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REVIEW – Running Deep, by Commodore Peter Scott

The publication of this book couldn’t be timed better: it came out shortly after the announcement that the RAN would acquire three to five ex-US Navy Virginia-class submarines and then eight SSN-AUKUS boats, and shortly before ANZAC Day this year.

Well-written by a former RAN submariner, Commodore Peter Scott, who rose to become the professional head of the Navy’s submarine arm, Running Deep is his autobiography. It tells the story of how a pretty average 17 year-old kid from Sydney was moulded by years of training, and dedicated service on his part, into a professional warfighter and a master of the complexities of submarines and submarine warfare.

It is valuable for several reasons. Firstly, it sets out just how long it takes to create a productive, contributing member of a submarine’s crew: there are no short cuts in this process. It took him 14 years to ascend to command of a submarine and he was one of only six candidates, out of 18, to pass the most demanding and stringent command course in the world – the ‘Perisher’ course that selects the commanding officers of NATO, South African and Australian submarines.

When you’re talking about crewing a nuclear-powered submarine, just think about that statistic.

Secondly, it describes the eco-system of skills and competencies, both at sea and ashore, that keep any Navy’s submarine armed honed and ready for action. Although he’s too loyal to say so, it’s clear that not enough senior people in the RAN understood what a jewel they held in their hands. They very nearly let it drop, with unforgiveable carelessness, by not resourcing the submarine squadron properly. It lacked money and manpower and around 2007-8 the entire edifice almost came crashing down due to the lack of available boats to conduct training and keep the pipeline of trained submariners.

Thirdly, and on a related note, it seems clear that the Navy, CASG (DMO before it) and the submarine builder and sustainment contractor, the Australian Submarine Corporation (now ASC), did not do enough, quickly enough, to ensure that Australia had enough submarines to both train its people and go to war. The construction and then sustainment of the submarines was, to put it kindly, a pig’s ear. The process was politicised, which didn’t help; the DMO was often incompetent and did not understand or respond to the RAN submarine arm’s needs and drivers, and ASC was a commercial law unto itself.

Peter Scott talks vividly about trying to avoid what he describes as the ‘purgatory’ of Adelaide and being sucked into ‘the Vortex’ of ASC in order to maintain a fleet of operational and seaworthy boats.

When you’re talking about building and operating a nuclear-powered submarine, just think about that, as well.

During this period, and the preceding decade, I as an outsider watched from close quarters and now, looking back, I can understand why Defence didn’t want to talk about the submarine project – candid conversations with anybody, not just journalists, would have exposed the weaknesses in this eco-system. It took people like Peter Scott, and a number of officers more senior than him, to expose these technical and, more insidiously – commercial, weaknesses internally and tackle them properly.

Fourthly, the key protagonist, Peter Scott Himself, is a human being with all of a human’s faults, virtues, weaknesses and strengths. He is replicated right across the submarine community. Although every human in that community is different, they are all motivated by the same thing: service and professionalism. Everybody who joins the Australian Defence Force is exposed to this ethic and embraces it to some degree. But for submariners, all of whom are twice-volunteers – they volunteer for the ADF and then again for the Navy’s submarine service – professionalism and service are not negotiable.

The lives of every human board a submarine depend on the ability of every member of the crew to do his or her job, from the cook to the Commanding Officer. The inherent risks of being a submariner demand the highest levels of training, dedication and loyalty: it’s the humans who make the ultimate difference and the ability to recruit and train them properly is essential. Peter Scott makes this absolutely clear.

If you haven’t read this book I suggest you do so. You’ll learn a lot about what it takes to create and sustain a submarine arm, and you’ll also learn about what it takes to turn an interested civilian into a dedicated, ethical, professional warfighter. With ANZAC Day almost upon us, this eye-opening book is timely and humbling.

Running Deep, by Commodore Peter Scott

Fremantle Press, Australia. 287pp

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