Submarine Knowledge and Survival by U.C.

First, a little about me. I am a Sailor and Submariner. I have spent 20+ years of my life riding submarines in various roles from deck waxer/hull painter to Communications Division and Operations Department enlisted leader. I have taught Communications, Electronic Signals Intercept (ES), OPSEC/Security, leadership and a myriad of other courses.

I really started reading SurvivalBlog and other sites after experiencing a deep dissatisfaction with the course our country is heading. I have experienced first-hand the gross inefficiency of the government and the lack of will/strength/backbone to stand up and change things. “Staying the Course” seems to be the direction our bloated bureaucracy is going.
Being a Submariner I have had the privilege of serving in a tight knit community that prides itself on OPSEC and the ability to adapt, improvise and overcome. There is a wee bit of craziness in all of us to willingly lock ourselves in a steel tube with no windows and a nuclear reactor.

OPSEC – Submarines are known as the Silent Service for a reason. We do things and go places nobody else can. We remain hidden and lay in wait. We stalk, we observe and we gather data. As such, we generally do not talk about what we do/have done in other than the vaguest details, if we talk at all.

  • The first part of OPSEC from the Submarining point of view is identifying what information is critical. Think along the lines of things like capabilities. If the enemy knows the capabilities of your platform, how you fight and what you fight with they can develop effective countermeasures and at best limit what you can do. At worst, the enemy can destroy you. In order to keep the enemies guessing in any survival situation it is vital to limit the information you put out there.
    • As a submariner we do not say where we operate. As a survivor don’t put your retreat information out there.
    •  As a Submariner we do not discuss the capabilities of our boats except in the most general terms. As a survivor do not tell people what you have in your retreat location to defend yourself or survive. A simple statement of “I am prepared” should suffice.
  • The second part of OPSEC is thinking about how the enemy can collect information about you. As a submariner, there are multiple avenues for this.
    • Physical government agents looking for the person who can’t shut up(Chinese and Russians do it all the time).  As a Submariner, talking about underway times, return to port times and other stuff is strictly forbidden. Even to spouses. As a survivor, discussing stuff such as your times you go out patrolling, hunting or even how long you station your watches at your compound/retreat can lead to problems.
    • Electronic intelligence gathering. The Chinese have become excellent at mining Facebook and other social media sites for information. “If you do not transmit, it can’t be heard” is an axiom we all should live by.  Posting even the smallest bit of information on the web can seem inconsequential, until that picture of you and the spouse on your hidden retreat is tied together with a previous comment you made about a certain river nearby, and another comment about elevation, so forth and so on. A relatively smart person can start tying things together from data mining and put together a very clear picture of you and where you are along with your capabilities.
    • Passive observation. The enemy is out there doing their thing. As a Submariner, we strive to run quietly and operate smartly. A misstep in operating smartly can lead the enemy to unexpected discovery. Just because someone isn’t actively looking for you doesn’t mean they can’t accidentally spot you when you do something stupid. In a survival situation there could/will be groups of people wandering around. They are not necessarily looking for you.  Give yourself away by making unnecessary noise or ignoring light discipline can give them a reason to come your way. This doesn’t mean lie around all day and do nothing. In order to survive, we need to do activities that cause noise. There isn’t any way around it. Being aware, checking your “six”, alert watchstanding and regularly patrolling your area can mitigate the risk.
  • The third part of OPSEC is continuously analyzing your vulnerabilities. It is not enough to do one noise monitor on the submarine and call it good. Constantly monitoring the surrounding environment and own ship helps us understand some of our vulnerabilities. Understanding the equipment onboard and what activities create noise is another portion.
    •  Take a hard, critical look at your capabilities and short comings.  As a Submarine Comms guy I continuously evaluate the environment (nearby ships, distance from land, Bobs Discount Chinese satellite overhead, etc).  I fully understand the various RF paths and antennas I can transmit and receive on. I always understand the mission and what micro part of the mission I am on and I understand the vulnerabilities of each antenna I may have to raise above the waterline. As a survivor, you should understand the lay of your land. Can someone sneak up on your base of ops without you knowing? What is the external threat situation? Has the SHTF fully? Are there roving groups of people out there? What happens if I do “X” activity? Is there a better time of day I can do “X” activity? Ask yourself these questions. Test your defenses and any watchstander you may have stationed.  It is better to discover your own vulnerabilities than have the enemy discover them for you.
  • Tying all the above in, Assess your risk. Before you do something ask yourself how this could harm you or your family. Ask yourself how this information you might be giving out could come back to haunt you. Manage the risk by developing countermeasures. The most effective countermeasure is not to post or talk about something. There is an old saying in the Submarine Force that holds true. The probability of a secret getting out is squared by the number of people who know it.

Drill (Practice) – Drill, drill repeatedly, drill realistically. As a Submariner I have endured countless drills. A long time ago I did not understand why we drilled endlessly because no one above me ever bothered to explain it to me and I was young and dumb. It was just what we did. I hated it. It was repetitive. It was mind numbing and it deprived me of the small amount of time I could get sleep. It wasn’t until I had to react in a SHTF situation (for a Submarine) that it really dawned upon me why. Responses were almost muscle memory. I did what I had to do quickly and efficiently because it was drilled endlessly.
We also drilled endlessly because there was no fire department to call. No “911” operators. We were a submarine, operating in the middle of the ocean. We were our own fire department. Our own casualty response team. If we couldn’t stop the casualty and recover, we were as good as dead. The same situation applies in a SHTF scenario. You and your own community are all that you can depend on.

  • Planning what drill to run – Think about the different things that could happen. Brainstorm with your family or community group. Draw upon experience. Make a detailed list and then order them in the probability they may happen. For instance, maybe your house or compound catching on fire through human error, mechanical failure or a natural disaster has the highest probability of happening (as determined by you). There are 12 other items on your list with the probability of occurrence dropping to near zero at the bottom (let’s call the last one Zombie Apocalypse).  Figure out which of those events could cause the most damage to the compound/community/group. That is what you would want to drill on the most. On the subs, fire and flooding are two of the biggest risks and also happen to be two items with the highest probability of causing severe damage to (or sinking) the boat. Dedicate precious drill time to the highest probability events.
  • Assigning responsibilities (consider this a watch/quarter/station bill) – Generations of Sailors in the Navy have learned this the hard way; if someone is not specifically assigned to do something during a casualty (fire/flooding/etc) by name or by watchstation then there is a probability it will not get done. Example of a watch/Quarter/Station Bill. Assign people to do things.
  • Planning the drill – Say for instance you have determined fire is the biggest risk to your group. Plan a fire drill. Come up with a realistic scenario in which a fire may break out in your retreat. Start out small and simple. A small pretend fire in a trashcan is easy to do. Eventually you want to work up to the big fire drill such as multiple levels in a building. In all cases (and I cannot emphasize this enough) never light an actual fire in a building to practice.
  • Realism – The more realistic the scenario, the more your people/family will take away from the drill. On a submarine during a fire drill the fire teams don Fire Fighting Ensembles, Scott Air Packs, grab a thermal imager and flake out (and pressurize) fire hoses. They get those fire hoses on scene and try to attack from multiple directions. Often the team has their vision impaired as it would be during an actual fire. Probably you would not have these items available to you. How could you make it realistic? In a survival scenario where the fire department won’t be coming to help, your objective should be to get firefighting agent to the scene as quickly as possible. In most cases this would be maybe a few fire extinguishers and water. A simple flashing red led light in a trash can or wherever you want to simulate the fire can often suffice to get people to bring the extinguishing agent to the right location. If you have a way to create non-toxic smoke safely then I suggest doing so. The Halloween foggers work quite well.  Another way to simulate smoke (and something that is reusable over and over) is a light blue hairnet. One of these placed over the face or (if you are lucky enough to have breathing equipment) a mask can effectively simulate a smoky environment. Make it as realistic (safely) as you can. The time to find out you, your family or your group doesn’t know what it is doing is when the SHTF.
  • The drill process – You want to get the most out of the drill and identify any issue so you can fix them. Have a process. Pre-brief the drill with your drill team (it may only be you and one other). Run the drill and observe/write-down actions and issues. Make sure you get response times written down. After the drill gather the observers together and collate comments. Finally talk to the group. Go over what happened, what went right and what went wrong. Your group cannot get better if they do not know what they did wrong and how to fix it.

Community – Being a Submariner, I am proud part of a select (and demented) community. The key word is community. We rely on each other to help solve problems. A submarine underway is a survival community all on its own. As mentioned above, we are the fire department. We are also the maintainers of our resources. When we leave the pier we leave it with what we have onboard. If you forget something, well, it is too bad. Make do without it. As a community (crew) we make sure we have everything onboard to get underway and do our time at sea effectively. Food and stores must be loaded. Critical parts stowed. We rely on each other as any good community should. Some of the things we do that can be applied to a community survival situation:

  • Qualifying and cross-qualifying – On a submarine each person must “qualify” the boat. What this means is an individual has to have a decent understanding of every system onboard the submarine. Take a Los Angeles Class Fast Attack submarine that is three levels of systems in a 360 foot long tube.  You have three major hydraulic systems, high pressure air, ventilation, weapons, etc, etc. It is a lot of stuff. The person must also qualify to stand a security watch in port and an underway watchstation. Finally the individual must also thoroughly understand damage control and how to respond during different casualties (such as fire, flooding, steam line rupture, etc). 

As a community it is important for everyone to know as much as they can about the general working of the community. How does the community respond to an attack? A fire? What are the systems that are in place within the community (such as water, sanitation, power) and basically how do they work. You want the people within the community to have understanding of the workings in order to respond to situations.
Within a community you will always have specialists. People may be firearms experts. Some can drop a fishing line in the water and will a fish onto their hook. Others can grow crops. This is where cross-qualifying comes into play. In a survival scenario it is important that people know how to do more than one job. The sad reality is that in a SHTF scenario not everyone will survive. Having people cross-qualify and learning multiple jobs lessens the loss of an individual. A cross qualified person also gives versatility in rotating personnel through rest periods and spreading the workload.

  • Relaxation – Every person needs down time. People always on the edge ready for a trip-wire event lose sharpness and focus. On a submarine, I knew there would be days I would get little rest. In a survival situation the same thing will happen. It is vital that every opportunity to get rest or unwind should be taken. I like to think of it as banking time. It is a balancing game. There will ALWAYS be work that needs to get done. Rest should be part of the work routine. As a Submariner out to sea we often depended on each other for entertainment. Take 150 guys, stuff then in a steel tube, deprive them of sunlight and news and entertainment will happen. Sailors at sea have been figuring out ways to break up the monotony of a long voyage for years on end. As a survival community it is vital that the community celebrate when they can. We celebrate halfway night (mid way through a 6 or 7 month deployment). A community can celebrate the harvest. A community can make any occasion a reason to celebrate what God has given them and it is important that they do. Celebrating life’s little victories and accomplishments makes things go better.
  • Recognition – On Submarines we recognize Sailors for outstanding work. Sometimes it is a medal. Sometimes it is advancement in rank. Other times it is a well deserved extra day off. It is human nature for most of us to get some recognition of a job well done.  Personally I never sought it out but was always grateful when it happened. It is important for the community to celebrate accomplishments by individuals within the community. Each group must decide on their own what that may be, but recognition is important. With my own sons, it can be a simple pat on the back and the words “good job”.

In the end, survival will always be how well the community binds together. Individual survival can happen for awhile but for us to go on we need to interface, interact and rebuild. Fellowship and reliance on others is what makes Submariners strong and what makes a group/family/community stronger. Some of what I have talked about is not for everybody and cannot be applied to every situation. It is something to ponder. Just like some of the posts here on SurvivalBlog are not always applicable to my situation, I appreciate the time this online community has invested in getting the information out there and I take a lot of what people have to say to heart. Thanks for all that you do and keep posting. I need something to print out/save and take underway to read!