Sunday, March 27, 2005

Friends and shipmates 20 years past

In part the following is one of the reasons I've started to blog Submarines.

Deterrent Patrol Pin Posted by Hello

In recent months I’ve been in touch with some old shipmates from the USS Alabama commissioning crew navigation division and recently the Navigator, if your reading this guys welcome. We’ve been exchanging emails with old sea stories and memories of the yards, builders trials, PSA, DASO, etc… It’s interesting to touch base after all these years and find out what each of us ten or so individuals have done since we helped bring the USS Alabama to life. So here are some observations I have about our conversations.

Some of us were 6 year short-timers and others did the full 20. Almost all of us short-timers left the Navy as ET1(SS) with experience on more than one boat. The career guys all made ETC(SS) or better. The ex-chiefs have commented that once the Soviet Union was gone and SSBNs went from 41 boats to 18 it became harder to make rate. Less threats and less boats to man means it harder to make a senior rate, makes sense to me.

Although most of our conversations have been about being aboard the USS Alabama SSBN-731 during and post the yards, individuals from our group have mentioned other boats. These are the ones I’ve heard about; SSBN/SSN-599, SSBN-616, SSBN-641, SSBN-656, SSBN-734 and SSBN-737. I’ve also heard mention of Tender duty, TAG ship duty, shore duty at A an C schools, TTF, TRF, and a Special Ops support detachment, all and all a good mix of experiences.

Most of our stories have had either some amusing aspect or an “OH SH*T! I remember that” kind of ring to them. Everyone seems to have some nugget to add that makes the story evolve into a more complete picture. Twenty years is a long time to keep something in your head. Although we have had a bitch session or two, what sailor or servicemen doesn't bitch about something, the sense I get is that people are proud of their accomplishments in the Submarine Service and to have served the country. I haven’t heard any grips about lost youth or any “if only I had done this instead of that” kind of conversations. Most complaints were about specific command politics or individual’s shortcomings.

So after 20 years where is everyone now? Everyone I been in touch with has either left or retired from the Navy. No lifers, probably has something to do with the tight upper end of the CPO scale. A good portion of us are Information Technology (IT) professionals in networking, programming or system support positions but also have an entrepreneur or two.

Now we’re all in our forties and I don’t think any of us are ready to march as part of senior American Legion contingent in the 4th of July parade, but, it is fun to reminisce about our time on the Alabama and the Navy in general. You know, the way your office mates talk about being stoned all the way through college, only we lived a very different reality, it was called the end of the cold war.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The UN Law of the Sea treaty and Submarines

The UN Law of the Sea treaty or UNCLOS has never been ratified by the US Congress but supporters are bringing it up for another try. The treaty started its existence in the 1970s and has had a number of agreements added to it since its inception. The Law of the Sea treaty covers a broad range of issues such as navigation, fishing rights, seabed mining and protection of the marine environment. President Ronald Reagan refused to sign the treaty in 1982 primarily over the risk it posed to our national sovereignty and arguments over seabed mining.
Recently the Bush administration through Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice statements voiced its support for a new effort to ratify the treaty. Additionally Senator Richard Lugar, (R-Ind) member of the senate Foreign Relations Committee, has also become a vocal proponent for the Law of the sea Treaty. But there are some conservatives in congress that feel that despite a 1994 amendment negotiated by the Bush senior and Clinton administrations the treaty is still flawed.

Treaty's impact to Submarine operations
Will UNCLOS impact US submarine operations? As with much of the treaty it depends on who interprets the specific article (pro here or con there )and its reference to other previsions in the treaty. The specific sections of concern are SECTION 3. INNOCENT PASSAGE IN THE TERRITORIAL SEA
Article19 - Meaning of innocent passage
Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law.

Article20 - Submarines and other underwater vehicles
In the territorial sea, submarines and other underwater vehicles are required to navigate on the surface and to show their flag.

Essentially it says that submarines must travel on the surface and not engage in any act aimed at collecting information to the prejudice of the defense or security of the coastal State. Sounds like no "Blind Mans Bluff" kind of stuff to me. Territorial waters is basically a 12 mile limit with a broader baseline definition for archipelagoes. 12 miles may not sound like much, but there are a number of straits you may want to sneak in to and out of. Here's a few of the 100 (UN estimated) straits possibly effected by the territorial sea rule:

  • Strait of Gibalaiter - 8 miles wide (Entrance to the Med)
  • Strait of Malacca - 20 miles wide (A main passage to and from the Pacific and Indian Oceans)
  • Strait of Hormuz - 14 miles wide (Oil, Oil, Oil transit in and out of Persian gulf )
  • Bab el Mandab - 14 wiles wide (Indian Ocean to Red sea transit point)
Navy's Position
The Navy is still in favor of the treaty though, with the current CNO Adm. Vern Clark supporting the treaty's ratification. Still, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, the vice chief of naval operations and in line to replace Clark, has indicated that the Law of the Sea tribunal could rule adversely to US interests thereby harming our "operational planning and activities, and our security".

Other Problems
I see some other issues (here and here) besides the articles 19 and 20, so maybe I'll look a little more into this one.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Are Silver Dolphins becoming cheap?

About a week ago the Navy News had an article about a sailor who qualified in submarines in 30 days. In my book this is an astonishing feat given the amount of effort it took just to get a single signature on one system when I earned my Silver Dolphins. It took me two patrols to qualify in submarines on the 641 boat and about a year in the shipyard to requalify on the 731. Now I don't have my original qual card from the USS Simon Bolivar but I did find my qual card from the USS Alabama. I've provided a couple of pages as examples.

Compartments Quals page

One of the systems pages Posted by Hello

My 731 qual card looks pretty worn with dog eared pages, tattered edges and stains. I would say it didn't have an easy time in the shipyard. I counted 105 signatures in my 731 qual card with 15 section reviews requiring a walkthrough as well as a final walkthrough. Because I was previously qualified in submarines I wasn't given a qual board but did qualify on a 726 class boat. So my question is, how do you do all that in 30 days?

That's 3 to 4 signatures a day and a section review or walkthrough every 2 days ending in a qual board. Of course we're talking a different class boat, but that's a pretty frantic pace none the less.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

No More Nav Charts on Subs?

This linked news story is about a new navigation system designed to replace paper charts on submarines.

Submarine Force Forges Ahead with Electronic Navigation to Enhance Capabilities

The submarine force is advancing toward its goal of "paperless" navigation with the Voyage Management System (VMS), an electronic navigation tool currently aboard all Navy submarines.

The Navy appears to be taking a slow and cautious approach at rolling this system out, requiring crews to still maintain paper charts until the system and crews are certified. With any computerized system it may improve efficiency but it will not totally eliminate error. As a former NavET and current IT professional I can't help but think of that old adage "garbage in garbage out". The unknown will still be there and this system is probably not intended to prevent another USS San Francisco type grounding.

I'm also wondering if this is intended for Piloting in and out of port as well as voyage management . In any case, system and data management becomes the task instead of chart maintenance. The more things change the more they stay the same, or am I just being to cynical.

Update 03/24/05: In light of the recent NJPs handed down to SSN711 navigation division crewmembers I feel my statement above was a little shortsighted. One of the issues identified in the NJP was the crew's failure to update the charts with the latest and any historically relevant Notice to Mariners. Bubblehead at "The Stupid Shall Be Punished" has an excellent post that can provide the details that are public about the NJP. This new Voyage Management System could have (if maintain with updates) alerted the crew of the potential "discolored waters" hazard. Again, It appears that maintenance of the data was the issue not the system employed.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Excursion to PD

Full rise on the stern planes.

Make your depth 65 feet?

No close contacts??

Emergency Deep!

Zero your bubble. Posted by Hello

OK, its not a submarine. Maybe we could call it an air-marine. In any case it was a real kick, although the diving officer sitting behind me though I was a little loopy.

Here's the link to Warbirds Adventures the guys that do this. A little pricey the screw is in the front and you have to wear a parachute, but at least you don't have to mess crank on your first patrol.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

First Irish Modern Submariner

The 'Father of the Modern Submarine' is considered to be the Irish-American inventor John Philip Holland (1841-1914).

Happy St.Patty's day John.

This former bubblehead and grandson of a Guinness cooper plans to tip one back in Mr. Holland's honor.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Sharks to help Dolphins

I find science and technology news interesting to read but that's the nerd in me. Anyway, I ran across this Sharks Provide Key Insight For New, Non-toxic Anti-algae Coating news item in the ScienceDaily recently. Another Link here to original University of Florida release. Here's an excerpt on how the research on the unique placoid scale structure of shark skin could benefit the Navy and submarines.

According to the Navy, algae and barnacles on hulls increase drag, slowing ships and reducing fuel efficiency. Of the $550 million to $600 million the Navy spends annually on powering its ships and submarines, at least $50 million stems directly from fouling-related increased drag, said Stephen McElvany, a program officer in environmental quality in the Navy's physical science division. The Navy hopes to find both a more effective and environmentally friendly technology than the copper-based paints.

"If achieved, this improved coating could not only be exempt from future environmental constraints and regulations, it would also provide increased fuel efficiency and velocity of Navy vessels," McElvany said.

I'm a little torn though, because I feel the elimination of barnacles on hulls may severely reduce the effectiveness of the Navy tradition of Keel hauling . A particularly effective threat for submarine qualifications dinks.

If the research becomes practical and applied to submarines maybe the Navy will return to naming subs after fish.

I seem to recall a theory that pier side you could usually tell if a boat had been on a northern run (cold water) or been south (warm water) by the color of the stuff on the hull (green stuff or a white salty look). Don't remember which was which?

Trident Submarine service life extended

In the early 1980's I was making strategic deterrent patrols on a 640 class SSBN. At that time the boat I was on was about 20 years old. It had just underwent a reactor core change and backfit to the new Trident C4 missile system. That boat remained in service for another 10 years and was decommissioned after a normal service life of 30 years. It has been another 20 years since the second submarine I served on, a Trident SSBN, was commissioned in 1985.

If the Trident SSBN follows the service history of the 640 Class SSBNs and 688 Class SSNs then 30 years should be the hull service life. It would reason that a follow-on SSBN would be in design or even early construction today. But as far as I can tell there isn't any follow-on class to replace the 726 class boats. In fact the Navy has conducted a study and determined they could extend the Trident SSBN service life to 42 years. The only reference I found on a replacement SSBN hull is this SSBN-X reference that relates to planning based on the Trident 42 year life cycle.

All this got me to thinking, is the Trident SSBN distend to become the Navy's equivalent of the Air Force B52 strategic bomber? It may seem like a strange or silly comparison, a submarine and aircraft, but I do see some parallels.

  • Both were designed as nuclear weapons delivery platforms.
  • Both were designated to a primarily retaliatory role after the ICBM component of the strategic triad.
  • Both have been upgraded to strategic counterforce "first strike" capabilities with nuclear capable ALCM for the B52 and Trident D5 missiles on the SSBNs.
  • The B52 has long had the ability to carry conventional weapons and now with the advent of the Tactical Trident SSGN conversion program that platform can provide strictly a conventional role as well.
  • Finally both have had their service life evaluated and extended.

Because of the stress of submerged operations, excursions to and from test depth and simple age of the hull the Trident submarine will have to be replaced eventually. But, because we are not facing another aggressive soviet style superpower and the current type of warfare we are engaged in, I currently do not see the political will to make this happen for another 10 to 15 years. Will we still need SSBNs in another 20 years, probably, but hopefully not as many or the way we needed them 30 years ago.

Monday, March 14, 2005

USS Alabama Sailor serves TAD as translator in Bahrain

Another submariner doing his part for the GWOT receives the Navy Achievement Medal.

Article link in Northwest Navigator

To ET2 (SS) Ehsan Arbabi

From a former ET and USS Alabama sailor, job well done and thanks for filling the Watch.

USS Alabama motto: "Audemus jura nostra defendere" We Dare Defend Our Rights.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Trident underway photo

Trident Underway Posted by Hello
Nope, don't know which one.

The truth is I'm just testing the free Hello Bloggerbot photo posting software for blogger.

Canadian press has found Asbestos on Submarines

It appears the Canadian press is raising the alarm that Canada's submarine fleet is infested "lined" with asbestos.

Link "Some Cdn subs lined with asbestos" (Origin heading on 3/10/05)

I for one don't see the fact that asbestos in the engineering spaces on a submarine as any great news. Asbestos has been used in shipbuilding for as long as I can remember. Hell the gasket on my woodstove is asbestos. But it is a hazardous material and the Canadian Navy did have a fire on the HMCS Chicoutimi.

If your interested Bubblehead at "The Stupid Shall be Punished" did some posting on the HMCS Chicoutini fire back in February.

Update 3/11/05: apparently over the evening some in the Press thought the content in the Canadian Press article didn't support the title of "lined with asbestos" and the link above changed the heading. Here's another link with the "lined" line. Adding the words "systems lined" makes a world of difference to the meaning and isn't as misleading.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

How does a Yardbird walk in the snow?

I was cleaning out some old email and ran across something I received thought I would share. Someone had forwarded this email to me. This was an email from one of the engineering departments at Electric Boat to their employees after the big snow in January.

Subject: Danger - Snow and Ice SB 1-26-05
Electric Boat Safety Bulletin
January 26, 2005
Danger! Snow and Ice

The Facilities Department has done a great job clearing snow and ice around the Shipyard. However, with amount of snow that fell during the "blizzard of 05" there will be melting and freezing of snow and ice for the next few weeks. So we need to be extra careful when walking in, out and around the Yard. The best advice is to take the same precautions when you are walking as you do when you are driving over slippery roads:
· Slow down and turn slowly
· Travel over treated walkways ? avoid taking shortcuts over icy or snowy routes
· Keep your weight centered over your feet ? lean slightly forward and take shorter steps.

Please share this message with co-workers and others who may not have access to Lotus Notes.

Now ONLY an engineer, the kind with book sense but no common sense, could write a safety bulletin like that. Too funny! I especially like the "lean slightly forward and take shorter steps" instruction.

Ships Library

About a year or so ago I got into a tear on reading non-fiction submarine history. If your interested I've read all these books and have provided a summary and short review. I'll start with oldest history to recent.

Under Pressure by A. J. Hill
Story of the S5 boat sinking due to induction valve failure in a couple hundred feet of water. Sub is nose down with only few feet of the stern visible. This is a short read, but a gripping story of endurance and courage by the crew. 226 pages I give four Stars ****

The Terrible Hours by Peter Maas
The story of the USS Squalus SS192 sinking off Portsmouth NH on the eve of WWII. Although the book revolves around the Squalus's rescue, the real story is about the development of submarine rescue methods and Charles "Swede" Momsen. Momsen pioneered free assent techniques and the Rescue Chamber, precursor to the DSRV. Good read a little slow at times due to the writer going into details on submarine rescue development. 309 pages I give it 3 Stars ***

Thunder Below! by Admiral Eugene B. Fluckey
The USS BARB SS220 WWII story of it's war patrols in the Pacific around Japan, Korea and China coasts. The author, Admiral Fluckey, is one of the few submariners to win the Congressional Metal of Honor. The book covers the boat's 8th thru 12th war patrols with Fluckey as CO and reads like a combination of a novel and Captain's log. Get the version with drawings of the patrol areas, you'll keep referring back to them as you read. By far the best book in this list. 435 pages I give it 5 Stars *****

Blind Man's Bluff by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew
Investigative journalist recount of the Cold War intelligence gathering by US Fast Attack Special Ops boats. Covers a good number of cold war events and incidents in one book. Written as a who, what, where and how type of reporting piece, worth the read. 337 pages. I give it 3 Stars ***

Rising Tide by Gary E. Weir and Walter J. Boyne
Cold War history of the Soviet's rush to out distance the US in submarine design. Covers from the Soviets first Nuke boats to the Kursk disaster. I found it very interesting to read and it made me appreciate that my fate was not that of many a Soviet Submariner. Some of those guys from the 60's are probably still glowing from the radiation. Liked it better than "Blind Man's Bluff" just because it was all about the Evil Empire's failures. 336 pages I give it 4 Stars ****

I'm interested if anyone has some other non-fiction submarine favorites they like to share or if you disagree with my evaluations. Just add your recommendation or comments to the comments section.

When you get the chance you should grab one of these books - hit the rack, put the bunk light on and enjoy some reading.

Sunday, March 06, 2005


After months lurking I have finally decided to dive into the Blogosphere and start posting my own thoughts and the things that interest me. So here they'll be for praise, ridicule, agreement, rejection or review. I expect this will be an adventure of sort as if putting to sea on a new voyage. So in that spirit I'm going to post this poem by John Oxenhan.


Each man is Captain of his Soul,
And each man his own Crew,
But the Pilot knows the Unknown Seas,
And he will bring us through.

We break new seas today ---
Our eager keels quest unaccustomed waters,
And, from the vast uncharted waste in front,
The mystic circles leap
To greet our prows with mightiest possibilities,
Bringing us --- What?

Dread shoals and shifting banks?
And calms and storms?
And clouds and biting gales?
And wreck and loss?
And valiant fighting times?
And, maybe, death? --- and so, the Larger life!

For, should the Pilot deem it best
To cut the voyage short,
He sees beyond the sky-line, and
He'll bring us into Port!


About me:
I'm Married with two young children a boy age 5 and a girl age 3. I also have Chesapeake Bay Retriever age 13.

I was born on an Navy base in Yokosuka Japan and have grown up in and around US Naval installations. My father is a retired Navy Seabee with 22 years of service. I admire his service, he served in both the Korean war and three tours in Vietnam '67-'69. My early working career has put me in and around submarines for 12 years. I worked three years for Electric Boat as a machinist (Yardbird). In 1980 I joined the Navy and volunteered for a program that put me on Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBN or Boomers). I was a Navigation Electronic Technician on SSBN submarines. I found Navy schools to be challenging and making deterrent patrols hard work but boring and left the Navy as an E6 after a 6 year enlistment. After leaving the Navy I worked for three years for a defense contractor (Sandcrab) that supported submarine systems.

With the fall of Soviet communism and Congress looking to create a peace dividend I left defense contracting for the Information Technology (IT) world. I worked for a major Ivy League university for 7 years in their IT department. After leaving the university environment I worked as a computer consultant for a few years. Currently I'm a Systems Administrator for a healthcare company.

Blog Purpose: My primary purpose is to comment on Military and Submarine issues but I'm not going to limit the blog to those topics. As with most blogs I read, I'll probably do some commenting on current events or even the general nonsense we see in our everyday lives. Basiclly I'm just trying to find my own voice and add my humble opinion.

Blog Title and My Moniker: Hunderds of Fathoms is my attempt at a little double meaning. Fathom being a unit of measure of water depth (6 feet) but also meaning to comprehend. Lubber's Line, is a line or point in the compass case indicating the head of the ship, and consequently the course which the ship is steering. Hopfully the line of course I steer for this blog will be one of good passage.