Tuesday, December 29, 2009


It is fair to say that drug use was very common in the Navy in the 1970s. The only way to nail someone for drug use then was to catch them possessing drugs. Normally, that happened when some idiot was smoking grass in a place where the odor was detected.

Ventilation fan rooms were a common place to smoke weed, but some fools did not bother to check to see where the fan output went. One classic case was a sailor who was smoking pot in a fanroom which fed air to the Captain's cabin. One sailor made sure that the fanroom he used exhausted to the outside of the ship; it was his bad luck that the exhaust outlet was over a refueling station and the ship was refueling alongside an AO at the time, bathing the ensign in charge of the refueling station, the BM1 who was really in change, and the twenty or so linehandlers with the sweet smell of pot smoke.

One funny one was when two sailors were smoking pot in the ship's vehicle; the next user was the ship's master-at-arms, who then obtained the permission of the Command Duty Officer to search the two sailors and their lockers. Another one was when two signalmen, one on each ship, made a deal for some hash by using semaphore signals; they didn't know that an officer on one of the ships, who could read semaphore, read the conversation. The purchasing sailor was met at the quarterdeck by the master-at-arms.

Court-martials on smaller ships were a real pain in the ass to conduct. They could only be held in port and they were a major drain on the ship as it took a considerable amount of time to go from beginning to end. As a result, most disciplinary problems were handled at Captain's Mast, otherwise known as Non-Judicial Punishment, or NJP. The most that could be done at Captain's Mast was to reduce a sailor by one paygrade, a maximum fine of half a month's pay for two months, and confinement.

Confinement options ranged from a maximum of three days in the brig on bread and water or thirty days in the brig or 45 days restriction to the ship with 45 days of extra duty. Hardly anyone was sent to the brig for other than the three days of bread and water and that was only done when those in the sailor's chain of command thought that he was still reachable. Otherwise, restriction to the ship was awarded, for that that way, the miscreant was still available for duty. Extra duty often tended to involve chipping paint and painting either the weatherdecks or the bilges in the enginerooms and firerooms.

The problem was that once a sailor decided that he liked to smoke pot, you might end up catching him once or twice a year, if that. The hard-core stoners just put up with the punishment, even if it meant that they were sent for repeated cranking tours, for they had no intention of re-enlisting, they lived on the ship and they simply didn't care.

In the early `80s, it all changed. The Navy instituted mandatory urine testing, which was soon nicknamed Operation Golden Flow. Once a year, everyone in the command was urine-tested, including all of the officers. Every so often, maybe once a month or once a quarter, the XO rolled a ten-sided die; everyone whose social security number ended in that digit was immediately mustered for a random piss test. Those who had security duties or high security clearances were subject to an additional piss test each year. The urine sampling was witnessed in order to combat cheating.

For officers and chief petty officers, failing a piss test was grounds for discharge. Petty officers, non-rated seamen and strikers were on a "two strikes" system. Some sailors appealed the discharge order and they were then brought before an administrative discharge review board made of three officers, normally headed by a lieutenant commander. The command was represented by a junior officer, the only attorney present was provided to the accused. Most of the boards took their duties seriously and some sailors did prevail, but the vast majority had their discharge orders confirmed and they were thrown out.

The result was, over time, drug usage in the Navy was greatly reduced. There were a lot fewer NJPs (and fewer extra-duty men available for dirty jobs).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Worst Teaching Job in the Surface Navy

That was being an instructor at Department Head School.

Department Head School, in Newport, RI, was a 20 week school for senior lieutenants. It was the only school in the surface navy that was considered to be a permanent change of duty station for the students, which meant that the Navy moved the families. (All other schools were temporary duty; the students stayed in the BOQ and the families stayed home.) Department Head School, formerly known as Destroyer School, was even longer in the 1970s, but then they stopped teaching everyone calculus, Morse code and semaphore signals.

Much of the school was the Tactical Action Officer course, where the students had to learn everything about the US and Soviet navy's warships. You had to know the difference between a Brooke and Garcia FF and a Krivak and a Kashin, as well as all of the weapon systems in both navies. It was important stuff, for as a TAO, you wouldn't have the time to look it up in a book when you got the word that a flock of Badgers were inbound or someone had detected a Vampire. There were lessons in ASW, AAW, ASUW, landing force operations, navigation refreshers and basic engineering concepts.

Once everyone had their orders, the classes would split into job specifics: Operations, Weapons, Steam Engineering, Diesel Engineering and Gas-Turbine Engineering. Most of the steam engineers-to-be also went to Philadelphia for advanced fire-fighting and to the Great Lakes Training Center for "hot-plant" classes (they had working engineering plants in buildings, the engine shafts drove huge water brakes). Diesel and twidget gas-turbine engineers had their own hot plants, though I've forgotten where they were located.

What made the school the worst to teach is no matter what subject the particular class was about, there was almost always one student in the classroom who was certain to know far more about the subject than the instructor. There was always one student who had lived that subject as a division officer for two or three years. And if the instructor was way off base on the material, he or she could expect to get hammered.

One time, a chief petty officer was teaching a class on corrosion control and when he turned to cathodic protection systems, he said the purpose of cathodic protection was "to keep the cathods off the ship." One student warned him that he could expect to see that answer on test papers, but the chief stuck to it. And sure enough, out of the 25 students in the class, 22 gave that answer on the exam. The chief had to give them all credit and the commander who ran the instruction staff had a cow over it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Water, Water, Every Where
Nor Any Drop to Drink

Ships do not carry enough water to sustain all of the ship's requirements until they reach port. Ships distill their fresh water from seawater.

The process is called flash distilling. Seawater is heated to nearly boiling temperatures and pumped into a distillation chamber. The chamber is at a lower pressure than atmospheric pressure. Water boils at a lower temperature when atmospheric pressure is reduced; some of the heated seawater flashes to steam, that steam is collected and condensed into fresh water. The remaining water is pumped to a second distillation chamber, which is of a lower pressure, and more of the water flashes to steam. The water is then pumped to a third and final chamber and the process is repeated. The remaining water, or brine, is now far more salty than seawater; it is pumped back into the sea. The heat of the brine is not wasted. It flows through a heat exchanger to help heat the incoming water.

Once an evaporator was operating, it would not be shut down until the plant was shut down. A typical small steam-powered combatant would make 12,000 gallons of fresh water per evaporator (two evaps per plant). The rule of thumb was that 12,000 gallons per day went to the engineering plant as feed water to make up for steam leaks and for use in steam atomization of the boiler fuel. The other 12,000 gallons per day was supposed to be potable water which was used for "hotel use": Cooking, cleaning, dishwashing, showers, drinking water, bug juice and, of course, coffee.

As each potable water tank was ready to be used, the ship's corpsman had to test the water in the tank. Seawater in a port or near land was considered to be contaminated by sewage and fecal matter. It could be used, in theory, but heavy doses of bad-tasting chemicals were required to ensure the water was healthy. In practice, to avoid having to heavily treat potable water made from contaminated seawater, fresh water from the evaporators was not "cut into" the potable water tanks until the ship was well out to sea. If a ship was anchored out, a freshwater barge would resupply the ship each day.

Each day, as part of the Twelve O' Clock Reports to the Captain, the Engineering Report listed the amount of fresh waster and feed water on hand, both in gallonage and percentage (and also gave the statistics on fuel used, received and on hand). If the percentage of fresh water was too low, then "water hours" would be initiated. The newer and smaller steam ships made more water than they could use; the potable water and feed water tanks were generally topped off by 0200 each day and the evaporators' output would be piped back into the sea until the work day started.

Older ships were perennially on the edge of having to ration water. Engineering plants developed leaks as they aged and even the most energetic maintenance program could not keep a large steam plant in "as new" condition. Over time, sensors and weapons were added to every ship, which resulted in ever-larger crews.[1] A ship unlucky enough to carry a destroyer squadron staff or a flag staff had even more people using fresh water.

I knew of one cruiser captain who decided to make Sunday a working day at sea. When the XO told the department heads, the Chief Engineer quickly collected a few weeks' worth of water reports, which showed that the ship began each Monday with 100% fresh water and began each Sunday with 60% fresh water; the fact that nobody was using water to do heavy cleaning or maintenance on any given Sunday allowed the ship to refill the potable water tanks. As the Cheng explained to the Captain, if Sunday was a working day, by the following Friday, the ship would be on water hours and it would take several days to recover.

The Captain canceled his plans to work the crew that Sunday.

[1]The LAMPS equipped ships were hardest hit, as the LAMPS detachments had thirty people in them. Those ships were designed to operate drones with a much smaller maintenance team. The helicopter itself required frequent showers of fresh water for corrosion control. Chief Engineers were known to regard the LAMPS detachments as water-sucking vermin.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mental Health Fail

The mental health of officers and sailors in the Navy was, obviously, a concern of the Navy. But from the way that the system was set up, you would think quite the opposite was true.

The shining example was the Personnel Reliability Program, or PRP. People in the PRP included anyone whose job had to do with nuclear stuff and, for all I know, intel and crypto folks (but don't quote me on the latter two). If someone was in the PRP,on the left side of the inside of the folders holding their service record and medical records was a large pink sheet with a triangle that proclaimed that particular service member was in the PRP and that any issues pertaining to reliability, etc. were to be reported to that person's commanding officer.

It took no great skill of imagination to realize that the initial result of such a call would be that you'd lose your security clearances and, depending on what you did, your job. You'd be sent to some bullshit medical holding billet while the Navy figured out how best to get rid of you. If you weren't shitcanned outright, you'd have a black mark on your record showing a hint of unreliability, which would be fatal for the career of any officer. Even without being a member of the PRP, most everyone knew that admitting to any mental health problem was a career-killer. Since everyone knew this, there was terrific real-world pressure to keep quiet about any shipmate who was having problems, regardless of what the official policy happened to be about "looking out for your shipmates".

None of that changed the fact that people had a lot of problems. Families broke up under the stress of near constant absences. Relationships broke up, often when a shore-duty puke stepped out with the girlfriend or boyfriend of a deployed sailor.

What happened was a lot of self-medication, 99% of the time with alcohol, sometimes with other drugs, though urinalysis made using anything other than alcohol tricky to do. If someone sought professional help, they went to a shrink on the outside, they used an assumed name and paid cash.[1] But it was rare, indeed, for someone to cough up the cash to get help, so help usually came from a can of Bud or a bottle of Jack Black.

All this came to mind when I read the coverage about the shooting at Ft. Hood a few days ago. It is pretty obvious to me, at least, why, if anyone noticed that the shooter was becoming unstable, nobody said anything about it.

[1]There was a story of someone who was so pissed off at their commanding officer that they went to a civilian shrink, used the CO's name, and confessed to all sort of unsavory and illegal things, culminating with a discussion of who he was going to kill. As the story goes, the shrink called the cops, the cops called the base cops and the CO had a very unpleasant time until they showed the shrink the CO's photo and the shrink said it wasn't him. But that's probably not really true.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Stupid Engineering Tricks

Engineers had a series of checklists and diagrams that made up the two parts of the book on running a steam plant. The procedures for normal operation made up the Engineering Operational Sequencing System, or EOSS. The emergency procedures made up the Engineering Casualty Control System, or ECCS, and they were practiced by a set of exercises known as the Basic Engineering Casualty Control Exercises, or BECCEs.

BECCEs often involved wrapping up the engineering plant, which was no big deal in a twin-screw ship, as you practiced on one plant and steamed the other. On single-screw ships, it was a big deal, as doing boiler drills meant the ship went "hot, dark and quiet" at different times during the drills. For that reason, the XOs wanted BECCEs to be done on the midwatch, so that the flickering of power "wouldn't upset the ship's routine."

Engineers hated midwatch BECCEs. The engineering training team, which ran the BECCEs, had to be off-watch in order to run them. Both the officers and the sailors on the training team could count on maybe getting three hours of sleep on a BECCE night. Worse, to my mind, was the message that midwatch BECCEs sent to the engineers, which was "your drills are not as important as anyone else's". Operations and Weapons drills were run during the day; the only routinely run engineering drill that was run during the day was a main-space fire drill, as that drill took the ship to GQ.

I did see one time when a ship I was on ran BECCEs after lunch. The engineers were awed, even flattered, that their drills were being run during the working day. It was a simple thing, but it made a huge impact on their morale. The XO, though, was ripshit about the disruption to the work day of having the power go on and off as generators were taken offline and brought online.

The dumbest thing that the surface navy did to the engineers, though, was the "outchop OPPE", the "Operational Power Plant Examination" that was held as the ships steamed back from the Mediterranean for home. OPPE (the West Coast pukes called them OPRES, with the R for "readiness") were the major engineering inspection. Everything was examined, from training records and administrative records to normal steaming and casualty control drills. That meant that the engineers had to be be at their best as everyone else was mentally gearing up for coming home. Worse, the frigates who had towed array sonars almost always had their arrays out underway; they were reluctant to do full BECCEs because of the risk of damage from stopping while having an array out and the captains did not want to take the time to recover the array before the BECCEs and then deploy it afterwards.

To cut to the chase: On that series of outchop OPPEs, every twin-screw ship passed their OPPE. Every single-screw ship failed. From what I heard, life on those ships that failed was not much fun for the next few months.

No other major inspection was done in the Navy that way. Only the engineers had to spend their deployed time training and preparing for a major inspection. This sent a message to the engineers that their time, their work, was not as valued as the other departments, that their training and readiness was less important to the Navy, so let's just work the engineers harder on deployment so as to not take any time when the ships were home.

The message was received loud and clear.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lack of Sleep

I generally try to stay away from current affairs in this blog and stick to the old days of the steam Navy, but not for this post.

There is an article in Navy Times concerning the lean manning of ships and the effect of lack of sleep on the crews. And it's not just ships that are feeling the pinch.

This may be a concern because of fewer sailors, but as a matter of fact, in the ranks of watchstanders, this has always been a serious problem for officers. It was routine to stand 3-section underway watches, which means that you are on watch for roughly eight hours a day and then, in the off-time, you have to do your job. One day out of three you get the luxury of coming off watch at midnight and then being able to sleep until 0600, when you then have to get up, grab a quick shower, and go on watch at 0700. When you stand a forenoon watch (on deck at 0345), you were previously on watch until 2000 the evening before. The midshitter is the cruelest watch; you go on at 2345 and you're there until roughly 0400. You are damned fortunate if you can get two hours of sleep on either side.

All that is if there is nothing else going on. You might have a night refueling, which calls you to a refueling station. I know of one OOD who damn near ran a ship around on Sardinia because of exhaustion; that particular OOD was on refueling station from 2100 to 0130 (the ship was in waiting station for hours because the ship ahead of her had a fouled rig or something and could not disconnect) and then stood the rev watch from 0345 to 0700. The OOD was dog tired and could not think at a much higher level than "fire bad, tree pretty". That was, by far, not the only example I can think of. I've seen some hairy-ass shit happen because sailors and officers were overtired.

I knew of one refueling ship over 20 years ago (an AOR, I think) whose captain refused to obey an order to take her to sea because the ship was so undermanned in boiler techs. It was the talk of the waterfront for awhile, the captain probably killed his career, but everyone knew that he had made the right call.

The problem is only going to be exacerbated on the new littoral combat ships, which are supposed to be operated with a very small crew. That means that it will be operated with a very tired crew that will make mistakes. That also means that the ships will wind up looking as rusty as a Russian Navy destroyer; First Division on a 1052 had about 20+ sailors to do topside maintenance and that would be half the crew of a LCS. Computerization is nice, but computers can't chip paint, swab decks or paint shit. And unless the ships have halon fire-suppression everywhere ("evacuate the compartment, shut the doors/hatches and pump in halon"), I do not see how a ship with 40 people will be able to fight a serious fire.

I suspect that the Navy is asking for some serious problems beyond the grounding of the USS Port Royal.

Monday, October 12, 2009

AAW Part V- the Weapons, Chapter 2

(Part IV)

(N.B. I am not considering 5" and 76mm guns in this discussion. Nothing has fundamentally changed there since the development of the VT fuze) during the Second World War.

Very short range defense against incoming missiles, or "point defense", was initially a crash program within the Navy, which became very interested in point defense in 1967, following the sinking of an Israeli destroyer after it was hit by a number of Styx missiles.

The first system was pretty slapdash, but it worked. It was the "Basic Point Defense Missile System" or BPDMS. It was a system that would have made McGyver proud and it was developed and implemented at near-record speed for a non-hot war procurement situation.

BPDMS took eight Sparrow missiles, straight from the stocks for F-4s, and put them in a trainable box launcher.[1] It took two of the nose radars from an F-4 and mounted them on a separate hand-slewed mount. There was a little CRT in the mount with an eyepiece so the operator could press his face to it (avoiding showing light at night and keeping rain off it). When it was turned on, the operator would be told, by sound-powered telephone, where the target was. He would slew his radar rig to that and elevate it as necessary. The missile box would automatically train and elevate to follow the radar director. The operator would both acquire the target and fire at it.

The disadvantages were obvious. BPDMS relied on a man, standing outdoors, to work it. At night, in the rain, in the cold, whatever the weather, somebody had to be at the director in order for it to function.

NATO Sea Sparrow got rid of the human-operated director;

NATO Sea Sparrow also began the process of "navalizing" the Sparrow missile to make it better suited for shipboard requirements. BPDMS,as I mentioned, had taken the issue Sparrow as used by fighters. That was fine for a crash program, but it was not optimal, so a naval variant was developed.

NATO Sea Sparrow, however, was not suitable for ships much smaller than a destroyer (though BPDMS had been installed on frigates). The Phalanx Close-in Weapon System, CIWS, was developed for smaller ships, though it has been installed on everything up through aircraft carriers. The idea of CIWS[2] was to have a system that could be welded to the deck in short order, if necessary, with only lines run to it to provide for electricity and command capabilities.

CIWS can be fully autonomous, though it can also accept designation from CIC. CIWS has its own tracking and acquisition radars in the white dome. The gun is a 20mm gatling gun which when loaded for wartime, fires sub-caliber (saboted) depleted uranium projectiles which are supposed to smash into an oncoming cruise missile and cause it to blow up.[3] CIWS was often referred to as "R2D2".

CIWS worked. Some navies went for a larger gun, such as Goalkeeper, but the larger systems require penetrating the deck to mount part of the works below the deck, which limits where the mounts can be placed.

The last line of AAW defense is, of course, damage control.

[1] You may see references that say that BPDMS used a modified ASROC box launcher. Those reference are full of shit. The BPDMS launcher box system was a lot smaller than ASROC.
[2] CIWS is also a generic term for any close-in defense system.
[3] There is a potentially serious problem with this idea. A CIWS kill will take place between 300 and 500 yards. Eastern-bloc antiship missiles were designed to disable large ships and it is highly likely that they use some type of shaped-charge. Detonating one a few hundred yards from a destroyer might still sink it. Even if the thing blows up omnidirectionally, the shrapnel has a good chance of fucking up the ship's radars.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Victory at Sea

The music, in MP3 format, from the 1952 TV series. If you have never seen the series, it is worth trying to track down a copy of the DVD set. (I found mine in the $5 bin at Wally-World.)

Or you can watch them here.

Monday, October 5, 2009


This past weekend, I had lunch with a friend who lives in a smallish city. That city has a Navy-Marine Corps reserve center. We went to a Chinese buffet and sat in a booth. Sitting in the next booth behind me were two naval officers; from their ranks and age, I guessed that they were both mustangs.

An elderly man walked by their booth. He appeared to be old enough to have been in either the Second World or Korean Wars and asked: "How's the navy?"

"The Navy's doing fine," was the reply.

"I was in for four years," the old man said. "I hated it."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

AAW Part IV- the Weapons, Chapter 1

Parts 1, 2, and 3)

Air defense weaponry fell into five basic categories: Airborne interceptors, long-range missiles, medium-range missiles, short-range missiles, and point defense. Let's consider each in turn.

Airborne interceptors were basically the Combat Air Patrol, launched from the carrier. CAP could be airborne, or ready on deck in various alert states. Ready 5 would have the aircrew sitting in the aircraft, hooked up to the catapult and with the engines turning. In Ready 15, the engines were shut down. Ready 30 would have the crew outside of the aircraft and the aircraft near the catapult. Ready 45 and Ready 60 would have the crew in the ready room below decks.[1]

The king of the airborne interceptors was the F-14 Tomcat. The Tomcat carried a powerful radar system, the AWG-9, and the Phoenix missile.

The Phoenix was a serious long-range AAW weapon. Given that the F-14 might have been flying a few hundred miles from the carrier battlegroup and then that the Phoenix itself had a range of something on the order of a hundred miles or so, the F-14/Phoenix weapon system had the capability to engage Soviet Naval Aviation cruise-missile shooters before they reached firing range.

Phoenix's main limitation was that it was not a dogfighting missile, it was a missile that made the F-14 into a flying guided-missile ship. Phoenix was designed for a general hot war, where the only aircraft in the sky would be Ours, Theirs, and Civilians Stupid Enough to Fly Through a War Zone.[2] It was not designed for a limited-war environment where the rules of engagement required visual target identification. Phoenix could only be carried by F-14s, so once the F-14s were retired, so was the Phoenix missile.[3]

Talos was the first long-range shipboard AAW missile.

Talos was a monster in its size. The missile itself was not a rocket, it was powered by a ramjet. It was akin to firing an unmanned aircraft at a target, as the missile weighed something like 7,000lbs and was 35 feet long (give or take). Originally, Talos had a range of 50 nautical miles, the later versions doubled that. The warhead was either continuous rod or nuclear. Talos was so huge that ships carried them both ready to use and, to save space, more missiles were unmated, with the booster, the sustainer and the warheads all separated.

Only one ship, the USS Long Beach, was purpose-built to fire Talos; it was also the only one to shoot them during wartime at a live target (two North Vietnamese MiGs). All the other Talos shooters were rebuilt heavy-gun cruisers from World War II. They were ugly ships; the missiles came out from the deckhouse onto a launcher sited where the first 8" gun turret had been. The missile radars were where the superfiring gun turret had been.

Talos was retired around 1980 as were all of the Talos shooters except Long Beach. She was converted to fire Terriers. The Talos missiles left in inventory were converted into flying targets and all were eventually used up for that duty.

Terrier started out as a medium-range missile, with a maximum range of 20nm. It was, like Talos, a two-stage weapon, but the second stage was powered by a rocket motor. Terrier was also a large weapon, but nowhere near as large as Talos. It was employed by DLGs, which, in 1975, were redesignated as either DDGs or CGs. The warhead was either continuous rod or nuclear, though unlike Talos, the weapons were carried assembled.

To save space, though, the fins were not added to the missiles until they were on the rail in the missile house behind the launcher.

Tartar was a short-range single-stage rocket, basically the front half of a Terrier. It was fired from Adams class DDGs, Brooke class FFGs, and Perry Class FFGs.

Some Knox class FFs had two Tartars in their ASROC launcher box. Tartar had a range of 10nm or so and only had a continuous rod warhead.

Talos, Terrier and Tarter were sometimes referred to as "the T-birds". All functioned about the same way: They rode a beam towards the target and then homed in from the radar reflections as the ship's missile illumination radar shined on the target ("semi-active homing"). They were always "tail-chasing" the target; they were flying towards where the target just had been. Range against a crossing-target was piss-poor. Worse, the ships could only have as many missiles in flight as they had radars.

Terrier was replaced by the SM-1/2ER missiles, Tartar by the SM-1/2MR missiles, though the ships that used them were still referred to as "Terrier ships" or "Tartar ships". The Standard missiles did away with beam-riding, instead steering the missiles towards their target by a datalink that could predict an intercept position and fly the missiles there, using semi-active homing for terminal guidance. That, along with better rocket motors and more powerful boosters for the ER series greatly increased the range of the missiles. The datalink system also permitted the ships to have many missiles in flight at one time per fire-control radar system. The latest models of SM-2MR have a range almost the same as the later models of Talos, while the SM-2ER can fly even further.[4]

There was concern that at some firing angles, the SM-2ER booster could erode the ship's deck, but I do not know if it was ever addressed. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the steam-powered Terrier ships were given a "New Threat Upgrade" to their missile systems in overhauls that cost over $50 million each to permit them to employ the then-latest variants of SM-2ER. Unfortunately, the Cold War ended soon after the NTU upgrades were put in service and the steam-powered Terrier ships were almost immediately retired.

All of the steam-powered Terrier and Tartar ships have since been scrapped or sunk. The fucking Navy couldn't be bothered to save a single one as a museum ship to the Cold War.[5]

[1] All this is from old memory, so if I'm wrong, meh.
[2] The latter two groups you could shoot at.
[3] During the reign of the Shah, Iran purchased F-14s and Phoenix missiles. They may still have some missiles left.
[4] SM-3ER is designed for ballistic missile defense. This is why.
[5] The Adams-class DDGs were also all scrapped or sunk. Only the German Navy, which had three built here (and customized to their own needs), saved one. The Navy saved numerous ships from WW2, but only the USS Barry and the USS Nautilus, which is historic in its own right as the world's first nuclear sub, were spared.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wisdom Teeth

Bubblehead has a post on wisdom teeth.

I was on a ship when I went into the naval base dental clinic for my yearly dental exam. The Navy, in its infinite wisdom, only had people come in annually. If you have ever gone a year without having your teeth cleaned, I don't recommend that you do. Back in the days before the water-jet descalers, plaque build-up had to be removed by scraping. A lot of of plaque builds up in a year and the process of removing it was not a lot of fun.

So anyway, there I was, lying flat on my back in the dental chair, when the dentist (a captain) told me (a lieutenant), that I needed to have my two wisdom teeth removed. Having long gotten past the point where staff-puke rank impressed me, I asked why that was so. He said: "Some day they'll bother you." I shot back with: "Some day my back will bother me, too, you want to remove that, sir?"

He ordered me to make an appointment to "come back in two weeks and have those wisdom teeth out." So I did, though, for some reason, it slipped my mind that my ship was deploying in ten days. Sure enough, about a month into the cruise, the XO got a nasty letter from the dental clinic that I had missed an appointment. And sure enough, by the time the ship had returned to home port, the matter had been forgotten.

I got out of the Navy with my wisdom teeth intact.

Six years later, I had to have them pulled for about $150. So being a stubborn jackass cost me real cash money.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The 3M System and PMS

No, this had nothing to do with the scotch tape people. In the Navy, the 3M system was the "Maintenance and Material Management System". The 3 M system was made of various subsystems, which included supply management, maintenance management and maintenance tasks.

PMS was the Planned Maintenance Subsystem. The maintenance tasks were called "PMS checks". The scheduling is probably all done on computers now, but it was done by hand back in my day.

Each division on a ship was broken down into work centers, usually on the basis of spaces. Boiler Division on a frigate would have one work center, two on a destroyer or cruiser. A-gang may have two or three. AS Division could have two or as many as six work centers. R Division had the most, as each repair locker was a work center and each divisional DCPO was a separate work center. Each work center had a "leading petty officer" in charge, though the LPO could be a chief in a larger work center.

PMS checks were maintenance procedures for specific pieces of equipment ranging from the very small to the very large. PMS checks were done by reference to the PMS card for the check. Each card listed the number of sailors required to do the check, specific supervision, if required, the tools required, the consumables required and the estimated time to perform the check. The cards were like recipe cards; they set forth each step of the check.

PMS checks were designated in each work center by a letter and number. The letter designated how often the check was to be performed and the number was a series number within each work center. The letters were D (daily), W, M, Q, A, and R (other requirement). The first monthly check in work center WS01 was M-1, then M-2, M-3, and so on.

In each department office was the quarterly PMS scheduling board for the work centers, by week. This listed every PMS check for the quarter that had a less-than-weekly periodicity. This PMS schedule was kept on paper, in pencil. The schedule was signed by the division officer and approved by the department head. Each work center had a laminated weekly schedule that showed each day and what checks were scheduled. The weekly and daily checks were often printed on the schedule before lamination. The LPO would write in the monthly, etc. with a grease pencil. This schedule was signed by the LPO and approved by the division officer.

The LPO assigned sailors to do the PMS checks. If a PMS check was done on the day it was scheduled for, it was crossed out on the schedule. If not, it was circled and rescheduled, with an arrow connecting the original date and the rescheduled one. This was also done on the quarterly PMS schedule. At the end of each quarter, the quarterly PMS schedules were reviewed by the XO and the Captain. Any division that was found to be less than diligent about completing its PMS checks would receive extra scrutiny. So a wise division officer kept a sharp eye on the completion rate and a good department head did likewise.

PMS performance was also spot-checked. Each week, the division officers had to do spot-checks on PMS checks, though it was left to their discretion whether to watch a check being performed or to go back later and see if the check was done. The sailors doing the check had to show that they had the required tools and supplies. The procedures for the checks were verified and, if for some reason, a check should be performed differently than the way specified, a report was supposed to be submitted up the chair of command to the Naval Sea Systems Command for review of the procedure.

The results of the spot-check had to be submitted. Some commands were better than others in enforcing the spot checks. The department heads were supposed to do one spot check per division per week. The CO and the XO were supposed to do a weekly spot check as well.

PMS was easy to gun-deck (ie, fake) if the spot-checks were not done. Smart officers knew the value of PMS checks and made sure they were performed.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Uniform Disasters; Followup

(Original post)

If this article is to be believed
, the new Battle Dress Oceanic Navy Work Uniforms are not very popular with the sailors.

I still think they look silly.

Also, I was near a navy base several weeks ago. I saw a couple of young squids wearing the new summer uniform of a black pisscutter, a khaki shirt and black trousers. They looked like knock-off jarheads.

The new uniforms are just dumb.

The Fourth

The Declaration of Independence and a comment. The link at the top of the Declaration will take you to the NPR recitation of its text.

I hope you have a happy Fourth. Don't blow yer fingers off.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Nicknames were a fact of life. They were never chosen by the person to whom they applied. One guy, who had a deep Texas drawl, was nicknamed "Droop-a-Long". A boiler technician who picked up a dose of gonorrhea at the very first port visit was referred to as "Drippy Dick" by everyone other than the Captain and the XO. One sailor, who tended to be somewhat pear-shaped, was referring to himself as a "real stud" when another sailor interjected "`Stud"? You look more like a `spud' to me!" His nickname was "Spud" from then on.

One nickname backfired on an entire department. The sailors on one ship thought that the Operations Officer had a resemblance to Jerry Lewis. They would refer to him amongst themselves as "Jerry". So one fine day, the Ops Boss was in CIC when he heard someone ask over the 21MC intercom (also known as the "Bitch Box") if "Jerry" was in Combat. The sailor nearest the Bitch Box answered in the affirmative. The Ops Boss knew that there wasn't a sailor in his department named "Jerry", nor was there such an officer.

"Who's Jerry," he wanted to know. Receiving only evasive replies, he asked again in a more demanding tone. More evasion. "Who the fuck is Jerry," he roared, and he was one of those guys that nobody wanted to piss off, for he was not adverse to exacting retribution.

"That's you, sir," one of the radar men said.

"What the fuck are you talking about? My name's not Jerry." The tone of the Ops Boss was between confusion and anger.

"Some of the guys think you look like Jerry Lewis, sir."

"Well, if I'm Jerry Lewis, that makes all y'all `Jerry's kids'," shot back the Ops Boss.

That stuck. From then on, the sailors in the Operations Department were known as "Jerry's kids." And nobody, but nobody, in the Operations Department referred to the Ops Boss anymore as "Jerry".

Monday, June 22, 2009

Google Search Results

This Google search result popped up today:

"i got a 3.2 on my fitrep in the navy am i in trouble?"

Probably not, because if you had to go to the Google to ask that question, then you probably are too junior for that grade to hurt you too badly. You're probably an ensign who has received his or her first fitness report. You have time to improve your performance. The critical selection boards are likely several years away and since it is not unheard of for butter-bars to trip over their feet a time or two, don't sweat it. (But don't make a habit of it.) I once knew an ensign who screwed up so badly that he almost wound up in front of a general court martial, but he survived his fuckup and did command tours both afloat and ashore.

But if you are a lieutenant and you've been an officer for at least four years and you're asking that question, then you need to have a good long talk with someone, and by that, I don't mean talking to the chaplain and getting a key to the Weep Locker. For while I don't know the current climate, back in my day, when the Navy had a lot more ships than it does now, for an O-3 to get a 3.2 on a fitrep was a subtle message that one should consider investigating another line of work.

(And if you are an O-3 and you don't already know the answer to the question that you Googled, that smelly stuff that you are neck-deep in is not kimchee.)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The End of the Beginning

(N.B.: I posted this at my home blog. On further reflection, I should have posted it here, so I am cross-posting it.)
Today is the 67th anniversary of the Battle of Midway. The battle marked the turning point of the war against Japan. The Japanese sent a large force to invade Midway Island, spearheaded by four carriers. The US Navy had three carriers and, thanks to the Navy's code breakers, some knowledge of what the Japanese plan was.

The Japanese carriers launched strikes against the island, only to be found and attacked.

USN divebombers badly damaged three of the carriers on the morning of June 4th. All three were out of the fight, they were all abandoned and scuttled.

The fourth Japanese carrier struck back. Her planes badly damaged the USS Yorktown, which was later sunk by a Japanese submarine while under tow. This photo shows the Yorktown under attack.

The fourth Japanese carrier was sunk that afternoon.

Turning points to a war are only apparent long after they happen. At this point, the US and her allies in the Pacific had been at war with Japan for six months, the war would continue on for three more years.

The person who saw this most clearly, though, was Admiral Yamamoto, who, in 1940, was quoted as saying this about the prospect of a general war in the Pacific: "In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success."

He was right and he was proven to be so 67 years ago today.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Anti-Air Warfare, Part 3

(Part 1 and 2)

Air defense in a battle group was controlled by the Anti-Air Warfare Commander (AW), known by the radio call sign "Alfa Whiskey". The officer who was Alfa Whisky was usually either the battle group commander himself or a member of his staff, but not always. If a guided missile cruiser impressed the battle group commander as having its shit together, then the cruiser's CO would be AW. In the former case, the battle group watch officer would be the AW watch officer. In the latter case, the cruiser's TAO would be the AW watch officer. AW controlled the entire air defense for the battle group, including the air-defense weaponry and sensors of all of the ships. The fighters assigned to Combat Air Patrol worked for AW, as did the E-2s. A ship could not disable any AAW sensor or weapon for maintenance without the permission of AW.

The key player in an air-defense situation was the Anti-Air Warfare Cooordinator, or AAWC. The AAWC sat at a NTDS-equipped scope. AAWC would designate targets by both NTS and by VHF unsecured radio, for when it got to that point, the need for speed overrode the need for security. How much the AAWC had to command depended on the warning condition.

There were three warning conditions: WARNING RED, WARNING YELLOW, and WARNING WHITE. They described the risk of an air attack on the battle group. (I never saw WARNING RED outside of an exercise scenario.) There were two weapons readiness conditions: WEAPONS TIGHT and WEAPONS FREE. They could be battle-group wide, assigned to one ship or CAP or even assigned to one ship and one radar track. Ships might be assigned certain compass arc within which they were WEAPONS FREE and outside of which they were WEAPONS TIGHT. Anti-air missiles were a very limited resource for any battle group; it was vitally important that there not be multiple ships shooting at the same target.

The overriding principle for command of the AAW battle was "control by negation." Within the parameters of the warning and weapons conditions, the ships and CAP could do what they wanted and if AW or the AAWC had a problem with that, they'd let you know. AW usually published guidelines determining which ship had radar picket duty if there was no E-2 coverage. Radar emissions control fell to AW.

The two primary air defense radars in the pre-AEGIS days were the SPS-40 and the SPS-48. The SPS-40 was a 2D radar (range and bearing information only), it was found on virtually every warship larger than a patrol boat. The SPS-48 was a 3D radar, it was found on virtually every ship capable of more than basic point defense. (By some quirk of the numbering system, the SPS-48 replaced the SPS-52.) Both radars scanned for range and bearing by mechanically rotating the antenna, the -48 electronically scanned for altitude (the antenna did not move vertically).

(All this, by the way, is pre-AEGIS.)

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Village People

Their music video was filmed aboard the USS Reasoner:

The song was a big hit in 1979, which is probably why the public affairs office cooperated with the record label and made a ship available to them for the staging of the video. Apparently the public affairs officers who approved the use of the Reasoner did not understand that the Village People were gay. But the Fleet did and the Reasoner was nicknamed "the USS Gay" (or worse) for years.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Uniform Disasters

One of the biggest disasters to hit the Navy in the 1970s was the change in uniforms. It was probably most severe on the junior and mid-grade enlisted (E-1 through E-6), but it was also not great for the officers.

There were two iconic uniforms from World War II to the 1970s for officers: Service Dress Khakis and Aviation Greens.

Service dress khakis gave officers a summer uniform that, at least for men, looked professional. Oh, they could wear service dress blue,

but that was kind of heavy weight and a solid black coat jacket and trousers in the summer heat were not enjoyable. Aviation greens were worn with brown shoes and were worn only by aircrew, which is why aviators to this day are known as "brown shoes" and surface officers are known as "black shoes."

Around 1975, aviation greens and service dress khaki were abolished. So was "summer blue" for women (a uniform authorized for both officers and enlisted).[1]

The two summer "non-working" (ie, industrial grade) uniforms left available for officers to wear in the summer were summer whites:

and service dress whites:

Both were 100% cotton. Service dress whites for men were known as "choker whites." One of the reasons was that they were worn primarily for formal occasions, the officers who had to wear them probably had bought them several years before. They were best worn when an adequate supply of blood to the brain was optional.

Service dress whites for female officers were styled like service dress blues:

Summer whites were hell to wear on a ship and they had to be worn for certain in-port watches. When the ship was making a port call overseas, besides the quarterdeck watch, the Command Duty Officer also had to wear whites during working hours. If the CDO was the Chief Engineer, you could be damn-near certain that he'd be royally pissed off by the end of the day as he had trashed his uniform when he went into the After Fireroom.

The Navy tried to adapt, slightly, by adopting a summer blue uniform that was nothing other than the summer white shirt and service dress blue trousers/skirt and shoes. It was known by everyone as the "salt and pepper uniform" and had been worn (probably still is) by the Public Health Service:

The salt-and-pepper uniform was roundly hated by the officers, as the nearly universal opinion was that it made naval officers look like pilots for some third-rate airline. It wasn't around for very long.

But the worst thing the Navy did in the early 1970s was to do away with the "crackerjack" uniform for its male sailors.

This was a photo of the then-outgoing blue crackerjacks and the new uniform for sailors:

The summer uniform changed little, as the non-crackerjack whites were in use.

The only change there was that the cover went from being the "dixie-cup" of the crackerjacks to the cover used by chiefs and officers. Chiefs and officers wore white shoes, petty officers and seamen wore black shoes.

The popular lore was that the abolition of the crackerjack uniform was a result of heavy lobbying by career First Class Petty Officers, who had gained weight and who looked like shit in crackerjacks. But it was a fucking disaster. Crackerjacks could be neatly rolled up and stored, but the coat-and-tie uniform had to be hung up. The cover (what you civilians call a "hat") also could not be crammed into a sea bag. Narrow coat lockers had to be fitted to every ship in the Navy.

Some of the changes came rapidly. Wear-testing of new crackerjacks began in the late 1970s and by the early to mid-1980s, the crackerjack uniform replaced the hated coat-and tie uniform for male sailors.

Service dress khaki is now making a comeback for chiefs and officers.

No word yet on whether aviation greens will ever return.

However, the Navy is engaged, now, in another uniform change that may be the subject of someone else's take on "uniform disasters" in 20 or 30 years.

From the 1940s (or earlier) into this decade, there were two working uniforms on ships. E-1 through E-6 wore dungaree blues:


The dixie-cup cover was replaced with ballcaps in the 1970s. Each ship had its own ballcap.

Officers and chiefs wore khakis (really cheap-ass types bought them from Dickies). These are aviators, which is why some of them are wearing weirdly-colored shirts:

Sailors often referred to chiefs and officers as the "KKK" for "khaki-covered clowns."

The Navy is in the process of ditching the old-style working uniforms for new ones. The result of the change is that the Navy will look like a bunch of fucking jarheads. Battle Dress Oceanic[2] will be worn on ships. Why the Navy feels a need to adopt a camouflage-style uniform for shipboard wear makes little sense.

And, not having anything else to do, the Navy is also adopting enlisted uniforms that look as though they were ripped right out of the Marines' uniform shop.

The uniform disasters continue, so it seems.
[1] As far as I can tell, trousers were not authorized with the summer blue uniform.
[2] My term for it. The Navy calls it the "Navy Working Uniform" or some shit like that. I reserve the right to laugh at every squid who is wearing it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Troll That Lived Under the Bridge

Traditionally, ships the size of destroyers and cruiser had two cabins for the Captain. One was a large cabin that had a nice bedroom, a sitting/dining room/office, a head with a shower, and a galley. This was known as the "in port cabin". The other cabin was a lot smaller; it had a bunk with a small closet and a tiny head. That was the "at-sea" cabin. The at-sea cabin was usually immediately behind the Bridge, the door often opened onto a passageway that had a ladder which went down to CIC. The Captain slept there when the ship was at sea so that he could quickly get to the Bridge. On ships with dial telephone systems, his phone rang in the at-sea cabin, the in-port cabin and next to his chair on the starboard forward corner of the Bridge.

That was not the case on the Knox class (1052) frigates. The Captain's cabin was forward of CIC, next to a four-man berthing compartment for very junior officers (the "JO Locker", later sometimes used for berthing female officers, as it had its own head) and under the Bridge. There was a voice tube that ran from the Captain's rack to just in front of the helm station. If the OOD blocked it with his head, what the Captain said was pretty secure.

The Captain's rack on a 1052 was strange. It was the only rack that folded up, like a top Pullman berth and when it did so, it converted into a couch. Every other rack on the ship was laid out on a fore-and-aft axis, so when the ship rolled, it was like being rocked. The Captain's rack was laid out athwartships, so when the ship rolled, the captain was pitched either with his head down or his feet down. It had to be very uncomfortable in any kind of heavy sea.

There were two ends of the spectrum of how captains led: The Coach and the Screamer. The Coach maintained a cool demeanor and when you screwed up, you felt more ashamed of letting the Coach down than you did about what you had done (or failed to do). A good coach inspired his crew to always do better, to strive for perfection, to be professional in all things.

The Screamer, on the other hand, ran his command by a reign of terror. A true screamer had no compunction about publicly humiliating anyone in his command, from the XO on down. His only tool was fear. The danger to the Screamer was that because his crew only feared him, they didn't respect him, and if someone saw a cost-free way to fuck him over, he would.

Serving about a ship captained by a screamer was like being in Hell, only without the smell of burning brimstone. You might have worked for a screamer in a civilian job, but at the end of the day, you got to go home. On a ship, especially a deployed ship, you were trapped. (The title of this post comes from the Knox-class, where a screamer captain would emerge from his cabin under the Bridge and verbally eviscerate someone.)

Paradoxically, screamers were good for re-enlistment statistics, as sailors would re-enlist early if they could get orders to another command. Officers did not have that option. I had a rule of thumb that if a first-tour junior officer spent more than a year on a ship with a screamer, you could forget about that officer ever going back to sea as a department head. If, on the other hand, that junior officer spent his or her first tour on a ship with a captain who acted as a coach and mentor, the young officer would probably be good for at least one more full sea tour.

I knew of one ship that had a coach of a captain; the ship and her crew just seemed to do everything effortlessly. Supposedly the captain would regularly tell his wardroom of young ensigns and JGs that "the rest of the navy is not like this ship." (Sad to say, he was probably right.)

This captain, on the other hand, was a screamer. There was one exercise in which that particular screamer, in a four hour watch cycle, kicked so many OODs off the Bridge by ordering each one to "call your relief", that the original OOD ended up finishing up his watch. It was really pitiful to see strong men quaking in fear of such a captain, for at sea, there was no escaping a screamer.

Real screamers could drive their XOs into full-blown alcoholism. The junior officers might amuse themselves by devising elaborate schemes to kill him. The sailors would try to figure out ways to torment him,if they did not go UA. It was like living though a toxic combination of the Caine Mutiny (without the mutiny) and Mister Roberts (without Henry Fonda).

There could be real camaraderie on a ship with a screamer, but it was borne of everyone sticking together in order to survive. On ships with sound-powered phone systems and screamer captains, it was not unheard of at sea for a sailor to wander by one of the deserted Quarterdeck stations, select the Captain's cabin on the station dial and then growl the shit out of the Captain's phone at 0300. The same trick was even easier on a dial-phone system, as the call could be placed from anywhere on the ship.

You might have a "Phantom Shitter", someone who would sneak into the Captain's cabin and take a dump on his desk. Smearing a thin film of black grease on the Captain's telephone to give him a black ear or on his binoculars to give him "raccoon eyes" was another trick. More evil was "dirty dicking" his coffee cup. Truly evil was coming up with enough dirt to warrant dropping a dime to the squadron or to a congressman, but that was inherently dangerous because if things were so bad as to warrant firing the captain, other people's heads would roll.

The change of command for a ship with a departing captain who was a screamer could be one for the books. It was not unheard of for, when the outgoing captain signaled that command had been handed over by saying "I stand relieved", the crew would start loudly cheering.

The unofficial motto of the Surface Warfare community was "We Eat Our Young" and the screamers were a manifestation of that. As long as the screamers delivered, as long as their ships got underway and met their commitments, the screamers were tolerated, but only up to a point. The few really vicious screamers that I knew of did not screen for a major command.

(Extra reading: The Arnheiter Affair)

Friday, May 1, 2009

AAW- a Detour to the Present Day

The threat of surface ships coming under attack by ballistic missiles which have maneuvering capability did not exist in my day.

But apparently, it does now
. Which explains why the Navy's concerns about ballistic missile defense extend well beyond what North Korea might do.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Fire Under the Sea

Aboard the USS Bonefish, 21 years ago today. Three men died that day.

Read here, here and here.


Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) Part 2

Part 1

This post will be about the Naval Tactical Data System, or NTDS.

NTDS as a concept is nearly 50 years old. The system transmits radar symbology among the ships in a task group. The original computers had a whopping 32Kb of core memory and they took up huge equipment spaces. They probably cost well over $500,000 in a day when an expensive new car cost $3,000.

In the `70s and `80s, the computers were replaced by AN/UYK-7s, computers that required air-conditioned spaces, water cooling of the equipment cabinets, special technicians to maintain them and were less capable than today's $500 desktop computer.

NTDS transmitted via radio (primarily UHF, I think) on three different data streams: Link 11, Link 14 and Link 4A.

NTDS enabled all ships in the task group to share contact and target data without voice comms.

Link 11 was a full two-way datalink. Link 11 ships both could originate the symbology and display it. The symbology was displayed on specially-equipped radar scope head. The symbols were a diamond shape (hostile), square (unknown) and circle (friendly). Full shapes were displayed for surface contacts, the upper half of the symbol was displayed for air contacts, the bottom half for subsurface contacts. Directional arrows were added, with varying lengths to give a graphic indication of speed. There was a numeric designation and additional data (course, speed, altitude or depth).

A Link 11 ship could be radar quiet, but because it was receiving Link 11 telemetry, all of this was displayed on the ship's NTDS scopes in CIC. The computers on each ship displayed things so that if no offset was selected, the display centered on the ship.

Aircraft carriers, cruisers, E-1/2s and long-range AAW shooters had Link 11 (CG-16/26, the few nuke cruisers, DDG-37s). Short-range AAW shooters (DDG-2s, FFG-1s) and ASW frigates generally had Link 14. Link 14 was not a computer link; the data was converted into teletype symbology. Sailors on Link 14 ships had to read the teletype data to other sailors standing behind transparent vertical plotting boards, just as they did in World War II. In a hot environment, Link 14 data was several minutes old by the time it was plotted and, for the purposes of AAW, it was all but useless.

Link 4A was a one-way datalink to older fighters, such as F-4s and F-8s. The symbology showed on their radar screens, enabling the controllers to designate targets to those aircraft without speaking over the voice link.

The F-14s' AWG-9 radar, while not capable of 360 degree coverage like the E-2, had a capability of detecting targets at long range. F-14s could and sometimes were used in a radar picket role; they were the first fighters equipped with Link 11.

Once things went really hot, then the voice comms came into use. That'll be the next topic in this series.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Anti-Air Warfare (AAW)- Part 1

Defense of a task group is one of the newest warfare areas for naval forces. (Yes, I'm using the old term instead of the newer one "battle group". "Task" was good enough for Admirals Nimitz and Spruance, it's good enough for me.)

There are two guiding principles in AAW:

The first is "defense in depth." This means that there are multiple rings of defenses around the task group.

The second is "shoot the archer, not the arrow." If what the ships in a task group are doing is shooting at incoming missiles, then the defenses have already suffered a partial failure. The defensive ring around the task group should be far enough out to enable engaging (and killing) the missile-launching platforms. During the Cold War, killing the missile shooters spanned almost every area of warfare at sea: ASW to stop the cruise-missile submarines, anti-surface warfare (ASUW) to sink the missile carrying craft, which ranged from small patrol boats to large cruisers and even aircraft carriers.

Weapons and tactics are nice to talk about, but the most important thing is command, control and communications (C3). Without C3, the long-range weapons were useless. C3 in AAW was done by two lines of communication: the Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS) and voice radio.

Let's begin with look at the most important player in the AAW game: Airborne early warning radar. In the 1950s, the Navy used one airframe for ASW, AEW and for cargo-hauling, which was built by Grumman Iron Works. This is an E-1 Tracer. Tracers served the Navy for 20 years, until replaced by the E-2 Tracker. The Navy was very happy to get the E-1 and even happier to get the E-2, for retirement of the E-1 (as well as its sisters, the S-2 and the C-1) meant that the Navy also retired the use of aviation gasoline.

This is an E-2.

Airborne early-warning radar has two big advantages. First off, the detection range of an airborne radar is much further than that of a ship's radar, because the horizion is lot further away. Second, because the AEW radar is not overhead of the task group, detection and location of an AEW radar signal only tells the enemy that there is a task group somewhere out there, but it does not reveal the location.

But the information from the radar operators aboard the AEW aircraft has to be communicated, and that'll be the subject of an upcoming post.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Ship's Store

Every ship had a ship's store and soda machines. The profits from those operations funded the Welfare and Recreation Fund. The ship's store was a counter-service operation on smaller ships and a walk-in store on larger ones. In the 1980s, cassette tapes, both blank and pre-recorded were big sellers. So was junk food, which the Navy called "geedunk," for reasons that nobody really knew. Personal service stuff, such as toothpaste, combs, shoe shine stuff, small uniform items (such as ship's ball caps and belt buckles) were among the items carried.

The biggest seller, back in the day, was cigarettes. When the ship was out in international waters, the sales were tax-free, and the cigarettes were known as "sea smokes". They were cheap. Really cheap. As in twenty-five cents a pack or two-fifty for a carton. Even in port, the sales were free of state taxes. Normally that was not a big deal for East Coast ships, as states such as South Carolina or Virginia did not have high state taxes on cigarettes.

Wise supply officers would overstock the ship's store prior to visits to some lesser-developed nations. Privileges to use the ship's store were extended to personnel at the local US embassy or consulate; they sometimes descended on the ship's store like a cloud of locusts. That made the supply officer and the XO very happy (the XO ran the Welfare & Rec committee), but it tended to piss off the ship's company.

A real fight sometimes ensued when ships were in overhaul. Shipyards all had canteens and/or "roach coaches"; cigarettes were a major part of their sales. Some ship's captains recognized that it was in their best interest to make it possible for the yard workers, known as "sand crabs" or "yard birds", to be able to buy sodas from the machines as well as smokes and geedunk from the ships' stores. First off, it reduced the time that the yardbirds took on breaks, so more work was done. Second, it really boosted the profits to the Welfare & Rec Fund. Some ships put soda vending machines right next to the Quarterdeck so all of the yard birds would know where the machines were.

That pissed off the canteen operators, especially in the Northern shipyards. They had to charge state tobacco taxes, so their cigarette sales took a serious beating. At least one shipyard complained to the local state tobacco authorities, who, knowing they did not have jurisdiction over Navy commissioned warships, referred the matter to the Naval Investigative Service (NIS). The NIS would send an agent or two to try and "talk sense" into the Commanding Officer and ask that sales of cigarettes and geedunk be restricted to ship's company only.

Many COs complied. More than a few, though, asked the "well, what if I don't" question. The answer was that if the civilian cops found a yard bird with a pack of untaxed cigarettes, they could arrest him, but there was nothing that could be done to the CO. The COs then would agree to only sell one pack of smokes at a time to the yard birds and that was the end of the matter.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Time Ball

I was on shore duty for a spell and, from time to time, I had to travel on the government's business (and on their dime). That almost always involved renting the cheapest econobox that the rental company the government used had on the lot. If my memory is correct, the cars were from National and the cars were Corollas.

On one trip, when I picked up the car, the rental agent gave me a freebie, a little travel alarm clock that was called a "time ball" which was about the size of a golf ball, maybe a little bit larger, with a digital display. It was pretty handy to have on that trip.

After I returned to my duty station, I filed my trip report and my receipts for reimbursement. (They'd give me the airline tickets, but I had to pay for everything else and then file for reimbursement.) A few days later, I got a phone call from the travel department. They wanted to know if I had gotten any freebies from the rental car company. I told them I did. They told me to sent it over, since the government paid for the car, the clock belonged to the government.

I could see the logic of that. What I could also see was that the clock would be taken by one of the weenies in the travel department.

I took an interoffice envelope home with me. When I got home, I picked up the clock and I realized that, because of its round shape, it wouldn't fit very well in the envelope. So I put the clock in the envelope, put the envelope between two boards, and applied some percussive adjustment. It fit a lot better. The next morning, I dropped it into the interoffice mail.

The next day I got another call from from the travel department. They wanted to know what happened to the clock. I asked what was wrong with it. They said it was smashed to bits. I said: "I don't know what to tell you, it was fine when I put it in the envelope."

After that, I refused all of the freebies.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Career-Limiting Move; Pt.3

As promised. Some folks will be lucky if losing their career is all that happens to them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Career-Limiting Move; pt 2

I am trying to develop some sources on the grounding of the USS Port Royal. If I do, check over at my main blog. I am going to try and not cover current events in this blog; as much as possible, I'm going to stick to the navy of the 1980s.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Career-Limiting Move

Running your ship aground. According to this story, the USS Port Royal went aground in "about 20 feet of water."

The Tico cruisers draw about 34 feet of water
, so depending on the slope of the bottom, something seriously went wrong. I can't imagine that the charts around Pearl Harbor are inaccurate, so it seems that somebody lost the bubble on the navigation picture. Executive Officers were designated as the ship's navigator, so the XO's career is toast, as is the career of the OOD (probably the only one who doesn't have enough time in to gracefuly retire).

Running aground is almost always career suicide. There was a real up-and-coming officer in the late `70s and early `80s; he deep-selected for both lieutenant commander and commander. Less than two months into his command tour on a Spru-can, the ship ran aground while on an in-shore acoustics range somewhere off Florida. Rumor was that he said something along the lines of "XO, I think we're turning the wrong way" just before the ship grounded. That was the end of his career.

I worked on one grounding investigation of a smallish research craft commanded by a lieutenant and the result was the same, as it almost always is. Unlike rivers, much of the ocean bottom doesn't move that much and unless either the chart is wrong or there was an unavoidable event, touching bottom means the captain and a bunch of other folks get sent ashore for good.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Flesh-Peddlers

Most civilians seem to think that the military assignment system works this was: One day, you just receive a set of orders to go someplace. And you go.

Not exactly.

The overall principle was "the needs of the Navy." Within that, there is a whole lot of wriggle room.

The assignment process was basically run by two groups of people: Assignment officers and detailers. Assignment officers represented the commands, such as small combatants, cruisers, squadron command staffing, bases, and all that. Detailers represented the people being assigned, by warfare community; there were surface detailers, sub detailers, aviation detailers, and so on. The detailer's job was to get his or her clientele the best possible and most career-enhancing jobs they can. The assignment officers worked to get their clientele, the commands, the best people. So it roughly worked that the best people went to the best jobs. Assignment officers and detailers were collectively referred to as "the flesh-peddlers," which was as good a sumation of what they did as any, I suppose.

This worked out really well for sea assignments, but not so well for shore duty. Line officers who went ashore often were more concerned with geography than what they did, for they know that unless they really screwed the pooch, what they did ashore mattered little.

Every so often, the detailers would travel to the western Pacific and the Mediterranean to meet with the junior officers on the ships. They would meet with all of the officers for individual counseling sessions; they had cards with them which summarized each officer's present assignments, past assignments and the numerical scores from their fitness reports.

So one fine day, a team of two surface detailers was on a ship that was visiting a French port. (It was kind of interesting how the detailers seemed to pick the best ports for their visits.) They had posted a signup sheet with all of the officers' names so they could sign up for appointments. At lunch that day, a lieutenant asked one of the detailers why his name wasn't on the signup ship. The detailers asked his name, which was David Jones. The two detailers were flipping through their cards, first slowly, then frantically, as LT Jones was complaining that he had been on the ship for five years (the normal length of a first sea tour was three years) and that he never got any responses to his letters to BuPers and his calls were never returned.

The two detailers were showing visible signs of panic when the Captain took pity on them and told them that Jones was a LAMPS helo pilot (he had borrowed a SWO pin). The detailers were too relieved to be mad and one of them said: "You know, this has happened before."

The detailers really did try to get the best jobs for their people, as being a flesh-peddler was very good for one's career. Flesh-peddlers pretty much got to write their own next set of orders and the goal was to, on the next shore duty assignment, come back as a more senior flesh-peddler. If your clientele complained a lot, you weren't going to be invited to come back.

The maddest I ever heard of them getting was at one Destroyer School class. Each class had fifty officers in it. When it came time to bid for assignments, the bidding was by ship type, job type and home port; you ranked each in order of priority. And, as it turned out, of the fifty officers in that class, thirty two or so put down that their number one choice was to be the operations officer on a Spruance class destroyer with a home port of Norfolk, VA.

There was one billet open for an operations officer on a Norva Spru-can. Which meant that over 30 officers were not going to get their first choice. And that had a factor in how well the detailers were rated on their jobs. So they were extremely unhappy.

Not that anybody gave a shit.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Selection Boards

The Navy was big on selection boards. They all operated out of BuPers and they all served the same function: To screen the records of candidates for schools or promotion. The criteria depends on the times.

All officer promotions, other than to lieutenant (junior grade), were screened by a selection board. Selection to LTJG was almost automatic.[1] Selection to lieutenant was nearly automatic, but each year, there were a few JGs who were so hapless as to not warrant selection to LT. If you failed to select to LT, they would look at you the following year, but good luck with that, and you were let go.

Selection was done on the basis of the "year group" of the officers, which was the fiscal year of commissioning. If you were commissioned in fiscal year 1982, you were in Year Group 82.

It worked like this: Say you were in YG 82. The Navy determined what would be the normal point of selection to LCDR, which generally would have been eight years after commissioning. (This was adjustable for different designators; some might select a year earlier, some might select later.) Say that you were a LT in YG 82 and you were due for regular screening by the LCDR selection board in `90. You would first be screened in `89 for "deep selection." Deep selection was basically a free bite at the apple; if you were not selected, it didn't hurt you. Deep selection was available to real superstars and if you were "deep-screened," it was a sign that you were on your way to a storied career, provided you didn't fuck up.[2]

Promotions were effective at the beginning of the fiscal year after selection in order of seniority. The OCS grads who were commissioned early in the year went first, then the big bulge of ROTC and Boat Skool grads, followed by the last OCS classes. (OCS back then had about seven classes a year.)

The next year you would be screened for regular selection. This was the make-or-break point. If you didn't screen for LCDR, your career was on hold. The selection board would look at you again next year, to see if your subsequent fitness report showed that you had gotten your shit together, but late selection was a rarity and was more a sign that the earlier selection board had made a mistake. That was the principal reason for late selection, to catch mistakes made by the selection board in the previous year. (I believe that it was not permitted to be a member of two successive selection boards.) If you failed to late-select for LCDR, you were separated from the naval service (though nowadays, you could cross-deck to the Army and go get your ass shot at).

Prior to the 1990s, promotion to LCDR meant that you were guaranteed your 20 years in for retirement. If you then selected for commander (CDR), you had 23-25 years guaranteed and for captain (CAPT), 25-30 years. The funnel got narrower each step along and it really tightened down for selection to commodore, er, excuse me, "rear admiral lower half."

The surface navy had three other major selection boards. The first was for selection for Department Head, which was commonly called "Destroyer School." This board screened people well before the LCDR selection board. If you failed to select for Destroyer School, you didn't select for LCDR. If you were in Destroyer School and you didn't select for LCDR, they pulled you out of the school right then and there and it was so fast that you'd have thought that Stalin had ordered you purged (I knew of someone who had that happen.)

In the 1970s, selection for Destroyer School was damn near automatic. In the early 1980s, they had so many people backed up in the pipeline for the school that nobody would have made it through the school prior to their regular screening for LCDR. As the Navy generally preferred to have one fitrep as a department head in each officer's record prior to LCDR selection, they rescreened the pool and got rid of a lot of people. Those who were bilged out were told that they would never select for LCDR and they might as well go home sooner, rather than later, and many did.

Screening for XO was done after the department head tours. If you didn't screen for XO, you didn't make CDR. Sometime in the 1980s, the rules were changed so that to screen for XO, you had to have taken both the written and oral test for command-at-sea. And, as you might imagine, if you didn't screen for CO of what was known as a "commander command," you didn't make CAPT.

There were selection boards that operated pretty much below the radar. Two of those were selection to the Naval Postgraduate School and selection to attend the Naval War College. You didn't find out that you were up for them or if you weren't selected, only if you were selected. The Navy formed an engineer designator in the 1980s to keep talented ship's engineers who were not screening for XO or CO, this selection board also operated unseen (unless they chose you).

Supposedly they all operated the same: There were a bunch of senior officers who did the screening and one who operated as the recorder/secretary. They'd pop the records up on a screen, which was easy to do as BuPers kept all records on microfiche cards, and make a decision. Close calls might be set aside for further debate, but for most, pass or fail was done in a matter of minutes, if that long, by near unanimous votes of the selection board.

[1]It took fucking up on a level of "done fucked the Admiral's dog and run over his daughter" kind to not get promoted to `JG.
[2]If I remember correctly, there was one guy who deep-selected to both LCDR and CDR. Six weeks or so into his command tour on a Sprucan, the ship ran around off the acoustic range off Fort Lauderdale. That was the end of his career (I've forgotten both his name and the ship).