Sailing the 'Starship' USS Virginia

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Salter Discusses Sub's Capabilities

By Deborah McDermott

Seacoast Sunday, August 29, 2010

[The following article is courtesy of the Seacoast Sunday and Seacoast Online.]
Cmdr. Tim Salter

Editor's note: This is another in a series of stories about the arrival of USS Virginia at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Tim Salter sounds like a proud parent when he talks about his submarine, USS Virginia, and the "fantastic group of men" who make up the crew.

It is a ship of firsts: the first in its class, the Virginia Cmdr. Tim Salter class, to be built; the first in its class to undertake a six-month deployment from which it returned last April; and now, the first in its class to be overhauled at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

But it is also a submarine like any other in the Navy, he said, in that it is only as good as the crew that operates it. And in the Virginia's case, he said, the crew is top notch.

"The crew is what makes the ship," he said, "and this is a crew of true patriots, who love their country, who love what they do. Submariners are submariners, and whether it's a new or old piece of machinery, it's the guys who make the thing work. It's ship, mate, self, in that order. And these guys really take that to heart."

Salter assumed command of Virginia in April, after serving on three Los Angeles class subs, spanning from among the newest of the class to among the oldest. And he said the biggest difference between the two classes is the ship's control room.

"When you first came on board, you say, 'Oh my gosh, I'm on the starship Virginia.' And that's not too far from the truth," he said, referring to the numerous computer screens that array the control room, each with its own function.

The sub's sonar system enables it to map the ocean floor, ferret out enemy subs and detect enemy mine fields. And new to the Virginia class is a photonics mast, which takes the place of a periscope. Images from above water are recorded through use of photonics — similar to but more advanced than fiber optics.

The photonics mast can scan 360 degrees on the surface in five seconds, so the time the sub is actually in view to an enemy and vulnerable is negligible. Images the mast picks. up are recorded and sent to a plasma screen to be replayed in the control room.

"Being a guy who's spent many an hour putting an eye to a periscope, I can't tell you what a difference this is," said Salter.

Salter said the mast's infrared capabilities at night "allows us to do a really good job of seeing what's out there." What's more, he said, the control room of older-class subs had to be darkened at night so the person using the periscope wouldn't have light pollution interfering with his viewing. That's no longer the case, "which is a big advantage."

Although Virginia's six-month deployment occurred before Salter took command, he said the ship "demonstrated fantastic reliability during that time."

According to an article published by the Navy's Submarine Group Two in Groton, Conn., where Virginia is home-ported, the sub's deployment took it to numerous locations in the European and Central Command areas.

The crew made port calls in Rota, Spain; Souhda Bay, Greece; Fujahra, United Arab Emirates; and Aksaz, Turkey.

Since Salter took command in April, the ship has "executed a lot of mobility along the East Coast of the United States. The crew has been working hard to maintain its skills and at the same time maintain a pretty aggressive transition of people," he said.

Typically, one-third of a crew is changed out every year, he said, and at this particular time the "focus is on the transition from forward deployed submarine to a different mission — to set conditions and keep the ship safe so the capable shipyard workers can do their job."

Virginia arrives at the yard sometime within the next week or two. It won't be the first time Salter has been there. He was executive officer of USS Philadelphia when it was in drydock.

"They're a great group of professionals," he said of the yard workers. "I'm very excited to be bringing my ship up there. I have nothing but good stuff to say about the work they did on the Philly."

He singled out Navy Cmdr. Gus Vergara, engineering duty officer at the yard, and civilian project supervisors Bill Caron and Terrence L'Heureux for making the transition from deployment to drydock as seamless as possible.

"We've had a lot of interaction with them, and we're gearing up with them," he said.

Salter said he and the crew appreciate the warm welcome they'll be receiving at the yard and by their host community, the city of Portsmouth.

At the same time, he said, they have a job to do.

"Our philosophy on the good ship Virginia is that we quietly put our heads down and get the work done. It's time to get on with it," he said.

USS Virginia (SSN-774), the nation's newest and most advanced nuclear-powered attack submarine and the lead ship of its class, is coming to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for renovations.
[Courtesy photo]
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