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King’s Bay Training Facility Prepares Trident Submariners

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

NAVAL SUBMARINE BASE KING’S BAY, Ga., Feb. 19, 2009 – The officers and enlisted members who serve aboard the U.S. Navy’s Trident strategic missile and guided-missile submarines are elite sailors requiring specialized training and skills.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Navy Lt. j.g. Walter McDuffie, assistant operations officer assigned to the Trident ballistic-missile submarine USS Maryland’s “Blue” crew, uses a computerized virtual training program to “direct” his surfaced vessel during a training session at the Trident training facility at Naval Submarine Base King’s Bay at St. Mary’s, Ga., Feb. 18, 2009. DoD photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Fresh-faced sailors just out of basic submarine school at Groton, Conn., as well as “old salts” who’ve notched several Trident patrols are taught and re-taught those skills at the Trident training facility here, said Navy Chief Petty Officer Mark Rector, a spokesman for the facility.

Tridents are nuclear-powered, Ohio-class submarines, Rector said. At 560 feet long and 42 feet wide, Tridents are the largest submarines in the U.S. Navy’s inventory.

The $1.2 billion training facility here was opened in 1987. At more than a half-million square feet, Rector said, it is the second-largest building in the Defense Department, after the Pentagon.

“We have everything here, from a ‘virtual’ nuclear-reactor control room … all the way up to simulated missile tubes, where we can simulate the launching of missiles,” Rector said.

The King’s Bay facility also teaches sailors how to drive, or pilot, Trident submarines, Rector said, as well as how to extinguish shipboard fires and control flooding. The facility’s equipment, he said, is “identical to what they would use aboard their submarine.”

The duration of courses offered at King’s Bay ranges from a few hours to up to two years for the assistant navigator’s course, Rector said.

Trident submarines have two crews, called Blue and Gold, which rotate patrols. One crew is at sea for 60 to 90 days, while the other trains ashore. In this way, the vessels can be employed at sea 70 percent of the time, when not undergoing scheduled maintenance in port, Rector explained.

Trident sailors returning from sea duty take refresher training that’s used to re-certify their skills before they embark on their next patrol, Rector said.

At the end of their re-certification training, the sailors “are 100-percent ready to take that submarine at sea, at 100-percent operational capability,” Rector said. Attention to detail “is everything” in the Navy’s submarine fleet, he added.

“If you make a mistake while out to sea, you risk killing a shipmate or losing your submarine,” Rector explained. “None of those [possibilities] are acceptable; we have to make sure that we do not make mistakes.”

A Trident’s crew consists of about 160 officers and enlisted sailors. The original ballistic missile versions are nicknamed “Boomers,” and they feature the designator SSBN. The Boomers are capable of carrying as many as 24 Trident II D-5 nuclear missiles. The vessel also carries Mark-48 torpedoes.

Inside the training facility’s bridge operations room, Navy Lt. j.g. Walter McDuffie, the assistant operations officer assigned to the Trident ballistic-missile submarine USS Maryland’s “Blue” crew, used a computerized training program to “direct” his surfaced submarine. The bridge is the outside observation post located atop a submarine’s uppermost structure, called the sail.

Some training, Rector noted, can be performed only at sea.

Meanwhile, with his virtual glasses in place, McDuffie “watched” his submarine cruising along the water’s surface and communicated his observations to shipmates in the control room below.

The computerized training program, McDuffie said, provides “a great experience, without the actual consequences that could happen out in the real world.”

The U.S. government agreed to reduce the number of its strategic-missile submarines as part of the 1992 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Consequently, four of the Navy’s 18 Trident submarines were modified to exchange their nuclear missiles for Tomahawk guided cruise missiles. These vessels carry the designator SSGN. The first Trident ballistic-missile submarine, the USS Ohio, was commissioned in 1981. In 2006, the Ohio was converted into a guided-missile submarine.

Naval Submarine Base King’s Bay was established in 1980, replacing a closed U.S. ballistic submarine facility that had been based in Rota, Spain. In 1989, USS Tennessee was the first Trident submarine to arrive at the facility. Another, smaller, Trident training facility that serves submariners based on the West Coast is located at Bangor, Wash.

The U.S. Navy has not lost a submarine since the Atlantic Ocean sinking of the USS Scorpion in 1968, Rector said.

“That is due to the training programs that we now have in place,” Rector said.

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