Rear Adm. Douglas J. McAneny, Commander, Combined Task Force 54, completed administrative personnel actions involving select members of the USS Newport News (SSN 750) crew, Monday, Jan. 29, to include relieving Cmdr. Matthew A. Weingart of command due to a lack of confidence in his ability to command. Capt. Norman B. Moore has temporarily assumed command of the Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine.
CAPT Moore, the new temporary CO, had commanded USS Columbus (SSN 762) during his normal command tour. The statement in the press release that there were "administrative personnel actions involving select members of the... crew" indicates that more than just the CO went to the green table; normally, the names and specific punishments for those who aren't the CO won't be released, so we don't know for sure yet if they just got letters, were busted, or even got reassigned. All I've heard so far is what it says in this article from The Virginian-Pilot, that, in addition to saying that the submarine suffered damage to the VLS tubes and forward MBTs, also has some rumors about the other punishments:
McAneny's decision to remove Weingart - as well as issue him a punitive letter of reprimand, according to a Navy source familiar with the case - might indicate that the venturi effect was only partly to blame. A "punitive" letter of reprimand is a fault-finding document, and it is stronger than a general letter of reprimand... ...Besides Weingart, three other sailors faced administrative charges for their roles in the Newport News incident. A source close to the case said charges against one officer were dropped, and two petty officers received "administrative actions."
This firing, coming on the heels of the CO of the USS Minneapolis-St. Paul (SSN 708) being relieved, really didn't surprise me. Those submariners who have ever operated in shallow constricted waters like the approaches to the Strait of Hormuz probably noticed immediately that the reports of how the accident happened didn't seem "quite right" with respect to the boat finding herself in that situation. (Note: While we don't know the exact geometries or locations of the ship's involved in the collision, I don't have to mention that none of us should discuss on this open-source blog the things we noted that seemed "wrong".) I'm just wondering whether the decision to relieve Captain Weingart was due solely to his actions that contributed to the collision, or if it was the result of "discrepancies" noted during the after-mishap "investigation" of the ship's day-to-day operations. Since this accident didn't get nearly as much press as the USS San Francisco grounding, I don't expect that we'll see the Submarine Force go public with all their "damning" evidence like they did with the SFO. My guess is we won't ever find out if the decision to remove the CO was because of a "one strike and you're out" policy, or the result of noted problems in the way the ship was being run. I'm sure all of us will have our opinions, though.
...and BTW mates...I've got real good Navy buddy named Bob Snogles who served on the Sam Houston SSBN 609, from 1965-70 as an MM2. He's not in good health and would like to hear from any a his old shipmates...so...if'n ya want...contact me at Thecookshack@aol.com and I'll put y'all in touch with him...thanks mates...
...submarines started down a road that would change them forever.
January 21, 1954: The USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, is christened by first lady Mamie Eisenhower. It is the sixth U.S. warship to carry that name.
Nautilus' christening took place less than three years after Congress first authorized construction of a nuclear-powered submarine for the U.S. Navy. It was commissioned in September 1954 and entered active service Jan. 17, 1955.
Somewhat surprisingly, the CO of the USS Minneapolis-St. Paul (SSN 708), CDR Edwin Ruff, has been relieved of command. I say "surprisingly" not because it doesn't fit in with the Sub Force's recent "tradition" of relieving COs whenever something bad happens on a boat that makes the press, but because it apparently wasn't done by the first Flag Officer in the chain of command. That officer, RADM Jeff Fowler, had recently issued CDR Ruff a punitive letter of reprimand, but didn't fire him on the spot. So, either RADM Fowler didn't coordinate the punishment with the upper brass ahead of time (highly unlikely), he didn't want his name attached to the action, the Sub Force doesn't want anyone not in a boat's "home" chain of command making these things happen, or the safety report came out with additional information that made VADM Munns (SubLant) decide to pull the trigger.
Following a review of the events in connection with a Dec.29 at-sea incident near Plymouth, England, Commander, Submarine Force, Vice Adm. Chuck Munns relieved Cmdr. Edwin Ruff, commanding officer, USS Minneapolis-St. Paul (SSN 708), and reassigned him to the staff of Commander, Submarine Squadron 6 in Norfolk, Va. Munns took this action due to a loss of in confidence in Ruff’s ability to command. Cmdr. Chris Williams, Deputy for Readiness, Submarine Squadron 6, and former Commanding Officer USS Oklahoma City (SSN 723), assumed command of USS Minneapolis-St. Paul Jan. 19.
Insider thoughts on the submarine safety standdown
Being on the crew of a sub, I got to take part in the safety standdown today (being in overhaul, ours was somewhat of a different agenda than the operational guys).
I can't delve into boat-specific issues, of course, but I got the impression that the VCNO (Subs) and the SubLant and SubPac commanders, as well as all in the upper chains, are really ready to listen to us in the blue shirts. At least I hope I'm right in that assessment.
One of the big issues my fellow PO1's and I brought up to our CO was how our time is so committed that we (and our CPO's, and our junior sailors) have somewhat less than 30% of our "workday" time to actually devote to our jobs. We have had an ever-increasing mandate of admin, training, and externally directed requirements that have eaten big chunks out of our day. I gave the example of a nuke in an overhaul situation, where the training requirements laid out by NavSea 08 put us in 6-10 hours of classroom training per week, with another 1-3 hours a week taking continuing training exams. That doesn't even count the time spend preparing the training and writing/grading exams. That is just 7-13 hours total per week in a chair getting either "death by PowerPoint" or a sore hand from multiple exams. I, for example, weekly attend 4 hours of Engineering Department training, 2 hours of Divisional training, and 2 hours of EOOW/EWS training, plus at least 2 hours of exam time. That's 10 hours per week. An ELT qualifies EWS gets 2 more hours a week (in addition to their Divisional training they are required to attend M-Division training) and one more divisional exam. That's nearly 25% of the theoretical "work week" just spent on your butt doing training. And it doesn't count GMT, training preparation, exam preparation/grading, and the myriad of reports and other admin that come with the job (especially for supervisors). The point we wanted to drive home is that as you move up the food chain to LPO, LCPO, Division Officer, Department Head, and up, there is more and more training and admin taking you away from deckplate supervision, on-the-job training, mentoring, and the things that were very likely missing that caused the 13 "tier I" events in the past 6 years.
I sat down and calculated up a typical inport (shipyard) schedule once, and discovered that I get somewhere around 30% or less of the work week with my division. Yes, about 70% of the time is "hardwired" such that my personnel aren't available to me as an LPO to do our jobs. And it wasn't just the nukes echoing this point...it was across the board, forward and aft (to varying degrees).
My opinion; many of the issues contributing to the problems the submarine force has faced in recent years is the decreased time we have to actually focus on the jobs we are put on the boat to do. Every incident adds more training, more admin, more time on inspections. There's less unencumbered "CO discretionary time" (time at sea not committed to some external requirement). There is less time for the sailor to actually work for his LPO. There is less time for the LPO/LCPO to actually be the LPO/LCPO. And the junior sailors don't just magically train, mentor, and perform without deckplate leadership.
The best thing the submarine force leadership could do...take a big knife and hack out about 30-40% or more of the admin, training, and inspection requirements. We on the boats know our jobs; LET US DO THEM. Let us go to sea in local op areas without some squadron rider that we have to show off for, mandate less on-your-ass "death by PowerPoint" training and let us at the LPO level train on what we see as our divisional needs, and TDU the non-essential admin and "check the box" paperwork. Give us back our time to do our jobs, and we'll keep the OOD's and EOOW's out of trouble out there.
I know I got long-winded, but this is an issue I have seen get worse and worse in my 16 years in submarines; the metric shows that throwing more training and checklists at the boats when there are incidents doesn't work. Following the 2001 incidents with Greeneville and subsequent major mishaps there was more admin and training mandated following each critique, yet each year (save 2004) since the number of major mishaps has actually risen. We've lost sight of the forest for killing all the trees for paper for the admin.
This problem seems, to my observation, plague the Navy as a whole to varying degrees. There was a time when the mission was the #1 priority, and if it didn't support the mission or the sailor accomplishing the mission it wasn't important...and was thus deep-sixed. Now we have the same missions, and the same number (or more) of them, and fewer ships/subs/sailors to do them with. If any time was the right time to trim the fat and get back to mission essentials, it is now.
My sadness over the loss of crewmen aboard the USS Minneapolis-St. Paul (SSN 708) has only deepened now that I've learned that the Commanding Officer, CDR Edwin "Joe" Ruff, is a man that I know and respect. CDR Ruff was one of our instructors at NNPS Orlando while I was going through training there.
He taught EE, but the young officers who saw him in action received a much more profound and important education. You may perhaps glimpse the kind of man Joe Ruff is in the "Mission Statement" appended to his Bio on the USS MSP website:
Upon taking command of the USS MINNEAPOLIS-SAINT PAUL (SSN-708) Commander E.J."Joe" Ruff issued the following statement of his command philosophy. It offers not only an insight into his management style, but it shows that the values of dedication, teamwork, and pride of accomplishment are as much a part of the naval service as when we wore the uniform!
MISSION ACCOMPLISHMENT-MINNEAPOLIS-SAINT PAUL is a warship. Our country relies on us to conduct prompt and sustained combat operations at sea. We are a key element of our Nation's military power. Keep a continuous strain on mission preparedness and combat readiness. (When we keep up with life, life becomes much easier). Stay focused on our primary goal of Mission Accomplishment.
SHIPMATES-Work together as a team. Every member of the crew is important regardless of how big or small their contribution. Leave no man behind. If a shipmate is not pulling his fair strain, pick up the slack for him when needed and help him get back on course. Realize how Quality of Service affects Mission Accomplishment.
PRIDE-Be proud of your efforts. You count. The ship is a complex piece of gear but is worthless without you to operate it. Our ability to prevail in battle is directly related to your individual performance. Do your best all the time. Live our core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. We follow a long line of warriors who fought and gave their all for freedom. Always do the right thing in the face of adversity, and you will forever be proud of the legacy you leave behind.
Always remember that we are submarine warriors.
E. J. RUFF, Jr., Commander, USN
Obviously, mission statements, character traits, etc. do not exempt anyone from mistakes or accidents, particularly in submarine life where dangers are, unfortunately, banal. And some of you may doubt the sincerity of these "mere words" in light of what's happened. I can understand that.
I only want to express my profound sympathy for a man who, from what I know of him, must be feeling the pain of this tragedy very deeply. My prayers go out to him, to all the men of the MSP, and especially to the families of those submariners who were lost.
My first official "BackTalk" opinion column was published in today's "Navy Times" paper. You have to be a subscriber to "Navy Times" to actually get in to the online version of the printed paper, but if anyone is interested I will send a copy of the original along.
[DISCLAIMER: I have no inside knowledge as to the investigations currently pending in the submarine fleet, and no inside information on the happenings of the last month. What follows is purely semi-informed speculation]
Far be it from me to criticize our leadership's motivations for force-wide direction, but the mandated safety stand-down the submarine fleet is about to undergo seems more like CYA than a way to truly foment change.
More importantly, is there really a need "to go “back to basics,” [and] pause and rehearse routine skills"? Do not misunderstand me, the events of the past few weeks are tragic and regrettable. However, they do not, in my view, necessarily represent a sub force that is lacking in proficiency.
To review: On 29 Dec, 4 sailors were swept off the deck of the MSP. Two were injured, and two good men died. They sub was outside the breakwater, with men on deck, in heavy seas. The men were tethered properly. Why were the men on deck in those conditions? The pilot, whose job was not completed until after the boat had left the breakwater astern, needed to be transferred off to a waiting small boat. So there was no choice concerning having men topside past the breakwater. Now, should they have gone to sea in that sea-state? Apparently not. However, this would seem to be an ORM failure in the upper chain of command (CO, squadron, etc), rather than an issue for your deckplate sailors.
This past Monday, 08 Jan, The Newport News, while operating in the Straits of Hormuz, collided with a Japanese supertanker. The Straits, are, by definition, narrow, as well as very shallow.
Subs, by their nature, rely on stealth, survivability, covertness, uncertainty, non-provocation, and total offense to complete their missions. Therefore, in order to not obviate the usefulness of having a sub in the area, her commanders are going to keep her submerged as much as possible, especially when transiting a shallow, well watched choke point. Even if it is shallow. In this case, I fully believe that the risks were understood and accepted. However, in a narrow, busy environment, sometimes it is impossible to avoid getting zoofed. And when you are shallow, also unavoidable in this case due to the depth of the ocean floor, and a massive supertanker zoofs you, apparently the venturi effect is going to toss you about rather severely. Again, transiting under these conditions is a higher level decision, well beyond the scope of most sailors on the boats other than the perhaps the senior members of the wardroom. In this case, though, it sounds as if the risk was not ignored, but acknowledged and accepted. ORM was at least observed, even if it did bite us despite it all.
So what then is the purpose of this stand-down? It will effectively shut down every in port boat as every sailor on board sits through safety training. However, the problem, if there even is one, resides higher in the chain of command than this will reach. The problem, if there is one, is a cultural one regarding ORM, and will not be solved by a week of training. If this stand-down is being used to kick off a shift in outlook on how we employ our boats, then it might have some value. However, I doubt that even the preliminary lessons learned message has been released regarding the Newport News, not to mention a course of action to correct any noted deficiencies. The purpose of the stand-down appears to be, with the previous points in mind, nothing more than a pointless show of some action, any action, to those above the sub force that, "Look, see? We are fixing this - now leave us alone." Which, as a statement, is fine, and the necessity for such a statement is sad but understandable. But to do it in this way, and take away a week of work, while keeping subs' schedules the same, merely means that in the following weeks our sailors are going to have to work harder, longer to catch up, further straining an already overstressed force.
Maybe our ORM does need to be looked at after all.
The Navy has apparently come up with an explanation for how the USS Newport News (SSN 750) hit the Japanese tanker M/V Mogamigawa that actually makes some sense and may spare the CO his career. From The Virginian Pilot:
The submarine Newport News was submerged and leaving the Persian Gulf when a mammoth Japanese oil tanker passed overhead at a high speed, creating a sucking effect that made the sub rise and hit the ship, the Navy said Tuesday. That is the preliminary finding of Monday's collision between the Norfolk-based submarine and the Mogamigawa, a 1,100-foot-long merchant ship displacing 300,000 tons. Both were southbound, crossing the busy and narrow Strait of Hormuz while heading into the Arabian Sea. "As the ship passed over the sub, it ended up sucking the submarine into it," said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Loundermon, a spokesman for Submarine Force in Norfolk. "It is a principle called the venturi effect," he said.
I'm sure they'll have to do some calculations to make sure this is plausible, but if the ship reported they weren't trying to come to PD, and assuming the ship control party didn't just randomly lose depth control at the worst possible time, this probably sounds as reasonable as anything else. There are lots of forces involved in operating a submerged submarine, and an upward force from the venturi effect is one submariners don't practice a lot in the dive trainer. (My old boat once popped to the surface because we hit a patch of colder water due to hitting the boundary where a river was discharging into open ocean, but that's another story...)
Assuming this explanation is true, the question now becomes: will the CO and crew be exonerated? The Sub Force has already shown that uncharted seamounts aren't a justification, and they do always warn you about the dangers of being "zoofed" -- submarine slang for having a surface ship pass directly over your position. The reason I always learned was that you didn't want to have someone above you in case you had to emergency blow, but it could be that there's a warning about the Venturi Effect buried in some tech manual. If there is, the CO is probably sunk. If this truly is a "first time we've thought of it" thing, though, the CO and crew might be fine -- unless, of course, all the "helpful" squadron, group, and force types who pour onboard a boat after an incident find anything that shows the Newport News wasn't operating completely in accordance with approved procedures...
In any event, the sub is apparently heading back to Bahrain for an inspection. If the boat really was sucked up into the tanker's stern, and if the tanker's propellers got ahold of the sonar sphere, we could see some interesting pictures.
Staying at PD...
Update 2014 10 January: Skimmer Dave over at The Galloping Beaver has a great explanation of the Venturi Effect near the bottom of this post. An excerpt:
I've handled a VLCC tanker. They leave a huge hole in the water, particularly when loaded to the marks and up to a typical service speed of 17 knots. That hole gets filled with water rushing into the cavity created at the stern of the ship. In simple terms the water filling the cavity rushes down from three sides and creates a force which moves in the same direction of the ship and operates like a swirling vortex, sucking everything from both sides of the ship down, once it reaches the stern and up and towards from the water column below. At the risk of over-simplifying a description, it's very much like effect of a vacuum cleaner nozzle. A submarine too close to that vortex, with little warning, would be sucked into the filling cavity and propelled in the direction of the stern of the surface ship. The thing about it is, I've actually seen it happen...
No US sailors or merchant crew were injured when a US Navy submarine and a commercial cargo vessel collided in the Strait of Hormuz on Monday evening January 8, 2007. The collision between USS Newport News (SSN 750) and the Japanese-flagged motor vessel Mogamigawa occurred at approximately 10:15 in the evening (local time) in the strait of Hormuz while the submarine was transiting submerged. Overall damage to the USS Newport News is being evaluated. The propulsion plant was unaffected by this collision. The incident is currently under investigation. USS Newport News is currently on a regularly scheduled deployment to the US Navy Central Command area of responsibility conducting Maritime Security Operations (MSO).
Other reports are here and here, but none of the press reports I saw had picked up that the Newport News was submerged at the time of the collision. If so, this eliminates any question on who had the right of way (as we saw in the USS Philadelphia vs. M/V Yaso Aysen collision), since a submerged submarine is always required to stay clear of surface craft. I obviously haven't heard any details yet, but expect to hear people wondering why a submarine couldn't avoid such a huge ship as the M/V Mogamigawa (a 317m supertanker, pictured below):
Believe it or not, the bigger ships are sometimes more difficult to avoid; you can hear them, but the relatively greater depths of the propellers tends to muffle the sounds, and makes them sound further away (although reports that the Newport News hit the tanker's stern make it harder to explain away). Reports indicate that the tanker was outbound from the Gulf, so she would have been fully laden, and drawing about 100 feet at the keel. So, it's possible the Newport News wasn't even at PD, and just clipped the tanker during normal submerged ops.
I'll wait for more information before making any more guesses, but based on initial reports, I don't think this will be an easy one to defend for the Submarine Force. (And having it be a Japanese surface ship just makes it more embarrassing -- although JDS Asashio's recent collision with a Panamanian-flagged tanker may make the Japanese more understanding of the difficulties of avoiding surface traffic in a submarine.)
I got an E-mail today from a wife of one of the officers on the USS Minneapolis-St. Paul; as you'd expect, the MSP wives are coming together to take care of their own. They've set up trust funds for the children of the fallen Sailors at Navy Federal Credit Union -- you can make contributions to the "Michael Holtz Memorial Fund" and the "Thomas Higgins Memorial Fund" at any NFCU branch. (If you don't live near an NFCU, E-mail me at joel(dot)bubblehead(at)gmail(dot)com and I'll send you the snail-mail address for the Funds.)
The E-mail I got also says this wife is putting together a Memory Book for each family. Any old shipmates who'd like to send remembrances, or anyone who'd like to send condolence letters, can send them to me at the E-mail address above and I'll forward them, or I'll send you the direct contact info if you need that.