Sunday, January 25, 2015


For about 4 years we of the west coast Mine Battle Force had an arrangement with our mine counter measures ships based in the Persian Gulf. The crews of the ships would be rotated over time and what you found when you got there was what was left of critical systems designed to drive the ship through the water or find your actual sea mines.

I remember the first time I showed up on one of those ships. As I recall offhand, the engineering systems had 22 outstanding casualty reports on pieces of the altogether vital ship's propulsion and control systems. Those were just the most hideously blatant ones. There were a whole slew of other things that did not work but were covered by redundant equipment so the effect of failure could be pushed off into some unknown future.

My Chief had preceded my arrival by a month and he was working flat out at making the ship whole but it was an uphill struggle until reinforcements arrived; me and a Chief Electrician off another MSO out of Seattle/Tacoma. We couldn't help but be amazed at the wreck that was now ours. Almost nothing on that ship worked except the SONAR and one or two engines.

One of the equipment failures I remember well. The ship's degaussing system did not work. The massive system designed to minimize our magnetic signature and make us invisible to really scary magnetic influence mines was totally out of commission. The Chief Electrician tore into that one first. He was busy going hand over hand following the various coils trying to find the ground/short when I took him to the fantail for a smoke and an update. He was outlining what he was trying to do with too few hands and coils that wrapped around that ship 3 different times when I nodded to the ship's mast and asked him if he would tell me which one of those stubby looking antennae was the antenna that sensed the earth's magnetic field as the ship moved through it and served as the master reference for the degaussing system.

His eyes turned to the mast in question and saw what I saw. There was one antenna that was visibly and risibly, not vertical straight up and down. It turns out all we had to do was climb up there with a plumb bob and make it vertical and lo and behold, the degaussing system was restored to full operation.

The casualties I really hated were the hidden ones that had not been reported because they were the redundant systems there to backup the primaries. When there is just one fuel oil purifier, you need it to work. Barring that, you would need the fuel oil transfer pump (1) to work so you could move fuel from the main tanks in the bowels of the ship to the service tanks in the engine rooms. Ours did not work. Neither did the attached diesel powered emergency fire pump. Neither did the Salt Water Cooling backup pump.

Some fairly bright architects, engineers, boat wrights and craftsmen built these ships but 4 months in the hands of slackers and underachievers had left them pretty much down to a single catastrophic failure with no chance of recovery.

I remember my brother returning to the condo we shared in San Diego and reporting that his bank had just written off another 2 or 3 % of outstanding loans as non-performing assets. This was at the height of the Savings and Loan disaster and I finally had to point out that he better start looking for a new job because one cannot keep writing off assets with a glib expression and no plan to make the bank work again.

It is looking more and more likely that civilized societies around the world have let all the redundancies of civilization fall apart and atrophy. The disaster at Chernobyl was manmade. I wonder though at people who are supposedly clever who dismantled their entire power network and now rely upon the truthfulness and integrity of Russians who 'promise' to provide all the fuel the new fossil plants require to generate power. Cities like LA totally reliant on a single water source hundreds of miles away.

The barbarians have always been out there and there's a lot of them now. Infrastructure used to be designed and built with redundancy so the entire system was never paralyzed if one source failed or hostile action destroyed a major node.

We don't build civilizations like we used to.

YMS-516 exploded by a magnetic influence mine 18 October 1950, Wonsan, Korea


Anne Bonney said...

Elegant writing.

HMS Defiant said...

One writer had this to say of the infrastructure that the Mongols destroyed in the Fertile Crescent almost a thousand years ago,...they never rebuilt it. And now, it looks like they never will,

In about 6 months, the sword of islam will take us to war with Persia.He's going to blame it on the sanctions collapse he engineered. I'm afraid Jack Ryan's office mate's poster in "RED STORM RISING" won't even be a possibility. "SKI TABRIZ."