Friday, February 23, 2018

Government of Brazil Highlights its "Ambitious" Commitment to the Construction of Submarines

Staff, Maritime Herald
21 February 2018 
The president of Brazil, Michel Temer, reiterated his government's commitment to the construction of conventional submarines and a nuclear submarine, when visiting works at a naval base in Rio de Janeiro (southeast).
"We are moving forward in firm steps towards a broad and ambitious project, the Prosub (Submarine Development Program) is a key piece not only in our defense policy, but also in our strategy of scientific and technological development," said the president, According to a statement from the Executive.
The Prosub was created in 2008 during the Government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) through a bilateral agreement with France, which transferred technology for the South American country to build its own submarines.
The first will be incorporated into the fleet in 2019, and from then until 2023 each year a new submarine will be added, according to Navy Commander Leal Ferreira.
The head of the Navy assumed that there is a delay of two years in the project, mainly due to the difficulties derived from budget cuts.
In addition to the four submarines of the conventional class Brazil is also building its first nuclear-powered submarine, made with fully national technology and which is expected to be ready by 2029.
Temer stressed that the construction of this submarine will boost technological sectors such as medicine and the energy matrix, in addition to generating highly skilled labor jobs.
The Minister of Defense, Raul Jungmann, stressed that although Brazil is a peaceful country, it does not renounce its sovereignty or external interference, so it is important to have the deterrent capability provided by submarines.
"Brazil needs the deterrent capacity to defend its sovereignty, its territory and its interests, in spite of being peaceful it is not disarmed and will never be in defense of its people and its interests," he summarized.
Brazil currently has five submarines: one of the Tikuna class (built in Brazil and inaugurated in 2008) and four of the Tupi class.
Government of Brazil Highlights its Commitment to the Construction of Submarines
The first of these four was built in Germany between 1987 and 1989 and the other three, equal to German, were assembled in Brazil between 1990 and 2000.

Iran Looking To Build Nuclear Submarines, Watchdog Says

Staff, The Times of Israel
23 February 2018 
Iran is still sticking to the 2015 nuclear accord, a UN atomic watchdog report showed Thursday, but noted Tehran is looking to develop seaborne nuclear capabilities.
The International Atomic Energy Agency document, the ninth since the deal came into force in January 2016, showed Iran complying with the accord’s key parameters, four months ahead of US President Donald Trump’s deadline to fix its “disastrous flaws.”
However, the IAEA report also said that Iran informed it in January by letter of a decision to “construct naval nuclear propulsion in future.”
The IAEA has asked Tehran for further details. Press reports in the past have said that Tehran wants to develop nuclear-powered ships and/or submarines.
This has created concern in the past because of the possibility that Iran might use highly enriched uranium, forbidden under the nuclear deal, to power such vessels.
In December 2016, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered the country’s scientists to start work on nuclear-powered ships in response to the renewal of sanctions by the United States.
In letters read out on state television, Rouhani criticized the congressional move to renew sanctions as a breach of last year’s nuclear accord and told Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation to start work on “planning the design and production of nuclear fuel and reactors for maritime transport.”
The 10-year-old sanctions legislation against Iran related not just to nuclear issues, but also ballistic missile-testing and human rights.
The IAEA downplayed Tehran’s plans; a senior diplomat at IAEA headquarters said the comments were likely “rhetoric” in response to Trump’s threats to rip up the deal.
The diplomat said Iran’s plans appeared vague for now and low-enriched uranium could be used for the nuclear naval vessels
“Everything in the letter only refers to the future. The indirect indication is that (actual designs) don’t exist,” the diplomat said.
Uranium, when enriched to high levels of purity, can be used in a nuclear weapon. At low levels, it can be used for peaceful applications such as power generation — Iran’s stated aim.
The IAEA report Thursday confirmed the number of centrifuges to enrich uranium was below the agreed level of 5,060, while Iran’s total stockpile of low-enriched uranium “has not exceeded 300 kg.”
The volume of heavy water, a reactor coolant, remained below the agreed maximum of 130 tons throughout the past three months.
Iran has inched above that ceiling twice since the enactment of the accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
It removed and rendered inoperable the core of the Arak reactor, which could in theory have produced weapons-grade plutonium, before the accord entered into force.
Aside from the relatively minor breach on heavy water, the IAEA reports have consistently shown Iran adhering to the deal in the two years since it took effect.
However, the future of the hard-won agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany is highly uncertain.
In January, President Trump set a 120-day deadline for US lawmakers and European allies to “fix” his predecessor Barack Obama’s main foreign policy achievement or face a US exit.
He is concerned that parts of the deal begin expiring in 2026 and that it fails to address Iran’s missile program, its regional activities or its human rights abuses.
A US exit could kill the nuclear deal, which the Islamic Republic has refused to re-negotiate.
While Iran has reaped massive economic benefits from the accord, notably by being able to resume oil exports, it is still constrained by US sanctions in other areas.
Earlier on Thursday, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator warned that the agreement was under threat unless foreign businesses and banks were able to trade freely in the country.
Deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi told London’s Chatham House that Trump’s hostility toward the pact was creating a “destructive atmosphere” that meant businesses were afraid of dealing with Iran.
“As far as Iran is concerned, JCPOA is not a successful story,” he said. “Iran is not benefiting from sanction lifting in full.”

Navy Accelerates New Nuclear Armed Columbia-Class Submarine

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven
21 February 2018 
The Navy 2019 budget request increases funding for the service's new nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine by $2 billion over this year's amount in what appears to be a clear effort to further accelerate technology development and early production. The request, which marks a substantial move on the part of the Navy and DoD, asks for $3.7 billion in 2019, up from $1.9 billion in 2018. The new budget effort is quite significant, given that there has been a chorus of concern in recent years that there would not be enough money to fund development of the new submarines, without devastating the Navy shipbuilding budget.
The Columbia-class plus-up is a key element of a cross-the-board Navy budget increase; overall, the Navy 2019 request jumps $14 billion over this year, climbing to $194 billion.
Many regard the Columbia-Class submarines, slated to enter service in the early 2030s, as the number one DoD priority, and it is quite possible the additional dollars will not only advance technical development and early construction, but may also move the entire production timeline closer.
Ultimately, the Navy hopes to build and operate as many as 12 new nuclear-armed submarines, to be in service by the early 2040s and serve well into the 2080s.
Construction on the first submarine in this new class is slated to be finished up by 2028, with initial combat patrols beginning in 2031, service officials said.
Perhaps of equal or greater significance is the fast-evolving current global threat environment which, among other things, brings the realistic prospect of a North Korean nuclear weapons attack. Undersea strategic deterrence therefore, as described by Navy leaders, brings a critical element of the nuclear triad by ensuring a second strike ability in the event of attack. The submarines are intended to quietly patrol lesser known portions of the global undersea domain. Ultimately, the Navy hopes to build and operate as many as 12 new nuclear-armed submarines, to be in service by the early 2040s and serve well into the 2080s.
Unless timelines are accelerated, which appears likely, construction on the first submarine in this new class is slated to be finished up by 2028, with initial combat patrols beginning in 2031, service officials said. Navy nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines are intended to perform a somewhat contradictory, yet essential mission. By ensuring the prospect of massive devastation to an enemy through counterattack, weapons of total destruction can – by design – succeed in keeping the peace.
Columbia-Class Technology
Although complete construction is slated to ramp up fully in the next decade, Navy and General Dynamics Electric Boat developers have already been prototyping key components, advancing science and technology efforts and working to mature a handful of next generation technologies.
With this in mind, the development strategy for the Columbia-Class could well be described in terms of a two-pronged approach; in key respects, the new boats will introduce a number of substantial leaps forward or technical innovations - while simultaneously leveraging currently available cutting-edge technologies from the Virginia-Class attack submarines, Navy program managers have told Warrior in interviews over the years.
Designed to be 560-feet– long and house 16 Trident II D5 missiles fired from 44-foot-long missile tubes, Columbia-Class submarines will be engineered as a stealthy, high-tech nuclear deterrent able to quietly patrol the global undersea domain.
While Navy developers explain that many elements of the new submarines are not available for discussion for security reasons, some of its key innovations include a more efficient electric drive propulsion system driving the shafts and a next-generation nuclear reactor. A new reactor will enable extended deployment possibilities and also prolong the service life of submarines, without needing to perform the currently practiced mid-life refueling.
By engineering a "life-of-ship" reactor core, the service is able to build 12 Columbia-Class boats able to have the same at sea presence as the current fleet of 14 ballistic missile submarines. The plan is intended to save the program $40 billion savings in acquisition and life-cycle cost, Navy developers said.
Regarding development of the US-UK Common Missile Compartment, early "tube and hull" forging have been underway for several years already.
The US plans to build 12 new Columbia-Class Submarines, each with 16 missile tubes, and the UK plans to build four nuclear-armed ballistic submarines, each with 12 missile tubes.
The Columbia-Class will also use Virginia-class’s next-generation communications system, antennas and mast. For instance, what used to be a periscope is now a camera mast connected to fiber-optic cable, enabling crew members in the submarine to see images without needing to stand beneath the periscope. This allows designers to move command and control areas to larger parts of the ship and still have access to images from the camera mast, Electric Boat and Navy officials said.
The Columbia-Class will utilize Virginia-class’s fly-by-wire joystick control system and large-aperture bow array sonar. The automated control fly-by-wire navigation system is also a technology that is on the Virginia-Class attack submarines. A computer built-into the ship's control system uses algorithms to maintain course and depth by sending a signal to the rudder and the stern, a Navy Virginia Class program developer told Warrior Maven in a previous interview.
Sonar technology works by sending out an acoustic ping and then analyzing the return signal in order to discern shape, location or dimensions of an undersea threat.
Navy experts explained that the large aperture bow array is water backed with no dome and very small hydrophones able to last for the life of the ship; the new submarines do not have an air-backed array, preventing the need to replace transducers every 10-years.
In January of last year, development of the new submarines have passed what's termed "Milestone B," clearing the way beyond early development toward ultimate production.
Last Fall, the Navy awarded General Dynamics Electric Boat a $5 billion contract award is for design, completion, component and technology development and prototyping efforts.

USS Virginia, One Of The First Fast-Attack Submarines To Be Integrated, Returns Home

Julia Bergman, The Day
22 February 2018 
When the USS Virginia returned to port Thursday, most on board were returning from their first deployment, including several female officers, who are among the first women to serve on submarines.
"I'm not a female member of the crew. I'm just another crew member," Lt. j.g. Heather Kerber said of being one of five female officers assigned to the Virginia. "We're not men. We're not women. We're Virginians."
The Virginia was one of the first fast-attack submarines to which female officers were assigned, and the boat has deployed twice now with women on board. The five female officers assigned to Virginia range in rank from ensign to lieutenant, and for three of them, this deployment was their first.
During its six-month deployment, the Virginia steamed about 27,500 nautical miles, making port visits in Faslane, Scotland; Rota, Spain; and Haakonsvern, Norway.
It was a "very successful" first deployment for Kerber, who is the supply corps officer aboard the boat. She's in charge of logistics, feeding the crew and making sure there are enough spare parts on board.
Kerber, 30, who is originally from Chino, Calif., was working in construction before joining the Navy, the first Kerber to serve in the military, her mother said.
"I was a little shocked. It was a surprise. But that's my Heather," Sherry Kerber said of her daughter's decision to serve aboard submarines. "She loves a challenge."
"Oh yeah," Kerber's brother, Jeffrey, 21, quickly chimed in.
"Everything she's ever done, she's been pretty much the best at," he added.
Kerber explained, standing on a pier at the Naval Submarine Base after just sharing the traditional first kiss with her wife, Cecille, that she was drawn to submarines because she thought it would be more challenging than the traditional first tour for a supply officer.
She earned her silver dolphins, signifying she's qualified in submarine warfare, the day she left for deployment. About 30 members of the Virginia's crew earned their dolphins while deployed, but Kerber was able to be pinned by Cecille, 32, just before leaving.
"I lucked out in that the person who I wanted to pin me got to," Kerber said.
In addition to Cecille, Kerber's mother, father, brother and sister traveled from California to attend the homecoming.
"We dropped everything," Sherry Kerber said.
The family was among a crowd of about 200 who waited under a cloudy sky threatening rain for the Virginia's return, holding up signs, waving American flags and snapping pictures and recording videos with their cellphones as the submarine, which had a giant blue and yellow lei wrapped around its sail, made its way to the pier.
The Navy officially lifted its ban on women serving on submarines in 2010, first allowing female officers to begin their training. Female officers have served on submarines since 2011. Women are serving with 18 crews and aboard 11 boats.
On the Virginia, the women share a stateroom, and an easily reversible signs hangs outside the bathroom to indicate whether a woman or a man is inside. Otherwise, no changes have been made to accommodate the women.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Sarsfield embraces his fiancé, Melissa Bender, and their daughter Samantha, 5, after the U.S. Navy attack submarine USS Virginia (SSN 774) returned home from deployment Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, to the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Conn. The Virginia, the first vessel in the Virginia class of attack submarines, has a crew of approximately 15 officers and 115 enlisted sailors. The sub made port visits in Faslane, Scotland; Rota, Spain; and Haakonsvern, Norway, during the deployment.
Cmdr. Jeffrey Anderson, commanding officer of the Virginia, said the crew of 135, made up mostly of men, has welcomed the women aboard. He said the women "performed exceptionally" while deployed. All of the crew members, whom he calls warriors, exceeded all of his expectations and executed their missions flawlessly, he said.

All Stakeholders Want To Fast-Track Submarine Plans: Rahul Kumar Shrawat, Naval Group In India, Cmd

Shaurya Karanbir Gurung, Economic Times
20 February 2018 
In an interview with ET, Rear Admiral Rahul Kumar Shrawat (retd), who recently took over as the chairman and managing director of Naval Group in India tells Shaurya Gurung about the firm’s plans to meet the Indian Navy’s requirements such as Project-75 India submarine programme, second indigenous aircraft carrier, IAC-2 and indigenisation of its F21 torpedo. Excerpts:
What are your plans for Naval Group in India?
Naval Group is fully committed to support Indian Navy’s acquisition of weapon platforms and weapons. To be specific, we are looking at Project 75-India programne, Landing Platform Docks and the third aircraft carrier IAC-2. For weapons, we are involved with the Indian Navy on the F21 torpedo. All the details have been shared and the Navy has been invited to witness certain trials of the torpedo. This torpedo has been cleared for induction in the Barracuda SSN (nuclear-powered submarine) of the French Navy and is being offered to Indian Navy.
Can you elaborate on Naval Group’s offer for IAC-2?
This programme is at the initial design stage, wherein the propulsion system is being decided. My knowledge says that the Navy is perhaps looking at full electric propulsion system. Its design can be provided by Naval Group.
What is the status of Project 75-India project?
We have responded to the Request for Information (RFI). These submarines are to be built as per the Strategic Partnership model. There is a wish of all stakeholders that the programme should move at a fast pace. Authorities have to select foreign partners and the Indian shipyards and have to marry the two. I only feel it will take time.
Will MDL and Naval Group collaboration continue for Project 75-I?
For Naval Group, MDL is a very valuable partner. The level of absorption of technology by MDL has proved to be successful. On the third Scorpene submarine (Karanj) the construction was done by MDL on their own with little support from Naval Group. This means they are becoming more selfreliant. It also demonstrates the success of Transfer-of-Technology. Naval Group will look at MDL as a capable shipyard with whom we will like to partner in future programmes.
So Project-75-India is one. The ecosystem of building submarines in India has got into top gear through the Scorpene programme. Nurturing this ecosystem is the need of the hour. It is very difficult to build this capability.
What is the status of torpedoes for Scorpene submarines?
We responded to RFI. Simultaneously, Naval Group is also identifying suitable Indian partners, who could contribute towards the indigenisation of F21 torpedo in India. We are looking at MSMEs.

USS Montana On Track To Be State-Of-The-Art Nuclear Submarine

 John Emeigh, KXLF
20 February 2018 
BUTTE - Montana is nowhere near the ocean, but a new submarine named after the Treasure State is expected to rule the high seas.
“It’s a dangerous time in this world and it will be increasingly so, so we need nuclear attack submarines like the USS Montana. And it will build on the legacy of the first USS Montana, that was an armored cruiser back in 1908,” said Bill Whitsitt, chairman of the USS Montana Committee.
Whitsitt gave a presentation at the Butte Exchange Club Tuesday about this massive Virginia-Class nuclear fast-attack submarine that has many capabilities.
“It’s got a lot of intelligence gathering capabilities, it’s got of course torpedoes, but it also carries land-attack missiles or Tomahawk cruise missiles,” said Whitsitt.
Whitsitt notes that North Korea has more submarines than the U.S., and Russia and China continue to build more submarines.
“We’ve in the past been able to counter our lack of numbers with the technology edge that we have, but now their technology is getting better and better, so ours has to keep pace and that’s why we have this new version of a submarine,” he said.
The USS Montana is currently being constructed in Newport News, Virginia and is expected to be commissioned by 2020. It weighs more than 7,000 tons and is longer than a football field.

Triton Submarines Expands into Security and Defense Sectors

Staff, SUBSEA World News
20 February 2018 
Triton Submarines, the designer and producer of personal submersible craft for yacht and cruise ship deployment, has signed a framework agreement with SECINDEF for the introduction of their submersibles in the security and defense sectors.
Barcelona-based SECINDEF (Security, Intelligence & Defense), an international consulting counterterrorism organization, approached Triton with the view to promoting its vessels for security and defense missions.
Triton’s submersible craft can be used from securing maritime assets, ports, submarine pipeline and communications infrastructure, to underwater search and rescue missions, hydrographic research and maritime archeology, through to the detection, protection and conservation of wrecks.
While headquartered in Vero Beach, Florida, the signing took place in Triton Submarines’ EMEA region office in Barcelona, with SECINDEF’s general director David Caixal and Hector Salvador, Triton’s EMEA operations manager.
Discussions between the parties have involved the modification of existing units from Triton’s extensive range for fixed operations and the development of a ‘rapid response’ submersible package for emergency deployment.
The Triton range of submersibles extends from compact and lightweight single-seat units capable of diving to 1,000 meters, through to multiple passenger craft designed to operate at full ocean depth.
David Caixal, SECINDEF’s general director, said: “We are truly delighted with the formalization of this partnership and for the opportunity to incorporate Triton Submarines into our portfolio of associates, collaborators and representatives. Our wide portfolio of international strategic contacts extends to a presence on the five continents and now, with the help of Triton, that penetrates to even deep below the sea’s surface. We already have a number of agencies and authorities eagerly awaiting the opportunity to discuss subsea solutions, so we are confident this new partnership will prove to be mutually beneficial for all parties involved.”
Patrick Lahey, Triton’s co-founder and president, stated: “While Triton’s primary focus in recent years has been in the yachting and cruise ship markets, this agreement and association with SECINDEF demonstrates both the versatility of our submersibles and the growing demand for our products in multi-mission applications. Already our craft have been deployed around the globe for pleasure, research, communication and education, but this yet another highly specialized field I am confident we can excel in. SECINDEF and their work in the field of intelligence, security and defense contribute to us all living in a safer world, I am proud that Triton’s products can participate in that valuable role, providing security for our families today and those of future generations.

Mattis: Deploy-Or-Get-Out Rule Is About Fairness

Aaron Mehta, Navy Times
18 February 2018

WASHINGTON – New rules requiring members of the military to be able to deploy or get out were put in place to ensure fairness in deployment rates, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said.
“You’re either deployable, or you need to find something else to do. I’m not going have some people deploying constantly and then other people, who seem to not pay that price, in the U.S. military,” Mattis told reporters Feb. 17 in his first comments on the issue since the new policy was formally introduced.
“If you can’t go overseas [and] carry a combat load, then obviously someone else has got to go. I want this spread fairly and expertly across the force.”
Under new rules first reported on by Military Times, military members who have been non-deployable for the past 12 months or more will be separated from the military.
Approximately 11 percent, or 235,000, of the 2.1 million personnel serving on active duty, in the reserves or National Guard are currently non-deployable, Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, the senior enlisted adviser to Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford, told Military Times earlier this month.
Of that total non-deployable force, Troxell said, about 99,000 are on that list for administrative reasons, such as not having all their immunizations or their required dental exams. About 20,000 are not deployable due to pregnancy, and 116,000 are not deployable due to either short- or long-term injuries.
In discussing why he felt this policy was needed, Mattis said he felt it was no longer fair to ask healthy warfighters to carry the load for others, particularly due to the stress on military families from multiple deployments.
“They need time at home; they need time with their families. We may enlist soldiers, but we re-enlist families. That’s the way it is. If you can’t keep the family together, then you’re either going to lose the family or you’re going to lose the soldier, and that’s a net loss for our society and for our military,” he said.
Mattis stressed that those who were injured in the field would be exempt from the new policy, saying “we’ll find a
place to use them. That’s a special category. They’ve earned that special status.” But for everyone else, either you have to be able to meet the requirements, or it’s time for you to go.
However, the secretary did acknowledge that the failure to meet deployability requirements is not always on the individual. The classic example is a situation where someone was unable to get a dental appointment quickly enough and hence did not meet the requirements.
And so, Mattis’ message is not just to the troops, but to those in charge: make sure bureaucracy doesn’t get in the way, and make every option available for those who need to get certain checks done. As an example, he imagined a scenario of “a base where everyone is dentally fully qualified, and they have a fort 200 miles away that’s not, bring down the dentist and get them qualified.”
“This isn’t all ‘somebody screwed up,’” he said. “The services have got to make certain they are working on deployability.”

Male-Female Crew Planned For Kings Bay Navy Sub

Joe Daraskevich, The Florida-Times Union
19 February 2018 
ST. MARYS, GA. – Capt. Gregory Kercher spent about a week on an Australian diesel-powered submarine back in 2006 as part of a command course to prepare for a position as the executive officer on a U.S. Navy submarine.
The Royal Australian Navy had already integrated the submarine force, and Kercher was impressed by how well men and women worked together on the vessel.
He said he knew at the time that the United States would one day make the transition from an all-male submarine culture to one allowing women to serve, but there was no telling how long that change would take.
Twelve years later, he's playing a major role in the transition at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Southeast Georgia by leading one of the first crews at the installation mixed with enlisted male and female submariners.
"If we tried to do this 15 to 20 years ago in a sudden manner, I think it would have been difficult," Kercher said. "We wouldn't have been prepared for it, and it probably wouldn't have went off as seamless as it has."
Each submarine uses a two-crew concept - blue and gold - to alleviate the long periods of time spent at sea. Kercher took over as the commanding officer of the gold crew on the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Florida in September. His counterpart, Capt. Brett Moyes, is leading the blue crew.
Kercher said his crew will be ready to deploy for the first time in a few months thanks to careful planning by the Navy that allowed the integration process to unfold one step at a time.
First, female officers started serving on submarines in 2011. Then enlisted women joined the crews of the USS Michigan in Bangor, Wash., in 2016. Now the Navy has made the transition on the East Coast with the two crews of the Florida.
"I had a lot of thoughts over the six months leading up to the time when I was coming to take over and become the commanding officer," Kercher said.
So he reached out to his peers for advice on how to handle the new environment. He said he talked to some who had served with female officers on submarines, and he reached out to personnel on the Michigan to see how it went when the first enlisted women joined.
Kercher said most of the advice he received dealt with low-level issues like how the modifications worked out with berthing and bathrooms. There wasn't much advice on how to deal with actual crew members getting along, Kercher said, because for the most part they were focused on the mission instead of the difference in gender.
He said the Navy did a great job of setting up berthing without taking away very much space for the men.
One obvious difference Kercher noticed was the chief petty officer quarters were altered to accommodate three people in each one, allowing for three women to live in one of the spots together.
The same is true of the bunk rooms for enlisted sailors in the missile compartments, he said. The submarines already had nine-person bunk rooms, and now some of them are designated for women with bathrooms nearby.
Kercher said the idea that Navy submarines are places without privacy is a common misconception that goes back to World War II when the vessels were much smaller. It's not like current submarines have as much room as surface ships, he said, but there are definitely doors on all the toilet and shower stalls.
"I just don't think that we had that many privacy concerns before, and I really don't think about that now," he said.
The crew completed a training drill recently with special forces and Navy SEALS on board. Kercher said the total compliment on the vessel was about 240 people, and the major concern was how to feed everybody. Privacy wasn't an issue.
"I would say many of the female sailors are helping take care of the problems we are working on rather than there being problems because of them," Kercher said.
Neither Kercher, his executive officer or the chief of the boat have any experience serving with women on board a submarine, so they've been relying on some of the women on the crew to help work through any potential issues related to gender that might come along.
"Sometimes we might over-think things," Kercher said. "But I'd rather we over-think and plan properly."
He said the men on his crew were getting used to the idea of women joining them well before he arrived. Discussions started as soon as the decision was made to involve the Florida in the integration process, and it helped that the modifications were made in dry dock at Kings Bay so the sailors could monitor the progress.
"It remains an all-volunteer force. If somebody wanted to step up and say 'I no longer want to serve on a submarine,' they could have certainly done that," Kercher said. "We've had none of that."
Kercher said he's been impressed with the attitude displayed by the women and their willingness to work hard to fit in, but he's also impressed with the behavior of the men.
He said there's always been an unwritten rule to look after sailors who are serving on submarines for the first
time. They seem to be meshing just like they would if all the newcomers were men, Kercher said.
"The rest of the crew sees this as the same opportunity I see, and they see it as a pride thing for the Florida," he said.
Kercher said it's obvious through interacting with his crew that the women share that same sense of pride. They don't necessarily show it outwardly because they are so focused on the mission, he said.
"They won't go out of their way to show that pride, but it's there, it's evident all the time," Kercher said. "They just don't want to make it about themselves."
In some cases serving on a submarine is a lifelong goal for the women, Kercher said, but they aren't thinking of themselves as pioneers. He said they just want to be thought of as submariners just like the rest of the crew.
A member of the blue crew just cemented her place on the vessel by becoming the first junior enlisted woman to earn her enlisted submarine warfare pin, or "dolphins," this year while the submarine was underway.
Fire Control Technician 2nd Class Jasmine Kiernan-Rolen was required to qualify as petty officer of the deck, topside roving patrol and numerous in-rate qualifications in order to receive the pin. She also was required to perform damage-control functions and demonstrate proficiency in the various areas of submarining.
"It feels incredible to be a part of such a tightly woven community, and it's an honor to earn the right to wear the Navy's first qualification pin," Kiernan-Rolen said. "The guys here have been both tough but inspiring."
The leaders from the Florida and Michigan recently got together to talk about their experiences over the last six months. But they moved on from the topic of women pretty quickly, and the conversation turned to operating in a deployed status, Kercher said.
Moyes said the talent level of the women on the blue crew has made the integration process smooth and successful. Kercher echoed that sentiment and was excited about the prospect of the first enlisted woman on the gold crew going through her qualification board recently in the hopes of receiving her pin.
The women on both Florida crews amount to about 30 total, with a handful of them being officers. More are expected to arrive soon, just in time for deployment.
Kercher said it's a universal thought that the U.S. submarine force is the greatest in the world, and adding enlisted women to the equation is only going to make it better.
"We need that constant infusion of the best talent possible in order to maintain the submarine force as the best in the world," Kercher said.
He said by opening the pool of candidates to the female population in the United States, the Navy is going to have a whole new group of talented submariners that weren't available before.
Kercher said the deliberate integration process took a long time to accomplish, but it was the right way to do it to ensure a smooth transition.
Soon it will be time to see how they do on deployment.