Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Article on San Francisco NJP

Here's an article by Bob Hamilton of the New London Day (registration required after today) that has some background information on the thinking that may have gone into the Commodore's Masts for the 6 USS San Francisco crew members earlier this week. Excerpts:

"Sources said the sailors were all punished as a result of an administrative proceeding known as a commodore's mast, which lasted 10 minutes or less for each of the men and focused on two areas of inquiry: whether the crew had obtained the most recent charts on board and whether it exercised sufficient caution when there was evidence that the charts being used might be faulty. The executive officer, a lieutenant commander, and the navigator, a lieutenant, received permanent punitive letters of censure, Navy sources said Tuesday.
"The assistant navigator, a senior chief electronics technician, received a similar letter and was stripped of his Navy enlisted classification, which ousts him from the submarine force.Three other enlisted men, all members of the San Francisco navigation team, were demoted one rank, one of them from electronics technician 1st class to electronics technician 2nd class, and two others from 2nd class to 3rd class...
"...The punishments, and the lines of questioning, seem to support claims by Navy sources last month that the submarine had not updated its charts with notices to mariners, some dating back to the 1960s and some made as recently as last year, that would indicate a seamount in an area where the water was supposed to be several thousand feet deep.
"In addition, the same sources said, the navigation crew had taken a sounding that showed the water to be thousands of feet shallower than on the charts. Though still showing ample water under the keel for safe operation, the discrepancy should have prompted more caution, the sources said."

For me, the thing that jumps out is the statement that the boat "had not updated its charts with notices to mariners... dating back to the 1960s". I was taught that when you prepared a chart, you went back through the Notice to Mariners only as far as the date the chart was prepared, it being assumed that the chart contained all applicable Notes up to the date it was printed. If the Submarine Force is in fact expecting that all boats have been updating all charts with all Notices to Mariners back to whatever date, I'm sure that the Tactical Readiness Examination teams have been checking that on each exam. (Note: the previous sentence is sarcastic -- they don't check that.) This just confirms to me that the Sub Force is really reaching here, and this saddens me; in trying to find their way in this new unipolar world, they seem to be falling back on their old habits of shotgun-blasting everyone who is involved in anything that brings negative publicity to the Force. As far as the charge that the soundings they received were significantly different than charted, that is a fairly serious shortcoming, but again one that I believe was shared by many boats in the fleet (not that it's a problem now, of course.) I base this only on the small sample of boats that I've been on -- at a flank bell in deep water, soundings are not as accurate as they are in shallow water and slower speeds. What I would do is keep taking soundings until I got one that matched. If the sub force expects that every boat that was doing a flank bell treat a bad sounding at flank in deep water as basically a yellow sounding (which sounds like what they expected, and which, to be honest, is probably what the letter of the law required) I think they could have done a better job of stressing that if they think now that it is a punishable offense not to do it.

More on this later... Staying at PD...

Bell-ringer 0023 25 March: Here are some comments on the comments to this post over at Chapomatic. Also, Lubber's Line has a post on the next generation of the Submarine Voyage Management System.

Update 0038 25 March: submandave has some thoughts in his own blog as well. [Admin note: This was actually an update to a different post for which all the links had expired, and didn't have any real input from me; therefore, I added it onto this post for the archives.]


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