submarine is not an instrument fitted to dominate naval warfare…

The submarine is a most useful auxiliary whose importance will no doubt increase, but at the present there is no evidence that it will become supreme.”

In 1915, the Office of Chief of Naval Operations was created and the General Board’s influence started a slow but steady decline in influence. It was eventually dissolved in 1951. Coincidently, the USS Nautilus was first authorized in August of 1951.

Mister Mac

Failure is not an option Reply

failure is not an option

The nature of submarine warfare has always been filled with an equal mix of adventure, bravery and precision. The adventure starts the minute the boat becomes free from the pier. Gliding along on the surface of any of the rivers and bodies of waters they sail from is only the first part of the journey. In the early days, the noise of the gasoline or diesel engines coupled with the ever present smoke seemed to push the little craft towards her destiny. Later nuclear submarines were quieter but the wake of a passing sub was still enough of an indication that an adventure was about to begin.

As the submarine cleared the channel and reached the dive point, all hands felt the tension as the boat was rigged for its dive. Preliminary preparations were in place and the final actions just needed to be completed as the submarine transformed from a clumsy surface dweller to a steely eyed killer of the deep.  One thing that was the constant throughout the entire evolution though… failure is not an option. The equipment, the men, the boat itself must perform as flawlessly as possible in order for the mission to be complete. Failure in any one of these could be catastrophic for the crew.

The level of detail in planning and preparation before the boat even hits the water starts a life long journey of excellence that is the hallmark for a modern submarine. After all, this boat will be operating independently for most of its life with only the skills of the builders and the operators separating the crew from certain death. The qualification program is hard and the ongoing training is comprehensive. But it is the steel inside each and every qualified submariner that defines the toughness of the submarine service. They must train their minds to live in a confined space with others and think at least two steps ahead at all times. They anticipate the problems they hope will never come and even in their sleep they remain vigilant for the sounds that indicate a change… ventilation shifts, motors changing ion intensity, even the 400 cycle hum. All of these could indicate a problem that will need answering as quickly as possible.

Submariners of all generations share one thing in common whether they served on an old S boat, Fleet Boat, Guppy, Fast Attack or Boomer. They all understand that at any given moment, the only thing that stands between failure and success is a qualified submariner who has made the ultimate promise to themselves and their shipmates; Failure is not an option. Not on my watch.

Mister Mac

theleansubmariner

Ohio at Bangor 2