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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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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.

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