Volume 15, Issue 6: Doctrine 101
The Bridge Window
Our ship, a destroyer, was at the tail end of a column of six ships, which included four missile ships and two gun ships.
The lead ship was a cruiser and the flagship of the Admiral. We were off Souda Bay, Crete, conducting a missile
and gunnery training exercise against remotely controlled drone air targets.
With the crew at battle stations, our Captain was observing the action of the forward gun mount, Mount 51,
while seated on the Bridge next to his brand new bridge window. The new glass window had replaced a long-standing
annoyance of the Captain's, a barely transparent piece of quarter-inch thick Plexiglas. He was of course keenly desiring to
make a favorable impression on the Admiral with the effectiveness and skill of the ship's gunnery system and crew.
As the exercise got underway, the missile ships all scored virtual "hits" and the gun ship ahead of us
successfully achieved fifteen virtual hits. The first target drone was then passed to our ship for engagement. The forward director
was tracking the target manually, and Mount 51 was slewing to starboard, but the ship's fire control radar would not
automatically track the target. No automatic tracking, no fire control solution, no hits.
As the Weapons Officer, the Captain pointedly demanded of me why I hadn't requested "batteries released,"
his authorization to fire the ship's guns. A moan was heard from the Bridge when the unwanted response was received.
It would be professionally painful for the Captain to explain to the Admiral that his gun system didn't work, and why he
had not bothered to report that it was inoperable prior to the exercise. The silence was palpable.
After more failed attempts at engaging any of the next few targets, the silence from the Captain was screaming.
Whether born of self-control or severe frustration, he left the crew to do their jobs, even when the temptation
was greatest to personally intervene.
Finally, after several more targets and many more virtual hits, the gunship ahead of us passed the last drone on to
us for engagement. To everyone's surprise, the Gunnery Assistant in the forward director shouted, "Air action
starboard. Mount 51 locked on and tracking. Request batteries released!" The tension in Combat Information Center (CIC)
shifted from dreadful anticipation to action. I parroted the request to the Tactical Action Officer (TAO) through whom I was
to relay my request for "batteries released" to the Captain.
The TAO turned to me and said, "Batteries released," which I in turn relayed to the Gunnery Assistant. There was
a protracted pause waiting for Mount 51 to fire. It seemed our one last chance for a "hit" would pass forever as
the forward gun mount continued training to starboard, pointing nearly at the Captain through his new bridge window,
and almost to the point of engaging the firing cutout cam. (This device prevents a ship from shooting itself, as it's
considered bad form in the profession.)
The tension was relieved by a loud, rending boom and dust settled from the overhead in CIC. I waited for
the expected report that all was well. Instead, my stomach knotted as the TAO asked, "Who gave you permission
for `batteries released'?"
"Why, you did," I said, amidst a rush of defensive adrenaline.
"No, I was asking you if you were requesting `batteries released,'" explained the TAO.
The door to CIC slammed open and the Captain entered on a constant bearing, decreasing range with me. I
sensed that he desired a word, so I courteously removed one of my earphones to listen. My effort proved unnecessary, as
his volume achieved greatness.
At the same time, my Gunnery Assistant, in his exuberance, was matching the Captain, volume for volume, in my
other earphone, "We got a hit! We got a hit!"
When the Captain's initial burst of steam gave out in the midst of artfully addressing me in authentic nautical
language, I interjected my brief report. No sooner had the words "we got a hit" left my tongue than the Captain's
whole countenance changed, and he was a young boy at Christmas who had just received his first BB gun. I was Esau
reunited with Jacob. The guns worked. The Admiral would require no report. In the Captain's mind, I was the divine
instrument through which this happy happenstance had happened.
Subsequently I learned that the gun had indeed fired just on the verge of engaging the cutout cam. When the
gun discharged, the concussion from the expanding gases exhausting from the muzzle vibrated the Captain's new
bridge window, causing it to shatter. The muzzle exhaust lifted him out of his bridge chair and deposited him unharmed
onto two surprised nearby sailors. I suppose it was at this point when the Captain considered having a close personal visit
In hindsight, it was really the Captain's lucky day. Not only did the gunnery system finally work, but it just so
happened that there was a piece of nearly transparent quarter-inch thick Plexiglas that perfectly fit the opening vacated by
his shattered new bridge window.