Attack Sub Scranton Tests 24-Hour Watchbill

The submarine force has long resisted 24-hour watchbills during deployments, but the skipper of the first sub to test them said they yielded better sleep and more alert watchstanders than the standard 18-hour rotation. The Los Angeles-class attack submarine Scranton returned from a seven-month deployment in January, the first sub to try out a new schedule of eight-hour watches spread throughout a 24-hour day, rather than the old six-hour shifts.

More time to sleep was an obvious perk, Scranton’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Seth Burton told Navy Times, but it was really the extra downtime that led to the biggest improvements in his sailors’ performance and well-being. “Unless you’ve lived it, you don’t really understand it, but the 16 hours between watches is a huge difference from 12 hours between watches,” Burton said in a Jan. 21 phone interview. “They were able to do all their professional duties, and then get a lot of PT in, which was great for their physical conditioning. And that helps for their mental health and everything else.” The Navy has been studying human performance for decades, trying to figure out the best way to combat fatigue and diminished alertness while keeping up round-the-clock watches.

Burton said he had been involved with several experiments over the last decade under the direction of the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory in Groton, Conn., leading up to the Navy’s 2012 decision to allow 24-hour watchbills for submarines, which are in tune with the human body’s natural 24-hour rhythm. The chance to sleep at the same time every day was the biggest benefit for Scranton crew members, Burton said. That squares with the findings of sleep scientists. “What happens is, you actually get more benefit from the sleep,” said Nita Shattuck, who researches human performance at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.

How it works

Shattuck has published multiple papers on the importance of conforming to circadian rhythm in watch schedules. The human body naturally operates on a 24-hour cycle, with peaks and valleys in strength and energy recurring at about the same time every 24 hours. Put simply, an 18-hour watch schedule might have a submariner going to sleep at 10 p.m. one day, then 4 p.m. the next day and 10 a.m. the next. That schedule wreaks havoc on the body. The sailor might end up wide awake when it’s time to rack out, then barely keep his eyes open on watch the next day.

On the flip side, going to bed at 10 a.m. every day keeps everything running more smoothly, Shattuck said. And, Burton said, even if crew members weren’t getting a solid eight hours a night, the extra time made a difference. “Everyone sleeps differently. Some guys would only sleep maybe six hours, some guys would sleep maybe eight or nine hours,” he said. “But having that chunk of time every day, their quality of sleep was significantly better.”

The new schedule was better from an operational standpoint as well, Burton said. While a submarine is a self-contained environment, dealing with the outside world can be a challenge when everyone else is on a different schedule. For example, sailors who are on watch at the same time every day will be better able to deal with frequent situations, like an area crowded with fishing vessels every morning.

“In the six-hour schedule, you stand a different watch everyday, and then come back to the same watch in three days,” he said. Most of the crew worked in a “straight eights” model, with three teams working in eight-hour shifts. They rotated their watches about every three weeks, Burton said.

The sub’s supervisors and principle leadership were on an all-hands schedule, working a regular 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. day. That way, they were all awake for scheduled meetings and operational planning. Measures were in place to make sure the day-sleepers were interrupted as infrequently as possible.

“We didn’t run all-hands drills that would impact their sleep, unless it was a specific time, where we would broadcast ahead of time when it was going to be,” he said. “In material management, if there was a broken piece of equipment, it had to rise to a certain level of priority for me to allow people’s sleep to be interrupted to fix it.”

Burton admitted there had been some hesitation from crew members about the longer shifts, but by the end of the deployment, pretty much everyone had been converted. “Their biggest feedback was the stability of the schedule,” he said. “The opportunity to work out way more than they’re used to, and just being able to sleep the same time every day, made a world of difference in their mental psyche, as far as managing the daily challenges of life on a submarine.”

That extra time off also made up for the challenge of staying alert for two hours longer than usual.

Good reviews

Chief Electronics Technician (SS) Geoffrey Gimer, on his second deployment, said the new schedule didn’t require much of an adjustment. “The extra two hours of watch were mitigated by the extra time off watch,” he said. “Plus, there was always someone available to provide a watch relief in their off-going time since their on-coming was now eight hours, as well.” Rather than spend eight hours in the same spot, Burton scheduled a midwatch break for every shift, giving crew members half an hour to get something to eat and move around a bit.

The crew adjusted easily to the schedule mentally as well as physically, he said. “The last two hours of a six-hour watch, you’re always looking forward to the end,” Burton said, “No matter how long the watch is, always at the last hour or two, you’re looking forward to the end of it.”

On his second deployment, Machinist’s Mate 1st Class (SS) Correy Wilson said the adjustment period after rotating watches wasn’t an issue, either. “It usually took me at least a week for my body to get used to the new schedule, but once adjusted, I couldn’t tell the difference,” he said.

The longer days also saved some time in the larger scheme of things.

“I was excited about the potential efficiency of it,” Lt. j.g. Brendan McCook said. “Every transition costs some time (pre-watch briefs, meal time, etc.), so minimizing the number of the transitions created some time in a schedule where even a little time is very valuable.”

All three sailors, who answered Navy Times’ questions via email, said they liked the 24-hour model, each sleeping about six hours a night on average and spending their downtime on collateral duty, studying, training or working out.

For the first few months after the Navy opened up the 24-watch option for submarines, Burton said, sub commanders from boats on both coasts were calling him for advice on implementing the new system.

“We were getting routine requests for our models, of how we’re doing our schedules, how we’re managing laundry, all the things that you never think about,” he said.

Burton said he understands the reluctance of some submarine crews to switch, but if it works with your operational schedule, he suggests giving it a try.

“I would never say you have to do this or you must do this,” he said. “My biggest advice would be to remain open to it. It’s a very viable option.”

Seawolf's Chief of the Boat Relieved for 'Performance Issue'

The attack submarine Seawolf’s chief of the boat was fired Thursday due to unsatisfactory performance, the Navy said. Master Chief Electronics Technician (SS) Mark R. Philiposian was relieved of duty by Cmdr. Jeff Bierley, the Seawolf‘s commanding officer, the release said.

Philiposian, 41, has been the COB of Seawolf, homeported at Naval Base Kitsap in Bremerton, Wash., since December 2012. He has been administratively reassigned to Submarine Development Squadron 5 in Bangor, Wash., Seawolf’s homeport. A replacement has not been formally identified, Submarine Force Pacific spokesman Cmdr. Brook DeWalt told Navy Times.

“All options are under consideration, which will include installing a fully qualified chief of the boat,” he said. Command Master Chief (SS/SW) Jared Hofer, Submarine Development Squadron 5’s CMC, is the acting COB. DeWalt could not elaborate on the circumstances of the relief, only that it was a “performance-based issue” and did not stem from a single incident.

Philiposian enlisted in July 1989 and was previously assigned to Submarine Squadron 1 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. His awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, DeWalt said. Philiposian did not immediately respond to requests for comment via email, Facebook and Twitter. His personal Twitter profile lists him as a “U.S. Navy submariner, proud Chief Petty Officer, husband, dad, yacht racer.”

Hagel Orders Urgent Push For Ethics Crackdown

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wants military leaders to inject more urgency into ensuring "moral character and moral courage" in a force suffering a rash of ethical lapses.

Hagel has been worried by a string of scandals that has produced a wave of unwelcome publicity for the military. But in light of new disclosures this week, including the announcement of alleged cheating among senior sailors in the nuclear Navy, Hagel on Wednesday demanded a fuller accounting of the depth of the problem.

Last month the Air Force revealed it was investigating widespread cheating on proficiency tests among nuclear missile launch officers in Montana, and numerous senior officers in all branches of the armed forces have been caught in embarrassing episodes of personal misbehavior, inside and outside the nuclear force. The Air Force also is pursuing a drug use investigation, and a massive bribery case in California has ensnared six Navy officers so far.

At the same time, hundreds of soldiers and others are under criminal investigation in what the Army describes as a widespread scheme to take fraudulent payments and kickbacks from a National Guard recruiting program. The steady drumbeat of one military ethics scandal after another has caused many to conclude that the misbehavior reflects more than routine lapses.

"He definitely sees this as a growing problem," Hagel's chief spokesman, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, told a Pentagon news conference Wednesday after Hagel met privately with the top uniformed and civilian officials of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. "And he's concerned about the depth of it," Kirby said. "I don't think he could stand here and tell you that he has - that anybody has - the full grasp here, and that's what worries (Hagel) is that maybe he doesn't have the full grasp of the depth of the issue, and he wants to better understand it."

Hagel's predecessor, Leon Panetta, had launched an effort to crack down on ethics failures more than a year ago, and the matter has been a top priority for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, for even longer. Kirby said Hagel has come to realize that he needs to investigate as well.

"We don't fully know right now what we're grappling with here and how deep and serious it is," Kirby said. "And I think, you know, for a leader at his level with the responsibilities that he carries every day, not knowing something like that is something to be concerned about. And he wants to know more."

Hagel believes that the vast majority of military members are "brave, upright and honest," and he is encouraged by efforts already underway to curb misconduct, including sexual assaults, Kirby said.

But Hagel told the service leaders Wednesday that he "also believes there must be more urgency behind these efforts" and that all Pentagon leaders must "put renewed emphasis on developing moral character and moral courage in our force." Kirby was asked whether Hagel believes ethics lapses are a symptom of overuse of the military for the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"He believes that that is a factor that should be looked at," the spokesman said.  A significant portion of the concern about military misbehavior is aimed at two segments of the nuclear force: the Air Force's land-based nuclear missile corps and the Navy's training program for operators of nuclear reactors used as propulsion systems for submarines and aircraft carriers. Neither of those fields was directly involved in significant ways in either of the wars since 2001.

The Navy announced on Tuesday that it opened an investigation into cheating allegations against about 30 senior sailors representing about one-fifth of its instructors at a school for naval nuclear power reactor operators based in Charleston, S.C. Unlike an Air Force cheating probe that has implicated nearly 100 officers responsible for land-based nuclear missiles that stand ready for short-notice launch, those implicated in the Navy investigation have no responsibility for nuclear weapons.

The Navy said its implicated sailors are accused of having cheated on written tests they must pass to be certified as instructors at the nuclear propulsion school. A number of them are alleged to have transmitted test information to other instructors from their home computers, which if verified would be a violation of restrictions on the use and transmission of classified information. The matter was being probed by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

Separately, Kirby announced that the Pentagon has picked two retired officers to lead an independent review of personnel problems inside the Air Force and Navy nuclear forces. They are Larry Welch, a former Air Force chief of staff, and John Harvey, a retired Navy admiral and nuclear-trained surface warfare officer.

Work Begins on Sub That Won't Hit Fleet Until 2030

Over the next several years, General Dynamics Electric Boat plans to add several new buildings to its facility here, double its workforce, and invest about $150 million -- all as preparation for the construction of the Navy's next-generation nuclear-armed submarine.

Early prototyping is already under way at Electric Boat for the Ohio Replacement Program (ORP), a high-tech, 560-foot long, nuclear-powered submarine. Navy leaders have announced plans to build 12 ORPs, with the first one slated to enter service in the early 2030s. General Dynamics Electric Boat is working on a five-year technology development contract worth up to $1.85 billion on the submarine that has come to be known simply as ORP.

These investments come at a time when the majority of the defense industry is scaling back investments because of smaller government defense budgets -- an interesting move during the days of sequestration and reductions.

The ramp up comes as Electric Boat starts the program's initial technology development phase, an effort that involves early design work and some early prototyping welding missile tubes to portions of the hull, said Brian Wilson, ORP program manager, Electric Boat. At Quonset Point, a new hull manufacturing center will begin construction in the third quarter of this year, a building which will eventually be joined with a new module outfitting facility, said Robert Hamilton, director of communications, Electric Boat.  In addition to possibly increasing the Quonset Point workforce from 2,900 up to 6,000 by 2020, Electric Boat may add thousands of workers at its Groton, Conn., facility as well -- the location for final integration and testing of new submarines, Hamilton explained.

The Quonset Point facility in Rhode Island is one of three Electric Boat manufacturing and development sites, with the others being New London and Groton. The facilities are all currently working on construction of at least five Block III Virginia-class attack submarines at the moment, company officials said.

Block III is an eight-ship block of submarines and the first two have already been built, said Sean Davies, general manager, Quonset Point, Electric Boat. The construction of Block III Virginia-class submarine is divided up among Electric Boat in Groton, and Huntington Ingalls Industries, or HII, in Newport News, Va.

"The Navy has a 30-year ship building plan. We are building to support the Navy acquisition strategy," Davies said. Navy leaders have emphasized that the service hopes to produce the ORP for less than $6 billion per boat.

Submarine construction has evolved over the years to incorporate greater degrees of efficiency and computer automation, Davies explained.  There are some parts of the process where welding specifications are communicated via computer screen, for example. Steel plates are blasted and bent before being welded into a complete cylinder, Davies explained. A cylinder uses three steel plates rolled by a 5,000-ton press, he added.

"The submarine hull cylinders are built to tight tolerances for circularity. We try to build a circle as perfect as we can because a perfect circle behaves much better when it is subjected to external pressure than a circle that is not perfect," said Davies. Each cylinder forms a small portion of the submarine's hull; cylinders are then joined together to form what's called modules, or blocks of the submarines body. The hull surface is given a series of coats for corrosion prevention.

Much of the construction such as the loading of pipes, tanks and electrical equipment is all done in a shop environment prior to final assembly of the hull, in order to minimize costs to construction and increase efficiency, Davies explained.

The coating on the hull has become more efficient as well. Historically individual tiles were glued onto the hull with the desired coating, whereas now there are a series of molds that apply to the hull, enabling a much more efficient process, he said. The Navy and Electric Boat have partnered up over the years through a program called capital investments, strategies to hopefully cut the costs of manufacturing the Navy's submarine fleet. Navy officials hope to see the investment pay off for ORP and even within the Virginia-class fleet.

With the Virginia-class submarine program, General Dynamics Electric Boat and the Navy together invested $9.4 million in a light metal fabrication shop at Quonset Point, an investment expected to yield $31 million in savings to the program.

  As part of the same strategy, $13.1 million was spent on a module transportation system which will save an estimated $98.6 million.  About $18.2 million was invested in a main construction building at the Groton facility, a move which is expected to yield $81.3 million in savings.

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