Getting Rich Battle Experience
me up, Scotty!”
you know that Captain Kirk never uttered these words? Not in any of the eighty
original Star Trek episodes nor the seven movies. He never said it.
many times have you heard a movie submarine captain say: “Fire one! Fire
you know that real submarine skippers don't say this? The word is: “Shoot!”
because calling out “Fire” refers to - you got it - fire somewhere aboard
the sub. It would not be cool if the Fire Control Team were set up to shoot a
torpedo or missile, just waiting for the skipper's word, when something goes
wrong in the control room starting a fire, and someone shouts “Fire!” - and
away goes the weapon.
Fire Control Teams train and train and train. And then they train again. The
words, the motions, every little detail becomes a practiced event in a sequence
of practiced events.
served both as a sonar technician and later as a weapons officer aboard two
fleet ballistic missile submarines. I spent the better part of two years
underwater. During this time, we had a lot of drills. As a sonar tech, my
participation was a critical adjunct to the exercise. As weapons officer, I both
participated in and was responsible for what happened. We would receive a
Weapons System Readiness Test message over our low-frequency long-range radio
system. The test could have originated from any one of several shore based or
seagoing commanders, but our response was always the same: We would bring the
sub to launch depth and run through every step of the sequence except the actual
launch of the missile. We got this down to between twelve and thirteen minutes -
by any measure, that's very good. But we never actually launched a missile in
only time we actually launched a real missile was on a test range off the
southern Florida coast. We underwent an approximate five-hour countdown. On a
scale of one to ten, its relationship to an actual combat firing sequence was
minus five. In fact, we had one of the Apollo Astronauts aboard who actually
“pushed the button” to launch the missile. This was payback for his allowing
a group of us in the VIP stands for the Apollo 14 moon launch.
when we launched actual torpedoes, it was nothing like the real thing, even
though we did this much more frequently. Despite our intense training, and
despite our ability to ready a missile launch in just a few minutes, we had no
idea how we would perform in actual combat. In the Cold War world this was not
additional nagging question nips at the heels of every submarine captain, who
asks himself, “My missiles have been in their bays for several months or even
years. Sure they have been checked out nearly daily, but will they really work
when I launch them?”
direct reaction to this question, missiles and other submarine munitions are
regularly changed out for replacements that are “guaranteed” to work. Not
that such a guarantee is enforceable, but a missile that underwent complete
overhaul last month is much more likely to perform as advertised than one that
has been in its launch tube for the last seven months. So typically, once or
twice yearly, all of a submarine's torpedoes and Tomahawk Missiles are replaced
(but not the intercontinental ballistic missiles).
is where our current air war against Afghanistan provides a real - if
inadvertent - boon for the Navy submarine crews serving in the region. This is a
real live-fire opportunity for submarine crews, and it allows crews to
“offload” their older Tomahawks without the difficult, dangerous work
required to exchange weapons alongside a pier or submarine tender.
launches require no tedious five-hour countdowns, no holds while somebody checks
out this circuit or that switch. At the appropriate moment, the Officer of
the-Deck announces “Battle Stations Missile” over the general announcing
system, and shortly thereafter a Tomahawk missile shoots to the surface in a
bubble of compressed air, extends its short wings and fires its engines
are men on these boats who have spent their entire professional life gaining
unmatched expertise in the esoteric skill of aiming and launching a missile from
underwater, but who have never actually done it in a live-fire real-time combat
situation - until now.
to Osama bin Laden and his Taliban cohorts, we are creating a cadre of
combat-hardened submariners who have actually done it, and will be able to share
this unique knowledge with tomorrow's underwater sailors. Nothing gives
confidence to a young torpedoman or missile technician like the calm control of
a weapons chief or weapons officer who has been there and done that.