While at a training session today at an automotive assembly plant in Indiana, we were told that instead of 1st shift and 2nd shift, they have a “blue crew” and a “gold crew”. We were told that the colors represented the state colors of Indiana. Although I couldn’t confirm that Indiana even has official state colors, their flag is blue and gold.
That reminded me of the practice aboard US nuclear missile subs of having a “Blue Crew” and a “Gold Crew”. Each crew is a complete boat’s complement, including two different captains. The two crews alternate patrols, one crew manning the sub for a two-month patrol while the other has some R&R and then retrains for the next patrol. I googled and came up with a page about the USS Benjamin Franklin that says
The two-crew system accomplishes several objectives. Most importantly, it enables the submarine to be at sea more than eight months during the year. This means the submarine can be kept at sea for over two thirds of its operational lifetime. An SSBN at sea and submerged is essentially invisible, and hence survivable from an enemy attack. This enables proper execution of the SSBN’s strategic deterrence mission.
Second, it provides a regular program of refresher training for the “off” crew. Each crew must be ready at all times while on patrol. They must be experts on their equipment to keep it running during the long patrol. Refresher training on equipment exactly like that found on the sub keeps the “off” crew sharp. Intensive instruction serves to continually upgrade their knowledge.
This means that the crew at sea is always action ready, and means that the sub is at sea for a far greater percentage of her life. This basically allows one sub to do the work of two. At more than $1.5 Billion (not including the 24 Trident missiles) to build each Ohio-class sub, that’s significant, even if you don’t consider the operating expenses of each boat.
Our fleet of ballistic missile submarines was our greatest single deterrence weapon during the Cold War (what I call WW3) and with each of them at sea nearly 75% of the time, the Soviets had to keep throwing large numbers of attack subs out into the oceans and hope for a lucky break. Unlike our missile silos and bomber bases, for a majority of the time the Soviets just plain didn’t know where our missile subs were. If the cold war had turned hot, I don’t think many breaks would have gone their way in the sub wars.