Out of the Box

Out of the box thinking. Quite the business catch-phrase. Often, it implies coming up with genius solutions to problems by approaching them from a different point of view. Usually it’s someone making up some completely crazy ideas and someone saying, “Hmm, Sure. why not?”

With that in mind, here’s one for you.

Australian Navy. You know them, you love them. Seems they have a submarine manning problem.

Currently, the Australian Navy has six Collins class subs, and the sailors who serve on these boats are not happy. This has been a problem for years. Recently, the navy surveyed the submarine sailors and were told that the submarine crewmen felt unappreciated and overworked. Half of them were getting out of the navy as soon as their current enlistments were up. Many found the work boring, and felt they spent too much time at sea. As a result, only enough qualified sailors are available to provide crews for three of the six Collins class subs. (Emphasis mine ~FN)

In all honesty, not an unusual predicament. Collins-class boats are small (like all diesels). Small ships mean small crews. This translates to more work for fewer people, so morale is a difficult commodity to maintain at best.

That notwithstanding, Her Majesty’s Australian Navy intends to purchase even MORE boats for the future, as something of a security blanket against impending threats in the area.

The released at the weekend calls for a doubling of the submarine fleet to 12 boats with a greater range, payload and capability than the current Collins-class. They will be capable of anti-shipping and anti-submarine warfare, strategic strike, mine detection and laying, intelligence collection and infiltration of special forces.

Building up their fleet to 12 submarines is a tall order. Since it will put the number of submarines (12) greater than the number of surface ships (11) it will also take an institutional change in attitude towards what is currently considered a less dignified. There is also the concern for experience.

The fact that there is no submarine Admiral in the Australian Navy highlights two things. A) The lack of a submarine supporter pushing their agenda at the highest levels. B) Submariners don’t grow on trees.

Submarining is dangerous business. Always has been. Despite their successes, the Soviets lost more than a few boats back in their day. So have we, even since World War II. The lessons, knowledge and experience required to safely operate in the oceans depths are not easily come by and cannot be gained quickly regardless of whatever arbitrary timeline placed upon you.

But, I would argue, the experience CAN be imported.

I’ve known more than a few sailors who have left the submarine service due to furstrations arriving from the stringent requirements surrounding nuclear power. This usually surfaces in some statement similar to, “I love submarines. I’d stay in if it wasn’t for nuclear power. Diesel boats would be awesome!” (Rest assured, colorful expletives will abound in the previous statement.)

As our Navy struggles for ideas to pay for manpower, increase numbers of submarine O-4 and O-5s, I say, why don’t we enter into a cooperative agreement to help the Australian Navy get the submarine program up and running at full speed?

I know I’d sign up! Time in Australia, working the diesel boats, standing up a force. All challenging work (except that living in Australia part. Not exactly “burdensome”). If we could get Australia to foot some of the cost of the exchange program I think we could establish and extremely mutually beneficial situation. It’d be a great program for our officers and enlisted to work on tactics and warfighting, without having to worry about maintain nuclear quals and the like.


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2 Responses to Out of the Box

  1. beebs says:

    Submarining is hard. Why do they expect to man up with new boats when the Aussies can’t man what they’ve got.

  2. beebs says:

    I had a few drinks with some Aussie officers back in 1981 at Lockwood Hall, Pearl HARBOR. They’d come up to train with us.

    Man, could those fellows pound them down!

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