Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Editor of Jane's Fighting Ships Weighs In

Yesterday M.E. had posited the web's only Container Sub theory to explain the collision of HMS Vanguard (S28) and SNLE Le Triomphant (S 616) earlier this month.

In naval submarine matters a cardinal rule is summarized by Juan Caruso's reminder:
Submarines are always silent and strange.
The reminder has accompanied most of our postings about submarine incidents, operations, and crews for most of the past 4 years. Still, people not directly exposed to the lengths to which the intelligence community will go to keep the business of submarines secret forget that the transparency associated with surface operations and crew cannot be reliably extrapolated to or interpolated within submarines.

Stealth: G = 6.673 x 10-11 N m2/kg2

Do not take M.E.'s word for this. As further evidence of the mystery at hand, consider the opinion of a retired British Royal Navy Commodore and editor of the $880 annual reference Jane's Fighting Ships), Stephen Saunders (source):

"This really shouldn't have happened at all. It's a very serious incident and I find it quite extraordinary."

If Commodore Saunders's spoken words are not convincing enough for you, consider what one of the most colorful submarine drivers had to say. In the documentary gem "Submarines: Sharks of Steel", the late VADM Robert 'Yogi' Kaufman conveys to a class of USNA midshipmen:

"I, for one, first would not talk about any encounters I have had that are classified, and [two] I would like to shoot anybody who would."

VADM Kaufman had once been the XO of the second nuclear submarine to which Vigilis was assigned.

Submarine technology is not to be trivialized. While we understand the circumstances under which Le Triomphant's collision was initially attributed to a container (submerged?), the effort to allay suspicions was nevertheless insulting to the HMS Vanguard. Think of how we might feel if space shuttles such as Challenger had been referred to as containers.

Not only are many of the most technologically advanced (and secretive) systems ever conceived employed on military subs, their names, capabilities and applications are simply not discussed openly, even among all the crew. While explanations may abound, cover stories appear as needed. So, would you really expect a better explanation of the damage to two submarines?

France may rejoin NATO in the near term, but the UK and France may also exit the SSBN game in a few years, helped in part by criticisms of their mutually arranged collision (i.e. the container theory). A still better theory of why the collision occurred involves the U.S. and is less damaging to the reputations of France and the UK. If a bit of supportive evidence materializes, you will read about the latter at Molten Eagle.

Submarines are always silent and strange.

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