by MC2(SW) Corey Hensley
Over the last two years, the U.S. Navy’s submarine tenders, USS Frank Cable (AS 40) and USS Emory S. Land (AS 39), have successfully integrated Military Sealift Command civilian mariners into their crews of active duty Sailors, expanding the ships’ mission capabilities and achieving continued success in their support to the Submarine Force.
“With all the hard work our Sailors have done, now more than ever, we have the ability to repair submarines wherever the operational commander requires, and in a contingency situation that may call us away from Guam,” said Frank Cable’s current commanding officer, Capt. Pete Hildreth.
Responsibility for both tenders’ navigation, deck operations, engineering and food services lies with MSC personnel, while Sailors handle the ships’ support structures and the repair missions. Both Sailors and civil service mariners share responsibility for supply and damage control. Frank Cable is also tasked to provide fully trained Sailors for expeditionary manning to Emory S. Land, forward-deployed to Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory, so that the ship can successfully maintain her repair and weapon repair mission capabilities.
“Land’s hybrid crew of permanent party Sailors, the MSC component and expeditionary manning presents a unique workforce,” said Capt. Glenn W. Pendrick, Emory S. Land’s commanding officer. “This expeditionary manning allows us to harness the strengths of our sister ship Frank Cable, and put capable Sailors into work centers to train others while producing results. When you put these factors together, we are able to provide first rate service to the fleet.”
At the end of January 2011, Frank Cable executed a successful port visit to Sepanggar, Malayasia—her first port visit since the shipyard period in which she was converted to a U.S. Navy/MSC hybrid ship. The tender took the Los Angeles-class submarine USS Houston (SSN 713) alongside. This visit focused on developing our partnership with the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN). During her time in port, Frank Cable hosted a reception and tours of the ship for the RMN and encouraged interaction between Sailors of both navies, including a soccer game.
Capt. Tom Stanley, Frank Cable’s then-commanding officer, said his goal was for his Sailors to realize how much they have in common with the RMN and the people of Malaysia. “We all have a great deal of national pride, and we all want the best for our country, families and friends,” Stanley said at the time.
Frank Cable followed up her visit in Maylasia with two more successful port visits in Hong Kong in May 2011, and Subic, Republic of Philippines that July, where she offered tended support to the Los Angeles-class submarines USS Hampton (SSN 767) and USS Santa Fe (SSN 763). While in Subic Bay, Frank Cable also underwent repairs to replace fittings, handrails and parts of the hull. “Using local contractors was a great opportunity for us to work on Frank Cable while we supported Santa Fe’s visit, which for them was mostly a liberty port, but we did do some minor repairs too,” Hildreth said looking back two years at his first port visit with Frank Cable. “It was a good visit for our crew because we also did some great community service projects.”
Throughout that year, Frank Cable’s repair department demonstrated the importance of the operational expansion of sub tenders in the Western Pacific. Her Sailors completed seven continuous maintenance availabilities, 52 unscheduled and scheduled voyage repair availabilities, and 14 remote-site fly away team repairs. In all, Frank Cable completed 3,200 jobs with over 235,000 man-hours for repairs to submarines and surface ships in both the 5th and 7th Fleet. These exploits would eventually lead to the ship receiving the Chief of Naval Operation’s nomination for the 2011 Secretary of Defense Maintenance award.
“If you look back at the summer of 2011, we sent welders to Darwin, Australia to repair some steam piping on USS Cleveland (LPD 7), and we had diver fly-away teams to Bahrain. We’ve done work in Singapore and we’ve sent guys to Okinawa to support maintenance over there,” Hildreth said. “The work is usually critical, and usually required to get that submarine or surface ship back into the fight, back into the mission.”
Frank Cable also saw the restoration of several mission-critical elements that were lost over the last six years such as the capability to perform motor generator commutator and periscope repairs; the use of the dive chamber; the restoration of the port and starboard traveling cranes; and the 30 ton repair and boat crane recertification.
“The periscope repair capability is a big deal because we’ve always had the ability to take periscopes on and off ships, and then package them and ship them back to the in-service engineering agent. We can now do some of those repairs ourselves on board, and that can save the government quite a bit of money,” Hildreth said. “The operational dive chamber really does give us flexibility to support diving operations, in Guam as well as in any port where the tender is located.”
Also with the homeporting of Los Angeles-class submarine USS Oklahoma City (SSN 723) in Guam, the requirement to establish a submarine Tomahawk VLS repair capability was paramount. Frank Cable’s crew was up for the challenge and executed the first repairs to a SSN VLS system ever performed in the Western Pacific. By the end of 2011, she also successfully loaded live submarine Capsule Launch System (CLS) Tomahawk missiles onto Oklahoma City in Guam.
The end of 2011 also brought a temporary changing to the guard as Emory S. Land arrived in Guam to relieve Frank Cable as the primary maintenance activity in the 7th Fleet so Cable could prepare for an upcoming dry dock period in Portland, Oregon. Emory S. Land, too, saw significant events and changes happen in 2011. It was her first full year being forward deployed to her new homeport in Diego Garcia and her second year, like Frank Cable, working with an MSC integrated crew.
In the first half of the year, Emory S. Land saw two voyage repair periods in port in Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates; inspections and audits; and other port calls to Mina Salman, Bahrain and Goa, India. In the first of her two port visits to Bahrain, Emory S. Land tended USS Hampton (SSN 767). While in India, she tended another Los Angeles-class submarine, USS La Jolla (SSN 701), and hosted a reception for the Royal Indian Navy.
Through multiple port visits, Emory S. Land, supported Los Angeles-class submarines USS Bremerton (SSN 698), USS Springfield (SSN 761), USS Dallas (SSN 700), USS Columbia (SSN 771); Ohio-class submarine USS Georgia (SSGN 729), and Virginia-class submarine USS Texas (SSN 775).
“We are a forward-deployed expeditionary floating maintenance activity capable of providing a dynamic array of repair services to keep forces afloat, back into the fleet, and back to the pointy tip of the spear,” Pendrick said. Like Frank Cable, Emory S. Land also spent time in Sepanggar, Malaysia, participating in theater security cooperation with the RMN, and hosting a reception. She also traveled to Subic Bay, Philippines, to conduct another voyage repair period. Emory S. Land spent 77 percent of the year deployed before she arrived in Guam in November 2011 to begin turnover with Frank Cable. Once Frank Cable left for Portland for her Regular Overhaul and Dry Docking availability in early January 2012, Emory S. Land integrated most of her sister ship’s crew, almost 750 Sailors, to assist in carrying out her new responsibilities as the primary maintenance activity on Guam and in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility.
Emory S. Land was kept busy. In June 2011, she had six submarines in port for maintenance; this was the first time this had occurred in Guam’s Apra Harbor since 2002. Emory S. Land tended Los Angeles-class fast attack submarines USS Topeka (SSN 754), USS Tucson (SSN 770), USS Buffalo (SSN 715), USS Chicago (SSN 721), USS Columbus (SSN 762), and Ohio-class guided missile submarine USS Michigan (SSGN 727).
According to then-commanding officer Capt. Paul Savage, Emory S. Land “could never have accomplished this level of maintenance without the repair and supply support from all the Sailors that are temporarily assigned to us from Frank Cable.” Late July saw Frank Cable return to Guam During her time in dry dock. Significant improvements were made to the ship which would be crucial to her continuing maintenance support to submarines in the Pacific. Improvements to the ship were designed to maintain mission effectiveness for the next several years.
“We restored the hull and, from a material condition standpoint, that was a huge win,” said Hildreth. “We made refinements in the propulsion plant. We put in improved boiler automation controls and improved controls on the steam auxiliary, which means we are much more fuel efficient. I burn less gas going faster than I did before, and that increases our operational flexibility.” After Frank Cable’s return from Portland, the crew immediately set about returning to business as usual as the repair department restored capabilities that lay idle during the availability. The crew completed three continuous maintenance availabilities, 14 unscheduled voyage repair availabilities, and remote-site fly away team repairs completing 1,100 jobs with over 50,000 man-hours of work.
In September, the ship returned to Subic to support the Virginia-class submarine USS Hawaii (SSN 776). Sailors took the opportunity to engage with people from the local area through community relations (COMREL) projects and assisted the Philippine Navy with a recently acquired asset.
“That was a pretty dynamic port visit,” Hildreth said. “We had COMRELS, we had the submarine alongside, and we did some diving work on that unit. Also, at the invitation of the embassy, we were asked to go over to the Philippine Navy’s flagship, BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF 15), and indentified things we could fix for a reasonable cost.”
Several Sailors volunteered to assist Del Pilar with maintenance, technical assistance, and training. Del Pilar is the former USCGC Hamilton (WHEC 715), which was transferred to the Republic of the Philippines Navy in May 2011 under the Excess Defense Articles Act and Foreign Assistance Act.
“I think it really demonstrated the flexibility of a tender and the workforce we have. I think it was a great exchange of ideas, and my impression was that they really appreciated our help getting their ship back out to sea,” Hildreth said.
Adding to Frank Cable’s growing set of mission-critical capabilities was the installation of several major pieces of equipment in the ship’s machine shop: two HAAS ST-20 lathes, a FLO-JET waterjet machine, two Weiler Precision manual lathes, and two Monarch small part precision lathes.
The upgrade to the ship’s ability to repair submarines has the crew excited about the possibilities of completing jobs faster and with greater precision. According to Machinery Repairman 1st Class James Garrison, machines like the waterjet make short work of test flanges, equipment-specific spanner wrenches, and all manner of brackets.
“The automated machinery is a welcome addition because it’s repeatable and drastically cuts down on machine time,” Garrison said. “For instance, a pump shaft that would take an experienced machinist four days to manually machine — the combination of automated lathe and mill can knock that down to less than 12 hours of total machine time.”
Frank Cable finished up 2012 with another port visit to Hong Kong in late November, and by exercising the ability to handle MK 48 Advanced Capability (ADCAP) torpedoes and submarine-launched Tomahawk missiles to and from submarines moored alongside the tender in Guam. The MSC crane operators, civilian mariners, and weapons department military personnel flawlessly carried out this weapons loading evolution proving the tender’s capability to load these weapons anywhere in the world.
“It’s really all about being able to tend submarines. By exercising the capability to reload alongside both VLS and torpedo tube launched missiles, and doing the first ever forward deployed SSGN reload, we’ve proven that we can do that” Hildreth said. “We just have to continue to exercise those capabilities so those skills stay sharp and expand where appropriate.”
Emory S. Land, meanwhile, finished up the year with an extended port visit to Subic in October, where she continued the work begun by Frank Cable; working with the crew of Del Pilar. Sailors coordinated with Naval Sea Systems Command and conducted almost 1,000 hours of repair work and training on Del Pilar, improving relations between the United States Navy and the Republic of the Philippines Navy in the process. After a port visit to Singapore, Emory S. Land returned to Subic in December to resume repair and training efforts with Del Pilar.
This year has brought even more achievements for the submarine tenders. After returning to CENTCOM, Emory S. Land carried out over 3,200 man-hours of services to one submarine and 15 surface ships in Bahrain. The crew repaired lagging, lockers, and pure water delivery systems and fabricated sheet metal lockers, Naugahyde, and Plexiglas for various vessels. They also performed ship-to-shop and in-place meter calibration, relief valve testing, welding, and brazing services.
“We provide a one-of-a-kind opportunity to the fleet through service; it’s a boundless mission model and an even greater experience,” said Pendrick.
Frank Cable started the year off by conducting a port visit to Saipan in the Marianas Islands, where she took La Jolla alongside and conducted repairs. Frank Cable also conducted a six-week underway that saw her return to Malaysia. Although most of the old crew was now gone, the impression they had left behind was evident as the RMN welcomed back the ship with open arms.
Also during the short deployment, Frank Cable made a port call in Thailand and a first-ever visit to Cebu, Philippines, where the mission was liberty.
“Looking back at the history of Frank Cable, the real thing that strikes me as different is the Sailors and the crew. How diverse the crew is, the importance of making sure you set the right tone and the right environment so that this large team of surface guys, submarine guys, nukes, CivMars [civilian mariners], that whole organization, can be effective and work together to accomplish the mission,” Hildreth said about being part of the ship’s legacy.
Much has changed since the introduction of the Emory S. Land-class submarine tenders in 1976. The tenders have proven to be flexible and capable and are critical to maintaining the robust forward presence of our attack submarine force in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.
Emory S. Land-class Submarine Tender History
On March 2, 1976, the keel was laid on the first of three Emory S. Land-class submarine tenders. A little over three years later on July 7, 1979, the namesake USS Emory S. Land (AS 39) was commissioned as a U.S. Naval ship. She was followed less than a year later on Feb 5, 1980, by USS Frank Cable (AS 40). By August 15, 1981, with the introduction of the USS McKee (AS 41), all three Emory S. Land-class submarine tenders were officially in commission.