Life onboard a submarine, is all about taking decisions at all levels. However, the Submarine Commander has got the job of taking the toughest decisions pertaining to the safety of the entire crew which affect life and death situations at sea. There is no better teacher than experience, it is said, but the use of technology and modern techniques do help the process. Very often, some decisions have to be taken in a split second and if the mind is not trained well, there will be no time to refer to complicated processes or decision-making tools. One has to train one’s mind to tackle every possible situation likely to be encountered through study and use of scientific tools available, so as to make ‘decision making’ a habit that comes naturally or instinctively.
Whenever a person gets a gut feeling from within, it is actually a throwback by the brain, as in, giving an instant solution to a problem instinctively without assigning any reason or apparent logic
One intangible that requires to be respected by any Submarine Commander is to always nurture his gut feeling, respecting that Funny Inner Feeling (FIF), gut feeling, intuition, sixth sense, extra sensory perception or whatever one may call it, mostly pays off. Whenever a person gets a gut feeling from within, it is actually a throwback by the brain, as in, giving an instant solution to a problem instinctively without assigning any reason or apparent logic. It is indicated that such a response by our brains could possibly be a result of the vast studies one has personally carried out in the past coupled with experience gained practically, which is thrown up as a solution by the sub-conscious mind at that instant.
Being deployed on a patrol is the raison d’être for any Submarine Commander and thence ‘decision making’ becomes his bread and butter. The very nature of secrecy of operations puts him in a unique position at the hub of all ‘decision making’ onboard a submarine. The responsibility attached to the mission is phenomenal though he can obtain the advice of his officers, that’s true, but those words remain just that – advice. The final decision will always have to be his. Split second decision making can only be achieved through training and training alone.
Decision-making cannot be templated as decisions have to be taken in the light of the given circumstances, at that particular instant, for that particular event. Hence, it is very important to think about every conceivable situation likely to be encountered in the future, so that, one is better prepared to take decisions for accomplishment of one’s mission.
Within half an hour of our discussion, he told me that he wanted to come to periscope depth to have a look at the surface picture through the periscope as he was getting a funny feeling about something.
This particular incident pertains to the dangerous nature of submarine operations in the vicinity of clusters of oil rigs in designated oil fields at sea. Leaving harbour in dark hours with lights doused to maintain stealth can be very challenging for submarines with numerous obstacles in the form of stray objects, fishing boats, unlit oil rigs and bad weather in our path, on surface as well as dived. On one such occasion, my submarine of which I was the Executive Officer (second in command) having left harbour and cleared all known obstacles had dived to a safe depth and was proceeding on her mission. It was still a couple of hours to dawn and the crew had been awake since the previous day. The weather was deteriorating that night and visibility in the vicinity of the oil rigs was reducing. All detection equipment performance prior to diving deep was outstanding with contacts clearly showing up at quite a distance.
All the required actions and precautions that needed to be taken had already been checked and found to be okay. Hence with the Captain’s permission, I permitted the men to be changed to watch system (shift duty) so that some could catch a bit of sleep and be ready for the activity next day. I had stayed on in the Combat Information Centre to strategize with the Captain about our forthcoming mission. Within half an hour of our discussion, he told me that he wanted to come to periscope depth to have a look at the surface picture through the periscope as he was getting a funny feeling about something. I did mention to him that the men had not got much sleep and we would be disturbing them. But the look in his eyes made me sound the buzzer for ‘Battle Stations’ instantly. This buzzer alarm would bring all men running to their designated posts ready for action in an instant.
Lo and behold! Viewing through the periscope, there, right in our path ahead was a huge unlit, unmanned, uncharted oil rig just a nautical mile away, which had no business to be there. No logical explanation could be assigned as to why this massive oil rig did not show up on the radar prior to diving deep in the light of the superlative performance of the equipment on that particular day. There was no error in the plotting of all the oil rigs on our chart or map as doubly cross checked. In fact, there was no error on our side in any way. Well, this oil rig was just there without explanation and the only man who got the gut feeling was the Captain. Sometimes, the quote, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” appears to be uncannily true. Of course, the submarine took whatever actions it had to take to avoid the danger and move to safety but the severity of the situation really made me and the Captain shudder, sending a shiver up our spines.
Every time we met later on in life (God bless his soul as he is no more), after I got my first command of my submarine and subsequently during our various assignments, we always clinked glasses and raised a toast to those good old times and to respecting a gut feeling.
Read more from Aspi here: