Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Safety, Secrecy, Diplomacy, Near Tragedy and Finally, Sanity.

An essay in evolutionary process development.

Unlike all my other Stories of the Cold War, I have no first person source for this.  This is a collection of things "I heard" and then connected the dots.  Feel free to call bullshit if you want. 
Contrary to Hollywood’s stereotyping, the military actually does a lot of thinking about how it does things.  And most of the time, it has good reasons for what it does.  But also being an organization of over 2 million people, mistakes are made, through neglect, stupidity, or ignorance.

The following is actually a series of stories I have heard, each individually, and then one night, in a minor epiphany, I realized that they were all related.

The first starts with an explanation.  For reasons of safety, missile warheads, and the missile boosters, were kept in separate areas.  Like high caliber guns of old, where the gunpowder was kept separate from the shells.  In addition, every missile had a code on it to identify its particular characteristics, like beam riding, anti-radiation, nuclear, and test.  For the last two, to make sure there were no mistakes, were also color coded purple and blue.  Test boosters, since they had no actual engines, were also painted blue.

The first story was a short and anecdotal.  A missile cruiser was doing morning  missile exercises, which involved putting the test missiles on the rails and slewing them about.  This was, in turn, observed by personnel on nearby ships.  Reportedly, a junior seaman mentioned to a buddy that the cruiser had nuclear missiles on launcher. 

His buddy said, “How do you know this?”

The seaman replied, “Everyone knows that the Nuc’s are painted a different color.”

The fact that he only had half the facts didn’t matter.  He was overheard by an Admiral, who was appalled by the fact that it was general knowledge that Nuc’s had a different painting scheme.  A short time later, the order went down to paint all the Nuc’s white.

Talos T-SAM onboard USS Oklahoma City
Copyright 2008 Phillip R. Hays.
The second story took place on the Oklahoma City, CG-5.  A tour was being given to visiting Japanese dignitaries.  These tours usually ended with the visitors being taken to the rear of the ship, and treated to a roll out of the Talos missiles.  Being over 25ft long, this roll out is a very impressive sight.

Somewhere along the tour, the very sensitive subject of nuclear missiles came up.  The official statement was always, "I can neither confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons aboard USS Oklahoma City".  But, during this tour, the tour guide mentioned as an aside, that you can tell if you were looking at nuclear missiles, because regular missiles are all painted white.  It seems that the word on the new paint jobs had not filtered to general knowledge.

Out rolled the blue test missiles.  The touring Japanese reportedly freaked out in a number of ways, including fainting. 

Tartar launch from USS Chicago

The order came down fleet wide, to paint the T-SAM’s white as well.

On-board USS Chicago, berthed in San Diego.  While performing routine morning missile exercises, known as DSOT, the missile house personnel accidentally loaded a live Tartar missile onto the rails instead of the T-SAM.  When the computer generated target reached the correct range, the firing officer pushed the pickle, and instead of an light going on to indicate the completion of a circuit in a T-SAM, the rest of the ship was awakened to the whoosh and roar of departing Tartar missile that was just fired over Coronado Island.  At this time I cannot verify the ship and launch, but several years ago I was able to.  If someone has more information, please let me know.

By the time I was in the Navy, sanity had prevailed, and the color code schemes were re-instituted.

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