ASW Exercise


By Richard H. King, CDR USNR-Ret.

At the time of this story, CDR King was an Ensign in OPs (Operations)
as an EMO (Electronics Material Officer) 


    By the mid to late sixties, in most exercise matches between a destroyer and a submarine, the submarine would usually come out on top even if it was a conventional submarine. With a nuclear submarine, it was a hopeless mismatch, the Nuke always came out on top. In early 1966, the USS CHEVALIER DD-805 (a 1944 model Gearing) was paired against a conventional submarine for an ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare) (and anti-destroyer, from the sub’s point of view?) exercise.

    CHEVALIER at that time was not in the “first string” for ASW, you might call her “second string” or even “third string” ASW wise. By this time, “VDS” (Variable Depth Sonar) was quite common and the first of the new AN/SQS-26 sonar’s were beginning to appear in the fleet. CHEVALIER still had only the respected but out of date AN/SQS-23 with far less range and capability. For delivery, CHEVALIER had two triple tube trainable Mk 32 launchers launching the Mk 44 torpedo and also had two DASH Drones (QH-50’s) that could each carry two Mk 44 torpedoes. Due to budget problems when CHEVALIER finally went to FRAM in 1960, she did not get ASROC. As a consolation prize, she got to keep all three of her original gun mounts.

    But sonar and torpedo delivery systems do not constitute the entire ASW story for a destroyer. There are three other ASW systems, (1) the “Mk 5, Mod 2” eyeballs (visual sightings from lookouts, bridge watch standers and signalmen), (2) surface search radar (in CHEVALIER’s case, the trustworthy AN/SPS-10) and (3) ESM (electronic support measures). In CHEVALIER’s case, ESM meant the pitifully ancient and antiquated AN/BLR-1.

    As EMO (Electronic Material Officer) aboard CHEVALIER in 1966, I was sent to a two week EWS (electronic warfare school) for junior officers. The Instructor/Chief on the first day said almost all Navy destroyers today were equipped with the new AN/WLR-1 receiver so that is what they would primarily teach. Some destroyers also had the new AN/ULQ-6 jamming device. I had to raise my hand, “Chief … my ship still has the BLR-1”. He replied, “I thought they were all scrapped … Oh well, we still have one here in the school and we will show you how it works after classes”. “Thanks Chief!”. Ultimately, I learned how to operate both the BLR (that CHEVALIER but no one else had) and the WLR (that CHEVALIER didn’t have) and evaluate intercepted signals.

    A quick primer in sixties vintage destroyer ESM: Both the BLR-1 and the WLR-1 were designed to intercept the electronic transmissions of other ships, especially their radar transmissions. Every radar transmission has a number of identifying characteristics, including the frequency, the pulse width, the pulse repetition rate, the antenna rotation rate, and some others. When a radar transmission was intercepted, each characteristic could be measured. Now by turning to a thick and clumsy book containing the characteristics of every radar on every ship and aircraft (naval and civilian) in the world, with persistence, time and patience, you could finally say “hey, I think we have intercepted a Russian radar known as the “bow tie” that is found only on the Russian Kotlin Class destroyers”. Whereupon, the two man (at GQ) ESM team would announce “Bridge, CIC (this is) ESM, a Russian Kotlin Class Destroyer bears 063 degrees true”. “Bridge aye”. “CIC aye”. Note that we gave the bridge and CIC a bearing to the Kotlin, but no range. That’s because we had no accurate way to even estimate range.

    Having now graduated from EWS (electronic warfare school) I went back to the fleet, meaning the CHEVALIER. Not long thereafter, we went to sea and I learned of the scheduled destroyer-submarine exercise battle that was forthcoming, i.e., the mother of all ASW/ADW (anti destroyer warfare) exercise battles between essentially a general purpose Gearing and a conventional diesel US submarine (a/k/a, a “smoke boat”).

    But wait, there were to be some “Rules” so that the “battle could be joined” within a reasonable period of time and so the observers and scorers from both the submarine and destroyer squadron commodores’ staffs could get home in time for happy hour. That was a very important consideration. So here were the rules:

    Both ships would have some “plaster load” exercise torpedoes. If I understand “plaster load”, it was essentially a real torpedo but in lieu of a warhead tip, had a “plaster of Paris tip” that would crumble upon impact with the hull (of either the destroyer or the submarine). I think that after it scored a “hit”, something inside it would also cause it to float to the surface so it could be recovered.

    A “square” twenty miles by twenty miles (?), was drawn in the San Diego Operations Area. The submarine would start from the west side of the square; the destroyer (CHEVALIER) would start from the east side (sort of like in boxing). Ding, ding! Ding, ding! Let the battle begin. Under the rules of engagement, both ships were to remain within the box and sink her respective opponent using a “Plaster of Paris tipped” torpedo that hopefully would not cause any actual damage to the opponent. May the best ship win! As general quarters sounded, CHEVALIER’s tiny ESM cubicle, separated from CIC by only a curtain, was manned by RD3 Jim Newkirk (manning the trusty BLR-1) and Ensign Dick King (holding that big thick clumsy book). The curtain was so I could keep a light on to read the big clumsy book without causing problems in a darkened CIC.

    CHEVALIER’s captain, G. G. Ely Kirk, really wanted to do well in this exercise, and all the key players had been extensively briefed for days in preparation. Key players? They would be the sonar men, torpedo men, the DASH crew and CIC, but not Chevy’s two-man ESM team. But I had read all the message traffic setting up the exercise and I knew the name of the American submarine. Since I knew the name, I knew the class and using the big fat clumsy book in reverse, I found the parameters and characteristics of her surface search radar. I told Newkirk to search only between frequency x and frequency y (the ranges of the submarine’s surface search radar) and forget everything else. The range between “x” and “y” was very narrow, less than one percent of commonly used surface search radars worldwide. Was this cheating on the exercise? I don’t know, I didn’t ask anyone. By way of analogy, think of your FM radio dial, typically running from 86 to 110 MHz. We are looking for an intermittent FM broadcast and we know that if it broadcasts, it will be on not less than 96.3 MHz nor more than 96.5 MHz. Our search problem is greatly simplified.

    Submarines as far as possible like to be stealthy and usually maintain strict “EMCON” (Emission Control). When the periscope mounted surface search radar is used, typically the captain will order just one or two sweeps (transmitting for only one or two rotations of the antenna, just a few seconds). Five minutes after COMEX (Commence Exercise), in a decision I suspect he regretted for a long time, the submarine captain decided to risk a two sweep radar “peek” to locate CHEVALIER. Suddenly Newkirk said, “There it is, frequency “x”, pulse repetition rate “y”, pulse width “z”. “Bearing 265”. BINGO, and then it was gone. I said, “report it to the bridge and CIC” (Newkirk was wearing sound powered phones on the JA (?) circuit). He did so, “Bridge-CIC (this is) ESM, target submarine bears 265 true”.

    I heard later that the reaction on the bridge, in CIC and in sonar was one of incredulous doubt. It (the exercise) was apparently not supposed to work this way. Some people weren’t even aware that ESM could have a role in ASW. Suddenly the curtain to ESM was whipped open and there stood the OPS officer, LT Jim Brink, demanding, “are you sure? … Are you sure?” I replied, “Yes sir, we are sure” as Newkirk nodded his head indicating he agreed.

    Captain Kirk wasted no time cross-examining his two-man ESM team; I doubt if he even knew who was on it. He immediately ordered a DASH in the air and sent it out the bearing we had reported with orders to stop it short of the edge of the specified exercise area (remember, we give bearings only, no ranges, so he was using the Op Area limit as a temporary maximum range). At the same time, he ordered CHEVALIER on the course of the reported bearing and at a rather high rate of speed at first (sonar performance is seriously degraded by high speed).

    So far CHEVALIER had been lucky. Using some guesswork and intuition, the Captain at some point slowed CHEVALIER and almost immediately thereafter a sonar contact was acquired on the SQS-23 and reported. BINGO again, and again Kirk wasted no time screwing around. He immediately sent the DASH to the “datum” and ordered an Mk 44 dropped. The Mk 44 was a homing torpedo; it quickly acquired its target and made a direct hit on the submarine. But Kirk was not done yet, he was still charging towards datum and ordered a second Mk 44 fired out of one of the triple launchers. Shortly thereafter a second direct hit was obtained on the submarine.

    The score at this point was CHEVALIER two, submarine zero, and the exercise was declared over. It was just one of those rare days when every piece of equipment (BLR-1, AN/SQS-23, QH-50, Mk 32 launcher and Mk 44 torpedoes) and all personnel involved therewith, worked perfectly, exactly as designed and trained The exercise planners and scorers had expected an exercise that would last for several hours but the whole thing was over in less than 40 minutes. CHEVALIER was given a score of 98 (out of 100) on the exercise (something stupid like a sailor forgetting to tuck his pants into his socks at GQ cost us a perfect score). CHEVALIER did however receive the ASW “A” that cycle.

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