Posted by: arbeam | October 26, 2013

Arctic Circle; US Navy Experiment onboard USCG Healy

USCG Healy NSMRLARCTIC CIRCLE – The Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory (NSMRL) reached a new high – in latitude – when a team of three researchers embarked in early September on the Coast Guard Cutter HEALY in the Arctic. The team’s mission aboard the ice breaker was to evaluate the Submarine Team Behaviors Tool (STBT), a metric designed to enable submarine commanders to assess the resilience of their tactical teams. Capt. Steven Wechsler, Lt. Katherine Couturier, and retired Cmdr. Richard Severinghaus met the USS Coast Guard Cutter Healy off the coast of Barrow, Alaska by helicopter and, without delay, headed north to the ice.

NSMRL accompanied a multi-disciplinary team including members of the Coast Guard Research & Development Center, Coast Guard Strike Teams, Coast Guard District Seventeen, Coast Guard Pacific Area Command, Coast Guard Headquarters Office of Research, Development, Test & Evaluation, National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Center for Island, Maritime, & Extreme Environment Security, and University of Alaska Fairbanks. Their combined technologies included hand-launched military-style unmanned aircraft, unmanned underwater vehicles, oil skimmers, remotely operated vehicles, and an Emergency Response Management Application. The mission: test modern technologies in the detection, surveillance and recovery of simulated oil trapped in or under ice at the polar ice edge. This challenging operational backdrop enabled the NSMRL team to obtain excellent observational data and comprehensively test the STBT.

While there has been much written on the technical skills of submarine warfare, there is not a large body of work available to submarine crews on the non-technical, behavioral aspects of submarine teamwork. The STBT articulates observable behaviors that characterize the degree of resilience of a tactical team.  There are four levels of team resilience in the STBT measured through observation of five team practices: dialogue, decision-making, critical thinking, use of bench strength, and problem-solving capacity. By observing teams perform in challenging operations and scenarios, and noting the presence (or absence) of these behaviors, an experienced observer can gauge team resilience levels. The purpose of this venture was to exercise the STBT in an operational setting and provide recommendations regarding usefulness, applicability of specific behavior measures, correlation of results between observers, ease of use, and other observations related to tool performance. Future plans include the development of a Submarine Team Performance Manual.

So why travel to a Coast Guard Cutter north of Alaska to obtain data for a ‘submarine’ research project?  Aside from the inherent difficulties in boarding a submarine at sea, HEALY offered several advantages that supported NSMRL objectives. Healy had been at sea in an isolated environment since early July, stores were low, and fresh foods were depleted when the team boarded. The ship’s crew was in a condition that roughly resembled a submarine crew at mid to late patrol, the targeted assessment point. Due to the science mission, the NSMRL team knew that they would be able to evaluate a number of different operational scenarios from high stress, multi-faceted operations to routine underway steaming to piloting in restricted waters, all in a short period of time. Another aspect to be tested was STBT applicability to platforms other than a submarine. Vice Adm. Connor, Commander of U.S. Submarine Forces, saw great benefit in this tool not only for the Submarine Fleet, but for the Navy as a whole…if it could be proven universal in application. Correspondingly, by engaging the HEALY Commanding Officer, Capt. John Reeves, and Executive Officer, Cmdr. Greg Stanclik, the NSMRL team was able to place the STBT in the hands of the cutter’s leadership to solicit further input from a fresh, non-submariner, perspective.

Fortunately, all objectives were met with resounding success. The team brought back numerous observations and recommendations to fine-tune the STBT before its release to the Submarine Fleet for operational use.

The Coast Guard Cutter Healy is the United States’ newest and most technologically advanced polar icebreaker. Healy is designed to conduct a wide range of research activities, providing more than 4,200 square feet of scientific laboratory space, numerous electronic sensor systems, oceanographic winches, and accommodations for up to 50 scientists. More information may be found at http://www.icefloe.net

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