Is the Nuclear Submarine Really Invincible?
Sometimes even the best of us lose sight of the forest for the trees.
today’s world, few would argue that U.S. Navy SEAL Teams and their
counterparts in the other
And most observers would also agree that U.S. Submariners rank at or near the top of their worldwide class of warriors.
In recent years, “surface pukes,” as submariners like to call sailors and their ships that stay on the surface, have held their own in exercises designed to test their ability to find and destroy submerged submarines. It’s not an equal battle by any measure, but a submariner’s survival odds are less today than they were two decades ago.
In other words, our guys are good – across the board. They have some remarkable history lessons to back up their claims. There is an old adage, however, that history is written by the victor. And history has taught us over and over again that overconfidence can lead to disastrous results.
How invincible is our submarine fleet? How good are our submerged sharks, our fleet of nuclear submarines that stands guard on the front lines, protecting our battle groups, shadowing potential missile launchers, and standing by to wreck havoc in the event of a shooting war?
U.S. Navy has long relied upon exercises to measure itself against potential
threats. These exercises usually pit one
Of course, all these exercises are scripted in one way or another. They have to be in order to avoid collisions, to keep things safe and moving in the right direction, and to meet the exercise objectives. Scripting has its disadvantages, of course. For one thing, in a real war, the other side isn’t following a script, at least not one we might know about. Thus, sometimes individual skippers will deviate from the script – sometimes on secret orders, and sometimes, just because .…
Over the years, these off-script events have produced surprising results – or maybe on hindsight, not-so-surprising results. Let’s take a closer look.
years ago during the 1981 NATO exercise Ocean Venture, an unnamed 1960s vintage
Canadian diesel submarine “sank” the carrier USS
America without once being itself detected, and a second unidentified
vintage sub “sank” the carrier USS
did we learn from this?
years later, during NATO exercise Northern Star, the Dutch diesel submarine Zwaardvis
stalked and “sank” the USS America again.
during RIMPAC 2000, the Australian Collins Class diesel sub HMAS
Waller “sank” two American nuke fast attacks and got dangerously
close to the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
During Operation Tandem Thrust in 2001, HMAS
Waller “sank” two
American amphibious assault ships in waters between 200 to 350 feet deep, barely
more than the length of the submarine itself, and an unnamed Chilean diesel sub
“took out” nuclear fast attack sub USS
Montpelier twice during successive exercise runs. A year later in October
2002, HMAS Sheehan successfully
hunted down and “killed” the U.S. fast attack USS
Olympia during exercises near Hawaii, and just a year ago in
September 2003, in an unnamed (read “classified”) exercise, several Collins
Class subs “sank” two U.S. fast attack subs and a carrier – all unnamed,
of course. And a month later another Collins Class sub surprised and “sank”
an American fast attack during another exercise.
going on here? How is it possible for “ancient,” diesel powered
“surface-bound” submarines to take on and defeat the best-trained,
best-equipped sailors driving the most advanced ships and submarines in the
submarines operating on batteries are quiet.
They’re small and maneuverable, and they carry the same detection equipment
and armament as their nuke big brothers. Their only disadvantage is their
limited submerged time. And as the above narrative reveals, even this
disadvantage does not seem to matter very much. In 2001, the Waller
eventually was herself “sunk,” but the trade was one “insignificant”
diesel sub in exchange for two large amphibious
assault ships. If you must keep score, this is how to do it.
earlier articles (“Tomorrow’s
Submarine Fleet – The Non-nuclear Option,” DefenseWatch,
you add to the equation that you can build eight comparably equipped AIP
submarines for what it costs to build one otherwise equivalent nuke, one can
only ask: What in hell are we doing?
we don’t solve this conundrum with alacrity, AIP David is going to kick
Goliath’s nuke butt right to
to Prof. Roger Thompson of