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.