image of cover

image caption follows
HMASSheean(SSG-77) conducting their Air Sea Safety Assesment off Garden Island in Western Australia.
Photo courtesy of Defence Australia.

by Cmdr. Stephen Mack, USN

Historic Allies

The United States and Australian Submarine Forces enjoy a particularly strong relationship, going all the way back to World War II when U.S. submarines stationed in Fremantle, Albany, and Brisbane conducted highly successful war patrols with the support and friendship of the Australians. In fact, the most successful submarine of World War II in terms of tonnage sunk, USS Flasher (SS-249), was stationed in Fremantle. For many years there has been a post-XO [executive officer], command-screened, U.S. submarine officer serving on the staff of the Commander, Australian Naval Submarine Group, the Group responsible for operational preparedness of Australia’s submarines as well as tactical development. At the same time, Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet has an Australian command-served submariner on his staff, working for the Director for Training, Tactical Development, Doctrine, and Knowledge Management (OPNAV N7).

The relationship between the two submarine forces is not solely based on personnel exchanges. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and the United States Navy (USN) recently embarked on an Armaments Cooperative Program for the joint development of the Mk 48 CBASS torpedo. Coinciding with this program is the installation of a new fire control system on Collins-class submarines—the very same AN/BYG-1 being installed on U.S. submarines, known on Australian submarines as the Replacement Combat System (RCS).

The cooperative effort on the Fire Control System and the CBASS weapon is an historic event. The United States and Australia are jointly developing, producing, and installing this complete weapons system. The installation plan for the fire control system is fully integrated between Australian SSGs and United States SSNs with the CBASS torpedo being delivered concurrently to both navies.

Enlisted Sailors on Collins-class Submarines

This successful cooperative effort does not stop with installed equipment. The first U.S. Navy Submariner in history to earn Australian Dolphins recently did so onboard HMAS Rankin (SSG-78). Petty Officer 2nd Class (SS) Kris Davis is one of six U.S. sonar technicians currently stationed in Australia and serving on Collins-class submarines. This newest and most unique enhancement to the Personnel Exchange Program (PEP) offers huge benefits to both submarine forces. On a personal and professional level these six sailors have the opportunity to live in Australia and serve on Australian diesel submarines. From the experience gained by them and others who will follow, the U.S. Navy will come to better understand the capabilities of diesel submarines. In the near term, Australia gains operators with at sea experience on the reconfigurable commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) based fire control and integrated sonar systems they are installing.

So who are these lucky sailors playing a key role in this expanding partnership? All came from Pearl Harbor-based submarines and all are single. However, it should be noted that neither homeport nor marital status was a requirement for selection. They arrived in Australia in two different groups —the first group of four in February 2007 and the second group of two in June 2007. In the first group are Petty Officer 3rd Class (SS) Corey Rothrock [USS Columbia (SSN-771)], Petty Officer 2nd Class (SS) Evan Butler [USS Honolulu (SSN-718)], Petty Officer 2nd Class (SS) Vince Campo [USS Columbia (SSN-771)] and Petty Officer 2nd Class (SS) Kris Davis [USS Buffalo (SSN-715)]. They are all first tour sailors and all were standout performers on their boats. In the second group are Petty Officer 1st Class (SS) Joshua Seward [USS Chicago (SSN-721)] and Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Mays [USS Olympia (SSN-717)]. Petty Officer 1st Class (SS) Seward is the senior sailor of the group with over 10 years service on several other submarines.

The six will serve on three different Collins-class submarines, standing watch underway and duty in port. Petty Officers Campo and Rothrock are serving on HMAS Waller (SSG-75)—the first Australian submarine to complete the conversion to the Replacement Combat System. Waller will complete shakedown operations at the shipyard in Adelaide and arrive at her homeport in Western Australia at HMAS Stirling, Garden Island, Australia, in August to conduct trials on the weapons system.

Petty Officers Butler and Davis are serving onboard Rankin. She participated in Talisman Saber 07 and supported the U.S. Submarine Command Course in operations during August of 2007.

Petty Officers Seward and May reported for duty onboard HMAS Collins (SSG-73) in August. Collins will participate in several Australian exercises as well as train with the Australian Special Forces. Collins has recently undergone significant modifications to enable enhanced Special Forces capabilities.

Transitioning from operations on an SSN to an SSG is not as simple as sitting down in front of a new sonar display. There are drills to be learned, casualty procedures to memorize, and ship’s systems to become familiar with. The first order of business on arrival in the country was the provision of temporary quarters while looking for housing. In addition, all are issued Australian Military ID Cards, open a local bank account and begin acclimating themselves to the “land down under.” Petty Officer 2nd Class (SS) Campo and Petty Officer 3rd Class (SS) Rothrock had a head start on some aspects of the adjustment, as they were onboard USS Columbia when she pulled into HMAS Stirling Naval Base in 2006. For the remaining four, this was an entirely new experience.

Collins-class submarines are manned by a crew of roughly 50 personnel. These sonar technicians will fill a billet on their boats as an Able Seaman Acoustic Warfare Analyst (ABAWA). In addition to standing watch at sea, they must be trained in safety and damage control, and be ready to respond to any casualty in accordance with the Watch, Quarter, and Station Bill. The two newest petty officers’ to arrive are currently attending a seven-week training sequence designed to prepare them for safe at-sea operations. This is the same course that prospective Royal Australian Navy submariners go through and consists of classroom and hands-on training on everything from weapons handling, to submarine escape, to topside safety. The first four to arrive completed this training in April.

While there are many similarities in submarines of different construction and classification, the first four petty officers have discovered that there are many differences as well. Spaces that are functionally the same as on a Los Angeles-class SSN are called something different on a Collins-class SSG. Damage control gear is stowed in different locations and response teams are organized and employed in a different manner. Some common aspects include the high degree of professionalism, a strong level of knowledge, and the submariner sense of camaraderie.

The Royal Australian Navy operates six Collins-class submarines with Waller being the first to complete the conversion to the Replacement Combat System. The remaining five will undergo the conversion in shipyard periods over the next four years. During this period, there are plans for the U.S./RAN submarine personnel exchange program to continue to grow and strengthen the bonds between these two allies.

Royal Australian Navy Next Page>>