Cold Water

Tomorrow, April 10th is one of those days.

I will have nightmares tonight because I will – once again – read words long ago memorized. Words that describe with clinical detachment and sterile passion the final microseconds of the USS Thresher.

These were words that terrified me in the summer of 1984 when I was working on the last of my own Submarine qualifications. Thirty-two years after my last dive into the depths of the ocean, the words still chill the blood in my veins and make my knees weak.

Of all the things that I wish that I did not know, the facts – cold, hard, sanitary and shocking – of Threshers final seconds are at the top of the list. That it was painless is one of the Navy’s great salves. But it wasn’t painless.

Men who knew their jobs every bit as well as I did, men who believed that they could save their ship from anything, felt every bend of the steel. They felt the terror of knowing what was about to happen.

Their pain lives on in every man or woman who has closed the hatch and dived into the cold waters since that day. We all read the reports and the clinical description.

And in the dark, when nobody else can see, we feel their pain and we weep for them.

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From One Generation To Another



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I cannot pinpoint the exact day that I fell in love with ships and the sea. But I can tell you that in my journey, there were three ships that really captured my soul. The USS Wahoo, the USS Hornet, and the USS South Dakota. The Navy has a tradition of naming new ships for previous ships. Thus the second Hornet started life as the USS Kearsarge. A name carried on today by an amphibious carrier. The Wahoo had a second boat named for her, but until this past week, none of the three had a current ship carrying their name.

The Hornet is actually two ships, different in classes, different in fate, but united by her name and by their glories. Yesterday we learned that M/V Petrol, the wreck hunting ship that Paul Allen had built found the first Carrier, USS Hornet.

Last week, the newest Virginia Class submarine joined the fleet. And she carries not only the name but her Ships seal reminds us of the glory of her namesake.


 

Declassify the Thresher Data | U.S. Naval Institute

Source: Declassify the Thresher Data | U.S. Naval Institute

The Most Advanced Sub 

The first nuclear-powered submarines, slow and radiating excessive noise, retained the traditional diesel-electric hull design. The USS Albacore (AGSS-569), a diesel-electric research submarine, was commissioned in 1953 to improve submerged performance. Based on the Albacore, the Navy determined that the teardrop-shaped hull, with the single screw aft of the rudder and stern planes, was the best design for the Skipjack (SSN-585), commissioned in 1959. These innovations, combined with Naval Reactors’ director Admiral Hyman Rickover’s more powerful S5W reactor plant—easier to maintain and operate—created a high-speed (29.5 knots) but noisy submarine.

Commissioned 3 August 1961, the Thresher featured 22 percent more displacement and a beam two feet wider than the Skipjack ’s. The torpedo room was moved from the bow to amidships to fit a large, spherical active and passive sonar in the bow. Machinery sound dampening drastically reduced radiated noise, increased sonar detection capabilities, and reduced passive sonar counter- detection ranges, making theThresher a real threat to Soviet submarines. The test depth nearly doubled, from 700 to 1,300 feet, providing more protection from antisubmarine weapons, making active surface-ship sonars less effective, and increasing the margin of safety for depth excursions during control-surface casualties.

The Nuclear System Failed

In sound trials, weapons testing, and submarine exercises, the Thresher ’s performance was outstanding, but she had not yet deployed overseas to face Soviet submarines. After explosive-shock testing, she entered Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNSY) in Kittery, Maine, on 16 July 1962 for a nine-month post-shakedown availability (PSA). On 9 April 1963, the Thresherdeparted for post-PSA sea trials in tactical command of, and escorted by, the submarine rescue vessel USS Skylark (ASR-20). The ships rendezvoused the next morning just beyond the continental shelf for a deep-dive test, during which theThresher sank. Until communications were lost, they had been maintained with the Skylark through an underwater telephone system (Gertrude).

In 1962–63, Lieutenant Bruce Rule was the analysis officer for the SOSUS Evaluation Center in Norfolk, Virginia; he analyzed the LoFARGrams and testified to the Naval Court of Inquiry. After leaving the Navy in September 1963, Rule spent the next 42 years as the lead acoustic analyst for the Office of Naval Intelligence. Key information from Rule’s LoFARGram analysis that was redacted from the released portions of the inquiry’s report includes the following points:

• The Thresher ran main coolant pumps (MCPs) in fast speed until they stopped at 0911. If power from steam-driven ship’s service turbine generators (SSTGs) failed, slow-speed MCPs could run using power generated by the ship’s service motor generators. Fast-speed MCPs did not have this capability.

• The Thresher ’s MCPs gradually
varied in speed up to 24 revolutions per minute (rpm) about five times over a two-minute period, from 0909 until 0911. This resulted from a change of up to four-tenths of a Hertz in the 60-cycle power supplying the fast-speed MCPs from the SSTGs. 4

• Since SOSUS did not detect blade rate (screw rpm), the Thresher did not exceed 12 knots.

• Rule’s analysis of LoFARGrams from SOSUS stations as remote as Argentia, Newfoundland, and Antigua, British West Indies, produced a time-difference fix on where the Thresher imploded. This time-difference fix resulted in a four-by-eight nautical-mile ellipse, with the major axis oriented 040 degrees to 220 degrees true.

The Naval Court of Inquiry justified its finding of major flooding by citing a then-recent history of silver-brazed pipe joint failures on six submarines, including the Thresher . But even though all the silver-brazed joints that had been worked during the Thresher ’s overhaul had been ultrasonically tested, only 145 of the submarine’s unworked joints had been tested, with a 14 percent failure rate. This left 2,855 silver-brazed joints untested. 5

Major flooding creates streams of high-velocity seawater striking the pressure hull and internal structures, producing broadband noise and narrowband resonances. Rule reported a LoFARGram showing a compartment flooding at great depth producing more than 100 individual strong narrowband resonances detectable from more than 700 nautical miles. SOSUS Array Fox, 30 nautical miles from the Thresher , detected  MCPs and main ballast tank (MBT) blow events, but not flooding.

The inquiry reported that the Thresher ’s MCPs had stopped, which would have caused an automatic reactor shutdown (scram) or a shift to slow speed. While Rule was positive the MCPs stopped, Naval Reactors said the acoustic data were inconclusive. Two commanders—not members of the Naval Court of Inquiry and likely acting as agents for Naval Reactors—tried to intimidate Rule during his classified testimony before the court into saying that the MCPs were in slow speed, not fast. Slow-speed MCPs were a more reliable lineup, but Ronald Estes, a reactor operator who served 14 months on the Thresher , recalls that it was normal to run fast-peed MCPs during deep dives to ensure immediate availability of flank speed to go shallow.

In a 1987 interview with Fred Korth, Secretary of the Navy when the Thresher was lost, and his executive assistant, Vice Admiral Marmaduke Bayne, both said Rickover had altered portions of the Naval Court of Inquiry’s report, and had probably done so because wording on MCPs was left as “inconclusive.” This deflected blame for the sinking away from Naval Reactors by creating doubt that there had been a scram.

Anatomy of a Rush Job

The final ten minutes of the Thresher are detailed in the March 2018 Proceedings (p. 87). Here the analysis begins at 0853, 16 minutes earlier, because it is at this point that the inadequacy of testing becomes clear. At 0853, the Thresher reported going to test depth: 1,300 feet. Why did she not use planes, angle, and speed to go shallow during the next 18 minutes, while the propulsion plant was capable of flank speed?

Acoustic data rule out major flooding, but control-surface casualties were relatively common. Stern planes stuck in a dive position would require the Thresher to stop to prevent a large down angle and downward depth excursion. Only de-ballasting by blowing MBTs and pumping variable ballast tanks to sea would enable ascent. One admittedly speculative, yet entirely plausible, scenario is such a stern planes failure.

During an NBC News interview in his official capacity on 10 April 1963, hours after the Thresher was lost, Captain James Calvert (later Vice Admiral), commanding a division of nuclear submarines, implicitly speculated about a control-surface casualty as a cause for the loss. Rear Admiral Charles Curtze, a deputy commander at the Bureau of Ships, testified before a congressional hearing that the electro-hydraulic control valves and piping for ship control surfaces were under review because failures had caused submarines to take large trim angles and lose depth control. Curtze also said a review of the reliability of ship control systems was Task No. 10 of the Submarine Safety (SubSafe) Program.

The following timeline delves more deeply into the information presented in the March 2018 Proceedings :

• 0909: SOSUS detects SSTGs changing speed slowly by measuring MCP frequency—a symptom of an ongoing problem in the engine room, probably caused by seawater-leak isolation of the main seawater system that supplied cooling to the main condensers. It should have prompted shifting MCPs to slow to prevent a reactor scram and to go shallow. Instead, an MBT blow was detected starting 48 seconds later, indicating that main propulsion was not usable, and the Thresher was sinking.

• 0909.8 to 0911.3: SOSUS detected an MBT blow. Flank speed, about 28 knots, would have surfaced theThresher in under two minutes, but speed stayed below 12 knots. Rickover reported to Congress on the sub’s inadequate MBT blow capacity. By design, new submarine classes relied on nuclear propulsion to surface in case of emergency, rather than on the MBT blow system. On the Thresher , the MBTs were made smaller to increase speed, which reduced reserve buoyancy and the effectiveness of the MBT blow. Crews became complacent about being negatively buoyant. 8

Rickover rode the Thresher during the first deep dive after new construction and was concerned with flooding recovery at depth. He demanded that the submarine stop every 100 feet to check for leaks, cycle valves, and test critical equipment. Lieutenant Commander John Harvey, commanding officer (CO) of theThresher for just three months, approved the PNSY sea-trial agenda for a two-hour deep dive—not enough time for tests, and with brief stops at 400, 650, 1,000, and 1,300 feet to check for leaks. The CO and his executive officer had no experience on the S5W reactor plant or deep-diving high-speed submarines with fairwater planes on the sail.

Excessive leakage from multiple sources would not cause high-pressure streams of water, although it could make the Thresher negatively buoyant. A Thresher -class submarine gets 1,000 pounds heavier for every 100-foot increase in depth, as hull compression reduces ship volume. If variable ballast was not pumped to sea to compensate, and with normal increases in weight, such as sanitary tanks filling, the Thresher might have reached test depth at least 12,000 pounds heavy. This is consistent with testimony that neutral buoyancy was no longer a priority with reliable nuclear propulsion. 10

There were many potential sources of leakage, as even sanitary flushing was directly connected to the sea.  As the Thresher continued her descent, leakage rates increased, and new sources of leakage developed. The cumulative effect of multiple leaks could have exceeded the capacity to deballast by pumping to sea or blowing MBTs.

• 0910: The Skylark acknowledged the Thresher ’s course change to match the Skylark ’s course—standard procedure to minimize the chance of collision, as the expected result of the MBT blow was to surface.

After the Thresher loss, the Naval Court of Inquiry directed a pierside test of the MBT blow system on theTinosa (SSN-606), a Thresher -class submarine in the final stages of construction at PNSY. Lieutenant Zack Pate (later Captain), the Tinosa auxiliary division officer and damage control assistant, directed this test. The inquiry’s Finding of Fact 50 inaccurately describes its results: “Strainers in the reducers of Tinosawere blocked and ruptured by the formation of ice in about 30 seconds.” The Marotta Company manufactured the 4,500–3,000-pounds-per-square-inch (PSI) reducing valves used for ship’s service air, including MBT blow. Pate reported that conical strainers and orifice plates were installed upstream of these reducers, and that the strainers were collapsed, not ruptured, as shown in this photo that he took.

The airflow stopped and restarted sporadically every few seconds for six minutes, until the test was stopped. 11 Ruptured strainers would be less restrictive than collapsed strainers, and orifice plates (not mentioned in the Naval Court of Inquiry’s report) significantly restricted air flow to the MBTs. This inaccurate description of an important test was referred to many times in testimony before the court and Congress. Marotta provided the orifice plates and strainers, and PNSY installed them, without anyone on the Thresheror the Tinosa knowing that to prevent construction debris from damaging the reducing valves, they should have been removed when the work was completed. Ice forming on the strainers from adiabatic cooling from the Venturi effect blocked air flow until the ice melted or broke free, allowing reduced air flow until ice formed again. This explains the intermittent interruptions during the Thresher ’s MBT blow. Pate provided one set of the orifice plates and strainers to the court and retained the other. Yet a letter from Marotta’s president and chief executive officer states that there were no records or corporate memory of this issue. 12

• 0911: SOSUS detected MCPs stopping, causing a reactor scram. Alternating-current power was not lost, as the Gertrude was still working. The reactor operator shut main steam stop valves (MS-1 and 2) per the scram procedure, which secured steam supply to the main engines and SSTGs.

MCPs were not started in slow speed to remove decay heat from the reactor core, a procedural violation. With MS-1 and 2 shut and no running MCPs to transfer decay and residual heat from the reactor to generate steam, the main engines were useless. Keeping MS-1 and 2 open after a reactor scram for emergency propulsion was a well-known procedure, but had not yet been approved by Naval Reactors. 13Naval Court of Inquiry board member Captain James Osborn (later Rear Admiral) had served as the first CO of the USS George Washington (SSBN-598). His standing orders, approved by Rickover, were to allow MS-1 and 2 to stay open and to answer the ordered propulsion bell if the reactor scrammed while below 500 feet when experiencing a 20-degree down angle, or during the maneuvering watch. 14 This class of submarine had a test depth of 700 feet. With MS-1 and 2 shut, the only means of propulsion was the emergency propulsion motor, a large, direct-current motor powered by the ship’s battery that could propel the ship at speeds of up to five knots.

0913: The court derived this underwater-telephone report using testimony from four witnesses:

“Experiencing minor difficulties”

“Have positive up angle”

“Am attempting to blow up”

“Will keep you informed.” 15

By 0913 the Thresher had exceeded test depth, maybe by as much as 600 feet if the 0917 report, “900 North,” is interpreted as 900 feet below test depth or 2,200 feet—reasonable, given that the submarine was reporting depth relative to test depth. There were no running MCPs; the reactor had scrammed; MS-1 and 2 were shut; main propulsion was lost; the boat was accelerating downward in an uncontrolled descent that the MBT blow could not stop; and the crew could hear the creaking and groaning sounds of the pressure hull compressing. The Thresher ’s difficulties were by no means “minor” at 0913.

One possible explanation is that “experiencing minor difficulties” in the 0913 report was from a delayed transmission describing an earlier event considered minor at the time, such as a control surface failure.

An up angle was expected to enable the Thresher to go shallow. “Have positive up angle” implies that the submarine had recovered from a down angle, possibly caused by a stern plane’s jam dive. The report of “attempting to blow up” confirms that the MBT blow was ineffective.

• 0913.5 to 0914: SOSUS and the Skylark detected a 30-second MBT blow. This was probably a restart of the blow started at 0909.8.

• 0916: The Thresher made a garbled report believed to include the words “test depth,” possibly preceded by the word “exceeding.”

• 0917: The Thresher sent a garbled report interpreted to include the phrase “900 North.”

• 0918.4: SOSUS and the Skylark detected hull collapse at a calculated depth of 2,400 feet, 450 feet below the crush depth of 1,950 feet (150 percent of test depth), creating a bubble pulse with an energy release equivalent to 22,500 pounds of TNT. The hull collapsed in 47 milliseconds (~1/20th of a second), too fast to be cognitively recognized by those on board. 16  

An Avoidable Disaster; A Better Future 

A simple decision to schedule more time for the deep dive could have saved the Thresher . Her loss resulted in the creation of the SubSafe program, which mandated the redesign of and strict quality control procedures for the manufacture, repair, and testing of critical systems on submarines. The prevention of unauthorized alterations in critical systems—including the hull, seawater systems, high-pressure air, and control surfaces—was prioritized. New SubSafe systems, such as a separate emergency MBT blow system and an emergency remote hydraulic seawater hull valve closure system, were installed on all submarines. Until a boat was SubSafe-certified, she was restricted to operating at half her test depth.

Like radar at the start of World War II, SOSUS data were not fully trusted or used in the investigation. If they had been, the Naval Court of Inquiry’s report on MCPs would not have been deemed “inconclusive.” Relying on a single normally reliable system—the nuclear propulsion plant—without a designed and tested backup proved catastrophic for the Thresher .

Even though the SubSafe program has already brought lifesaving changes, there may be more to be learned. It is time for the Navy to fully share all the evidence pertaining to this historic watershed naval loss.

No SubSafe-certified submarines have been lost. The only other sinking of a U.S. nuclear submarine was the USS Scorpion (SSN-589) after a battery explosion in May 1968. Release of the Naval Court of Inquiry’s report, declassifiable per Executive Order 13526, would give valuable insight.

Author’s Note 

With respect to sources, SOSUS information not from Rule’s book is either from emails or interviews with him. Technical information on submarines is from Norman Polmar and Kenneth J. Moore, Cold War Submarines: The Design and Construction of U.S. and Soviet Submarines (Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 2004). Recent Proceedings articles pertaining to this subject include most saliently Captain Joseph F. Yurso, USN (Ret.), “Unraveling the Thresher ’s Story” (October 2017, 38–42); and Comment & Discussion contributions from K. Highfill (January 2018, pp. 87–88) and J. Bryant (March 2018, p. 87).

1. Department of the Navy, Office of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, “ Loss at Sea of USS Thresher ,” 25 June 1963. Opinions of the Naval Court of Inquiry (NCoI), section 4, 13.

2. Bruce Rule, Why the USS Thresher (SSN-593) Was Lost: A Technical Assessment Based on Analyses of Acoustic Detections of the Event (Ann Arbor, MI: Nimble Books, 2017), 11.

3. Ibid., iv.

4. Ibid., 11.

5. Stanford Libraries, “Loss of the USS Thresher : Hearings before the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, Congress of the United States, Eighty-Eighth Congress, First and Second Sessions on the Loss of the USSThresher ”: 26–27 June, 23 July 1963, and 1 July 1964, 12.

6. Francis Duncan, Rickover and the Nuclear Navy: The Discipline of Technology (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990), 90, 91.

7. Philip Martin Callaghan, “Effects of the USS Thresher Disaster upon Submarine Safety and Deep-Submergence Capabilities in the United States Navy,” MA thesis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA (1987), 11.

8. Ibid., 25–28. Stanford Libraries, “Loss of the USS Thresher ,” 33.

9. Stanford Libraries, “Loss of the USS Thresher ,” 85, 86.

10. Callaghan, “Effects of the USS Thresher Disaster upon Submarine Safety,” 25–28; Stanford Libraries, “Loss of the USS Thresher ,” 33.

11. Captain Zack Pate’s letter of 31 May 2013 to Rear Admiral David Goebel, president, Submarine Force Library and Museum Association. Bryant and Evans have an unsigned copy that was verified by telephone with Pate. Admiral William Smith and Captains Clarence Moore and Walter Coakley are listed in the letter certifying it.

12. Patrick A. Marotta, president and CEO of Marotta Controls. Email to James Bryant, 7 December 2017, held by Bryant, Evans, and Wulfekuhle.

13. Callaghan, “Effects of the USS Thresher Disaster upon Submarine Safety,” 11, 23.

14. Personal communication, email, Captain James Collins.

15. NCoI, section III 36–54. Los Angeles Times , “Navy Board Told of Sub’s Last Minutes,” 14 April 1963, 1.

16. Rule, Why the USS Thresher (SSN-593) Was Lost , 16, 17.


Captain Bryant served on three Thresher –class submarines and commanded the USS Guardfish (SSN-612) from 1987 to 1990. He is grateful to Harold Evans and Nicholas Wulfekuhle for their research and editing in the preparation of this article, and to Iowa State Professor Capt. Tim Wolters, USNR (Ret.), for his mentoring. He thanks Capt. Zack Pate, USN (Ret.); Molly Hammett Kronberg; Steve Walsh; and all the others, especially the submariners who provided assistance in this team effort.

Air Force general calls himself out for wearing upside-down ribbon rack during State of the Union

Okay, the General messed up. BFD.

The bigger point of this picture is the guy on the left. All these Generals with their stars and ribbons. On the left sits a simple submariner. Sure, an Admiral, but just look at the difference.

That’s because we live it and don’t feel the need to put it in your face…

A key characteristic of a good leader is one’s ability to put pride aside and admit one’s own mistakes.

Source: Air Force general calls himself out for wearing upside-down ribbon rack during State of the Union

A key characteristic of a good leader is one’s ability to put pride aside and admit one’s own mistakes.

That’s exactly what Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, did Wednesday when he shared with the social media masses a gaffe he committed while attending President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address.

Looking at the photos that emerged from the Trump’s address, Gen. Lengyel made an observation that may still be contributing to some internal groaning on his part.

He wore his ribbon rack upside-down.

The general took to both Twitter and Facebook to proactively highlight the slip-up.

“I missed it… Plain and simple,” Gen. Lengyel wrote. “I hope this is a lesson for everyone who wears the uniform, and really for anyone… They put erasers on pencils for a reason. When you make a mistake or miss a detail, own it and move on.”

https://www.facebook.com/v2.9/plugins/post.php?app_id=303078199866120&channel=https%3A%2F%2Fstaticxx.facebook.com%2Fconnect%2Fxd_arbiter%2Fr%2FGMRn6XEBZ06.js%3Fversion%3D44%23cb%3Df1ac67a39fe3b%26domain%3Dwww.airforcetimes.com%26origin%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.airforcetimes.com%252Ff3ac8d2e4a91fec%26relation%3Dparent.parent&container_width=710&href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FGeneralLengyel%2Fposts%2F2343202669064559%3F__xts__%5B0%5D%3D68.ARD1nUO-yoFuEvUz0lIY_Hs9u-4SQpEiRdiVKKs0lvFDB8osAPJxwKX34XeB15rDvkNGOGXIyMjznESv-8mNrpgOzoTFZ1xrnCbjSWIdEMyWKgtlkwKoKNoFSsEynnDJWdeyEpmCcUlGW1kaVZAJBkT9nmFT7zaKP12Gnal3TOW4dFrQLW7mcSqLC1NV9z8WuyubAtRIPjsQYP_gfofLNidndYRmqN8XYhb9V9vY4kJ3Sv9oQ2QRFP51isscpz_mL88l0zGd34iAnuDDjVh8p8vw4kDAZe8HrbMZHoL-ntvwhuNZJ8cpx7JPB7uP2ewVTaLhdOItcgdh9JMbQ-feJVOGGANm&locale=en_US&sdk=joey&width=552

Users on all platforms were quick to applaud the general for his admission.

Many offered the four-star some lighthearted encouragement.

Former Ranger and current UFC fighter, Tim Kennedy, for example, shrugged off the mistake with some friendly jabs at the Air Force.

Gen. Joseph Lengyel

@ChiefNGB

Question: What’s wrong with this picture? I’ll give you a hint…It’s why they keep putting eraser on pencils.

Answer: The ribbons on my uniform are upside down. Let this be a lesson and don’t let it happen to you!

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Tim Kennedy

@TimKennedyMMA

No one understands Air Force uniforms anyhow. I think you are safe. I also don’t care about uniforms unless they provide protection and/or camouflage.

66 people are talking about this

And there’s always a Maverick anecdote for every scenario.

Gen. Joseph Lengyel

@ChiefNGB

Question: What’s wrong with this picture? I’ll give you a hint…It’s why they keep putting eraser on pencils.

Answer: The ribbons on my uniform are upside down. Let this be a lesson and don’t let it happen to you!

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

TM@tjm585

Sir maybe this could be your excuse.

All jokes aside, I love how you’re handling it. pic.twitter.com/1fuxlBn92e

Embedded video

See TM’s other Tweets

Some chimed in with awkward admissions of their own.

Gen. Joseph Lengyel

@ChiefNGB

Question: What’s wrong with this picture? I’ll give you a hint…It’s why they keep putting eraser on pencils.

Answer: The ribbons on my uniform are upside down. Let this be a lesson and don’t let it happen to you!

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Tipsy Cat@PatsNorth

I went to work the other day with a pair of boxers hanging on the Velcro of my ass, so you’re doing fine…

See Tipsy Cat’s other Tweets

No matter the minimal severity of the slip-up, responses to the general’s admission were universally positive.

It’s somewhat encouraging that amidst an online world of instantaneous judgement and cutthroat responses to human mistakes, owning up to one’s own faults — however minor they may be — can still elicit a forgiving public.

Well done, sir.

Five Reasons The Navy’s D5 Missile Is The Most Important Weapon In The U.S. Arsenal

I’m a C4 and C3 guy, but the D5 is pretty bad ass…

The submarine-launched Trident II D5 ballistic missile is the backbone of America’s nuclear deterrent.

Source: Five Reasons The Navy’s D5 Missile Is The Most Important Weapon In The U.S. Arsenal

Last week, the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs office awarded Lockheed Martin a $560 million modification to a pre-existing contract for production and support of the Trident II D5 missile. Almost nobody outside the Navy and Lockheed’s missiles and space unit noticed. Dozens of such agreements have been completed over the years.

Reading the official announcement, you’d never guess that the survival of our civilization depends on the successful execution of the January 30 contract and others like it. But it does. The D5 missile provides the backbone of America’s nuclear deterrent, and thus the main bulwark against the kind of conflict that could permanently extinguish everything we hold dear.

As confirmed by the Trump Administration’s disclosure of a revised missile defense strategy last month, the United States does not attempt to actively defend its homeland against nuclear attack by Russia or China. That is too hard, given the number of warheads in each country’s nuclear arsenal and the destructiveness of each one. Attempting to do so might spark a destabilizing arms race. Instead, the U.S. seeks to dissuade Moscow and Beijing from nuclear aggression by threatening grave consequences.

The D5 is crucial to making deterrence credible, because unlike the land-based missiles and manned bombers in America’s nuclear “triad,” it is deployed on submarines beneath the seas. The 14 submarines and 280 D5 missiles comprising the sea-based deterrent can’t be tracked or targeted when they are operating, and thus there is no way an attacker could escape horrible retribution. It is the certainty of unacceptable retaliation that is America’s main insurance against nuclear war.

The D5 missile and its antecedents in the Navy’s Fleet Ballistic Missile program are central to this strategic calculus. In fact, they have been more critical to American survival than any other type of weapon in the national arsenal. The reason you probably don’t know this is that the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs office operates so smoothly there is never any bad news to report. It is arguably the most reliable, efficient operation in the Pentagon’s entire acquisition apparatus.

As a result, the D5 is unknown to most people. Even those who follow military affairs closely seldom hear much about D5. So what I’d like to do here is briefly describe five reasons why the D5 missile is the most important weapon you’ve (probably) never heard of. I should note up front that Lockheed Martin, prime contractor for the D5, is a contributor to my think tank and a consulting client–as are several of its competitors.

The most critical mission.  Sustaining a survivable, flexible nuclear deterrent is the most important mission of America’s military. The Navy routinely describes replacement of its cold war ballistic missile submarines as the service’s top priority. What makes those submarines a superior deterrent, though, is the D5 missile—20 of which are carried on each of 14 Ohio-class submarines. Most of the subs are submerged beneath the seas at any given time, and thus beyond the reach of enemy targeters. With each D5 carrying multiple thermonuclear warheads capable of hitting within 300 feet of intended targets, the Ohio class by itself could wipe out any nation. That is a powerful inducement for potential enemies to avoid aggression.

The most survivable platform. Military experts refer to the combat systems from which weapons are launched as “platforms.” Ohio-class subs are among the stealthiest weapons platforms in history, and an even stealthier Columbia class will begin construction in 2021 at the Electric Boat shipyards in Connecticut and Rhode Island. EB, as parent company General Dynamics often calls it, is the most capable and accomplished builder of submarines in history. Its top goal in engineering the D5’s future host is to make the boat virtually invisible to enemies when it is submerged. That is not something you can do with missile silos and bomber bases, giving D5 the greatest likelihood of surviving a surprise attack and then retaliating in tailored, precise fashion (General Dynamics too is a contributor to my think tank and consulting client).

The most reliable missile. The Navy randomly selects a D5 missile for testing on average four times per year to assure the sea-based deterrent is in a high state of readiness. It has been doing this since 1990, when the initial version of D5 became operational. During the intervening years, the missile has established a track record as the most reliable large missile or space booster ever built. It has been successfully launched 171 times, with fewer than ten launches deemed to be unsuccessful. The consistency of D5’s testing history assures that whatever fate may befall the other parts of the triad in a war, the sea-based deterrent will be ready to launch when so ordered. Potential aggressors know this, know the D5’s power, and know there is little they could do to escape retaliation.

The most potent warheads. Each D5 missile is capable of reaching over 4,000 miles at hypersonic speeds and then delivering multiple warheads with high accuracy against widely separated targets. Targeting information is typically loaded into guidance systems just before launch to assure retaliation matches the aggression that provoked it. About two-thirds of the 1,100 warheads in the D5 inventory are 100-kiloton devices suited to destroying soft targets, while the remaining third are 475-kiloton devices capable of destroying hardened targets (like buried command centers). The latter warheads are more powerful than those carried on land-based missiles, and more likely to reach targets than megaton-range weapons that might be carried on bombers.

The most numerous warheads. Pursuant to arms control agreements concluded in recent years, about 70% of all the nuclear warheads in the U.S. strategic force will eventually be carried on D5 missiles (100% of all the warheads in the United Kingdom deterrent will be too). While land-based ballistic missiles and long-range bombers will continue to provide essential synergies in deterring nuclear wars, the D5 will provide the backbone of America’s strategic force. Nobody knows how a nuclear war might unfold, but the combination of numerous warheads, stealth, mobility, speed, reach and precision makes the sea-based deterrent first among equals in the nuclear triad. In fact, the unique features of the D5/submarine combination might confer a pivotal role in terminating nuclear exchanges before they become apocalyptic.

The U.S. government is understandably secretive about what its plans are for various nuclear contingencies. If aggression is limited or accidental, it presumably would respond in a more restrained fashion that if the attack involved hundreds of warheads. The most important consideration is that potential aggressors understand the U.S. has credible options for every conceivable set of circumstances, so that there is no way an enemy might imagine it can gain an advantage by launching first.

The D5 missile seems ideally suited to these purposes, which is why the Strategic Systems Programs office has systematically upgraded every feature of the missile and its associated systems over the last 20 years (the Y-12 national security complex announced just last month that it had completed life-extension improvements to the 100-kiloton warheads carried on D5). D5 will be active in the deterrent force longer than all five previous generations of sea-launched ballistic missiles combined. As Ohio-class subs are replaced by Columbia-class subs, D5 will remain the weapon of choice carried on board. So the D5 will be an essential part of the nation’s nuclear posture for decades to come.

Can the Groundhog see his shadow underwater?

theleansubmariner

Homesick

Once upon a time on a submarine far, far away (USS San Francisco to be exact) a number of us were homesick for the place we had originally called home. In this case, it was Western Pennsylvania. The 711 boat was a hard working boat and once we hit our homeport in Pearl Harbor, we mostly said goodbye to our families for months at a time. That was a typical operational schedule for fast attacks of the day (early 1980’s). The Cold War was still running hot straight and normal and there were Commies to Counter out in the far reaches of the Pacific and beyond. Even though that period has long since passed, my good friend Bruce Cosby reminds me from time to time that some things are still classified.

But being homesick is not so classified. I think even the hardiest sailor has felt it at one…

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50 years of unbroken patrols | laststandonzombieisland

In 1962, with the “Skybolt crisis,” which arrived when the promised GAM-87 Skybolt cruise missile tanked, leaving British Vulcan bombers hamstrung, the Royal Navy announced they would add a ballistic missile program to HMs Submarines and moved to produce five Resolution-class SSBNs, a 8,400-ton vessels each armed with 16 U.S.-made UGM-27 Polaris A-3 ballistic missiles, each able to deliver three British-made 200 k ET.317 warheads in the general area of a single metropolitan-sized target. This enabled a single British Polaris boomer (they actually call them bombers) on patrol to plaster the 16 most strategic targets in the CCCP.

Source: 50 years of unbroken patrols | laststandonzombieisland

With all of the moving parts and ominous tasking, the Resolutions, a modified Valiant-class design, were given traditional battleship/battlecruiser names (Resolution, Repulse, Renown, Revenge, and Ramillies) although just four were ultimately completed.

On 15 February 1968, HMS Resolution fired the first British Polaris on a test range off Florida and on 15 June began her first deterrent patrol.

By the next April, with Repulse and Renown accepted and ready for action, the Brits had enough bombers to keep a boat at sea at all times.

Now, fast forward 50 years and the British are celebrating an unbroken chain of deterrent patrols, of which they have completed nearly 400, having long ago switched to Trident-based SSBNs.

“The Continuous At-Sea Deterrence is the longest sustained military operation ever undertaken by the UK and this 50th anniversary year presents a valuable opportunity to recognize and thank those from the Naval Service and their families, the wider Ministry of Defence and our many industrial partners who have contributed to this vital national endeavor,” said First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones in an RN presser this week.

To celebrate the feat, the RN will issue special patrol pins to bomber submariners this year.

As noted by the service, “Up to now, submariners who complete a single patrol have been awarded a pewter pin and those achieving 20 or more patrols presented with a gold deterrent pin. The new silver award bridges the gap between the two, being awarded after ten patrols.”