In memoriam
Ralph Chatham, Ph.D. Oct 15, 1948 - May 18, 2013

In his work on training, Ralph became very interested in the way our brains create new circuits to deal with complicated procedures that we do enough times to become competent at. The usual example given is riding a bicycle or driving a manual transmission car, but Ralph also saw this pattern in being the Officer of the Deck (OOD) bringing a submarine up from the safe, undersea levels to periscope depth.

Excerpt from an e-mail to Greg Bunch on January 12, 2012:

you asked about the chunks of behaviors on going to periscope depth. So here is an incomplete list of the dance steps required:

Let's say it is night time. About 20 minutes before you want to be up, you rig the control room for red, (meaning all white lights go off and are replaced by red ones. You have been wearing red glasses for the whole watch to partially protect your night vision, now you can take off the glasses, and the others will get their night vision ready if one or another has to look out the scope or you end up having to surface. Also you, the Officer of the Deck, OOD, get to take off those darn goggles. By the way, the rest of the folks in the control room address you as "Conn," (short for conning officer). If the night is likely to be really dark, you rig control for Black, where every light but the ones behind the gauges and indicators goes off and they are illuminated dimly by red lights.

Tell the cook you are going to take some angles or will be in rough seas soon.

Clear baffles (turn your ship to look behind you where the sonar has been intentionally blinded so you don't hear your own engines) and listen on a new course at least 60° off of the last one for long enough for the Sonar room to call you and tell you what they hear. (You had called them as you changed course and said, "Sonar, Conn, clearing baffles to the left." and they immediately replied, "Conn, Sonar, clearing baffles the left, aye.") [I once went through this whole communication procedure with an obscure insurance agent who was writing a book about submarines. He said, "if I write it this way, nobody will read it." But Tom Clancy did get just enough of the flavor in the Hunt for Red October.

When Sonar reports back what they hear on the new course, what kinds of contacts, where they bear and how those bearings are changing, you sort out all the sonar contacts that they can hear in your head or on a plot and decide which ones are the most likely to run you over when you get near the surface.

Consider what you are going to do when you do get to periscope depth and how best to accomplish that (look around, get or send a message, track a navigational satellite, ventilate the boat... )

Try to guess which way the seas will be running and get your ship onto a course so that it will be easier for the planesmen to manage to keep the ship on depth within a foot or less.

On a ballistic missile-carrying boat, get the team set up to reel in a towed communication buoy. (The screw can cut the cable if you have it out when close to the surface and you take even a small down angle to keep the boat from broaching). There will be a "phone talker" with a headset who will stand to the side in the control room to report what is going on in this process. He will be connected to the radio room, and somebody back aft who watches the hydraulic operation of the buoy and the doors that will close over it when it gets stowed.) All these communications will be repeated by the phone talker so you and the Chief of the Watch who is nominally in charge of that part of the evolution can hear.

You also consider what speed you can take at periscope depth so that the periscope wake (feather) will not be too visible. (Sea state plus two knots).

Sort this all out and then find out where he is and call the Captain to tell him, "Captain, I have made all preparations for coming to periscope depth. I am on course XXX at depth one three zero feet, sonar has the following contacts, Sierra-27 bearing YYY moving left, Sierra-29 bearing ZZZ moving right. Request permission to come to periscope depth."

Then, given that you ooze enough confidence and the CO tells you, "come to periscope depth," you do that. - This can involve:

Raising a special mast that has a sonar array on top of it, so that if sound is trapped in a layer above the hull-mounted sonars, you'll hear about it.

Issuing orders:
"Diving Officer, make your depth six seven feet, smartly)"
"Helm, all ahead two thirds."

Listening to responses:
"Conn, Maneuvering answers 'All ahead two thirds'" (You already know this because you have heard the little bell ringing that says that Maneuvering has responded to the helmsman's moving a lever to say you want a 2/3rds bell.) You respond, "Very well, helm."

The diving officer says, "Make my depth six seven feet smartly, aye, sir."
You mentally check that he got the number right.

You listen to the diving officer order the planesmen what angles to take, and mentally check if those orders make sense.

You listen to the diving officer order the Chief of the Watch to flood 4,000 pounds into auxiliary tanks from sea, and mentally check that this might not be enough for the sea state you anticipate. (Waves rolling over a long flat missile deck tend to suck the boat up a bit, even when the deck is 35 feet below the surface, so the diving officer wants to bring in some water to compensate - you gotta pump it back out in a hurry when you go back down)

You listen to the diving officer inform you when passing through each ten feet, then when shallower than 120 feet every 5 feet change in depth. ("Passing one two feet, coming to six seven feet" - "Very well, dive" you respond to each)

You listen to the phone talker monitoring the comms involved with operating the buoy to hear him relay your order to somebody at the end of a sound-powered telephone line, "stow the buoy" when you pass one one five feet.

At about one hundred feet, you turn the wheel that starts the periscope going up and announce to everybody in the control room, "raising number one scope."

You listen to the sounds from the conn sonar repeater. You feel the angle of the boat. If something is wrong, you sense it.

At nine five feet you order, "Chief of the Watch, raise the VLF mast"

About now the periscope has come up so you can grab the handles, turn them down and put your eye to the scope eyepiece. You check that the handle is in the low-power position. So now everything else that happens is modulated by your constantly pushing the scope around and around and around, while you look for shadows in the ocean. You intentionally bump things with your own personal stern in the control room as you dance around with the scope, to give you a feel for what direction you are looking.

You check that the gain on the electronic intercept receiver is turned up on the panel of electronics under the eyepiece of the scope.

At nine zero feet you order, "Chief of the watch, lower the BQR19 mast." (the sonar mast has to go down before it breaks the surface giving a large radar target. One time an officer I knew forgot this piece of the dance and, as he swung around on the scope to look aft, he did see a shadow. He called, "Emergency deep" and the whole control room party executed a set pre-packaged orders to send the boat back to where it was safe. Only then did he realize that he had seen the BQR-19 sonar mast, not a ship close aboard).

You bump your butt against number two scope and know that you are pointing the number one periscope 90 degrees to port. You continue to go around and bump against the commanding officer's chair. Now you are pointing forward. Your ears also help keep you oriented, too, but you never take your eye off the scope.

At about this time, you are listening with some concern for the sound of the buoy operator saying, "Buoy stowed, doors closing," because if he doesn't say that by then, it is time to go back down.

Diving officer says, "Passing eight five feet, coming to six seven feet."

You hear the phone talker who is there to coordinate the bringing in of the VLF buoy "Conn, Radio, lost signal." You say to the talker, "Radio, Conn, aye"

You hold your breath figuratively for the word, "Regained signal on the VLF mast."

The first imperative on a ballistic missile boat on patrol is to remain undetected by anybody. The second imperative is to remain in constant (incoming) communications. We measured loss of signal by a few tens of seconds lost during an entire 64 day patrol.

You listen to the diving officer give orders to the planesmen to take the angle off the boat so that you will arrive at 67 feet smoothly and not overshoot (broach).

"Passing seven zero feet" You reply, "Seven zero feet, aye."

You see in the dark water flashes of light from bioluminescence. You keep spinning and feeling the angle come off the boat. You hear the planesmen talking to each other. The stern planesman tells the fairwater planesman that he is putting some dive on the stern planes. (You think to yourself that these guys are good. Many planesmen don't talk to each other that way). You hear the Chief of the Watch say, "Four thousand pounds flooded to auxiliaries from sea, manifold secure, sir." You hear the diving officer acknowledge the order.

If, by the feel of the boat and what the diving control team is saying you think that they can handle it, you might order "All ahead one third" to slow the boat so there will not be so much of a wake from the periscope as it comes out of the surface (although it will take many seconds for the boat to coast down from 8 knots to five).

You note that the headwindow of the scope is beginning to break the surface by noting the whiteness of foam instead of the dark of the water at night.

"Six eight feet, coming to six seven feet" He is down to reporting every foot change of depth.

"Very well, dive"

You announce to the whole control room, "Scope breaking," then "Scope clear."

Everybody holds their breath as you spin around. If you are good, remembering where the most threatening contacts should bear (note that is not the true bearing, relative to north, that you keep in your mind all the time, but the relative bearing that you should expect to see it on) you are pointing in the direction of what you think will be the closest contacts. You announce, " No close contacts. Diving officer, make your depth six five feet."

You listen to hear any chirping noises from the electronic intercept receiver. If you don't, you order, "Chief of the watch, raise the ESM mast." (This will do a better job of finding out if there are any radars out there that might detect your masts than the receiver on the top of your periscope.)

You hear the Diving officer acknowledge, "Make my depth six five feet, aye sir."

You listen for him to announce any variation of depth of one foot from the ordered depth.

Your order, "Chief of the Watch, raise the transit mast." (He replies, "Raise the transit mast aye, sir.")

Now you are at periscope depth ready to track a navigational satellite on the transit mast.

Never taking your eye off the scope, you push a buzzer, then quickly pull a special phone out of its hanging cradle and stick it to your ear, trying not to get tangled up in its cord. At the other end you hear, "Captain." You say, "Captain, this is the officer of the deck. (He knows that, but you say it anyway). We have reached periscope depth. No close contacts. I am on course XXX . I see what may be a masthead light of sierra -27 on bearing XXY, range over 10,000 yards. No other contacts. I will track the satellite and return to 185 feet when the pass is complete." You may give him a weather report. Sometimes, he says, "Very well, I will be out to take a look around." Other times he will just say "Very well," and go back to sleep.

You expect that the diving officer is going to order another 2000 pounds of water flooded into the auxiliary tanks. You wait for him to figure that out himself.

You keep your eye to the scope.


(I could have made it a little more complicated by telling you what else you might add into the mix, by, say, having a mess of contacts to keep track of, or preparing to snorkel to ventilate the boat for a 20 minute breath of fresh air, or ...

Does that give you some feel for the depth (no pun originally intended, but I will take credit for it now) of the tasking?

As for chunking, here are some of the pieces:
manage sonar and thus:
Manage contacts
Manage the buoy
Consider the effects of the sea conditions on depth control and the rest of the ship and choose and order the right speeds and depths for those conditions
Monitor the actions of others in the control room
Manage the masts and the periscope (when to raise, setting the focus and ESM gain, where you are pointing)
Have all the wording for all the orders at the tip of your tongue
Manage the control room and be aware of everything going on therein as well as the general feel of the ship.

Sometimes one can even have a moment to think about the tactical situation.

There are many things I have missed. Some of them came to mind as I wrote down the procedures and I went back to write them in. (I forgot to set the gain on the periscope's radar intercept receiver until I realized that I would be listening for it to go "buzz .... buzz .... buzz") and know by the pattern whether it was a surface search radar and no threat or a higher frequency radar that had a higher pulse repetition rate or scan rate and was something to be worried about.

Thanks for giving me a chance to sail down memory lane. I wonder, sometimes, how much more useful I would be today if I had not spent a large chunk of my early adult life memorizing things like the above or learning that fan-47 delivered air to the Wardroom and Control Room on a boat that is now razor blades and nuclear waste.



Dr. Ralph E. Chatham, Ph.D.
ARPA* Consultant