The "Big Gun's" Two-Theater TLAM Tally
by LTJG Alexander Barbara, USN
"You are more likely to shoot a Tomahawk missile than any other weapon during your time in the military - even a handgun," the instructor told us as he introduced the topic of Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) and over-the-horizon targeting at the Submarine Officer Basic Course last fall. Although this segment only lasted three days, it would prove to be one of the more relevant subjects during my follow-on deployment. It was only a matter of weeks until USS Miami (SSN-755) was to leave for six months in the Mediterranean Sea and Arabian Gulf. With international tensions beginning to rise at that time, the deployment was sure to include plenty of real-world operations, as well as a few visits to interesting places.
Up to this point, virtually everything I knew about submarines and submarine life had been picked up from either my instructors' "sea stories" or my own brief excursion on a submarine while I was a midshipman. As it turned out, the deployment was filled with a host of new experiences and lessons learned, as well as plenty of excitement. Although real-world strike operations provided most of the latter, the daily challenges of life onboard during the deployment were no less vivid.
I reported to the ship the day before it deployed. Hence, my first few days on Miami were very challenging, even though much of my time was spent figuring out the obvious, like learning my way around the ship. It was important to become familiar with the daily routine, to assimilate myself as quickly as possible, and primarily, to qualify as Engineering Officer Of the Watch. The ship's demanding and extremely dynamic schedule during the early phases of our deployment didn't make it any easier! However, once I qualified, I had the satisfaction of being able to make a real contribution, both as a watchstander and in supporting the ship's tactical operations directly.
The transit from Groton, Connecticut to the Arabian Gulf was fast and furious. On the way, we participated regularly in Tomahawk strike exercises, which provided a greater focus and urgency to our deployment. For a new junior officer, they were also a good learning experience and an opportunity to see how the ship would fight. Not long after we had completed a TLAM exercise in the Arabian Gulf, the Captain's voice came over the 1MC, announcing to the crew that we had just received a Launch Sequence Plan for a potential TLAM strike.
There was a lot of planning and preparation behind the first salvo of what was to become known as Operation DESERT FOX. It would occur at night, which posed some unique challenges in a control room that was rigged for black. We all knew what needed to be done, and our earlier practice had made us as tactically proficient as possible. Although the prospect of conducting real strike operations was a sobering thought, the crew was eager to do what we had all trained for. It was an incredible time to be onboard Miami.
Virtually all of the Enterprise battlegroup was with us in the Arabian Gulf that night, but it was Miami, the submarine, that launched the first missile. Since no one knew what a missile launch would be like, each of us was amazed at the way it felt when the first vertical missile was away. The ship reacted strongly to the force of each round being launched - a sound and shake that could be heard and felt anywhere onboard. The crew's reaction was best captured in the words of Lieutenant Tim Miklus, the senior-most junior officer on board at the time. Looking through the periscope at the missile emerging from the water to begin its journey, he could only exclaim, "Oh-my-God! We just shot a real missile!"
Overall, our strike operations in DESERT FOX were a physical and mental challenge. Much of the crew was awake for most of the night, and the Fire Control Technicians and Cruise Missile Launch Party, as well as the team in the Torpedo Room, had spent countless hours preparing. After all our salvos were away, we were pretty worn down, but definitely proud of what we had accomplished. Although it took a day or two for most to recover, we had shared what would become one of the most unique and memorable experiences of our lives.
After Operation DESERT FOX, a visit to Bahrain rounded out our time in the Arabian Gulf. We got underway from Bahrain a few days prior to Christmas and spent the holidays transiting to the Mediterranean Sea. During a brief upkeep period in La Maddalena, Italy, the ship completed the first ever forward-deployed reload of Tomahawk missiles on a submarine. By that time, however, the situation in Kosovo was beginning to get very tense, and it wouldn't be long until we were in the middle of it again! Over the next two months, our schedule was altered several times to send us into the Adriatic Sea for what would emerge as the early phases of Operation ALLIED FORCE. For the second time in our deployment - and in a different theater - we found ourselves preparing for real-world TLAM strikes.
Strike operations in support of Operation ALLIED FORCE were very different from those in the Arabian Gulf. Those in the Gulf were traditional strike scenarios for which we had been thoroughly trained and prepared - large-volume strikes following standard planning techniques. In contrast, our Adriatic operations were low volume strikes that required sporadic rapid planning over an extended period of time. The ship remained at periscope depth for several weeks, ready to launch when needed. During that time, we were simply standing by, never knowing what to expect. Indeed, the call to man battlestations occurred at many odd hours, and once again Miami would pickle off a salvo.
We were fortunate to receive rapid feedback on our efforts in the form of battle damage assessments from the operational commanders of Operation ALLIED FORCE. These photographs had a great impact on crew morale. They gave everyone, from the Quartermaster to the Engine Room Upper Level watch, the chance to see the direct effect our ship was having on world events. There was no better way to make clear to all of us how important our tasking had been and how Miami - as one big team - had made a significant contribution.
After several weeks on station, the continuing operations in the Adriatic began to cycle the crew, especially members of the Cruise Missile Launch Party and the Wardroom. In addition to the normal three-section watch rotation, these men were constantly involved in strike operations planning. The crew was manning battlestations at different times virtually every day, and whether we actually launched a missile or not, the crew's skill and endurance were heavily stressed. When we finally left the Adriatic for home, our exhilaration was tempered by a certain amount of sheer exhaustion.
This Miami deployment was the most challenging, most memorable experience of my life. We spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and Easter at sea, yet all together as one family. Missing the holidays at home caused some difficult moments, but we all grew from that experience. We accomplished many things and made our share of modern history.
And at the same time, we got to see a bit of the world. Over the course of six months, the ship pulled into port ten times. Although we were called to leave early on eight of those occasions, I still managed to see the Pope, stand at the top of the Vatican, climb Mount Vesuvius and the Rock of Gibraltar, and visit the gold and spice souks in Dubai. I was also able to pass through the Suez Canal and enjoy the dubious honor of being attacked by one of the famous Gibraltar apes!
We had trained hard to be ready for any tasking, particularly in strike warfare - and it paid off. By the end of our deployment, USS Miami, the "Big Gun" of the Submarine Force, had shot quite a few TLAMs. But no one had ever fired a handgun.
LTJG Barbara is a member of the wardroom of USS Miami.
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