edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (submarine insignia)
Back in May, a massive fire broke out aboard the USS Miami (SSN 755) as she was undergoing overhaul at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The fire took hours to extinguish; last I heard, the cost of repairs was estimated at four hundred million dollars.

Originally, the fire was thought to have started in a vacuum cleaner used to clean up worksites. However, the Portland Press-Herald is now reporting that the fire was deliberately set by a shipyard worker:
The fire that raged through a nuclear submarine this spring at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery was deliberately set by a 24-year-old worker who told investigators he was suffering from anxiety and depression, according to Navy investigators.

[ ... ]

Casey James Fury of Portsmouth appeared in federal court Monday and was told he faces up to life in prison if convicted of setting the fire to the sub, which was in the middle of a 20-month overhaul at the shipyard.

[ ... ]

Fury had trouble remembering some details, describing the period as a blur during which he was intensely anxious.

He told authorities he was taking medicine for anxiety, depression, insomnia and allergies.

Days after the June 16 fire, Fury checked himself into an in-patient mental health facility for two days.

Fury is scheduled to be back in court Wednesday for a combined hearing to determine whether the government had probable cause to charge him and whether he should be released on bail.
It's true in any industrial setting that one worker on his own can cause an awful lot of damage. I have to wonder whether the shipyard had adequate checks in place to pick up on a worker with serious mental health issues - or whether such checks even exist.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
Or perhaps the Goat Locker. Or, at least, somewhere in the forward compartment of the USS Miami (SSN 755) - which, fortunately, was (and is) undergoing an overhaul at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. From an official statement released by RADM Rick Breckenridge, Commander Submarine Group TWO:
Late yesterday afternoon, USS MIAMI experienced a fire in the submarine's forward compartment.

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Fire Department and Ship's force, along with mutual assistance from several other area fire departments, immediately responded and successfully extinguished the fire on USS MIAMI. I repeat, the fire is out.

The fire and subsequent damage was limited to the forward compartment spaces only which includes crew living and command and control spaces. The nuclear propulsion spaces were physically isolated from the Forward Compartment early during initial response.

The Portland Press-Herald reported further comments from RADM Breckenridge:
He said it was premature to say whether the Miami, which cost $900 million, was salvageable or is too badly damaged to be repaired and put back in use. The Miami is in the third month of a planned 20-month overhaul.

Seven firefighters received minor injuries while fighting the fire.

Breckenridge praised the repsonse of firefighters from communities in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts that responded to the blaze.

"As I stand before you today, there are a lot of heroes who worked together to save the ship," Breckenridge said. He said local firefighters worked inside the submarine in conditions of high heat, smoke and cramped quarters.

[ ... ]

Breckenridge said the high heat and difficulty extinguishing the fire, was largely because the fire spread to insulation. The fire also was fueled by cabinets and lockers in the living quarters and command area.
Nobody was killed - that, to me, is the most important point. And, as RADM Breckenridge points out, there's no nuclear risk involved.

It's way too early to speculate on what exactly went wrong, although my immediate assumption is that somebody screwed up badly while grinding or welding. Any sort of "hot work" is supposed to include preplanning, covering all exposed and potentially flammable areas, and dedicated fire watches with full charged extinguishers to stop any sparks that do escape from doing any damage. Back on the old Ustafish, during our time at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, one of the shipyard grinders managed to ignite some oily rags that had fallen into the bilge - the fire watch had that out in about ten seconds. (Just how the oily rags got into the bilge in the first place ended up being the focus of the ensuing investigation, IIRC.) I'd strongly bet that a whole lot of safety precautions were blown off or went awry leading up to this mess.

Of course, if you're going to have a fire in a submarine at all, doing so at the beginning of an overhaul is probably the "best" time.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
According to this Central Command / Fifth Fleet press release, the skipper of USS Hartford is no longer the skipper of the USS Hartford:

MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) -- The commanding officer of USS Hartford (SSN 768) was relieved of command April 14 due to loss of confidence.

Rear Adm. Michael J. Connor, commander, Task Force 54 (CTF 54) and commander, Submarine Group 7, relieved the commanding officer of USS Hartford (SSN 768), Cmdr. Ryan Brookhart.

Connor expressed his loss of confidence in Brookhart's ability to command. Brookhart was in command of Hartford when the submarine collided with USS New Orleans (LPD 18) March 20, in the Strait of Hormuz. Although the investigations into the accident are not complete, Connor determined that there was enough information to make the leadership change.

This isn't exactly what I'd call surprising. Given what little I know about the geometry of the collision, and what even less I know about the "rules of the road" as applied to submarines [1], I figured the odds were pretty good that the Hartford's crew were going to be at least partially at fault for the collision - which automatically puts the skipper's career on the chopping block.

Once those "investigations into the accident" are complete, I expect that a few more punitive actions will be taken - with the XO, Navigator and ship's control party the likely targets. That's not going to be a happy boat for a long while ...

[1] Rule 1: Don't hit anything. Rule 2: Don't break your boat. Rule 3: Don't break anybody else's boat - inadvertently.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
A new press release from COMFIFTHFLT/COMNAVCENT confirms just how nasty last week's collision between USS Hartford (SSN 768) and USS New Orleans (LPD-18) was:

While overall damage to both ships is being evaluated, investigators believe Hartford rolled approximately 85 degrees during the collision.

Despite the roll, engineering investigations have confirmed the propulsion plant of the submarine was unaffected by this collision.

However, Hartford sustained damage to its sail and periscope, as well as the port bow plane.

New Orleans suffered a ruptured fuel tank. Divers have determined the resulting hole is approximately 16 by 18 feet in size. There was also interior damage to two ballast tanks.

They build those boats tough, folks. It's one thing to roll a kayak or a Sunfish-type sailboat over on its side; it's another thing entirely to roll seven thousand tons of submarine.

Even though the gator freighter [1] suffered the big hole in the hull, I suspect that her repairs will be quicker and easier than those for the sub. Presumably, the Navy has access to the drydock facilities in Bahrain (some of which are sized for supertankers), and cutting new hull plates is relatively straightforward when the plates in question are quarter-inch mild steel. I'd be rather surprised if anybody in Bahrain knows how to properly weld the very specialized, high-tensile-strength steel used for 688-class submarine hulls.

No word yet on why this happened, although there are a couple of official investigations mentioned later in the press release. At this point, my best SWAG [2] is that Hartford was trying to keep astern of New Orleans. New Orleans suddenly reduced speed and turned hard to port - perhaps her bridge crew saw a fishing boat or some such dead ahead, and they were trying to avoid a collision. Hartford didn't pick up on the maneuver in time and got smacked by New Orleans' hull.

[1] Slang for an amphibious assault ship, such as the New Orleans. LPDs such as New Orleans have a well deck which can be flooded to allow Marine amphibious assault vehicles to swim out and hit the beach.
[2] Stupid, Wild-Ass Guess


Mar. 22nd, 2009 01:16 pm
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
Y'know, I'm really glad that my naval career never brought me to the Straits of Hormuz.

From the Navy Times:

An attack submarine and an amphib are out of action following a collision Friday during a nighttime transit through the narrow Strait of Hormuz.

The attack submarine Hartford and the amphibious transport dock New Orleans collided at 1 a.m. local time while moving into the Persian Gulf through the narrow passage between Iran and Oman.

Fifteen Hartford sailors were injured in the collision but were able to return to duty. No injuries were reported aboard New Orleans.

Details of the incident remain unclear. Hartford was "submerged but near the surface" at the time of the collision, according to Navy officials.

Today, Fifth Fleet Public Affairs released a statement, saying that both ships had arrived in Bahrain "to further assess and evaluate the damage that resulted from their collision at sea." They also released several pictures, showing Hartford's sail being significantly damaged (as in being knocked way off vertical). The damage to New Orleans appears to be entirely underwater.

Looking at the pictures, it would appear that the port side of Hartford's sail hit the starboard side of New Orleans' hull - and hit hard. Now, the Straits of Hormuz are notoriously shallow, and there is a lot of shipping going through not that much in the way of shipping lanes. It's way too early to judge what went wrong, but clearly something did.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
The Navy Times reports that the latest Ticonderoga-class cruiser, USS Port Royal (CG-73), is hard aground off the entrance to Pearl Harbor:

HONOLULU — Navy officials say an attempt to pull free a 9,600-ton warship that ran aground off the coast of Honolulu has been unsuccessful.

The U.S. Pacific Fleet says Navy tugboats and salvage ship Salvor tried to tow the Port Royal early Saturday, but the guided missile cruiser remained stuck.

The Navy says it plans to try again after extracting fuel and water from the $1 billion vessel.

The 9,600-ton ship ran aground Thursday night on a sandy, rocky bottom. The cause of the grounding, as well the extent of the damage to the ship, remains under investigation.

Commenters on the US Naval Institute blog note that this was the ship's first underway following an overhaul at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, which implies that the crew was probably more than a little bit rusty. It was also the skipper's first underway with the ship, and AFAICT the first time he'd ever been underway on a Ticonderoga-class cruiser. His previous seagoing assignments were either to nuclear carriers or to Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, which draw only around 22 feet as compared to the 33 feet that Ticonderogas draw.

I can safely say that I never was involved in any groundings. I did have the distinct misfortune of going through an overhaul at PHNSY, and I remember more than a little bit of nervousness the first time we went back out to sea. The Navigation Department was probably the most nervous of all, since they hadn't been able to get much hands-on practice. We nukes, on the other hand, had made it through the Post Overhaul Reactor Safeguards Exam, which meant more practice at things going horribly (simulated) wrong than anyone could possibly want.

I can also safely say that the navigation and command teams are about to watch their careers go up in smoke, and the rest of the crew is going to be terminally embarrassed for years to come. They are literally just off the "reef runway" of Honolulu International Airport, and the local TV stations are stocking up on file footage.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
Another tragedy has struck the submarining world. The BBC reports that twenty people died aboard the Russian Akula class submarine Nerpa:

An inquiry is under way into Saturday's gas poisoning on a Russian nuclear submarine in the Pacific that left 20 people dead, including 17 civilians.

Another 21 people were left ill in what officials believe was an "unsanctioned" activation of an automatic firefighting system that released freon gas.

A companion analysis piece notes that the Nerpa, while officially "new construction", was originally laid down in the early 1990s, just before the Soviet Union collapsed. Supposedly, the Akulas are designed for a crew of 73, yet there were over two hundred people on board Nerpa at the time.

Soviet designs weren't known for being particularly healthy for the crews, and I personally think that putting in what amounts to an automated asphyxiation system is a dumb idea even by Soviet-era standards. Having three times the normal complement on board couldn't possibly have been helpful, either. If, as the BBC piece indicates, many of the riders were civilians trying to teach the crew how to run their boat, that also points to real problems in training and leadership.

The analysis piece also notes that the Indian navy was planning to lease the Nerpa, along with a second Akula class boat, from the Russians. That's probably going to be rethought - but our Navy should be concerned, nonetheless. If the crews are any good, Akulas are at least as quiet as the Los Angeles-class boats I served on, and they could pose real problems for CENTCOM and CINCPAC if relations between the US and India ever got frosty. (A more likely scenario would be another shooting war between Pakistan and India - both of whom have nuclear weapons. Not a pleasant thought.)
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
First off, the problem: Drug runners have finally figured out that submersible vessels make great smuggling platforms. From the Boston Globe:
KEY WEST, Fla. - Skimming just below the surface, they are extremely difficult to detect from surveillance aircraft or patrol boats. Their sleek design, up to 80 feet in length, can secretly carry several tons of cargo thousands of miles.

These "semi-submersibles," which exhibit some of the same characteristics as military submarines, mark a significant advancement in the ability of drug smugglers to slip past coastal defenses.

So far this year, the Coast Guard says it has encountered at least 27 such vessels headed toward the southern and western United States, more than in the previous six years combined, while far more are believed to have gone undetected, according to US military and law enforcement officials.

The growing number and increased sophistication of the vessels, officially designated "self-propelled semi-submersibles," has set off alarms at the highest levels of the US military and the federal Department of Homeland Security. Counterterrorism officials fear that what drug runners now use to deliver cocaine, terrorists could one day use to sneak personnel or massive weapons into the United States.

The solution? Well, we in the Silent Service have known for a long time that the best anti-submarine weapon is another submarine. I doubt your average "expeditionary shipyard" is going to be able to produce the sort of sound-silencing gear that costs an arm and a leg for military shipbuilders; picking up and tracking a semi-submersible would be a (relatively) straightforward task for a decent sub's crew. Not only that, but they could also track the drug runners to their resupply ships and relay the track to the Coast Guard. Catch the bad guys in the act, and presto!

Of course, given how overbooked the sub force is currently, we'd have to actually spend some serious money building new hulls to support this mission (on top of all the other things the poor slobs still on active duty are trying to cover). And, since the Connecticut Congressional delegation basically had to force a second Virginia class boat in 2010 down the Navy's throat, I kind of doubt the Bush Administration really cares about that whole "keep the terrorists out" rhetoric. (At least, not unless the nativist whackjobs get the idea that hordes of brown people are using subs to steal Ammurican jobs.)
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
One hundred eight years ago, the United States Navy purchased its first submarine, USS Holland. Today is thus the official Submarine Force Birthday. I think the only time I ever wore my miniature medals was when I went to the Submarine Birthday Ball one year at Pearl Harbor.
You haul sixteen torps, and whaddya get?
Another year older and deeper in depth.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
... not quite so scary story. At least, not so scary to somebody (like me) with a bit of a clue about submarines. The Edinburgh Evening News headline reads Hole found in nuclear submarine:
SAFETY fears have been raised after a hole was discovered in the hull of a nuclear submarine berthed in the Firth of Forth.
The hole – about the size of a fist – was found during routine checks on the decommissioned sub HMS Revenge at Rosyth Dockyard.

The vessel is one of seven redundant nuclear subs stored at Rosyth by the Royal Navy since the early 1980s.

The breach, discovered during a routine inspection in February, was in one of six external ballast tanks of the Polaris submarine, and was immediately sealed by Navy engineers.

Although weapons and high-level radioactive fuel have long since been removed from the submarines, successive governments have failed to come up with a safe way of disposing of the radioactive reactor compartments, which remain at the centre of the subs.
Apparently, HMS Revenge has been quietly rusting away for a couple of decades, now, ever since she was decommissioned. US subs eventually go through a recycling program; I gather the Brits haven't developed one of their own.

A hole in a main ballast tank would be annoying, but not terribly dangerous if fixed quickly (as this one apparently was). The worst case scenario would be that the boat would lose some freeboard - but five MBTs would still provide plenty of reserve buoyancy, and being tied up next to the pier is about the best possible place for a casualty like this to occur.

OTOH, it's the sort of thing that sounds bad, especially to folks who don't like nuclear anythings anyway. And from what I hear, the MoD has more than enough other issues on its plate; the last thing they're likely to do is stump up more funding for preventive maintenance on decommissioned warships.

And, at least it's not as bad as an article I saw on the BBC website a while back. Apparently, HMS Alliance (a WWII boat that's the feature exhibit at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum) has rusted out badly enough that a flock of pigeons has moved in.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
I can't really call this a "happy" birthday, given some of the rotten news I've commented about elsewhere, but today is the 107th Submarine Force Birthday:
On April 11, 1900, the U.S. Navy acquired its first submarine, a 53-foot craft designed by Irish immigrant John P. Holland. Propelled by gasoline while on the surface and by electricity when submerged, the Holland served as a blueprint for modern submarine design. By the eve of World War I, Holland and Holland-inspired vessels were a part of large naval fleets throughout the world.
(from the Library of Congress' American Memory page for April 11)

May the upcoming year be better for the Submarine Force - and for all the Armed Services - than the last one.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
An explosion on board HMS Tireless has killed two Royal Navy submariners and injured a third; oxygen generation equipment is suspected as the cause. From the BBC:
Two British sailors have died in an accident on a nuclear submarine.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed there had been an explosion on HMS Tireless during an exercise under the Arctic icecap at 0420 GMT on Wednesday.

One other member of the crew of the Devonport-based submarine was injured and is receiving medical treatment.

Failed air-purification equipment is thought to have caused the explosion. The MoD expressed its "deep regret" and said an inquiry would be carried out.
My first thought upon reading this was that they'd suffered an explosion in the electrolytic oxygen generator - a piece of equipment that takes in deionized water and splits the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. We called that particular piece of gear "the bomb" for obvious reasons.

However, an official US Navy press release stated that "a self contained oxygen generation candle" exploded. I'm not quite sure how one gets an oxygen candle to explode - they give off heat and oxygen, but it's a purely chemical reaction and I can't imagine how to speed it up enough to go boom. OTOH, if there was oil or grease on the candle when it was lit, the combination of heat, oxygen and fuel might have been enough for a flash fire. (Remember the ValuJet crash back in 1996? That one was caused by oxygen generators going off in the same cargo bay as a bunch of rubber tires.)

Worse still, this incident occurred while Tireless was under the ice. The crew was very fortunate that they were able to find a thin spot in the ice and surface quickly. Casualties under the ice are right up near the top of the Really Bad Things list.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
As reported in the Navy Times:
NORFOLK, Va. — The attack submarine San Juan lost communications with the outside world for several hours late Tuesday night and early Wednesday, prompting a search effort for what the Navy thought was a downed submarine, according to the Naval Submarine Force Command in Norfolk.

At the time of the incident, the Los Angeles-class submarine, based in Groton, Conn., was operating with the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group off the southeastern coast of the United States.

Because the Navy maintained communications with two other subs in the area and observers spotted a red signal flare, commanders believed the San Juan had gone down. They began search-and-rescue missions, alerted the International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office and notified crew members' families about the possibility of a lost submarine, officials said.
One of the scariest scenarios for a submariner is having some sort of casualty that leaves your boat on the bottom, incommunicado. [1] There are rescue craft available, but somebody needs to (a) realize you're missing and (b) figure out where you are before the rescue effort can get started. That can take an awfully long time. Kudos to the Enterprise strike group for jumping on the ball smartly.

OTOH, the fact that the statement about "lost communications" makes me curious. Was there a scheduled check-in that San Juan's crew missed? Were they supposed to be guarding a radio channel via their floating-wire antenna? I suspect there won't be any public announcement, unless it turns out that the San Juan's crew screwed the pooch somehow and the Navy relieves the skipper for cause.

[1] Of course, if the bottom is below the boat's crush depth, rescue is pretty much not an option. In that case, though, the crew will be dead almost instantaneously, so they won't have any agonizing wait for rescue...
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
As I noted on the 30th, two Submarine Force Sailors died when they were washed overboard as their ship, USS Minneapolis-St Paul (SSN 708) was sailing out of Plymouth, England. It wasn't clear to me at the time why anybody would be out on the hull in rough waters. I'd seen some other submarine bloggers speculate that they were rigging topside for dive, but that didn't really make sense to me - if you're in waters open enough for heavy seas to build up, you should have already secured pretty much everything there is to secure topside except the bridge itself.

However, the Stars and Stripes reports that according to a local constabulary spokesman, a British harbor pilot was still on board the submarine at the time of the accident. If the crew still had the pilot onboard, it does make sense that they'd need a party topside to help transfer the pilot off to the pilot boat. In fact, that's just about the only reason I can think of to have anybody topside at all.

One of the two sailors who died was the Chief of the Boat - the senior enlisted man in the crew, equivalent to a command sergeant major in other services. Had I stayed in the service - and had I stayed enlisted - that's probably the job that I'd have had right about now. Somber-making thought, that is...
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
Two submarine Sailors died today after falling overboard from the USS Minneapolis-St Paul (SSN 708) as she was steaming out of Plymouth, England:
Two crew members of an American submarine have died after falling overboard in Plymouth Sound.

They were among four crewmen who were working in poor weather on the outside casing of the USS Minneapolis-St Paul off the Devon coast.
Working on the deck of an underway submarine is no picnic under the best of circumstances - and those weren't anywhere near the best of circumstances. CNN's story indicates that the wind was gusting up to 47 miles per hour.
I don't know anybody from the Minneapolis, but she's a first-flight Los Angeles class boat, just like the one I served on (USS Omaha).

edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
Today is Veteran's Day in the United States. A day to remember the sacrifices made by the warriors of the past. A day to honor those being made by the warriors of the present. A day to pray that the future will not require such sacrifices.

And, for me, personally, a day to be grateful that the war I prepared to fight - the all-out battle between NATO and the Soviet Union - never happened.

Eternal Father, Strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bid'st the mighty Ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to thee,
for those in peril on the sea.



edschweppe: A closeup of my face, taken at Star Island during the All-Star II conference in 2009 (Default)
Edmund Schweppe

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