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The Great Submarine Sailor Shortage
by James Dunnigan
September 24, 2012

The British Royal Navy is the latest to admit that it is unable to recruit and retain a sufficient number of qualified sailors to man its submarines. Some smaller nations, like Australia and South Africa have one or more subs idle because there are literally no qualified sailors available to operate them. Even the United States, currently the nation with the largest submarine fleet, all of them nuclear, has been battling the manning problem for decades. The shortages keep getting worse.

During the Cold War Russia had the largest sub fleet, most of them diesel-electric boats. These required crews with less extensive training and could be manned with lots of conscripts (especially if these boats did not go to sea a lot). But since the end of the Cold War in 1991, no one puts conscripts on submarine crews anymore. Volunteers work much better, if only because it takes so much training to acquire the needed skills. But there is tremendous demand in the civilian economy for those skilled submarine crewmen, especially those with experience in running a nuclear power plant. Then there's the discipline factor. Submarine sailors not only have excellent technical skills but a proven track record of disciplined performance. All this, and the resulting shortages, is a major reason more and more navies are willing to allow women to join submarine crews.


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