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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 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"

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