Monday, March 02, 2009

Admirals Carefully Stepping Over the Obvious. Aussie Subs Must Revive Elite Team Spirit

The Strategy Page makes a good assessment of morale problems vexing Australia's submarine service in Automation Kills Submariner Spirit (reading the full article is recommended). There are shortages of both officers and sailors with technical skills. Here are some of what has been reported with Molten Eagle's comments:

. The sailors felt unappreciated and overworked. M.E.: All submariners are relatively overworked, but it goes with the elite team they volunteered to join. Very few feel unappreciated, however.

. Many found the work boring, and felt they spent too much time at sea. ...Crews have been away from home for up to six months at a time. M.E.: How many sailors in most navies do not feel this way? This has been a normal sentiment for U.S. sailors since nuclear propulsion has been available. How long are CVANs away from home?

. Labor-saving automation reduced crew size in Collins class boats to 45, but resulted in a higher workload for the submarine sailors. This is a major reason for the morale problem.

M.E.: British and U.S. boats are not nearly highly automated? Wrong! Excess sailors are assigned to U.S. and British boats to reduce fatigue? Wrong, again! Automation requires technical operators. Technical people tend to disdain non-technical (dirty work) requirements. This is usually not a problem in highly motivated teams, however. Obviously, team spirit and motivation are lacking. Retention is not an individual problem as much as it may be a unit affliction.

. Half of them were getting out of the navy as soon as their current enlistments were up. M.E.: This is not surprising when there is a major morale problem, but did the admiral's psychologists pinpoint the recruiting and retention problems? We bet they did, but no one wants to talk about it:

If morale is to be restored, the service must be promoted as a legitimate occupation of young, red-blooded males. Although improved pay is certainly a necessary ingredient, it will no longer be sufficient. It seems a well-intentioned admiral had seen fit to prove females make great submariners (he thought females would alleviate the retention and recruitment problem).

Years later, we can now see the admiral's plan has not worked out well. The Australian submarine service was a male fraternity with a proud legacy and identity. Becoming a member had been prestigious. The male prestige has been squandered. How many female members do exclusive fraternities admit?

To get around the problem now will require rebuilding team prestige. A major PR campaign will be required, as opposed to this ad hoc attempt, because the Australian public must also be convinced that for qualified, red-blooded youth nothing can beat the travel, thrill, and adventure opportunities of submarining. At the very least, some exotic ports of call, enviable opportunities and the allure of attractive women (in R&R ports) is going to be required in those promos.


Submarines are always silent and strange



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