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Old 03-20-2009, 10:23 AM   #1
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Wonder Who Had the Right of Way...

Two US Navy Vessels Collide in Gulf (one submarine and one amphibious)

BBC NEWS | Middle East | US navy vessels collide in Gulf
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Old 03-20-2009, 09:34 PM   #2
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For breaking Navy news I usually check USNI's blog, "The Stupid Shall Be Punished" submariner's blog, RiggedForDive.com, and SailorBob.com. The last two are ostensibly for submarine officers and surface-warfare officers only.

Nothing but scuttlebutt yet. It was pointed out on one board that HARTFORD's scope probably punched NEW ORLEANS' hull hard enough to knock the sub over to a pretty steep angle. 15 injured submarine sailors is nearly 15% of the crew (with one corpsman for the crew) and one of the worst injury mishaps we've had since the SAN FRANCISCO grounding. But no word yet on how many of the injured were riders and not submariners.

One article reported that the CO has already been relieved. Judging from the speed with which this happened, I suspect that basic safety procedures were either violated or poorly executed. No new lessons here either but probably millions of dollars of damage again.
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Old 03-20-2009, 10:23 PM   #3
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Upon hearing that the first thing that came to mind is "somebody's Navy career is over".
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Old 03-20-2009, 11:35 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Walt34 View Post
Upon hearing that the first thing that came to mind is "somebody's Navy career is over".
Submariners typically hit CO around the 16-18 year point, so this CO will go to a staff job somewhere until eligible for retirement. (He could hang around as long as 28 years but he'll be offered progressively uglier jobs-- Submarine Liaison Officer in Chinhae, ROK or watch officer in the Pentagon or staff briefer in Kuwait.) So he'll retire at 20 with a pension of ~$43K/year plus cheap healthcare.

Along with the knowledge that his troops were injured under his command.
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Old 03-21-2009, 11:31 PM   #5
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The pictures are coming in.

Based on my years of submarine experience, let me offer my professional assessment: "Holy crap." Lucky no one was seriously hurt, let alone killed. There certainly wasn't any margin for error or time for damage control.

A 688-class submarine's sail is a hydrodynamic shell of quarter-inch steel sheet metal with framing and rubber tiles. The top of the pressure hull (at the base of the sail) has a number of what are euphemistically called "hull penetrations" for the periscopes, radio antennae, the snorkel mast/diesel exhaust, and other surveillance/comms gear. There's also a bridge access trunk, which has a watertight hatch at the pressure hull and a second watertight hatch at the bridge. The trunk is firmly welded to the hull and by far the strongest part of the sail. Frankly, from the angle of the sail, I'm not even sure that the bridge access trunk is still attached to the hull. The sail's other hull penetrations have a lot of bearings and stuffing tubes designed to stop water from coming in keep leaks at a reasonable minimum but if the periscope is sheared away then it would be prudent to not lower anything until you've had a good look at the damage while sitting on the surface.

See USS HARTFORD's "before" photo (which I copied from a poster on SailorBob.com) at the end of this post. Ironically the smooth area at the top/front of the sail is the acoustic window for the ship's collision-avoidance sonar. But that sonar is only used when under ice or searching for mines.

(Hey, Gumby & Paquette-- notice the Battle "E"?)

As near as I can tell from these next four linked photos, the only reason the sail is still attached to the hull is because the bridge access trunk gave it enough structure to keep it from being ripped away by the collision. I'm betting that HARTFORD hit hard enough to bounce a few times along NEW ORLEANS' hull before they got clear. I sure hope they got the scope down before it snapped off. Or maybe the remains are still fully raised to plug the "hull penetration".

The Stupid Shall Be Punished: USS Hartford Collides With U.S. Amphib Off Iran
Navy NewsStand - Eye on the Fleet
Navy NewsStand - Eye on the Fleet
Navy NewsStand - Eye on the Fleet

Deployment's over for these guys, except for the surface transit to drydock. Maybe they can patch things up out in COMFIFTHFLT or at a British facility, but the typical punishment for a wardroom accomplishing this feat is the humilitation of going straight home without liberty. No submerged ops for them anyway. I'd want to spend a few weeks in drydock with a radiography machine and a bunch of micrometers before I'd volunteer for sub pay inside that pressure hull again.

It'll be weeks or even months before the official investigation is leaked, even on the military websites. But in my cynical opinion there's no way that this was anything less than a colossal screwup. There could've been an emergency or equipment failure that led to the collision, but I'm betting on OOD/CDO error. And when the CO is responsible for training & qualifying the watch teams, there's no way he can claim that those jobs were properly accomplished.

There have been moments during my retirement when I've wanted to be able to sit in a command center reading the classified emergency message traffic as it buzzed around. This time, though, I can barely even stand to look at the unclassified photos. And you can imagine my spouse's reaction...
Attached Images
File Type: jpg USS HARTFORD sail before.jpg (66.2 KB, 5 views)
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Old 03-22-2009, 12:51 AM   #6
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I wonder if this will disqualified them from the good driver discount at Allstate. Or does the Navy use GEICO for collision insurance
Of course if they worked at AIG this little stunt would qualify them for a $1 million retention bonus...

Thanks for the report, and I don't feel so bad about constantly scratching my bumper against my driveway wall.
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Old 03-22-2009, 08:14 AM   #7
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If this had been an Air Force mishap, they would probably have a command-wide standdown and ground the fleet while investigations were ongoing and the crews were re-briefed on safety, procedures, etc. I suppose they can't standdown a slow-moving submarine fleet on duty all over the world, though.
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Old 03-22-2009, 09:30 AM   #8
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Thanks for all the info Nords, from the initial report I had no idea how much damage was done. Looks pretty bad, that break at the base of the sail looks scary. And as you said, they were lucky not to have more serious injuries
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Old 03-22-2009, 09:42 AM   #9
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On a positive note, a good save. No one had to go down and fish them out of a flooded coffin.

A few injured and a dented sub is not as bad for the captain's ego as sending a team out into direct fire, and none coming back.
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Old 03-22-2009, 11:01 AM   #10
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If this had been an Air Force mishap, they would probably have a command-wide standdown and ground the fleet while investigations were ongoing and the crews were re-briefed on safety, procedures, etc. I suppose they can't standdown a slow-moving submarine fleet on duty all over the world, though.
When USS PORT ROYAL grounded on an Oahu reef last month, the surface fleet held a navigation & operations stand-down. They also sent their nav teams to the simulators and went through the usual checklists of discussion topics. Voyage planning, crew rest, risk management, forceful backup... I could practically deliver the day's curriculum in my sleep. The surface warriors on SailorBob.com are getting awful tired of the "everybody put your heads down on your desks" routine that's now perceived as a reflex response to every mishap.

[FireUp2025, now that you're wearing your bars I would strongly suggest that you go join that board and read a few pages of posts. It's far more valuable than any official training you'd receive. Even Tomcat, Deserat, & SamClem would enjoy the joint perspective.]

Last week I'm sure the submariners were walking around with little superior smirks on their faces, making snarky comments about feeling sorry for their Air Force brethren who couldn't handle a few measly nukes and then their SWO siblings who couldn't stay off an itty-bitty reef. Not, of course, that I personally ever indulged in such behavior.

But this is such a horrific incident-- so close to losing the entire boat & crew-- that I bet the entire submarine force is canceling engineering drills for (*gasp*) not one but two days to focus on the issues and lessons. The pictures were bad enough, but the yet-to-be-unclassified details of how bad the collision really was are even scarier.

Don't get me wrong-- the standdown training is great stuff. The problem is that it's not being used as much as it needs to be used in the first place. What's bad about the safety-standdown concept is that there's so much other daily routine crap interfering with training that it takes multi-million-$$ groundings, injuries, and even deaths before everyone stops to focus on the fundamentals. When I was in charge of the fire & flooding trainers we could not even bribe persuade the COs & XOs to send their damage-control teams more than once a year, and even then the right people wouldn't show up. One year we gave more training to the Japanese & Korean submarine crews than we gave to our own. Very few among the waterfront leadership came to their own realizations that this training was important enough to skip the daily meetings and admin-- they had to be cajoled, teased, and humiliated into it.

I was at training commands for nearly eight years as an instructor and several more cumulative years as a student. I've spent months of hours in shore simulators while on "sea duty". I was at the local submarine training command when USS GREENEVILLE killed Japanese fishermen & students through the CO's hubris and negligence. I spent weeks afterward working with our CO & XO on the investigations & reports, and for several more years I watched the effects of the casualty on over a dozen friends & shipmates. There was plenty of thoughtless stupidity happening during the events leading up to the collision, but what was even more frightening was the casual "we can do anything" attitude that the crew had picked up from the CO. Their faith in his leadership & skills was so strong that they discounted or even flat-out ignored several critical warning signs. Ironically if the GREENEVILLE CO had been an incompetent jerk or a screamer then his own crew would never would have let him give the orders that led to the sinking.

I could be wrong about the HARTFORD collision. It could've been the fault of the NEW ORLEANS or it could've been unavoidable. (Of course nukes are trained to never believe in the concept of "unavoidable".) Either vessel could have had an equipment failure or been maneuvering to avoid something even worse. But from the speed with which the CO was relieved, I suspect that the submarine leadership on the scene knew exactly what caused the problem and how to fix it. And, as is usually the case, I suspect that no new lessons were really learned.
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Old 03-22-2009, 01:03 PM   #11
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Thanks for the details and picture links, Nords. (I've been traveling and haven't caught up yet.)

From the sail damage, I think we're seeing masts pretty much locked in position from where they were at when the collision happened. No 'scopes, and a heck of a whack high up on the sail suggests they were in transit to or from periscope depth. Somebody didn't notice the New Orleans in the immediate neighborhood? Or didn't spot it until way too late...

That's not a great place for an "OMG! Emergency Deep!" I just pulled up public charts, and much of that is maybe 200-280 feet deep, in the 'deep' shipping channel.

(I found an older public chart to link. Shipping channels through the Strait are on the right side.)


The Strait has another interesting property. It has an estuarial flow, with fresher, lower salinity water moving one way on the surface, and saltier higher density water moving the other way at depth. This does funny things to the way sound travels in water.
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Old 03-22-2009, 01:49 PM   #12
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Old 04-15-2009, 10:28 PM   #13
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Upon hearing that the first thing that came to mind is "somebody's Navy career is over".
As Nords predicted...

Press Release
MANAMA, Bahrain – 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 the 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.

Cmdr. Chris Harkins, deputy commander of Submarine Squadron Eight, assumed command of Hartford today. Harkins previously commanded USS Montpelier (SSN 765).

Brookhart has been temporarily assigned to the CTF 54 staff in Bahrain.
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