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Stray monsters at sea

V. Valkov, RusNavy.com editor
18.02.2009

Two nuclear submarines collided deep in the Atlantic at the beginning of February: the Royal Navy’s HMS Vanguard and the French Le Triomphant. The two ships are nuclear submarines, and both are armed with nuclear warheads. Each has a water displacement of approximately 15,000 tonnes and a length of 150 meters. They are real underwater monsters: It is no coincidence that from time to time whales surreptitiously approach them and hide under their keel, trying to “talk.”

The collision of two subs under water is a rare occurrence, since modern submarines are fitted with the most advanced equipment allowing them to “see” and “hear,” to “talk” and “be heard.” The ships had on board very experienced crews and were carrying real patrolling, not war exercises, and they were located at substantial distances from their bases (Le Triomphant needed three days to return to its base near the French city of Brest). It was a miracle that the incident did not result in serious damage and that none of the more than 200 British and French sailors died.

So what caused the collision? The defense ministries of the two countries have cited as the main reason behind the collision the “exclusively perfect noise reduction technology of the two ships,” which allowed them to become “invisible” to one another. But, wait a minute.

Invisibility is a required an essential battle characteristic of any submarine, and this characteristic is really not that absolute in these two ships to the point where they would be incapable of noticing each other.

The not-so-well-trained crew? That is possible. The British Telegraph, citing a senior naval officer, wrote: “The culture of the submarine service is at a critical level, and the leadership of the Royal Navy needs to understand that. The satiation is unlikely to be fixed quickly,” quoting comments made by an anonymous source.

Hydrology conditions in the zone of the incident could also have played a role. It is possible that the noise generated by surface targets -- fishing trawlers, passenger liners, and cargo ships -- confused the instruments aboard the submarines: that is possible.

Nonetheless, in my opinion, the main reason behind the incident is to be found somewhere else: the two ships (NATO members) were conducting their patrols on cross courses without the slightest knowledge about it! We understand that it was not for the sake of testing each other’s capabilities or increasing their combat potential that two submarines, whose weapons, by the way, are trained in one (I assume and guess in which) direction, stumbled into one another in the Atlantic absolutely by chance.

This means that members of the alliance are not sharing situation maps, and are hiding secrets from each other.

Hence the stray monsters are sailing the oceans. Only whales consider them their own.