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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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There's a solution ...
By TA152H on 2/16/2009 10:23:05 AM , Rating: -1
There's actually a technology around today that would probably work. Of course the application to real world situations, and the subs in particular might take some time.

There are actually a number of ways to do it too. The real issue comes from producing light from electricity. It has been done in labs, and even in some homes. Once you do this, you can put these on the subs, and the word used where development is taking place is called "headlights". Once these headlights are in place, you can view visually with visual enhancements, or have a computer monitor things around it. Since, visually, these subs are not cloaked, you could avoid collisions.

The downside would be it would require a lot of investment to develop these technologies, with no guarantee of success, and also the sub would be visible at the same time it would have it's "headlights" on. But, in peacetime, this is doubly good, because less advanced subs without "headlights" might be able to see it as well, and, if you put a "headlight switch" in the sub, you can always turn them off in wartime situations.

It's just a layman's opinion, but it's an educated opinion because I actually have these "headlight" units on my vehicles, and they actually do produce light very well. I've even avoided colliding with things because of them. So, the technology is there, it's just the application that might prove vexing.

RE: There's a solution ...
By masher2 on 2/16/2009 10:31:28 AM , Rating: 5
There really isn't a huge amount of visibility in the deep sea. In turbid waters near the ocean bottom, visual right range might be a few meters or less, far too little to actually avoid a collision.

In any case, shining vast bright beams of light advertises a sub's position much more clearly than a brief sonar ping would...and we don't wish to do either, as they both defeat the entire point of the stealth technology.

RE: There's a solution ...
By 9nails on 2/16/2009 10:46:40 AM , Rating: 1
How stealthy do the French and British need to be during peaceful times? They're not exactly at war with each other are they? Or perhaps they're doing something wrong down there?

Positioning lights, like on aircraft, wouldn't be a terribly bad idea during peaceful times. Then again, I'm assuming these sub's have windows or other means for "looking out" and seeing these lights.

RE: There's a solution ...
By masher2 on 2/16/2009 11:13:22 AM , Rating: 3
> "How stealthy do the French and British need to be during peaceful times?"

Exactly as stealthy as they need to be during wartime. Remember, one of their their purposes for being at sea in the first place is to train, in conditions roughly simulating wartime conditions. You can't keep the training wheels on the bike all the time.

But more importantly, if you advertise the position of a boomer, you defeat its entire raison d'etre. These platforms are intended to deter an enemy surprise first strike, by providing counterstrike capabilities. If other nations know where your boomers are at any given time, they can potentially be struck and that counterstrike capability doesn't exist.

RE: There's a solution ...
By Steve1981 on 2/16/2009 11:18:12 AM , Rating: 3
How stealthy do the French and British need to be during peaceful times?

Very stealthy.

We aren't talking about aircraft doing peace time milk runs here, we're talking about submarines that carry a full load of SLBMs acting as a deterrent to nuclear war. There is no "peace time" for them.

RE: There's a solution ...
By ianweck on 2/16/2009 11:28:06 AM , Rating: 4
There are certain sound characteristics for each class of submarine that can be determined. If you run around during "peacetime" sloppy with your sound silencing, anyone will be able to learn what you sound like. Subtle cues that are always there during operation will be picked up on and when you really need to be silent it may be more difficult. Like alot of things, knowledge is power and in this case if someone knows what to look for ahead of time, your advantage just got alot smaller.

RE: There's a solution ...
By TA152H on 2/16/09, Rating: 0
RE: There's a solution ...
By rudolphna on 2/16/2009 4:38:42 PM , Rating: 2
do you know WHY they dont get attacked? Because half of their nuclear arsenal is on land, in plain view.. The other half is under water, and could be anywhere in the world with an ocean deep enough. Its called a Deterrent, and MADD, Mutually Assured Destruction. Whicn means if you blow us up, we blow you up a million times worse. Ballistic Missile Subs represent the first, and last lines of defense. They have to be absolutely quiet. and then if you make them loud, say use diesels again. We get into a war? OOPS. We are screwed their submarines are quiet and ours sound like freight trains.. Might want to rethink that plan. ;)

RE: There's a solution ...
By Darkskypoet on 2/16/2009 7:15:15 PM , Rating: 2
Actually.. Hate to burst your bubble as it were; but Diesel subs are quieter then nuclear subs, however time on station is the draw back, as they do have to rise and charge batteries via the diesels. When running silent though, a diesel electric sub can be quieter, as there is absolutely no generation noise, whereas there is always some form of low level noise on a nuclear sub. Mainly because it takes so long to restart the reactor, they don't shut them down.

Seeing as time on station trumps the slight bit quieter diesel electric subs can be, I believe all boomers are nuclear.

RE: There's a solution ...
By Jedi2155 on 2/17/2009 2:34:25 AM , Rating: 3
Fuel Cell Subs..quieter....and already in service.

RE: There's a solution ...
By masher2 on 2/16/2009 6:16:35 PM , Rating: 3
"The energy you could create from directionally lighting would exceed a few meters. Deep sea is dark because it's far from the source of light.

A directional light beam would not be detectable except via the direction it was sent from
No. You missed my use of the word "turbid". In turbid waters, visibility would indeed be only a few meters, no matter how bright your light. Try diving sometime in the North Atlantic. You'll see just how low visibility can's not all the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean.

As for light being "directional", this is wrong as well. Even in atmosphere, light isn't completely directional -- which explains why one can see the beam of a powerful spotlight, even if its not pointed directly at you. In the ocean -- which tends to have a far greater amount of suspended particles floating about -- the amount of backscatter is much greater.

> "Who is going to attack the English and French now?"

As long as they have their nuclear deterrent-- no one will. Without it, it's anyone's guess. History makes one thing painfully clear, however. Wars happen, and they're often begun by surprise attacks. If a strategic nuclear sub needs to be at sea in the first place, then it needs to be stealthy when doing so.

> "Between the very unlikely event you'd actually be seen by someone above the sea"

Above the sea? What are you talking about? Hang a massive headlight on the front of your sub, and you're advertising your position to every other sub in the sea -- not to mention defeating several billion dollars worth of expensive stealth technology.

RE: There's a solution ...
By karielash on 2/16/2009 10:31:32 AM , Rating: 2

These are Missile subs, they are a deterrent and each country only has one sub each at sea to act as it's deterrent, they are supposed to maintain secrecy at all costs and remain undetected, it's their whole job, both subs would have been crawling at very slow speed (probably no more than a couple of knots) they do not want to be seen by anyone, if there location becomes known for any reason they fail at being their respective countries deterrent.

They performed their role perfectly and unfortunately hit each other, I would love to see you convince both navies that sticking a bloody light on the front of their only nuclear deterrent ship at sea is a grand idea and would allow people to see them....... I think I could sum up their response in two words....

RE: There's a solution ...
By PrinceGaz on 2/16/2009 1:23:19 PM , Rating: 3
Sticking a big light on the front of the sub?

I think I could some up their response in one gesture (using one finger).

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