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A collision in the Atlantic with a French sub left Britain's HMS Vanguard, pictured here, badly damaged. The sub has since been tugged back to port.  (Source: BBC/PA)
Collision leaves two nuclear-armed subs badly damaged

The HMS Vanguard of Britain's Royal Navy and Le Triomphant of France's Navy, both nuclear subs, collided earlier this month and sustained heavy damage.  While both countries assure there's no danger of a nuclear threat, both subs are key parts of their respective country's nuclear arsenal and are presumed to have been carrying a full complement of nuclear warheads.

The crash occurred in the middle of the Atlantic at an undisclosed date earlier in the month.  First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jonathon Band said the collision was at low speed and while the damage was heavy, no injuries were reported.  The British vessel had to be towed back to port and featured "very visible dents and scrapes" according to British officials.

The irony of the collision was that it perhaps proved that the countries' respective anti-sonar technologies were working as planned.  Neither nuclear sub could see the other, despite the fact that both were equipped with sonar.  And the seemingly rare chance crossing of the sub's paths occurred, and thus led to a collision.  States BBC's Caroline Wyatt, "This is clearly a one-in-a-million chance when you think about how big the Atlantic is. It is actually unbelievable that something happened."

French officials describe their sub's damage from the incident stating, "The sonar dome, at the front, was damaged. This incident did not cause any injuries among the crew and did not threaten the nuclear security at any time.  The submarine came back by its own means to L'Ile Longue, escorted by a frigate, as it is the usual practice when leaving or coming back."

While the collision seems like a highly improbable occurrence, it may actually be more likely than some suspect.  According to British nuclear engineer John Large, both countries prefer deep waters a certain distance off their coasts to patrol in.  Given the geography of Britain and France, these deep waters feature significant overlap.

States Mr. Large, "Both navies want quiet areas, deep areas, roughly the same distance from their home ports. So you find these station grounds have got quite a few submarines, not only French and Royal Navy but also from Russia and the United States."

In Britain, the Liberal Democrat spokesman Nick Harvey praised the Royal Navy and its response stating, "While the British nuclear fleet has a good safety record, if there were ever to be a bang it would be a mighty big one.  Now that this incident is public knowledge, the people of Britain, France and the rest of the world need to be reassured this can never happen again and that lessons are being learned."

However, Scottish National Party officials blasted the error, stating, "The Ministry of Defence needs to explain how it is possible for a submarine carrying weapons of mass destruction to collide with another submarine carrying weapons of mass destruction in the middle of the world's second-largest ocean."

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament also jumped aboard the criticism boat, stating, "The collision of two submarines, both with nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons onboard, could have released vast amounts of radiation and scattered scores of nuclear warheads across the seabed."

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By ninus3d on 2/16/2009 9:12:58 AM , Rating: 5
However, Scottish National Party officials blasted the error, stating, "The Ministry of Defence needs to explain how it is possible for a submarine carrying weapons of mass destruction to collide with another submarine carrying weapons of mass destruction in the middle of the world's second-largest ocean."

Unless this is suspected to be first degree or some sabotage involved then I'd GUESS its because the stealth technology works?

What, they want nuclear subs unstealthed?

By rogard on 2/16/09, Rating: -1
By alifbaa on 2/16/2009 10:05:05 AM , Rating: 4
My guess is the French ship was tailing the UK ship and got caught in the old "Crazy Ivan" maneuver.

Two subs from different countries don't just collide in the middle of the Atlantic.

By Amiga500 on 2/16/2009 12:30:45 PM , Rating: 5
Boomers do not trail boomers...

By PrinceGaz on 2/16/2009 1:35:43 PM , Rating: 5
Exactly, so even the French sub had a damaged sonar dome, whilst the British sub had general dents and scrapes, which would imply the French sub ran into the British one, they would never normally have been actively trying to follow each other in the first place.

Both Britain and France have nuclear-powered attack-subs which are a much better choice for trailing ballistic-missile subs, so it would be madness for the French to be tailing one of our boomers with one of their boomers. Besides, we're allies in NATO and both in the EU and whilst we might disagree on some things, we're hardly likely to start throwing nuclear missiles at each other :p

By masher2 on 2/16/2009 1:45:03 PM , Rating: 4
The British sub had to be towed into port. For a collision slow enough to not cause any injuries, that pretty much implies the prop was struck -- even more proof the French ran into them.

By 67STANG on 2/16/2009 2:52:32 PM , Rating: 5
The French finally have a military victory in the last 100 years?

By pavel486 on 2/16/2009 4:04:20 PM , Rating: 1
French won WW1 in case if you missed it :)

By PlasmaBomb on 2/16/2009 4:47:05 PM , Rating: 1

By Nfarce on 2/16/2009 9:53:40 PM , Rating: 4
Uhm no.

Nobody really "won" the alleged War to End All Wars. Now WWII, that's a different story. Just ask the Bolsheviks, Nazis, and Mussolini's RSI... and the French who had to have allied forces fight for them.

By jjmcubed on 2/16/2009 4:21:58 PM , Rating: 1
Yea, GOSH!!!

It has only been 90 years! : P

BTW, just teasing.

By Seemonkeyscanfly on 2/17/2009 5:07:56 PM , Rating: 2
and during this time frame the Cubs are still looking for one World Series Championship - 100 years a counting.... Oh well there's always next century.

By Gul Westfale on 2/16/2009 7:34:16 PM , Rating: 2
i'd call it a tie.

By rudolphna on 2/16/2009 4:29:35 PM , Rating: 2
not necessarily. In teh event of such a collision, the reactor would scram, or shut down, and might not have been able to be restarted. While the reactor itsel fmight not have suffered damage, it takes quite a while, a matter of some hours or even days, to safely start a reactor.

By PlasmaBomb on 2/16/2009 4:53:21 PM , Rating: 1
Damn you Newton and your conservation of momentum!!

*shakes fist*

By Manch on 2/17/2009 10:52:18 PM , Rating: 2
By alifbaa on 2/16/2009 2:27:39 PM , Rating: 2
True, in the cold war, American boomers GENERALLY didn't trail Russian boomers.

With a small(ish) navy with a small budget and aren't particularly concerned with the current geopolitical threat, the French may well do things differently. I'm more familiar with their Air Force, and I know this is exactly the kind of thing they do.

The fact the collision happened at such slow speed and the damage incurred implies the British sub was trying to hide and the French sub was trying to follow.

None of us truly know, but I'll repeat what I said earlier... it's too big an ocean for two subs to collide by coincidence.

By rudolphna on 2/16/2009 4:31:21 PM , Rating: 1
wrong. Boomers generally run at very very slow speeds, on teh order of 2-3 knots, to be as silent as possible.

By alifbaa on 2/16/2009 5:38:34 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, you're wrong. 2-3 knots is far faster than they go. They only go fast enough to have minimal control authority on their rudder. Their actual speed is closer to .3 knots.

By emboss on 2/17/2009 9:06:08 AM , Rating: 5
Just like space is far too big to have two satellites collide by coincidence. Err, hang on a second ...


By mmcdonalataocdotgov on 2/17/2009 12:01:21 PM , Rating: 2
Touche. A larger volume in all directions. When you consider the preferred mutual stations in the Atlantic, that sea volume shrinks even further, though.

By fic2 on 2/16/2009 4:35:54 PM , Rating: 5
My guess is that the Brit's were driving on the wrong side of the, uh, ocean...

By freeagle on 2/16/2009 4:08:59 PM , Rating: 1
The former.

Quoting a fictional sonar operator:
If we are quiet enough, they won't know we are here

... well, he was right

By Screwballl on 2/16/09, Rating: -1
By karielash on 2/16/2009 9:52:00 AM , Rating: 3

Alas some politicians are more interested in big headlines with their names attached than anything else, and are incapable of working out why two, very slow moving silent vessels with advanced anti-sonar technology couldn't see each other, I doubt to be honest if either sub was even using active sonar (probably the only sure way to find another slow moving silent sub) it would be very unusual for a boomer to be broadcasting it's position by dumping ridiculous amounts of sound pollution into it's surroundings.

By Aloonatic on 2/16/2009 10:53:36 AM , Rating: 3
Sadly, I have to agree with you. Politicians are only interested in pushing them selves to the fore and getting their name in the news media.

This is epically true for the smaller parties who are often deprived of the oxygen of publicity, so they often jump all over anything that may get them a few column inches, which is what appears to be the case here with the Lib Dems (3rd largest UK party) and and SNP official.

With the way our risk averse, health and safety obsessed, realism deprived officials see the world, I wouldn't be surprised if someone calls for all subs to have a tall flag on top of them and paint them florescent yellow.

By ianweck on 2/16/2009 11:14:19 AM , Rating: 3
(probably the only sure way to find another slow moving silent sub)

Indeed. Modern nuclear subs are extremely quiet. Unless there is a sound short somewhere onboard, passive sonar will only pick one up at very close range. Passive sonar is what's used most of the time. Unfortunately active sonar tends to give away your own position...
I would guess in this case the French were tailing the British and got too close.

By masher2 on 2/16/2009 11:18:56 AM , Rating: 5
> "I would guess in this case the French were tailing the British and got too close"

These are both strategic assets, not attack subs. I don't believe their tactical protocols would include tailing. Of course, with the French you never know...

By ianweck on 2/16/2009 11:37:06 AM , Rating: 4
Yeah that's what I thought too, but the article said low speed. So unless they were both just cruising around at 5 knots and really were unaware of each other then the French were doing some surveillance. We'll probably never know.

By mars777 on 2/16/2009 8:44:09 PM , Rating: 3
I think the British were driving backwards and hit into the French.

By Manch on 2/16/2009 11:59:35 AM , Rating: 3
The last couple of times I deployed, I noticed something about the French comm equipment. While the rest of our stuff was pointed out and up, They always had several that were pointed at us. Like you said, with the French, you never know........

By Steve1981 on 2/16/2009 2:17:49 PM , Rating: 2
Per Charles DeGaulle...

"No nation has friends only interests"

By toolguy on 2/16/2009 3:16:52 PM , Rating: 1
There are some within the US government that are friendly to terrorists and communists and socialists and will undermine everything they can to make sure their bill goes through

I don't know of any US government that are friendly to terrorist. Sure some will undermine things to make sure their bill goes through. But I find that statment hard to swallow.

By Seemonkeyscanfly on 2/17/2009 5:04:43 PM , Rating: 3
Mental note to self... The French have boats bigger the row boats for fishing...

When I think of Navy super power Sub and the countries that have them.... France is not one of them. Did someone give them a sub for Christmas or something?? :)

A real question I would have would be: "how many sailors had to change their shorts after this little bump?" The other question would be, "Did anyone record the metal scrapping against metal sound that would have rattled through out these two ships?" If there ever was a brown note in real life, I'm pretty sure that would be the pitch or very close to it.

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