Mysterious accident with one of the US Navy’s most sophisticated submarines hints at a long history of underwater espionage


The Seawolf-class attack submarine USS Connecticut and the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in the Pacific Ocean, November 17, 2009. US Navy / MCS1 John M. Hageman

  • In October, an American submarine collided with what would have been a seamount in the South China Sea.

  • The USS Connecticut is one of the most sophisticated submarines in the United States, suggesting it was collecting intelligence.

  • The Navy is unlikely to disclose the mission, but if this would only be the last such mission for US submarines.

In October, a US nuclear attack submarine collided with what would have been a unexplored seamount while operating in the South China Sea.

The USS Connecticut sustained damage and several sailors were injured in the collision. The Navy said on November 4 that he had relieved senior officials of the submarine on the incident.

The Navy is investigating the incident and does not – and likely will not disclose – the nature of the USS Connecticut’s mission. But it’s safe to assume that the submarine was involved in strategic reconnaissance or even intelligence gathering.

It wouldn’t be the first time that the Navy’s silent service has conducted such risky operations.

The silent service

The Seawolf-class attack submarine USS Connecticut

USS Connecticut. US Navy

US Navy includes three main types of submarines – ballistic missiles, guided missiles and rapid attack submarines – totaling 68 nuclear-powered ships of all types in service.

Missile submarines are the maritime component of the US nuclear triad. The 14 Ohio-class submarines can each contain 24 Trident nuclear ballistic missiles.

Four Ohio-class submarines were converted to guided-missile submarines in the 2000s and now carry 154 Tomahawk missiles, for an impressive display of non-nuclear force. In addition to launching precision strikes, these four submarines can also carry a dry dock shelter from which Navy SEALs can launch mini-submarines and conduct operations.

The US Navy’s 50 fast attack submarines – of the Los Angeles, Seawolf, and Virginia classes – primarily attack enemy ships, but they can also perform strategic submarine reconnaissance and can accommodate Navy SEALs and underwater drones with the addition of the multi-mission platform module.

From the submarines has established itself as an effective platform, governments capable of building and maintaining them have used them for open and covert operations in times of war and peace. The US Navy, in particular, has carried out impressive operations straight out of Hollywood.

Spy on submarines

US Navy submarine USS Jimmy Carter mast control turret crew

USS Jimmy Carter transits the Hood Canal on its way back to Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base, September 11, 2017. US Navy / Lt. Cmdr. Michael smith

During the Cold War, the United States Navy and its submarines were on the front lines against the Soviet Union.

In 2013, the USS Jimmy Carter, an upgraded version of the already high-performing Seawolf-class submarines, received the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest honor a US military unit can receive and equivalent to the Navy Cross.

The award came after a classified operation in the South China Sea. The official history of the submarine recorded the operation as “Mission 7”, just say that it “has operated under a wide range of adverse and extremely stressful conditions without outside support … in pursuit of vital national security objectives.”

When the submarine returned to its home port in Washington State, it was flying the Jolly Roger flag, a tradition dating back to World War II and signifying that the submarine sank an enemy ship or conducted an operation. successful. This operation could very well have been intelligence gathering.

Interestingly, the USS Connecticut and the USS Jimmy Carter are both Seawolf-class submarines and part of the secret Submarine Development Squadron 5, which is tasked with testing new underwater listening equipment and remotely piloted underwater vehicles.

According to Marine, the unit works with civilian academic and scientific institutions “for tactical development, including unmanned underwater vehicles and naval special warfare.”

The USS Connecticut and USS Jimmy Carter missions are likely reminiscent of those of their Cold War predecessors.

Operation Ivy Bells and Project Azorian

Soviet guided missile submarine K-129

Soviet guided-missile submarine K-129 in 1968. CIA

In 1968, the Soviet diesel-electric ballistic missile submarine K-129 sank with all hands while patrolling the Pacific.

Despite several weeks of frantic searching, the Soviets were unable to find the submarine and recover its cryptographic devices, codebooks, and nuclear weapons. The CIA saw a great opportunity for an intelligence coup. He initiated the “Azorian Project”, an attempt to recover as much classified material as possible from the K-129.

After the Soviets completed their search, the US Navy sent the USS Halibut, a cruise missile submarine modified for intelligence missions, to locate the Soviet ship.

After weeks of searching an area of ​​1,200 square miles, the US submarine managed to find the K-129. He then received a classified presidential unit citation for his success.

In 1974, a CIA dispatched a rescue ship which successfully lifted a section of the Soviet submarine. The The CIA never fully disclosed what it find, but in 1992 the CIA gave Russia a recording of the burial at sea it performed for Soviet sailors recovered during the operation.

In a separate effort in the early 1970s, the U.S. intelligence community sought to tap into Soviet military communications. Washington and Moscow were to discuss how to contain their nuclear arsenals, and any intelligence on the Soviet position would have been golden.

USS Halibut Navy Submarine

The US Navy submarine USS Halibut, October 14, 1965. US Navy

US Navy intelligence officer came up with a proposal to operate a submarine communication cable connecting the naval bases of the Soviet Pacific Fleet around the Sea of ​​Okhotsk.

The USS Halibut was sent into action again for Operation Ivy Bells, as the wire-tapping mission was known. The submarine divers managed to exploit the submarine cable, an extremely difficult task.

American divers periodically returned to the cable to replace the recorder – until 1981, when the operation was compromised and the Soviets recovered the device.

U.S. submarines likely conducted many similar missions over the ensuing decades, and these operations only gained in importance in an era of renewed competition with capable adversaries – namely Russia and China.

Beijing has built military bases on man-made islands in the South China Sea, attempting to consolidate its widely rejected territorial claims on one of the world’s most important trade routes.

The United States and its allies would like to monitor Chinese movements through a number of methods – including underwater surveillance – and provide that intelligence to its decision makers.

Read the original article on Business intern


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