March 27, 2006
Luxury crew’s ship
San Antonio’s roomier racks, extra storage space show the Navy is building around its people
By Andrew Scutro
Times staff writer
It was dawn when the LPD 17 arrived at its new Norfolk, Va., home Dec. 6.
With seas calm and the sun on the Atlantic horizon, Rear Adm. Garry Hall, commander of Amphibious Group 2, clambered up its Jacob’s ladder unannounced.
He’d hitched a ride out to the channel with the local bar pilot so he could personally welcome the brand-new amphib.
Hall, a former enlisted sailor and helicopter pilot, found an unusual splendor in the Navy’s newest amphibious warfare ship.
“It was really breathtaking,” he said. “The morning sun defines the lines of the ship, and she really does have beautiful lines. It was just magnificent.”
The San Antonio really is a different kind of ship, inside and out. Despite costing $1 billion more than the original 1996 price tag of $641 million, arriving four years behind schedule, suffering a highly critical inspection last summer and surviving the brutal lashing of Hurricane Katrina while tied to the pier in Pascagoula, Miss., the LPD 17 marks a new beginning in the way warships are designed and crewed.
Not only does the ship look different, with enclosed masts and a sleek, low-slung silhouette, but at the risk of using a battered cliché, it’s a sailor- and Marine-friendly warship. Some of the creature-comfort highlights include:
• Racks in which sailors can sit up.
• A 1,100-square-foot gym with room for 30 sailors and Marines to work out. There are free weights, three bench presses, five exercise machines, a rowing machine, a scuttlebutt and a head. There also is an additional space with nine elliptical trainers and a cardio room with five stationary bicycles.
• A dedicated learning resource center, as well as an “electronic classroom” for what’s called the “Total Ship Training System.” The resource center has 14 study carrels and 50 laptops.
The electronic classroom has 18 workstations with large-screen displays. Berthing areas have the capacity to support wireless Internet.
• A rock-climbing wall. Well, space for one anyway. A currently unused space for a vertical launch system can be converted into a climbing wall. Although there are no official plans to convert the VLS space, the crew of the San Antonio has been trying to raise the money through morale, welfare and recreation funds to get the required gear for a climbing wall.
• No deep-fat fryer in the galley — which means less greasy chow. Instead, the LPD 17 has what’s called a combi oven, which cooks using steam and dry heat. To cook French fries, for example, the potatoes brown at 400 degrees Fahrenheit on a perforated steel sheet, producing crispy fries. Information from Naval Sea Systems Command, which manages the LPD 17 program, claims that the oil already existing in a frozen French fry is what “fries” it.
• Embarked Marines will enjoy an enclosed electronic shooting range. The Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer-Enhanced is an interactive, five-lane trainer using laser-equipped weapons. Participants shoot at simulated scenarios displayed via DVD.
• A Collective Protection System similar to that on an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer that pressurizes the ship in the event of a nuclear blast or chemical/biological attack.
• Controls are by touch screen, and the engine rooms are not manned, but rather surveyed by remote camera.
• Men and women have identical berthing. There are no urinals on the San Antonio, making heads gender-neutral.
• Doctors in the sick bay can send digitized X-rays to hospitals ashore for consultation.
• Automated seawater strainers mean sailors don’t have to manually pull out trapped waterborne debris as often as they currently do.
Undoubtedly, such features make San Antonio a ship sailors will want to serve on.
Putting people first
Unlike past ships that were built around a particular weapon system or from legacy designs, San Antonio’s designers obviously made people a priority.
Hall picked up on it the moment he came aboard.
For the first time, his flight jacket didn’t get snagged in the passageways. That’s because they were widened on San Antonio to make it easier on combat-loaded Marines. While most passageways are 36 inches wide, those around the flight deck and debarkation areas are 80 inches wide to allow ease of movement. In addition, ladders are six to eight inches wider than on existing amphibious ships.
“That’s no small detail, making the ship easy to get around with your full pack on,” Hall said. “I am really impressed with the ability to maneuver through the ship.”
The importance of a good night’s rest was considered, too.
Unlike the common Navy coffin rack, San Antonio’s designs allow sailors and Marines to sit up in bed. The racks also have a stowable shelf. Although the length of the rack is the same as existing models, each one has extras like a magazine rack, a fan, a mirror, electrical outlets and a pneumatic arm to allow quiet and easy lifting of the locker berth lid.
And for once, Marines have lockers equal to or better than sailors, with enough room for all their gear and weapons. Overall, San Antonio’s berthing areas have 40 percent more stowage than comparable amphibs. The Navy standard of 7.5 cubic feet of stowage per sailor has been raised to 12 feet for each sailor and Marine. The Marine spaces also have specific rifle and pack stowage.
“The habitability is excellent,” Hall said, adding, “When the Marines are happy, I’ll tell you, the Navy guys are happy.”
System vs. sailor
Despite some initial bad press for being overpriced, delivered late and besmirched by a harshly critical inspection last summer, the San Antonio represents a new approach to ship design, one that includes sailors and Marines from the outset.
“We need to design our ships and systems around our sailors, not the other way around,” said Greg Maxwell, the deputy commander for NavSea’s Human Systems Integration directorate.
“It’s thinking of the sailor as part of the system, not someone who’s going to come and operate and maintain the system, but [someone who is] integral to the system and the design.”
A retired captain and surface warfare officer, Maxwell said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen advocated such a new approach to ship design in a previous job as deputy commander for surface warfare.
Maxwell said sailor-centric features will be vital as Navy crews get smaller and commanders have fewer manning options. Habitability, he said, is no longer viewed as a “nice-to-have” but, rather, mission-critical.
For example, berthing areas, mess decks, passageways and work spaces were designed to increase the efficiency — and enhance the morale — of San Antonio’s optimally manned crew of 30 officers and 330 enlisted sailors.
John Owen is a civilian naval engineer who was part of the personnel and training working group for the San Antonio class.
Owen explained that in the old days, a ship or a system was designed to meet a capability or requirement.
“Then we’d throw it over the fence to the manpower people and say, ‘OK, you man it,’” he said. “Then they’d throw that to the training guy and say, ‘Give me a person with those knowledge, skills and abilities.’ And so a lot of times, a design problem became a training issue.”
Owen said the goal of using HSI on San Antonio was to undo that progression. By leveraging direct input from the fleet, changes and improvements could be made “when it’s still on paper, when we haven’t cut steel yet.”
To that end, designers ran three-dimensional, computer-simulated “Marines” down a proposed ship’s passageway, for example, to best determine optimal width and other design elements.
The LPD 17’s wide, open bridge layout was also based on sailor input.
The pilothouse has been divided into workstations for conning, navigation and voyage management. Based on sailor input, workstation heights were lowered to better accommodate shorter sailors. The pilothouse design allows manning by as few as three watch standers, according to Navy officials.
Such small differences add up.
San Antonio has a Combat Information Center, much like an Aegis cruiser or destroyer except that it has a space for the Marine combat logistics team next door, fewer operators and it’s roomier.
Operations Specialist 1st Class (SW) John Ingold has been in the Navy for 15 years. There are far fewer operations specialists like him in the CIC than in a comparable space years ago.
“It’s what we call optimal manning,” Ingold said. “We can do more with less.”
He said the planning for amphibious assault has been made easier with computers and touch-screen controls.
“In the old days, we used to put boats on the beach using paper,” he said. “We’d draw the beach out and draw the boat lanes. Now we do everything with a computer.”
A test for the galley
The scene below deck has been equally transformed.
The mess decks, for example, have been designed for speed of food delivery. All members of the Navy crew — and Marines when onboard — eat from a single galley. Supplies are delivered via a dumbwaiter from a storeroom five decks below.
“It’s very convenient,” said Lt. j.g. Andy Bradley, the food service officer. “We’re optimally manned, so we have limited personnel to feed a crew this size,” he said. “So having them work in a central location allows us to feed more effectively.”
The consolidated galley serves three messes and has two serving lines, so the chow lines keep moving. The centralized galley must be able to serve 1,202 people three meals a day.
“The way it’s set up, it’s easy to serve a crew of 360-some-odd people and then add more service lines when Marines are aboard,” Bradley said.
Hurricane Katrina allowed the galley to test out its speedier mess decks. The San Antonio got caught in port in Pascagoula and rode out the storm Aug. 29, becoming a shelter and command post in the aftermath.
Shipyard workers, National Guardsmen and locals — up to 900 people a day including the precommissioning crew — all ate on the San Antonio.
“We got to see how it worked out and it worked well,” Bradley said.
Despite all the problems in its infancy, sailors seem to really like the San Antonio. Now in the yard for further work, the ship will be going through certifications and evaluations later this year.
“All I know is, the ship works,” Bradley said. “I think she’s beautiful, to be honest with you.”
luxury field day
Marines pee sitting down.
Sounds like we're learning from the Brits. People have to live, as well as fight, in these things.
I was on a few LPDs in my day, as cargo if you get my meaning. I was on USS Juneau LPD10, USS Denver (LPD9 IIRC) and other ships in the Gator Navy.
Life onboard sucked to be plain about it. I remember sweating my balls off in overcrowded berthing areas, eating monotonous, bland chow in pathetically outdated chow halls and being generally miserable most of the time. The Sailors clearly hated their outdated ship as well.
If the Navy wants to attract and retain good Sailors, this is definitely a step in the right direction.
You know why they put Marines on board ships?
So the sailors have someone to dance with...............
Yep, still dry.
The Brits and Aussies are "wet" until they get in certain areas.
I often wonder of former generals and admirals of the once mighty Soviet army and navy simply see things like this and break into uncontrollable weeping.
Going out to sea generally sucks, and all the steamed french-fries and squat-pissing in the world isn't going to make it fun. Last I checked, San Antonio was sitting in a dry dock in Norfolk for post-delivery "improvements."
Post Shakedown Availability is a yard period EVERY newly commissioned ship goes through.
Think about it for a minute. These ships are started 5 years in advance. You have systems that sit for years and then suddenly get jarred by the stresses of being underway. Things are bound to break.
Like I said, EVERY newly commissioned ship goes through the Post Shakedown Availability.
Steamed fries? That'll help the bland chow comment.
Ever cook Ore-Ida fries in an oven?
I wonder if they are going to replace all of the creature comforts that have been 'reassigned'
by the crew. Rumor has it that a lot of MWR LCD screens and Laptops are 'missing'.
Pee sitting? You guys are kidding. No, they just piss all over the toilet seats just like the
knuckle-draggers on my ship... and we have urinals.
The 'automated' sw strainers they are talking about are actually manually operated but you don't
have to open them to clean 'em.
This was a problem on one of the DDGs, LASSEN IIRC. They had TV screens in each rack. Some came up missing.
nah, its because sheep would be too obvious