Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Crystal Ball

Originally posted 0028 11 Apr:

The news article I discussed in this post has set me to thinking, and here's what I've come up with. For various reasons, the Navy has decided to make "scapegoats" of the navigation team on the San Francisco for their recent grounding. This, as I thought about it, was actually to be expected. The Navy submarine force has to operate within a public perception that they don't do anything wrong. With respect to the nuclear power part of the equation, they're pretty much right. However, we nukes have an old saying: "The reactor's not safe unless the ship is safe." As a result, the Navy can't make it seem that their subs are running around in an unsafe condition, so they have to make it seem that the navigation "errors" on the San Francisco were an anomaly.
In the next few weeks, you can expect the Navy to follow up their "leaking" of summaries of the report to selected reporters (those whose articles are normally printed in the Early Bird) with a public release of sanitized portions of the report; specifically, those parts that make the San Francisco grounding sound like a problem of human error on the part of the crew. I guess I really can't blame them too much for choosing this route; they really don't want the scrutiny from those who don't know what's going on. I'm convinced that the Navy is making the institutional changes that are necessary to prevent similar accidents from happening; at least for as long as Sailors currently in the service are still onboard the boats. Should the careers of seven men be too much to ask?
I, probably naïvely, think that it is. As much as I'd like to think that the submarine force is an important issue to a lot of people, in the big scheme of things, it really isn't. The Navy could have just as easily announced that the grouding was basically due to bad luck, but they were changing their procedures to make luck less on an issue, and most Congresspersons would have bought it. I'm afraid that by making this an issue of "human error" vice incredibly bad luck, the Navy will be teaching future submariners that they shouldn't ever take risks. To be honest, in peacetime that's not a bad idea. The problem is that submarines should be able to go from peace to war with no notice, as they had to do in December 1941. Back then, the Sub Force had skippers that were brought up in the risk-averse era of the 1930, and as a result basically none of the peacetime COs became successful wartime COs. God willing, we won't ever again have a war where risk-taking submarine COs are necessary, but if we do...
I'm really not sure who I'm writing this to. I guess I'm hoping that the crew of the San Fran might see it, and understand a little more why their shipmates are being thrown under the train. I also hope that some active duty people might read this, and decide that when they are running the Sub Force, they'll change our ways of doing business such that you don't have to scapegoat innocent men who were doing their job in the way they were trained. In other discussion boards, I've seen submariners say words to the effect of, "If you didn't think people were going to get punished you don't know how the Sub Force operates". I agree, given the Force's current philosophy, that this has to happen. My question is: Just because we've always done something a certain way, does that mean that it's the best way?

Going deep...


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