Submarine Command Course
Translated from 'Van Boord', March 2001.
Walrus (2)'s control room. At the left-back the helmsman, on the far right the search scope (Photo: © © CAVDKM/Keesnan Dogger).
SUBMARINE COMMAND COURSE
During the First and Second World Wars, submarines were primarily deployed for waging surface war. Submarines attacked their targets from a short distance (1000 to 1500 yards), mostly close to enemy units. Because knowledge and skills were passed on from commander to commander, however, losses among British submarines were high during the First World War. In order to reduce the considerable number of losses, the Royal Navy decided in 1917 to structurally train candidates for submarine command. Ever since, selected candidates for submarine command have been required to successfully complete the Commanding Officers Qualifying Course (COQC), nowadays formally called the Submarine Command Course (SMCC) and informally called the "perisher". Since the establishment of this training course, the number of losses has not only dropped considerably, but the effectiveness of the submarine as a weapon has increased. After World War II, Dutch officers wanting to command a submarine have also had to successfully complete the British Submarine Command Course (SMCC).
The content of the COQC or SMCC has changed through the years. Initially, the course trained candidates in attacking targets with straight running torpedoes. It was therefore a more technically oriented type of training (attack trainer). Nowadays, the SMCC is a highly intensive package of leadership, or command, training, and is spoken of with respect, also outside of the Dutch Royal Navy. This is due in part to the consequences faced by students who fail to complete the course successfully. Such failure means that the studentís sailing career is over within the Submarine Service and he will no longer be permitted to hold a position on a submarine.
The Dutch Royal Navy began its own NLSMCC in 1995 after the Royal Navy changed the contents of its course. This change was the result of the Royal Navy disposing of its diesel-electric submarines due to cutbacks and being left with only nuclear-driven subs. Both the chief officer as well as the commander of these subs is required to complete the SMCC successfully or, in other words, to become "command qualified". This ultimately meant, also for the British candidates, that they first become chief officer on a nuclear submarine and are not immediately given final responsibility. This enables them to gain experience in this area.
This development made it clear that the specific training necessary for being in command of a diesel-electric submarine was no longer being taught sufficiently. The Dutch Royal Navy therefore began its own course, the NLSMCC, out of sheer necessity. Various countries (Australia, Brazil, Korea, Denmark and others) have sought affiliation since, and their candidates take the NLSMCC course whenever space permits.
Walrus (2)'s control room. At the left-back the helmsman, in the middle the search scope and at the right the sonar consoles (Photo: © © CAVDKM/Keesnan Dogger).
The SMCC is constructed as a four-stage rocket and set up so that a maximum of 6 perishers (candidates) can be trained and evaluated.
- The first phase focuses on safety training, which takes place in trainers ("Walrus simulator") on shore.
- During the second phase, the skills learned in the first part are put to test at sea. The perishers call this the COCKEX period, a corruption of the old name COQC, plus EXercise.
- The third phase consists of tactical training in the simulators and lessons related to commanding a submarine.
- During the fourth phase, which takes place at sea, students need to demonstrate that they are able to command a submarine independently. In submarine circles, this period is called the "COCKFIGHT".
Students enter the trainer again following safety training. During this period, they face a number of different scenarios, during which they are confronted with various tactical matters. The students take turns being "duty captain" (commanding), while the others are given supporting functions. Aspects that play a role here are "rules of engagement" (what is politically allowed), enemy possibilities, evasion measures, search strategies and intercepting enemy units. Students are not only taught on board about stress management, administrative evaluations, working conditions, environmental matters, international law and medical aspects, but also pay operational visits to other navy units in order to exchange experiences. This knowledge is then developed further in practice during the COQCFIGHT. The perishers are also given the opportunity during this period to command for a longer period of time and are confronted with their own planning. The teacher shifts the accent from training and coaching to evaluating during this phase.
The Walrus (2)-class submarine control simulator.
During the final phase, students must show that they are able to command a submarine independently. The criterion here is not that the student may not make any mistakes, but rather that he must be able to recognize his mistakes and correct them in time. Major mistakes that affect the safety of the submarine and which could have consequences for the mission will, however, affect the studentís final evaluation.
During the final weekend, the perishers must be able to operate independently, safely and strategically under difficult circumstances. High authorities from the submarine community also come on board during this period to inspect the studentsí progress.
If perishers had not achieved the required level during the previous phases, the teacher will remove them from the training during this final week.
On the final day, a lavish meal is held for the new generation of submarine commanders. The so-called "perisher breakfast" (an elaborate Scottish breakfast) is held on the British base Faslane, more or less the home base for the British Submarine Service. It is customary for perishers from the SMCC and the NLSMCC to invite all commanders who acted as the opposition during the course to this meal. Although, in the past, the perisher breakfast was held on the Monday morning following the completion of the course, nowadays it is a dinner held on Sunday evening. The name perisher breakfast, however, has remained. After all, tradition is tradition!
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