Unseen and unheralded, the U.S. Navy’s roughly 50 nuclear attack submarines comprise the silent vanguard of our conventional naval power at sea. While speedy corvettes, shallow-water transports and aviation-capable amphibious ships are vital for exploiting the peace — that is, building new alliances and exporting security abroad — submarines are the most important ships for keeping the peace — that is, deterring major aggression. For no other naval weapon rivals the submarine’s potential for massive, surprise destruction. Last month, War Is Boring contributor Bryan William Jones embarked on the newly modernized USS Toledo to see for himself how the Navy’s submarines maintain our dominance of the seas.
by BRYAN WILLIAM JONES
Ascending and descending through the ocean is smooth as can be until surfacing — or descending at what are termed “angles and dangles.” Angles and dangles is practiced right after a submarine leaves port and enters deep water. It’s essentially steep dives and climbs at angles up to 25 degrees. The point is to ensure that there is nothing improperly stowed or unsecured that could come loose and fall down, making noise. Anything that can make noise at unexpected times is anathema to submariners.
Surfacing a submarine is a critical time, particularly around crowded ports. Activity on the command deck becomes intense as Sonar calls out contacts to Fire Control and those contacts are relayed to the commander or bridge officer for confirmation. Bringing a submarine to the surface occurs in stages: relying exclusively on sonar contacts first, making sure there is nobody around. When the submarine reaches periscope depth, all sonar contacts are confirmed by visual sighting through the periscope, day or night, as modern periscopes are equipped with night vision capability, not mention still and video camera recording capabilities, tele-photo and additional signals intel options.
I realized that the usual smell of the ocean is not part of life on a submarine, when submerged. It was only when the hatches were opened and we went topside that I could smell the sea again. This is absolutely not the case on other Navy ships, where the ever-present smell permeates everything.
Transitioning into port, Navy swimmers are positioned fore and aft to rescue any crew that might fall overboard. Tugs deploy to assist turning and positioning of the submarine. In civilian ports, harbor pilots come on board to help navigate. At this particular port, we were positioning Toledo next to the destroyer USS Forrest Sherman, to save the Navy (and the taxpayer) mooring costs, and to help increase security. Armed watches are always in place when the submarine is in port, but the extra buffer of having a guided missile destroyer moored between the dock and the sub was convenient.
(Photo: BW Jones)