Sunday, September 10, 2006

B2's and the Public's Opinion of Submarine Service

B2 aka Badbob, or Badbobusnret, as he sometimes signs himself, is probably one of the good guys. Casual googling indicates B2 is probably a retired naval officer of rank O-6, or above. Prior to December 2005, it was my honor to have him comment on several of my own posts, as well as credit me in his comments at Neptunus Lex.

Recently, Badbob summarized his and probably the public's unflattering opinion of the U.S. submarine service. His gratuitous comment was made here at Chapomatic: "BTW, if it wasn’t for the heads/beds issues, there would be plenty of women aboard subs. What safer place to be in a modern war that requires technical skills? It ain’t CAPT Beach’s WWII force anymore."

Is Badbob right? Is he a former submariner? No matter, there are too many submarine officers and petty officers who may agree with Badbob. This may help their careers, but in the longrun it will harm the submarine service. Let me present an opposing opinion.

First, forget the heads and beds issue, although it would be a problem. Nuclear submarines are heavy metal and radiation exposure environments. In modern industry, OSHA and NIOSH standards limit longterm exposure of working women of childbearing age to either (and that does not even consider "upset" conditions during which exposure may become acutely hazardous). Exemptions for military service? Forget it. How many of you oldtimers remember all the loose hair in your combs the first few weeks after reporting aboard your first nuke? It was common and expected. Does it still occur on newer boats?

Secondly, while today's submarines are fantastical compared with those of Capt. Beach's WWII day, the volunteers should not have changed, unless the Navy has relaxed standards recently.
Surface ships are not enduring the assaults of Capt. Beach's day either, nor are millions of combat troops. The truth is, most males could not qualify for submarine service if they did volunteer. Why? Forget the intelligence requirements, the battery of psychological tests is restrictive for good reason. I have been on a sinking submarine (almost lost). Not one soul panicked. After returning to port, however, our CO suffered a heart attack. Does that tell you anything? Stresses on a submarine are as bad as it gets. We had a nuke go crazy (sedated and reassigned) after a practice MK-45 struck our hull adjacent to the rack where he had been sleeping. As a nuke, he had not been through several of the submarine fitness tests. prior to assignment.

The battle element that Badbob considers missing is missing for the time being only. Are modern submarines safer? Their designs have been upgraded, but so have the array of weapons to be used against them, including the most deadly -espionage. The lives of the crew are at risk of collisions with uncharted seamounts, other submarines and an unforgiving environment. The stresses are there all of the time. Sleep is interrupted by drills that would thoroughly freak out most people the first time. They are repeated endlessly and so intertwined with real dangers that the crew responds the same to either.

There are hundreds of ways for a modern submarine to be sunk, including those that sunk the Hunley three times. None of that has changed. While submarines have some creature comforts, I have to mention the reason many WWII subs were air conditioned was to assure better equipment function and crew performance in the tropics.

Unlike aviation and combat troops who return to base for shower, sleep and phone home, submariners may deploy for months of life in a narrow tube. There is no phoning home, receiving mail or taking a long shower (already discussed the sleep). Want to throw females into an environment like that and expect to maintain the same ultra-high level of performance?

Submariners certainly understand inter-service rivalries. Implying that submarine volunteers are less stalwart than traditional combat troops is simply contradicted by history as recent as the past 36 months. USS San Francisco, USS Philadelphia, USS Albuquerque, etc. exemplify points made above.

Last time I heard, submariners still rated hazardous duty pay, and our potential enemies were upgrading their submarine fleets. I am glad Badbob kicked us in the wake up region. There is a lot at stake here. No one in the military works longer hours in a more stressful environment of daily sacrifices than attack boat submariners.


At 12 September, 2006 16:30, Blogger Vigilis said...

draamal, thank you for pointing out my error (was not the USS Greenville, have now corrected to USS San Fransisco) and, as you know, the Philly reference is to her Sept. 5, 2005 damage:
+ The worst damage included a large hole in the rudder, scoring of at least one propeller blade,
(and the damage to periscope and fairwater planes).
+ The hull incurred a small dent (fortunately, the SEAL attachment was not aboard at the time)
+ The housing for towed array was 'crumpled'.
+ Some sound absorbing tiles were naturally strewn asunder.
+ The rest of the damage listing is described as 'fairly long'.

Philadelphia's CO at the time actually stated the damage was very slight and the Philly would be repaired in a month.

Submarines always silent and strange.

At 12 September, 2006 17:49, Blogger Vigilis said...

At 15 November, 2006 10:23, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee Vigilis. Doing and audit webwide on my big mouth as badbobusnret! Scary where I find myself.

I agree with everything you're saying!

Personally, I'm old school on women in combat but I've been superseded years ago on THAT subject, so I was just offering more options to find qualified sub warriors amongst tthe other 1/2 of the population. Sort of a pragmatic solution to the question Chap poised.


At 15 November, 2006 15:15, Blogger Vigilis said...

Thanks for stopping by again, badbob.


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