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Another area of significant change is in the Submariner’s technological matchup against the adversary. Along with the changes in weapons and tactics, advancements in submarine technology have increased the potential of the submarine warrior to successfully engage today’s adversaries. Technological improvements have made every part of the ship more capable, from the nuclear powered propulsion plant to the electronic combat systems (sonar, fire control, and electronic support). No longer is the commanding officer limited by diesel or battery propulsion; it was nuclear power that made our ships truly submarines vice submersible surface ships. These advances tipped the scales significantly in the submarine’s favor, enabling greater stealth and lower risk during antisurface attacks. Any comparison of the boldness of the heroes of WWII to the boldness required to succeed in a conflict today is clouded by these technological advancements, and is somewhat like comparing the bold tactics of a musket-carrying minuteman during the Revolutionary War to those of a U.S. Marine in the Iraqi desert. The submarine is no longer a blunt object; it is a razor sharp implement in battle, and requires our submarine crews to have a different set of skills and procedures than their predecessors.

Boldness and Procedures: Not Mutually Exclusive
Our WWII commanding officers followed procedures. Early in the war, adherence to the outdated procedures and tactics contributed to their ineffectiveness. The new, more effective commanding officers did not abandon their procedures either, but the guidance had evolved and incorporated the lessons learned from the early patrols, and their disciplined execution of that improved guidance led to success. If our WWII heroes had not followed strict, disciplined and practiced torpedo firing guidance, any bold and dare-devil action to get into a firing position would have fallen short. Their boldness was not at odds with procedural compliance; one required the other to be successful in battle.

Accepting procedural compliance and thorough preparation as the bedrock of our Force does not preclude the propensity for boldness, but fosters an atmosphere that prevents bold decisions from becoming rash behavior (e.g. 2001 USS Greeneville (SSN 772) collision). Operating equipment and systems by procedure provides operators the bandwidth for innovative and clever response to unforeseen events during battle. The procedures, doctrine, and tactical guidance are the base plans. A crew that cannot operate efficiently by those plans prevents the commanding officer from successfully executing bold decisions in battle. The “fighting ship of the highest order” resulted from both boldness and adherence to guidance and procedures–the foundation of safe operations.


Falklands Conflict —1982
On April 3, 1982, HMS Conqueror (S 48) got underway from Faslane Naval Base, Scotland, one day after Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. Soon after arriving in the vicinity of the Falklands, Conqueror found the light cruiser ARA General Belgrano operating as part of a surface action group (SAG). The British submarine operated in close proximity to the enemy vessels for two days, holding them at risk and avoiding counterdetection. Once ordered to attack, the fire control party on Conqueror refined their solution for hours before pulling the trigger. After Belgrano went down, Conqueror’s crew dodged attempts by the Argentine Air Force to locate her. She continued to patrol in the area, playing a valuable deterrent role, and the Argentinian fleet retreated to its bases for the remainder of the conflict. Conqueror’s ability to complete its mission required strict adherence to procedures. When it came time for action the crew operated the ship as they were trained. During the 21-day transit from Scotland to the Falklands the CO and XO made their preparations for war–18-hour training days were the regimen set by the leadership. Bold leadership was required by the CO and XO to motivate the crew into a wartime posture and to make them take their role in the war seriously. The crew doubted the need for Conqueror to train as hard as they did; when the order came, the ship was ready due to the strict training regimen driven by the commanding officer.


Boldness Rightly Understood: Deliberate Decision Making
To demonstrate boldness–the willingness to act decisively in the face of risk to accomplish a mission–the leader should not act without evaluating that risk. To prepare his team for risks, the commanding officer should put mitigating measures in place to keep his ship and team safe and provide the best chance of success. This deliberate decision making, with sufficient preparation, makes the bold decision rarely necessary in peacetime–though the commanding officer’s intuitive decision-making will often be called for.

During peacetime, the commanding officer must prepare himself, and his crew, to be ready if hostilities arise to make bold decisions to accomplish a wartime mission. The commanding officer can do this when risk to the crew is low (e.g. in the attack center) and by making deliberate decisions to meet our peacetime requirements. In peacetime, it is rare that the accomplishment of a mission requires action without evaluating and mitigating risk.

One example of deliberate decision making is the set of actions to get a submarine underway following an extended maintenance period. Before a submarine gets underway, the crew prepares the ship in accordance with procedures. The commanding officer receives reports from the department heads and executive officer on readiness for underway–status of equipment, supplies, personnel, and any discrepancies to the optimal status–while managing a planned underway time. The individual ship’s movement is woven into a complex schedule including multiple boats to meet national-level tasking. A delay in getting the ship underway may have ramifications to the schedule of other boats or result in the loss of an important mission. A submarine is a complex machine and will rarely be without some discrepancy when the ship gets underway. The crew is well trained to compensate for the discrepancies, and the commanding officer must make a deliberate decision on what is acceptable.

Once underway, operating in the local area, on mission or on patrol, the commanding officer is continually making deliberate decisions. At times, the commanding officer must force ingenuity and initiative by making the deliberate decision to keep his ship and team out to sea. A commanding officer with a deliberate attitude leads the crew to devise clever ways to solve problems that they never thought possible, and in turn allows the ship to continue to fight or complete its tasking. All the while, the commanding officer, having the utmost respect for the dangers inherent in operating a nuclear powered submarine at sea, makes decisions with the procedures and guidance in mind.

What Causes Our Junior Officers to Juxtapose Boldness and Procedural Compliance?
Why do some of our junior officers misunderstand procedural compliance as inflexibility, rather than as the bedrock foundation for bold and deliberate action? Are commanding officers clearly articulating the value of this foundation and illustrating when and where deliberate decisions were made? Do our commanding officers clearly explain how they would make bold decisions in battle? Do they use exercises or attack center time to demonstrate bold action? Are the lessons learned at the commanding officer’s level fed back to our young officers? These questions could be valuable wardroom training topics.

Why do our young officers see boldness and procedural compliance as mutually exclusive? When we are young leaders our vision is mostly focused inward and we do not always see the difference between what it takes to operate and manage the submarine (internal operating procedures) and what it takes to succeed in battle (boldness and creativity grounded in the guidance). The Submarine Force relies on our junior officers to focus mainly on the internal operations of the ship while learning how the ship interacts with its external environment. Their internal focus is on the tasks that don’t normally make the highlight reel, but do require perfecting the procedures and guidance–operating the complex machinery, entering contacts into the fire-control system, reporting contacts to the OOD, manipulating the ship’s control surfaces. Internally, there is little need for boldness or creativity under normal conditions; but externally, deliberate action and sometimes boldness are required.

The role of the junior officer has always been critical to the success of the command. During WWII and today, the commanding officer is only successful in operating the ship if the internal processes are being managed well by the junior officers so he can focus on the external environment. “A fighting ship of the highest order” can only occur if deliberate or bold action is grounded firmly on the proper operation of the submarine.

Lt. Rob Szeligowski is the Flag Aide to Rear Adm. Barry Bruner, OPNAV N97, and previously served on USS Maine (SSBN 741) (B). Capt. (sel.) Anthony Carullo is the Executive Assistant to Rear Adm. Bruner, and previously commanded USS Greeneville (SSN 772).

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