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Israeli Dolphin has a crew of 35.
Nuclear powered submarine crews are larger. A
French Barracuda has a crew of 60, a British Astute
has a crew of 98, while the US Virginia and Ohio have
crews of 129 and 155 respectively.
Crew size is determined by a number of factors;
mission, automation, reliability and watch keeping
arrangements. There are also a number of other
pressures with respect to keeping crew sizes down.
The variety of missions a submarine is expected to
perform has an impact on the crew size. The sets do
so in a couple of ways.
Firstly, the different missions will almost certainly
have an influence on the size of the submarine,
predominantly as a result of the demand for payload
space and the need for a particular propulsion plant.
The size of the submarine in turn has an influence on
the size of the crew, with a larger submarine requiring
a larger crew given any set automation levels,.
Secondly, each mission and the operational &
tactical circumstances under which they take place
will have an influence on the platform and combat
system (defined in this article as the command
& control system and all of the sensors and
communications systems) related tasks that need to
be performed by the crew. For the platform system,
high-level tasks might include the monitoring of all
platform systems, the accurate keeping of depth
& heading and the operation of platform systems
machinery. For the combat system, high-level tasks
might include planning, tactical picture compilation,
tactical evaluation, engagement, intelligence
collection, defensive operations and support tasks
(navigation, communication etc.).
Levels of platform and combat system integration
and automation should and will have an impact on
Automation is now commonplace on modern
submarines. Remote monitoring techniques improve
operational information flow & machinery health
status to watch keepers while also simplifying or
eliminating human interaction. Modern submarines
allow operation of all control surfaces by a single
operator and the monitoring/control of almost all
platform systems by two watch keepers through a
centralised monitoring and control panel.
Automation is normally determined at the submarine
design stage following an analysis of the complexity,
frequency, duration and simultaneity of platform
and combat system elementary tasks. It also takes
into account consideration of human control versus
automation feasibility and the required level of safety.
Safety factors also come into play. The policy of
customer navies with respect to the importance of
human operation versus automation will also have a
Whilst automation does allow for the reduction
of crew sizes, overall numbers must be considered
in the context of effective submarine operation
during standard and peak loads, sustainment of the
submarine throughout its total mission and submarine
survivability in both benign and combat conditions.
The reliability of both the platform and combat
systems elements will influence crew sizes.
Failure of equipment places additional workload on
the crew. Poor reliability of equipment and systems
may even require additional engineering or technical
personnel to be embarked.
Since submarines deploy to sea for days, weeks or
months, they must have watch keeping systems that
allow for continuous operation of the platform.
Most submarine forces adopt either a two-or a
three-watch system, with each watch being six hours
The two-watch system allows for smaller crews
and generally enables the submarine to conduct most
of the tasks without the need to call on assistance
from off-watch personnel. Nonetheless, it places
greater strain on crews due to the fact that personnel
are working 12 hours in a day and typically have
around only four to five hours of continuous sleep.
In the two-watch system there are normally fewer
personnel ready to immediately assist in damage
control situations. A two-watch system may adversely
affect the ability of a submarine crew to operate for
months on end.
The three-watch system requires larger crew
numbers and will almost certainly require a surge in
the numbers of on-watch personnel in complex tactical
scenarios. A three-watch system uses, in the case of
the US Navy, an 18-hour cycle, with more off-watch
time available to the crew and continuous sleep
for up to seven hours often possible. Management
of trainees can be shared between on-watch and
off-watch personnel and there are often enough
off-watch personnel up and about to immediately
render assistance during emergencies.
The most common approach taken is to use a
three-watch system. Two examples are cited, one
on a Scorpene class submarine and one on a Los
Angeles Class submarine.
A Scorpene class submarine has a nominal crew
of 31. This includes the Commanding Officer, six
other officers, 12 non-commissioned officers and 12
ratings. The normal watch arrangement is to have 9
personnel per watch and 4 non-watch keepers.
A Los Angeles class submarine has a nominal
crew of 141. This includes the Commanding Officer,
13 other officers, 18 non-commissioned officers and
109 ratings. The normal watch arrangement is to have
25 personnel per watch and 66 non-watch keepers.
The RAN runs a two-watch system on the Collins
The Chilean submarine CS Simpson (SS-21)
Credit: USN / Sean Allen
28/03/13 3:50 PM
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