Shots Across the Bow

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A Confederacy of Dunces:  Mr. and Mrs. Neal Discuss Submarines.

Normally I avoid KnoxViews, but while checking on a story on the KNS site, I saw a link to KnoxViews concerning a collision between two submarines. As an ex-Navy nuke, I'm always interested in news about nuke ships and subs, so I clicked the link. I'll reproduce the post, since Mr. Neal has been known to redirect links from time to time.
How can two nuclear subs collide and the operators not know it for days?
Submitted by bizgrrl on Mon, 2009/02/16 - 5:12pm.

Unbelievable!

According to the Wall Street Journal, "Earlier in February, the French Navy had said that the 450-foot Le Triomphant had shortened its patrol after 70 days at sea because its nose had been damaged by a collision with an unidentified object, possibly a drifting container. It was only after sending inquiries to other navies that France realized Le Triomphant had actually rammed into a British craft, the HMS Vanguard."


Comedy of Errors? Confederacy of Dunces?


Mr. Neal replied:
And the ocean is such a large place.


Before I get into my response, I want to point out the arrogance and condescension of the post and the reply. Here are two people who to my knowledge have never been aboard a submarine, and apparently have little to no idea how one operates, yet they are ready to ascribe the cause of this incident to stupidity on the part of the French and British crews.

In my lifelong quest to point out ignorance and correct it with knowledge, I left a reply. I reproduce it here for your reading pleasure.

Well, let's just take a closer look before we start calling people stupid.

First, there are no headlights or windshields on a submarine. You can't look out the window to see what's around you. You rely on charts and very precise calculations of speed and heading to determine your position.

Obviously, to most folks anyway, things that move, like say, submarines, are impossible to chart.

The pilot of the sub can confirm those calculation using active sonar, where you send out a ping, a high frequency sound that creates an echo. The return time and characteristics of that echo tell you if you're close to anything and if anything else around you is moving. The drawback is that the ping tells anybody in the area exactly where you are as well. This is a major no-no for ballistic missile subs, whose job is to quietly disappear in the water. Passive sonar on the other hand is the practice of using very sensitive microphones to pick up noise transmitted through the water. The drawback is that it only works to detect objects that make noise.

Again, ballistic missile subs are designed not to make noise.

Second, judging from the fact that there was only minor damage to the sonar dome, which is a very fragile structure, the contact between the subs was a very light graze. The article states that both subs were moving very slowly, which would also tend to minimize the impact. Additionally, because the subs are designed to be quiet, it wouldn't surprise me a bit to learn that the surface of both subs was coated in some sort of echo reducing material, analogous to the radar damping materials used on Stealth aircraft, which very likely would also act to cushion the impact. The slow speed, angle of impact, light damage, and possible echo reducing coatings all work together to explain why the Le Triomphant classified the collision as one with an unknown container, rather than another sub.

As for the "ocean is a large place" comment, again, let's take a closer look at the facts. We have two submarines with similar construction and similar performance characteristics, carrying similar payloads with similar capabilities, and since they were allies, probably covering similar targets.

How surprising is it really that their patrol routes were similar? It's true that the ocean is large, but both of these subs would be interested in only a small part of it.

And the WSJ article is wrong. This is not the first instance of two nuclear subs colliding. There have been several U.S. Soviet sub collisions in the last 40 years or so, some involving diesel boats, and some involving two nukes. This may have been the first case of two ballistic missile subs colliding, but attack subs and ballistic subs have had many collisions.

Your post and comment provide a perfect example of why many if not most civilians are incompetent to discuss military matters. You simply don't know enough to have an informed opinion. Yet in the arrogance of complete ignorance, you ascribe the cause of this incident to the stupidity of both the French and the British submarine service.

A retraction is certainly in order, but I won't hold my breath waiting for it.


The ignorance of Mr. and Mrs. Neal is outweighed only by their arrogance. But then again, we knew that already.
Posted by Rich
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And these people and leftists like them that are so ardently anti-war will always decry chickenhawks when speaking about or endorsing military action. Yet they will pontificate ad nauseum about military matters and stamp their little feet when their opinions aren't taken seriously.

If they only want matters of war to be decided by warriors, then they should take their own advice and shut it. After all, they've never served either.
Posted by Drake  on  02/17  at  09:13 AM

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