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http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article5746690.ece


A British nuclear submarine collided with a French sub in the Atlantic because sophisticated antisonar equipment made them undetectable to each other, it was claimed yesterday.

The French submarine Le Triomphant remained unaware that it had rammed and damaged HMS Vanguard until days later, when it was informed by the Royal Navy. Both vessels were carrying nuclear ballistic warheads while on secret patrols when they crashed this month.

Official inquiries have started in Britain and France, amid concerns regarding the sharing of military information between the allied navies.
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The French Navy claimed this month that the bow sonar dome of Le Triomphant was probably damaged in a collision with a submerged shipping container while returning from patrol. It only discovered that it had hit a British submarine after one of the regular exchanges of information with the Royal Navy.

Nato countries exchange details about the areas and depths in which their submarines will operate during patrols. France has opted out of Nato’s military command, however, so does not share detailed information, although it normally provides some data about its submarine operations.

The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, said that the collision happened at low speed and none of the 240 crew on board the submarines was injured. “Two submerged [ballistic nuclear submarines], one French and the other UK, were conducting routine national patrols in the Atlantic Ocean,” he said. “Both submarines remained safe and no injuries occurred. We can confirm that the capability remained unaffected and there has been no compromise to nuclear safety.”

The collision is understood to have occurred on February 3 or 4. HMS Vanguard returned to its base in Faslane, western Scotland, on Saturday with dents and scrapes on its hull. Le Triomphant took three days to limp home to port in Brest, northwest France, with extensive damage to its Thales DMUX 80 sonar. Repairs to the two vessels are reported to have been estimated at £50 million.

The French Navy confirmed that the collision took place in the Atlantic on a routine patrol and at great depth but would not disclose the location for security reasons.

Captain Jérôme Erulin said that such collisions were extremely unlikely but always possible between two submarines that are designed to evade detection. “It was a brief contact at slow speed,” he said. “The slow speed at the moment of the incident is their normal patrol speed. There was no human error.”

A Royal Navy source said that the chances of two submarines colliding in the mid-Atlantic were very small. He said that submarines used “water space management” to separate themselves both geographically and in depth from other vessels. “It is remarkably difficult to detect a modern submarine with sonar and we work very hard with our own submarines, as do our allies, in making them as quiet as possible so they are not detectable.”

Commodore Stephen Saunders, editor of Jane’s Fighting Ships, said: “This is a very serious incident. There are procedural issues that need addressing. We should not have submarines of friendly nations operating in the same area at the same time.”

HMS Vanguard, which was launched in 1992, is one of four British submarines capable of carrying up to 16 Trident ballistic nuclear missiles with up to eight warheads. At least one of the submarines is on patrol at any time.

The 14,335-tonne Le Triomphant, which entered service in 1997, also carries up to 16 nuclear missiles, with six warheads, and is one of four nuclear-armed submarines in the French fleet.

Vice-Admiral John McAnally, president of the Royal Naval Association, said that it was a “one in a million chance” that the two vessels collided. He said: “It would be very unusual on deterrent patrol to use active sonar because that would expose the submarine to detection.”

Liam Fox, the Shadow Defence Secretary, said that the crash showed the inherent danger of military operations. “For two submarines to collide, apparently unaware of each other’s presence, is extremely worrying. Hopefully, lessons have been learnt.”

Kate Hudson, from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: “This is a nuclear nightmare of the highest order. The collision of two submarines, both with nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons on board, could have released vast amounts of radiation and scattered scores of nuclear warheads across the seabed.”

John Large, an independent nuclear analyst who advised the Russian Government after its Kursk submarine sank in 2000, said that the incident could have been far worse. “The real risk is if you have a fire on board caused by the impact,” he said. “Each warhead has about 30kg-50kg [66lb to 110lb] of high explosive around it. That would burn and your plutonium core would burn as well. That would disperse into the atmosphere and be a major problem.”

The incident is the most serious underwater collision since the USS San Francisco hit an undersea mountain in the Pacific head-on in 2005, killing one sailor and injuring 24 others.

Lee Willett, of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, said that Britain and France would be very reticent to share information on what their nuclear submarines were up to. “Despite how close these relations are, they are the ultimate tools of national survival in the event of war,” he said.
 

Jschmus

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I read about this in the news a couple of days ago. On the one hand I was worried about the collision - the subs were fully-crewed and lugging full warloads of SLBMs (a total of 144 warheads between the two). On the other hand, I was thinking about how good submarine noise suppression tech has gotten, that neither boat could detect the other with passive navigational sonar.
 

r16

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ı somehow feel that ı should object .

another example of crossing at red light , it should be but it beats the satellite collision . ı can't claim ı am particularly knowledgeable about subs though ı know it is quite possible for a modern warship not to be aware of the submarine right under . But for two serious ships at the same temperature layer , now , that is something . They had their sonars on set for passive listening and they remain unaware ? ı remember reading anectodes about U-boot captains and one of them was off American coast during the oft quoted Happy Times in 1942 and he had the misfortune of being noticed by an " 8 O'clock destroyer " who obligingly began depth charging . Worse , one of the crew had a terrible toothache that got him to scream at times . So , it was either knocking him out repeatedly or finding some solution . The captain found a drill with a suitably small tip and cleared the decayed area . Painful but useful . In 1942 people in the silent service knew they had to keep quiet down there . But are 10 to 14 000 ton ships -however modern- are silent enough to not to be noticed and reported to as sunken containers ? The expletives after the collision ought to be surely audible . Most probably they met each other at the patrol zone , thought the other to be a SSN and both were manevrouing to shake off the other . ı know it from a Tom Clancy novel that there is a move called the Crazy Ivan and one of the captains might well brag "That's how you do it " . Such playful things probably happen between Allies as it is a perfect training opportunity run silently . If one had been a Russian or the cost had not been so exorbitant the thing would have under wraps as it would be a grave threat to the concept of deterrence . Subs never report they run into fishing nets and sunk the boats ,so that Coast Guard can look for survivors , for example .

and while ı was looking up for the ships in the Jane's recognition handbook ı have at home , ı also found out that the name that was on my mind , while first reading the text . The only "modern" French submarine ı know by name apart from Rubis is not Tonnert but Tonnant , which has been long decommissioned . Said it before , ı don't know subs , it is just an impression .
 

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