An address by the Honorable Robert A. Frosch, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research and Development, at the decommissioning of the U.S.S. Albacore (AGSS-569), Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Maine, 1 September 1972
On the whole, the decommissioning of a naval vessel is not a particularly cheerful occasion. And I suppose to some the title I have chosen for these remarks, "THE SUBMARINE THAT GAVE ITS BODY TO SCIENCE", may seem a bit whimsical. But I want to assure you . . . both by my presence here and by what I intend to say, that I mean this only as the highest praise.
In the past few years we have seen the size of the Navy drop from nearly one thousand ships to about half that number. Decommissioning ceremonies, such as we are conducting here, have been played literally hundreds of times during this period on other ships with equal solemnity. To the outsider these occasions often seem to be exercises in pomp and nostalgia . . . the typical ceremonial military evolution. But to those who have served in a particular ship being eulogized, you are talking bout dissolving of a very personal, almost family-like, relationship between a man and his machine. To the sailor his ship is a living thing, with a unique personality and character, established by the interaction of its crew and the characteristics of its performance.
Yet in a few minutes from now, by saying the appropriate official words and by going through the traditional motions, the ALBACORE will no longer be a living thing . . . she will just be another former Navy ship, like thousands of others in reserve . . . waiting for the call to duty which will probably never come again . . .
Many of you who have served in other ships that have passed into retirement recognize that this very personal feeling you have had for your ship is soon forgotten by the Navy as a whole. You have your memories and mementos of the old ship, but the rest of the world has forgotten . . . if it even ever knew or cared about the event in the first place.
In the case of ALBACORE, your ship, this is not quite so true. This submarine is special not just to you of her crew but to the whole naval profession. Her contributions will be long remembered and are forever reflected in the design of the operating units of our submarine force.
In the current R&D environment we now have some new "buzz words" which define two "newly discovered" concepts . . . "prototyping" and "test and evaluation" . . . When I hear these words, I sometimes wonder if some of our Washington R&D managers have ever heard of the United States Ship ALBACORE?
Almost a quarter of a century ago, certain farseeing Navy people recognized that radical improvements in the submarine were both necessary and possible. These improvements were to be focused on greater speed and underwater performance. The two primary initiatives in this research and development effort were to be the development of nuclear propulsion and the design of a Hydrodynamically efficient hull for high submerged speeds. From these early efforts came two "prototype" vehicles for the "test and evaluation" of these concepts . . . NAUTILUS and ALBACORE.
In 1949, only four years after the end of World War II, the model tests were begun on the revolutionary hull design for ALBACORE that today sets the standard for the high-performance submarines of the world's Navies. At the same time, the Navy began a parallel effort to upgrade the performance of its existing submarine fleet. This was the GUPPY program, started in the late 1940's which demonstrated that considerable improvements in performance were possible through redesign of the existing fleet submarine inventory left over from the war. The principal improvements in this program were also in greater propulsion capacity and external streamlining. But we recognized that this was only a temporary measure until NAUTILUS and ALBACORE developments could provide the proven data needed to build the truly new generation of submarines.
The commissioning of ALBACORE in 1953 and NAUTILUS in 1954 initiated the practical, at-sea testing of revolutionary submarine concepts that eventually led to the development of the high-performance submarine. From the ALBACORE hull and control systems designs, we derived, in 1956, the diesel-powered, BARBEL Class fast attack submarine that gave submerged maneuvering performance never achieved before in a combat submarine. The SKATE Class nuclear submarines, introduced in 1957, were the first production nuclear submarine class, and successfully demonstrated the flexibility and incredible endurance brought to submarining by nuclear power. Finally, in 1959, with the commissioning of the U.S.S. SHIPJACK (SSN 585), the "marriage" of the revolutionary hull and the nuclear power plant was made. Now, almost 14 years later, we see these general design trends reflected throughout the world's most modern submarine fleets.
The history of ALBACORE is pretty well known to all of you, but I would like to just briefly say out loud some of the landmark contributions made by this ship:
1. The Navy's first full-sized, prototype R&D submarine.
2. The first "teardrop" submarine hull.
3. The first use of HY-80 steel in a submarine hull.
4. Single screw propulsion for high performance submarines.
5. The development of ship control techniques and tactics for high speed submarines.
6. Speed brakes and auxiliary control surfaces for improved maneuvering safety at high speeds.
7. First use of high pressure hydraulic systems and system redundancy for emergency control.
8. First submarine to employ "flight controls" similar to aircraft.
9. First work on acoustic problems and benefits associated with high speed submarine hulls.
10. First submarine towed-array sonar equipment.
11. The first removal of bow plane control surfaces.
12. The cruciform rudder/stern planes system.
13. First submarine application of contra-rotating propellers.
14. First major use of the silver zinc design for a submarine main battery.
15. First full-scale tests of drag reduction through polymer fluid injection into the boundary layer.
I have probably left out several important items in this miniature catalog of ALBACORE's contributions, however, it is clear that these past two decades of her work have been punctuated by a steady stream of "firsts" . . .
In reflecting on the confluence of events that gave us an ALBACORE and a NAUTILUS, I cannot help but wonder if we could do the same things again today. As I mentioned earlier, the words are there . . . "prototyping" . . . "test and evaluation" . . . but could we again invest the capital and personnel in programs to build ourselves new full-scale test platforms for radical design and technology development? My personal conclusion is that we probably cannot without some strenuous wrestling with the existing institutional structure. This is really too bad as ALBACORE, probably more than any other platform, has proven the value for full-scale prototyping . . . and we have certainly received a generous return on this investment.
With today's continuing increase in weapons systems costs long with their accelerated complexities, it is really more important than ever to do first the simple-case experiment in the R&D environment. Commitments to made developments which can be easily hazarded by getting them locked into expensive contractual obligations can no longer be afforded. To get the most out of our corporate R&D capabilities we must have experimental platforms where R&D can go to sea … I hope the lessons of the ALBACORE experiment will not be lost on our technological planners.
Well, too often the speaker at the traditional decommissioning ceremony delivers either thundering platitudes . . . showing he know nothing about the situation . . . or something that can best be termed as an "obituary" . . . showing, in this case, poor taste. I hope I have successfully steered between these extremes today.
It has been my intent in coming here to personally praise and to thank the men of ALBACORE, the Navy people who have directed her R&D program, and the personnel of this shipyard which built and supported this ship throughout her distinguished history. But equally as important is the specific recognition of the value of having a vehicle such as ALBACORE, not just for advancing the submarine arts but also in demonstrating the need for similar R&D platforms in support of other naval warfare area.
As I have pointed out, the reasons for continuing to have prototype platforms are even more compelling today than they were when your ship was built. The R&D community is now using "fair words" to support this idea . . . let's hope they provide the "specific deeds" to back then up.
ALBACORE now goes into perhaps a premature retirement. You that have served in her can take real pride in your very significant contributions to the Navy's ability to do "great works in the sea". It is a real privilege for me to have been invited here to share this last final, official act of the United States Ship ALBACORE . . . the submarine that gave its body to science.
I wish you all well in your next assignments.