Does your senior management team wait for your orders before they act, or have they learned to think for themselves?
27 January 1999—Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; 153 days to deployment
The chart table on a submarine gets to be a crowded spot. Dave Adams, Bill Greene, and the XO were crowded around the chart table with me.
Where was the enemy going? I scanned the chart and it came to me. I saw that they were likely heading for some congested waters near Maui.
“Here, we need to be here at 0600.” I tapped the chart with the butt end of the flashlight at a spot in the Maui basin. If the enemy were indeed heading toward those congested waters, this location, upslope from them, looking into the deeper, quieter water, would be the spot from which we would launch our attack.
It was midnight. I was exhausted and needed a couple hours of sleep. We’d gone into Pearl Harbor and picked up Commodore Kenny and his inspection team. The ship was doing well, but I felt I needed to be too many places at once. For this, the overnight supervisors would have to drive Santa Fe into position: accounting for the movements of the enemy, the interfering maritime traffic, the wind and sea conditions, and a number of other factors.
I looked around. Heads nodded. Any questions? There were none. “Okay, call me if anything comes up that interferes with this plan or may make us want to reconsider it.”
A more enlightened approach would have been to engage in a discussion about why I came up with the position and what assumptions were key to making that position work. That’s what I wanted to do, but I just didn’t have the energy anymore. All day, every day, it seemed like that’s all I did. It was tiresome. I tried to stay as quiet as possible and let the officers run things with “I intend to . . .” but top-down was ingrained in how we operated.
28 January 1999—On board Santa Fe (152 days to deployment)
When I got up at 0500, I was dismayed to find out that we were several miles out of position. Not only that, we were headed in the wrong direction, away from the enemy! Now the enemy was likely to be upslope of us! It would take several hours to reverse the situation, which was a tactical blunder that would result in a down check during an inspection but could spell death during combat. The watch team had allowed a series of short-term contacts and navigational issues to drive them rather than driving the ship to an optimal tactical position. We were still letting things happen to us rather than proactively making things happen.
Commodore Kenny was in the control room, observing our team’s interactions. I was exasperated but kept my cool. I realized the failure was mine. We weren’t going to be able to go from top-down management to bottom-up leadership overnight.
My immediate reaction was to think that I needed to manage everything more carefully—“I should have checked at 0300”—but this would have put me back into the exact same situation I was in on board the Will Rogers. There needed to be a way out of this. Upon reflection, I decided that giving specific direction, as in my statement “We need to be here at 0600,” without the underlying thought processes just didn’t work in the complex and unpredictable world we were in. There were no shortcuts. As the level of control is divested, it becomes more and more important that the team be aligned with the goal of the organization. At this point, although I’d talked about accomplishing our mission (a positive goal), the team was still in the old mind-set of avoiding problems (in this case, avoiding contacts to ensure counter-detection and minimize risk of collision). When it came to prosecuting the enemy, a correct assessment of risk versus gain would have been more focused on driving the submarine to an optimal tactical position rather than avoiding contacts.
For the next several hours, we worked our way toward a better tactical position. We’d be making good progress, then have to turn back to avoid a fishing boat and lose ground. Santa Fe was operating at periscope depth in shallow water, so each turn took several minutes. It was slow going.
“Up scope.” The OOD rolled the ring, and the hydraulics began lifting the periscope the 18 feet to its fully raised position.
Santa Fe was just beneath the surface of the water. Even with the scope raised, a short pole of only about 2 feet would be visible above the surface. Still, the surface was quite smooth today and even at our slow speed our periscope could be visible. We’d raise the periscope for just a few seconds, rapidly look around, and lower it again.
We were in the final stages of a cat-and-mouse game with the enemy diesel submarine. The simulated war had escalated to the point where Santa Fe was authorized to sink it.
The enemy had picked this area deliberately. The shallow uneven bottom reduced the effectiveness of the torpedo, and to ensure a hit we would need a precise idea of the enemy’s location. The best way to do this would be to actually see it, which is why we were at periscope depth, looking for the enemy sub visually. To accomplish this, we had packed more than twenty men into the control room, a space roughly half the area of a typical Starbucks.
We carried the Mk 48 ADCAP (for advanced capability) torpedo. It is a devastating weapon against both surface ships and submarines. We launch the torpedo to intercept the target like a hunter leads a duck. In addition, the torpedo has its own sonar system, looking for the target for a precise intercept. Not only that, but the torpedo streams a wire behind it that stays connected to the submarine. This way we could see what the torpedo was seeing and redirect the torpedo, sending steering orders down the wire, if necessary.
“Target!” Amid the buoys and haze, and against the Hawaiian Islands as a backdrop, the OOD saw the enemy’s periscope and immediately lowered ours. If we could see him, he could see us.
“Captain, recommend firing point procedures!” Dave Adams was pushing me to order the attack and I liked that. As weapons officer, he knew we had all the pieces together for a successful shot: weapons loaded and ready in the tubes, an accurate bead on the target, and authorization to engage. Waiting for more precise information would only give the enemy more time to detect us.
“Very well, weps.” I wanted to acknowledge his initiative.
I ordered the attack. “Firing point procedures, submarine. Tube 1 primary, tube 2 backup.”
I wiped the sweat off my brow.
The standard litany followed that order, as principal assistants reported readiness to launch. The next words I heard, however, were not part of that litany.
“Request to raise the BRA-34 to copy the broadcast.”
What? Raise the radio antenna?
We were at the end of our 12-hour broadcast cycle. It was time to get our messages. We’d avoided raising this antenna because it sticks out of the water higher than the periscope and would need to remain up for several minutes, making detection of Santa Fe likely.
I resisted the urge to throw a fit. I glanced at Commodore Kenny, who was standing to the side of the control room. He was trying hard not to grin. Clearly, his radio inspector had been keeping him informed that we were approaching 12 hours on the broadcast and that the deadline to copy our message traffic would likely come right at the worst time.
Tempted as I was to bark orders at this moment, I looked at my shoes instead. “We’re not going to do that,” I muttered. “We have to find another solution.” Even if we lost the opportunity to attack right then, I needed to get everyone on board thinking.