What It's Like To Live On Nuclear
Submarine HMS Victorious
As Royal Navy subs prepare to let women join crew, our
reporter takes her maiden voyage
Mirror.co.uk, Mar 11, 2012
The sailor stands in front of me... looking his new
shipmate up and down.
Then, pointing at my handbag, he says: “Ma’am, I’m
afraid I need you to give me your perfume please. And
your deodorant. And your mobile phone. Thank you.”
Bag emptied, he glances at my shoulder-length locks and
adds: “And your hair really needs to be tied back.”
It sounds like a robbery at sea. In fact I’ve just
-become the first ¬woman to receive orders aboard a
Three months ago Defence Secretary Philip Hammond
¬announced the lifting of the ban on females serving on
And the first woman captain will take ¬command of a
Royal Navy frigate in just eight weeks.
The Sunday Mirror was given exclusive access to a
submarine to see what lies in store for the new wave of
I join the 160-strong male crew on HMS Victorious, one
of four Royal Navy subs that carry Britain’s nuclear
deterrent, Trident ballistic missiles.
She spends three months at a time sneaking around the
ocean at walking pace, her exact position known to only
a ¬handful of ¬people. If another ¬vessel comes near,
she is undetectable and slinks off into the abyss.
Within minutes of boarding, I am left in no doubt of the
life-or-death nature of the crew’s job.
After being led to the control room, senior members of
the sub’s crew point me towards a safe.
Inside it is another safe. And ¬inside that it is a
handwritten letter from David Cameron to the boat’s
captain, Commander John Livesey.
It can only be opened if the PM dies in a nuclear attack
and contains his orders for what to do next. No one
knows what they are...
Hardly surprising, then, that safety is an obsession.
And I soon learn why I was “stripped” of all my girlie
Sailors cannot use aerosols ¬because they release
chemicals that cannot be removed by its
air--conditioning unit. Lashings of perfume and aerosol
deodorants would contaminate the atmosphere, which is
My phone is locked away because if there was a gas leak,
a spark from a mobile could light it.
My hairstyle comes under ¬scrutiny when I learn how to
put on a huge rubber oxygen mask and plug it into the
sub’s ¬emergency air supply.
The sailors were concerned the hair might slow down
putting on a mask in an emergency, so I must tie it
There’s no make-up or nail varnish either. You’re there
to fight for your country, not fiddle with eyeliner.
HMS Victorious is a ¬claustrophobic warren of corridors,
messes and cabins, with steep ladders -linking the
decks. It’s a war machine, not a cruise liner, so
nothing is signposted.
Messes are far too small for ¬everyone to sit down at
the same time, so sailors grab their meals then move on.
It’s no surprise not everyone on board knows each other.
“You see someone towards the end of a patrol and think,
‘who on Earth are you?’” says Able Seaman John “Neep”
“You can start a ¬conversation with a friend at the
-beginning of a patrol, not see them for five or six
weeks, then pick it up again where you left off.”
The only ¬contact the crew have with the ¬outside world
is in the form of two 60-word “family gram” -messages a
week from home. They cannot reply as a transmission
could reveal the sub’s position.
“You have to treat a family gram like a postcard. It’s
more to help morale. It’s to know life’s still going
on,” says Petty ¬Officer Michael “Knocka” White, 41.
No one is told if a loved one dies until HMS Victorious
returns to port. She ¬cannot surface to let them leave
for fear of being detected. “It’s a 24/7 commitment,”
says Lieutenant David Boulton, 28. “You just have to get
on with it.”
In the sleeping messes, dozens of bunks are stacked
three high, with an aisle just wide enough to walk down.
Drawing the narrow bed’s curtain is the only privacy the
junior ranks get.
A 15-bed ¬female mess with two toilets and a shower will
be built in HMS ¬Victorious by 2015, when ¬women will
make up about 10 per cent of the crew.
As the only woman on board I get a spare -officer’s
¬cabin with two bunks, a sink and a desk the size of a
The ¬conditions are so cramped I have to do a
three-point turn to get from the sink to the ¬doorway.
During my three days on board with no sunlight I soon
slip into this top- secret world. There is no TV and
both alcohol and cigar¬ettes are banned, as is -touching
a member of the opposite sex.
Lying in my bunk at night I ¬constantly hear people
quietly ¬moving and working around me.
There is the distant laughter of the night watch, early
morning ¬intercom broadcasts as the boat surfaces and a
clatter from the ¬galley as chefs bake the day’s bread.
To keep up with demand for clean uniforms, two washing
machines churn non-stop, getting through 160kg of
Navy-issue washing ¬powder per patrol.
Crew often pack their own floral conditioning tabs “to
make ¬everything smell a bit ¬sweeter” – a bit
optimistic given the vessel’s stench of machinery.
To purify sea water for drinking it is heated into steam
by the ¬nuclear reactor which powers the sub, then
cooled, with the salt ¬removed.
A submarine the size of HMS Victorious can make up to
10,000 gallons of water a day. Dirty water is stored in
bilge tanks which are regularly emptied.
But on one of my days on board, the water purifying
process has to be halted. All I get to sort out my
armpits is a small basin of water... a shame given that
my smellies are still under lock and key.
But in the end it isn’t missing home comforts that gets
to me. It’s all those steps. To reach the hatches to get
outside you have to climb ¬terrifying-looking cold metal
And using them requires the use of shoulder and leg
muscles no exercise class has ever reached.
Luckily I’d been warned to bring big sturdy boots with
They come in handy to meet the men with one of the most
important jobs on the submarine... the watch keepers,
who stand on the bridge when the submarine is on the
To reach them I climb a long slog of three ladders. My
¬reward at the top is an icy blast of wind and a
360-degree view of the sea with white-topped waves and
small ¬Scottish islands in the distance.
“If it’s really bad and waves are crashing over the top
of the conning tower, we have to be harnessed in or we
could be swept away,” says watch navigator Lieutenant
¬Anthony “Ginge” ¬Drummond, 28.
Nearly everyone works defence watches of six hours on,
six hours off, seven days a week without breaks.
Sitting with the crew, I ¬immediately feel part of the
team. Before ¬boarding I’d read comments suggesting
¬women might not be ¬welcome.
“Hope they don’t ask them to reverse a ¬sub,” said one
“Not sure how they will cope ¬without a Tesco at the
¬bottom of sea,” ¬another wrote.
But the men on HMS Victorious are all relaxed about the
arrival of women.
What matters to people like Chief Petty Officer Robert
“Rab” Burns, 46, is that the job gets done... safely. “I
don’t have a problem with women starting, they’re
entitled to do the job,” he says.
“They’ll be just as good – and just as bad – as
Commander Livesey, 40, points out that women already
serve in US, Norwegian, Danish and ¬Spanish boats: “I
think it will only be an issue if we make it one.”
Any concerns that these guys might not quite be telling
the truth is dispelled as I leave the boat.
As I scramble up the ladder my leg gets caught and I
fall flat on my face at the feet of the commander.
But my Bridget Jones moment isn’t met with laughs or
mickey-taking. Instead he simply puts his head to one
side, smiles politely and ¬salutes me on my way...
“Safe onward journey, Ali.”
Navy Thinning Forcing Out Thousands Of
By Corinne Reilly, The Virginian-Pilot
The day that Amanda Humburg's husband found out he would
be involuntarily discharged from the Navy, his command
sent him home early to give him time to absorb the
shock. He walked through the door of their house in
Chesapeake with a blank expression on his face and a
pile of papers in his arms that explained what came next
- severance pay, six months of health coverage, free
advice on how to write the first resume of his life.
Read the whole story.
Submarine officer on Official Secrets
Royal Navy submariner accused of passing
information that could be deemed useful to an enemy of
The Guardian, March 8
A Royal Navy submariner appeared before Westminster
magistrates' court, London, on Thursday charged with
breaching the Official Secrets Act. Petty Officer Edward
Devenney, 29, is accused of communicating information on
28 January that could be deemed to be useful to an enemy
of the state. He was arrested in Plymouth, Devon on
Tuesday morning before being charged on Wednesday night.
Devenney, of Northern Ireland, appeared in custody at
Westminster magistrates' court.
Wearing a blue polo shirt and jeans, he confirmed his
name and date of birth.
He was represented in court by Lord Carlile QC. Five
plain clothes police officers were also present.
Devenney did not enter a plea to the charge of
disclosing information gained in contravention of
section one of the Official Secrets Act 1911 by
communicating information to another person which is
calculated to be or might be or is intended to be
directly or indirectly useful to the enemy.
He was remanded in custody by district judge Daphne
Wickham to return to the Old Bailey on 14 June, who told
him: "You are being sent to the central criminal court
for your trial."
His application for bail was refused.
Honolulu Star Advertiser, March 3
Up to five new submarines are scheduled to be based at
Pearl Harbor, offsetting an expected decline in surface
ships Navy plans over the next two years call for an
increase in the number of submarines based at Pearl
Harbor or coming for shipyard work, with up to five more
subs being added to Hawaii’s 19-boat fleet, U.S. Sen.
Daniel Inouye’s office said.
Among the additions planned are two more Virginia-class
attack submarines — one in fiscal year 2013 and another
in 2014, Inouye’s office said.
Over the next two years, Pearl Harbor’s surface fleet
total will dip to nine from 11 ships, but the additional
submarine presence would make up for it, with 30 ships
and subs combined, growing to 31 next year and 33 the
year after, the Hawaii Democrat’s office said.
The Navy gave assurances that there will be no negative
effects on the shipyard workload over the next 10 years,
Inouye’s staff said.
Each ship and submarine home-port change means millions
of dollars to the local economy in salaries, spending
and repair work. Robert Lillis, president of the
International Association of Machinists Local 1998,
which represents mechanics in Hawaii’s private ship
repair industry, said, “Submarine work is good work.
It’s the kind of jobs you want — well-paid, highly
But he’s also concerned about a projected reduction in
the number of surface ships at Pearl Harbor.
About 90 percent of the work done at the shipyard here
is on submarines. The Navy yard is the largest
industrial employer in the state, with a combined
civilian and military workforce of more than 4,900 and
an economic impact of $907 million a year.
Private contractor BAE Systems Hawaii Shipyards performs
surface ship jobs for the Navy at Drydock 4 using a
workforce here of about 650.
The ship-basing plan discussed by Inouye’s office “is
good for the Navy yard, but it’s not good for the
private sector because they don’t do submarine work,”
Two more 377-foot Virginia-class submarines, at a cost
of more than $2 billion apiece, would be added to the
three already here: the USS Hawaii, USS Texas and USS
The additions would further build up in Hawaii what is
already the greatest concentration of Navy submarines in
the Pacific. The Navy said no submarine retirements are
planned out of Pearl Harbor over the next two fiscal
“What the submarines (provide) is a forward-deployed
presence that’s not visible, and it’s part of our
air-sea battle strategy, which is about having an
invisible force that’s capable of moving forward close
to targets in the theater and not being necessarily
susceptible to (military threats from) China,” said Brad
Glosserman, executive director of the Pacific Forum
Center for Strategic and International Studies in
The submarines make port calls, which makes their
presence known. However, Glosserman said allies in Asia
and the Pacific would prefer an even more visible U.S.
military presence as a sign of commitment to the region.
The Virginia-class submarines, the Navy’s first major
combat ship designed for a post-cold War environment,
have six side-mounted sonar arrays, plus arrays in the
bow and sail, improving the ability to operate in the
littorals, or coastal waters.
Sub commanders say the big question used to be how fast
and deep a submarine could go, but what’s most important
now is how slow and shallow they can go in the
littorals, where foreign diesel electric subs operate.
Inouye’s office said it was not sure which two new
Virginia-class subs would be added at Pearl Harbor.
The Navy plan for Hawaii calls for the retirement of the
cruiser Port Royal and an unidentified frigate in 2013,
and the addition of one Virginia-class submarine and two
other subs — one from Groton, Conn., and the other from
Guam, the senator’s office said.
Groton has 16 submarines that are a combination of older
Los Angeles-class and newer Virginia-class attack
submarines, while Guam will soon have three attack subs.
Fiscal year 2014 would bring a new destroyer, the
Michael Murphy, named after a Pearl Harbor-based SEAL
and Medal of Honor recipient who was killed in
Afghanistan in 2005; the retirement of the cruiser
Chosin; and arrival of two subs: one Virginia-class and
one unidentified from Groton, according to Inouye’s
The Costs Of Modernization
CQ, March 5
The years are starting to catch up with the military’s
nuclear-capable submarines, bombers and long-range
missiles, each of which has retirement in sight.
Replacing them requires a costly investment starting now
that could ultimately disrupt the budgets of the Navy
and Air Force, forcing the Pentagon to make difficult
decisions about its spending priorities. But few within
the Obama administration or on Capitol Hill are willing
to openly discuss the prospects of forgoing that
investment — at least not yet.
Efforts to modernize the triad, which are still only in
their infancy, come in a politicized environment
exacerbated by planned reductions of $487 billion in the
Defense Department’s budget over the next decade.
Tensions heightened in recent weeks after word leaked
that the administration is considering deep cuts to the
nuclear arsenal — perhaps slashing the number of
strategic warheads from an estimated 2,152 to between
300 and 1,100.
That would bring the U.S. arsenal to as much as 80
percent below the levels mandated under the
arms-reduction treaty with Russia known as New START,
prompting backlash from Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of
Arizona and other Republicans who negotiated a deal with
the White House over ratification of the treaty in late
2010 for an additional $4.1 billion to be spent on
modernization over five years.
“I don’t think it comes as a surprise to you that there
are a good number of people on my side of the aisle that
feel that the promises are not being kept,” Idaho
Republican Sen. Jim Risch told Secretary of State
Hillary Rodham Clinton at a hearing last week.
Despite the plans to reduce the arsenal, the air, land
and sea delivery systems — the so-called triad — so far
remain protected from big cuts. Of the three legs, the
most daunting modernization tab the military faces is
for developing and buying a replacement for the Navy’s
Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine. The first of the
fleet’s 14 Ohio-class ships will retire in 2027, 42
years after it entered the water and 12 years later than
Navy officials launched the submarine replacement
program in 2010, investing nearly $500 million that year
to begin research and development. The service
originally expected to spend $29.4 billion from 2011 to
2020 to complete development and begin production, with
the aim of fielding the first of 12 new subs by 2029.
But Pentagon leaders, faced with a constrained budget,
have opted to delay development of the submarine by two
years, saving $600 million in fiscal 2013 and $4.3
billion over the next five years.
The schedule slip means that there will be a lag between
the retirement of the first Ohio-class sub and the
fielding of the new one — a risk the Defense Department
calls “manageable.” The extra time will help the Navy
keep costs under control, Defense Secretary Leon E.
Panetta told the House Armed Services Committee last
month. “I can assure you, we’re still committed to
getting that online,” he added.
Navy officials, although supportive of the program, have
been candid about their concerns that the costs of the
new nuclear submarine could one day consume the
service’s entire shipbuilding budget, particularly if
they soar as they often do on high-tech programs.
Navy Secretary Raymond E. Mabus told House lawmakers on
Feb. 16 that service officials have cut costs from about
$7 billion per sub to $5 billion. The procurement price
tag, however, doesn’t include the total life-cycle costs
of the program (which include money to sustain and
maintain the boats through 2075), estimated at $347
billion. “When that class is being built, it will
clearly have a major impact on the rest of our
shipbuilding program,” Mabus told the panel.
Next up is the nascent program to replace the Air
Force’s venerable nuclear-capable bomber fleet. The
service currently has about 85 B-52s (with the goal of
cutting that to 76 bombers in the coming years) and 20
B-2s in its inventory. The B-52s entered the force in
1961 but have been modernized repeatedly over the years.
The B-2, meanwhile, first flew in 1997.
Both bombers could remain in the fleet in significant
numbers until about 2035 or later, but Air Force
officials are already investing in a new bomber capable
of both conventional and nuclear missions. They plan to
buy between 80 and 100 of the bombers, at an estimated
cost of $550 million per plane. Lawmakers added $100
million to the Air Force’s $197 million request for the
program for fiscal 2012. The service has requested $300
million for fiscal 2013 and plans to spend $6.3 billion
on the new bomber in the next five years.
The military’s plans for its 1970s-era Minuteman III
intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) arsenal are
less clear. The Air Force invested more than $7 billion
from 2001 to 2010 to extend the service lives of the
Minuteman IIIs to about 2030. The Pentagon has not yet
decided on a replacement for the Minuteman IIIs but
plans to spend $26 million through fiscal 2014 to study
alternatives for a replacement program. Assuming that
the military wants a new missile in place by 2030,
procurement dollars for a follow-on ICBM would come just
as the Navy and Air Force begin big investments in the
submarine and bomber. Back to Top
Female officers kicked off subs in
Navy Times, March 2
Three female supply officers were pulled from submarine
crews within months of joining the force for allegedly
committing fraud prior to checking in at their boats, a
Submarine Forces spokeswoman confirmed Friday. These
three were among the eight Supply Corps lieutenants that
reported to the submarine force, a cadre chosen to be
role models for the younger female submariners reporting
straight from training to the previously all-male force.
“The alleged actions under investigation involve
financial misconduct and in no way involved their
performance while assigned to their current operational
units,” said Submarine Forces spokeswoman Cmdr. Monica
Rousselow, who explained the allegations concerned
fraudulent travel claims while on temporary assigned
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation
began in February, Rousselow said, but she declined to
comment further on the nature of the allegations or who
had first reported them because the investigation is
The three reliefs are a setback for the ongoing
integration of the undersea force. But officials
characterized the disruption as “minimal” — pointing out
this is not the first time supply lieutenants had been
removed from subs — and that the larger effort is still
“Overall, the integration of women onboard submarines
continues to progress smoothly and the reassignment of
the three Supply Corps officers will have a minimal
impact on the integration process,” Rousselow said.
Each of the female Supply Corps lieutenants volunteered
for sub duty and had been vetted. Once chosen for sub
duty, they attended the 10-week-long Submarine Officer
Basic Course, Rousselow said. Each lieutenant was to
report to the sub along with two female submariners. In
total, there were eight of these groups, one each for
the Blue and Gold crews of the four subs selected: the
ballistic-missile submarines Wyoming and Maine, and the
guided-missile subs Georgia and Ohio.
None of the female officers had been taken to mast as of
Friday, Rousselow said. She declined to release their
names or the subs they had been assigned to, citing
privacy concerns. They are being reassigned to Submarine
Group 10 in Kings Bay, Ga., she said.