her way from Norfolk to Galveston the new submarine Texas stopped at Cape
Canaveral, Florida to flex her muscles for the media. As she departed the
pier for a three-hour transit to deep water, the crew guided reporters
through the different sections, displaying a thorough understanding of
their ship, her capabilities, and their responsibilities.
Built by Newport News in
partnership with Electric Boat Company, Texas is the second of the new Virginia class of fast attack subs. A host of technical innovations
unlike anything on submarines before her make Texas unique. The sub is
powered by an advanced nuclear reactor that will not need refueling over
the ship's 33 year life cycle. A pilot and co-pilot, who manage the sub's
steering and diving control with joysticks, replace the familiar helmsman
and planesman stations with their aircraft-like yokes.
"sonar gang" has been integrated into a control room festooned with over
40 monitors. Listening through the sonar operator's headphones one can
hear the clear sound of a diesel engine. So clear, in fact, that it seems
to be right outside the hull instead of several miles away. "In many cases
our operators can tell what kind of diesel it is, what make, how many
cylinders, and if it needs a ring job," says the sonar supervisor with a
bit of humor.
most remarkably -- there are no periscopes in the control room. The polished
poles that have been a staple in submarine movies have been replaced with
sail-mounted photonic masts that do not protrude into the sub's pressure
hull. The cameras beam a high-resolution image onto a 30-inch monitor. The
age-old command "Up periscope" may be replaced by "Raise the photonic
"After twenty years
of looping my arm around the periscope handles, I have to make an
adjustment. This control room is more advanced and allows more
efficient tactical communication. All that's missing is a captain's
chair out of Star Trek," remarked Captain John Litherland.
this advanced technology requires the brightest and most motivated sailors
the Navy can provide. "I have over 300 "clients" to look after," explains
Petty Officer Michael "Ping Jockey" Granito, an IT technician who has been
aboard Texas since November 2002. "All the sub's laptops, desktops,
monitors, and around eleven non-tactical servers. Each sonar console has
its own server." He deftly touches a screen to illustrate how individual
servers are connected within the sub. The level of complexity is
staggering yet "we've logged 98% uptime," says Granito.
top-shelf equipment and a crew of aces, Texas stands ready to begin tough
assignments. The Virginia class has been engineered to match the
Seawolf class in stealth and open-ocean warfare but that's yesterday's
war. The new mission in the war against terror is to fight and gather
intelligence in "brown water" (shallow coastal waters in hostile regions).
Capt. Litherland says, "The control
surfaces and the position of the sail help the hydrodynamics, and the
hovering system" gives Texas superb close-in capability. This also
augments another Texas strength -- deploying Special Forces.
Some aspects of life aboard
submarines have not changed. The living space is confined, forcing sailors
to squeeze by each other in passageways. There are four restroom
facilities and a single washer and dryer for 135 men.
the sub reaches deep water, the bridge is secured and the sub is made
ready to submerge. The familiar dive alarm sounds throughout the ship. The
pilot eases the 7800-ton vessel below the waves. Soon the surrounding sea
pictured on the monitor is obscured by bubbles and foam as the scope dips
under the water. The gentle rocking motion disappears, replaced by a
silent, steady sensation. Being on a sub underwater is much like sitting
in an office building.
That's about to change. After
careful scrutiny of the surrounding waters, the crew of the Texas performs
a series of maneuvers known as "angles and dangles". Beginning at 150
feet, the pilot pushes his joystick forward and the sub noses down to
650-feet at a steep 25-degree angle. The undersea warriors in the control
room lean away from the slanting deck, still performing their tasks
The overhead speaker announces a
simulated torpedo launch. In the torpedo room, Petty Officer Monk
carefully coordinates the process with the fire control operator Perry in
the control room.
Texas and other
modern US subs use wire-guided torpedoes. "The torpedo will go
out there and acquire the target and when it does, it tells us where
the contact is," explains Cdr. Jim Gray. "That's where the wire
comes into play." Cdr. Gray is at ease explaining the intricacies of
the fire control systems, with good reason. Cdr. Gray is slated to
be the next skipper of the Texas, taking over command September 20.
the 135-man crew abroad Texas, 20 are Texans, including Al Onley, the
Executive Officer. "Texas is pretty big, I'm from Greenville so it's a
long haul for my family to attend the commissioning, but I don't think
anything could keep them away."
Al Onley's family will have a lot of
company. The September 9 commissioning ceremony is expected to draw over
10,000 guests and visitors to Galveston, including ship sponsor Laura
Bush, Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn. Together they will
witness an historic event, the commissioning of the most powerful ship to
bear the name Texas.
|"The longest I've been
underwater is 55 days."
Master Chief Larry Batten points out part of the environmental
systems. Behind him are tightly rolled smoke curtains, used to seal
off parts of the ship in case of fire.
|Texas' torpedo room has
one lonely Tomahawk "handling shape"; used to align the racks with
|Capt. Litherland greets
|Texas plaque and First
Lady Laura Bush's initial welded on the keel. "The Captain wanted it
moved to the wardroom."
|Torpedo tubes, port side
|Longhorn emblem on the
|The source of good
smells on a submarine.
|Pilot and co-pilot.
|Lining up for chow. This
man is smiling, it must be good stuff.
|Getting some leisure
|Spare room courtesy of
not having any weapons onboard.
|The COB Mark Brooks
(seated) dispensing Liberty passes.
|Executive Officer Al
Onley, a native of Greenville, Texas
|Petty Officer Monk
coordinates a firing sequence.
Photo courtesy MC2 R. Hickman
|Master and Commander
Photo courtesy MC2 R. Hickman
|"Don't mess with Texas".
Thanks to the fine crew and officers of the PCU Texas for the