Reminiscence of the Future...
Dateline: Thursday, November 4, 2021
The US Navy has relieved the captain, executive officer and chief sonar technician of USS Connecticut, the nuclear-powered attack submarine that struck an undersea mountain in the South China Sea last month. Commander Cameron Aljilani, Lieutenant Commander Patrick Cashin and Master Chief Sonar Technician Cory Rodgers were relieved of command “due to loss of confidence,” the Navy said on Thursday.Vice Admiral Karl Thomas, commander of the 7th Fleet, has determined that “sound judgement, prudent decision-making and adherence to required procedures in navigation planning, watch team execution and risk management could have prevented the incident.”
The Seawolf-class SSN-22 fast-attack submarine was in the South China Sea on October 2 when it struck an “object” and had to return to Guam for damage assessment. The object was later revealed to have been an “undersea mountain,” according to the US Naval Institute. Several members of the Connecticut’s crew were injured in the collision, though none of the injuries were life-threatening. The submarine’s nuclear reactor was not affected. The boat will remain in Guam until the damage assessment is completed, at which point it will sail to Bremerton, Washington shipyards for repairs, the Navy said.
USS Connecticut is a 22-year-old sub (she was commissioned in 1998), which means that she has a state-of-the-art navigational complex and Combat Informational Control System designed to provide a high level of situational awareness. Unless one doubts (I don't see much reasons to doubt it) that Connecticut indeed ran into the uncharted feature (seamount) as the 7th Fleet press-release states, the fault inevitably lies with:
1. Naval Oceanographic Service, aka NAVOCEANO, which either didn't chart that seamount (why--is a separate story) or didn't issue an appropriate navigational warning about the area;
2. Obviously, organization of the watch and tactical and navigational proficiency of the team responsible for the safety of the ship (sub) underway.
I do not know all the facts, but considering the capabilities of modern navigational complexes (be that US or Russian, British, I assume too) to provide an extremely accurate dead-reckoning (it's very high reliability) over very long periods of time, including active maneuvering at different speeds, it does come across, from what I know (which is nowhere near to all the facts), that navigational service onboard Connecticut was not the best-organized, to put it mildly. Plus, do not discount CO's decisions. But Connecticut is not the first US sub or ship which ran into the ground (seamount) in the last few years. There is an established fact of the US Navy effectively putting navigational training of the crews on the back-burner. This whole thing is on record.
In other words, navigational problems in the US Navy are not new. Every serious navy in the world has its share of navigational mishaps, but the US Navy's problem with seamanship and navigational safety seem to persist. I know how one feels when having an advanced technology at one's own disposal (I know the feeling really well) but basic, time-tested skills of navigators and interaction of the watch officer with both CO and navigator are of crucial importance, especially when being underway submerged. And especially in the area where any mishap may lead to conflagration. The technology is only as good as the people that operate it. Could the Connecticut affair be the case of the fatigue, as was one of the factors with USS Fitzgerald as NTSB concluded? Possible. Swedish Komsomolets, certainly was. I'll give you a hint--only experienced navigation officers should be near the navigation complex when the submarine is underway submerged. Was this rule followed by Connecticut's CO? We may never know, but in the end--CO is always the guy who takes the fall.
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