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Much was made this week of the North Dakota employing a submarine launched drone (here, herehere , etc). Yes, “underwater DRONES[!!!]” as the Daily Mail exclaimed.

OK, great, what does that mean though? What value are we adding to a boat? Well, the North Dakota employed a REMUS 600, which is an autonomous underwater vehicle capable of achieving depths of over 4,900ft, speeds up to 4kts, and a battery life of up to 24 hours. It’s a little over 10ft long with an inertial navigation system and a lithium battery powering it all.

REMUS UUVSo what could you possibly do with this thing? How about finding the resting place for a WWII TBF Avenger and her crew? Here, a team from the Bent Prop Project and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography used a REMUS with an add-on side-scan sonar to localize a crash site and find the plane and her crew. Around 6:00 you can catch the REMUS in action.

I know we’re still rolling out Virginia class boats, but it’s not hard to envision the future SSNs acting as a mothership for drones.

Naval warfare, at the lowest level, revolves around destroying something before it can destroy you (an observation more akin to an utterance of John Madden than Sun Tzu, I know). So as result, we talk about warfare a lot in terms of ranges. How close can I get before something detects me? How far away can I detect it? At what range can I shoot it? When can it shoot me? The race to shoot the furthest led to the development of weapons systems (Phoenix air-to-air missile and Trident missile) before we built the platform to shoot it.

And while we often describe the range of a nuclear-powered submarine as unlimited, that doesn’t mean we can go just anywhere in the ocean. We’re constrained by water depths, and the minimum operating depth of a small, submarine-launched unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV/drones) would likely be shallower than the launching platform.

We’re expanding the area of where a submarine can make life miserable for the enemy. Check out that video again. Do you think we could put a submarine there to accomplish that task? We’ve now demonstrated that a submarine launched drone might able to access that territory. That’s why we should be excited about “DRONES.”



Recent articles such as this one by James Holmes (also covered by Sal) and this Proceedings article by ENS Daniel Stefanus have leveled some very specific criticisms against the industrial architecture which supports our Navy. Holmes writes of the past generations of Sailors:

[They] were expected to make themselves as self-sufficient as possible... Big ships outfitted with machine shops, welding facilities, and the like could help out in a pinch, fashioning spares not stocked on board.

Meanwhile, Stefanus points out other erosion in self-sufficiency in his criticism in the use of contractors to fix things:

If a cruiser’s SPQ-9B radar suddenly goes down in the middle of an engagement, there is no time to fly out a contractor. Only the ship’s crew can salvage the situation… An overreliance on contractors only diminishes this capability.

How did we arrive here? It has its roots in what we do want our Sailors to look like and be capable of–and we have wanted them to act more as operators and less as technicians. This is apparent when we look at trends in submarine enlisted rates. For us, interior communications electricians, radiomen, and quartermasters have all been folded into the same rating: electronics technician. We no longer sub-specialize Sailors in radio division into operating/maintaining either our radio equipment or our electronic warfare stuff–they do both now. We haven’t generalized these ratings because we have less complicated gear onboard or because they had skills we didn’t want anymore. As Stefanus and Holmes pointed out, we’ve simply ceded these skills to shore support. Once we transform a workforce into operators vice technicians, it makes sense to drop the onboard machine and welding shops. Who would use them? When manning decisions no longer focus around staffing a maintenance/repair crew, it becomes about filling out the watchbill. That’s how you get to the 40-person crew Holmes points out.

While Stefanus discussed the business side of the decision to outsource repair and maintenance, I think there’s a deeper logic to it that’s linked to our understanding of naval warfare: we can find technical solutions to human problems. If we can make it more technical, we should make it more technical.

The classic example is the implementation of radar onboard ships post-WWII. As more and more ships got radar, we expected to drive down collision rates. But what actually happened? Overall, collision rates did not fall and collision rates involving ships with at least one radar may have actually grown over time until recently! Largely what happened was that ships didn’t reduce speed as they used to–they had radar and could “see” things they never could “see” before. People found new ways to hit things with “radar-assisted collisions.”

I’m not saying radar is worthless or success in naval warfare doesn’t rely on using new technologies more effectively than your opponent. I am saying that innovations don’t neatly employ themselves and people may interact with a new toolset in ways we could never predict. As we add layers of complexity onto our systems, how much more capable are we really? Do submarines with the latest and greatest tracking systems using widescreen HD computer screens provide a demonstratively greater return than earlier generations which entailed hand plotting? Our assumption is yes, and we have committed ourselves in ways described by Stefanus and Holmes.

I wonder what the data would prove though? Sonar_US_Navy_Technician_Submarines_2nd_Class_Harlie_Williams_III_Los_Angeles_class_attack_submarine_USS



While we’re focused on Russia and Ukraine, recent events in Asia may have slipped under the radar. Taiwan is considering signing a major free trade agreement with China. Nationalized Chinese companies may soon be able to make major investments in sectors such as banking and transit.

That may seem underwhelming, but in naval literature, when we think of Chinese expansionism, the various Taiwan scenarios dominate the conversation. In the eight articles of the most recent China’s Near Seas Combat Capabilities journal published by the Naval War College, “Taiwan,” is used 109 times. Are we spending too much time thinking about and planning for a cross-strait conflict?

Taiwan isn’t the prime mover for PLAN development. Bryan McGrath and Timothy Walton neatly unpack this in “China’s Surface Fleet Trajectory: Implications for the U.S. Navy,” predicting the PLAN will continue towards “regionally dominant and globally capable navy in the next decade.” They’ve moved beyond Taiwan. Moreover, “the versatility (and thus utility) of the People’s Liberation Army’s A2/AD capabilities” is well above what’s required to impede US intervention in a cross-strait conflict. If not Taiwan, what then is China’s objective?

Trying to predict world events is extremely difficult as noted in a recent post by CDR Salamander. However, some thought experiments can be useful to help us consider the range of possibilities and their likelihoods. Let say at some point, the Communist Party and China, destabilized by internal problems, turn to an outward show of force. Is anyone going to stop them from beating on Vietnam over water rights or access to oil reserves? Doubtful. Would someone intervene in a conflict with Taiwan? Maybe. Probably? Either way, I’d bet that US intervention is much more likely in a China/Taiwan conflict than a China/Vietnam conflict. I think that China would make the same bet.

I’m just using Vietnam to illustrate that Taiwan is not the natural starting point when we broadly consider the use of China’s naval power. It’s hard to build a fleet to counter all the possibilities of conflict in Asia; perhaps the key, as noted by McGrath and Walton, is “to maximize cooperation with allied and partner states…’penning in’ the Chinese fleet.”

 



Two years ago, I had the tremendous pleasure of interviewing Mr. Elliot Billings, a pioneer in Marine Corps Aviation flying early biplane dive bombers. I just learned yesterday he recently passed away, a painful reminder that with the passing of each veteran we lose rich memories and invaluable experience. I have included Mr. Billings’s obituary to illustrate the full, wonderful life he lived (emphasis my own):
Read the rest of this entry »



I’m working some odd hours this week and I guess I haven’t been following the news carefully enough: RADM Rindskopf, the youngest commander (26 years old) of an American fleet submarine during WWII, passed away on July 27.

Admiral Rindskopf would receive the Navy Cross, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for his wartime service. He later served as commander of two submarine flotillas and of the Navy’s submarine school in New London, Conn. After being promoted to admiral in 1967, he was assistant chief of staff for intelligence to Adm. John S. McCain Jr., commander of the United States Pacific Command during the Vietnam War and father of Senator John McCain of Arizona.

I remember him attending the Submarine Birthday Balls held at the Naval Academy, where he loved engaging the midshipmen with his stories and reflections. I always enjoy hearing from our veterans, and we all are missing out on their experiences and wisdom when one passes away…most especially when it is someone such as RADM Rindskopf.



I came across an article that isn’t about the Navy, but provided for some interesting reflection on the role individual discretion should play in everyday work. A lot of good stuff there. I apologize for a large block of quotations, but I can’t say it any better than they do:

“Using case studies from a wide range of fields, [Schwartz and Sharpe] argue that our institutions, structured as they are around incentive and punishment, prevent us from good practice, from doing our work with purpose, empathy, creativity, flexibility, engagement, and temperance. In a word: wisdom…

Professional life, at its best, combines a sense of mission with wise practice. Professionals who have the “will” and the “skill” to do both good and well—and are given the discretion to deploy effectively their expertise and sense of calling—are those who are most fulfilled in their work, who are happy with what they do and whom they serve. Schwartz and Sharpe write, “We are happiest when our work is meaningful and gives us the discretion to use our judgment. The discretion allows us to develop the wisdom to exercise the judgment we need to do that work well. We’re motivated to develop the judgment to do that work well because it enables us to serve others and it makes us happy to do so.”

What cripples this judgment, and makes us unhappy in our work, is a culture of rules, one based on audits, incentives, and punishments. Schwartz and Sharpe show how this rules culture demands universal principles and scripts no matter the context, and marginalizes imagination, empathy, and courage.”

I then began to wonder what this would look like in the Navy and in particular the nuclear Navy. We’re always told to utilize the watchteam, drawing on their experiences and judgement to decide the best course of action. The reactor operators and electrical operators are experts in their panels, who take pride in being able to shift the electric plant quickly or safely and efficiently startup the reactor. As EOOW (engineering officer of the watch), we’re tasked with leading the watch in maximizing propulsion and maintaining reactor safety.

How can we best lead professionals who have the will and skill to accomplish this mission? Allow them to contribute their hard-earned expertise and discretion (in accordance with written procedure of course). What exactly does this look like in the nuclear Navy, though?

EDIT:
Very curious what this would look like:

“Canny outlaws” offer hope for our institutions. “Canny outlaws” are creative, flexible, improvisational individuals who find ways around the rules that constrain their professional practice. Yet they alone are not enough; we need “system changers,” people who find new ways of doing things and are able to implement them on a broad scale. Practical Wisdom gives us a rather inspiring framework and set of strategies for finding those new ways, and it might persuade more than just canny outlaws that doing so is pretty necessary if we are going to continue to find value in our work.”



Just woke up and am getting ready to head in. I’m currently working the midnight shift and will be standing my first watch in the simulators today. Hopefully the scram switch will go untouched!



I just started the midnight shift at prototype, working from 1930-0730. As it was our first day working shifts, we had an orientation brief where it was announced we killed Bin Laden. After welcoming us our crew chief asked if we had any questions; there was a long pause, and then finally someone asked if we really killed him.

I came home to check Facebook and saw photos and videos uploaded from midshipmen as they celebrated. One of them made it to RealClearPolitics and thought I’d share it with you. Wish I could have been there for this!

Update from Admin:

MVSB9.jpg



Courtesy of the LA Times:

While discussing Arlington’s outdated record-keeping over dinner one night last summer, Ricky — who had just gotten an A in his Programming 1 class at school — announced, “I can fix that…”

Ricky didn’t have his driver’s license yet, so he hitched a ride with his mom on her 45-minute commute from their home in Stafford, Va., to her workplace in Washington. He hopped the Metro the rest of the way to the cemetery…

One afternoon while he was out here taking pictures, a woman asked, “What number is my son?” She wanted to know where he fell in a casualty count that is nearing 6,000 for both wars. Ricky couldn’t answer her, but later he told his mom that he didn’t want them to be numbers; he wanted them to be remembered as people….

He spent afternoons in a bookstore poring over Web development manuals for the right program language to create the site. At night, in his family’s study, his computer hooked up to a 40-inch flat screen and his keyboard on a snack table in front of the couch, he input hundreds of names, photos, links to obituaries and newspaper accounts; he created a space to blog tributes.

For me, this story is about how an 11th grader responded faster to the needs of the nation than the Army. His project is another example of how the the proliferation of web/programming skills changes our expectations for large, bureaucratic organizations. Tech-wise, his project is relatively simple. His genius lies in responding to a need without waiting for someone else (the Army) to do it.



A close friend of mine who selected Marine Air out of the Academy will shortly head to Afghanistan. Strangely enough, he’ll beat out another good, mutual friend who drew infantry out of TBS–and he only had 2 weeks before commissioning and reporting to TBS! Needless to say, he’s not happy with this (being beaten to Afghanistan; he volunteered to get the jump on TBS).

While we were commissioned 11 months ago, John is actually the first friend and classmate I know to head to Afghanistan. Sure, it’s “only” a 5-6 month assignment to fill an IA billet, but it’s a curious feeling to actually know your classmates are starting to finally get out “there.” Invigorating in a way…? I’m sure many of you know the feeling and could describe it better.

In a way, the SWOs beat all of us to the punch. I saw, courtesy of Facebook, one of my companymates earned her SWO pin 2 months back. I regularly keep up with a rooommate who is on a destroyer out of San Diego; his ship just had a “Family Day,” and he had a lot of fun taking his mom out for a cruise. He’s looking forward for his ship’s overhaul to be completed.

Some of those who went to Pensacola are approaching the end of training, I think. My other roommate (a NFO) is moving to Corpus Christi soon, and I really should call him to see how things are going. Playing Call of Duty 4 online with each other really isn’t a good medium for catching up.

My class of submariners is preparing to start shift work at prototype. I’ll start with the midnight shift this Sunday (1930-0730) and rotate to new hours after about a week of this. This point represents about 1/3 the way to completing prototype, the final phase of nuclear training before reporting to a submarine.

Getting there, and less than 11 months till “there.”



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