Monday, February 16, 2009

Mutually assured destruction is MAD! (Boys with toys)

I thought that's what we finally figured out a few years back. You know, MAD was the theory during the Cold War that said anyone nuts enough to start a nuclear war wouldn't be able to destroy the other side without destroying themselves in the process.

Now here's this: The French and British had a little accident beneath the waves of the Atlantic earlier this month when two of their nuclear submarines collided.

The Telegraph:

"HMS Vanguard and Le Triomphant are understood to have both been severely damaged in the underwater accident earlier this month.

Both are fitted with state-of-the-art technology aimed at detecting other submarines, but it apparently failed completely.

It happened in heavy seas, and in the middle of the night between February 3 and 4, and left Le Triomphant's sonar dome all but destroyed. The sonar dome should have detected the Vanguard but Le Triomphant's crew of 101 claimed to have 'neither saw nor heard anything'. [que vous ne pouvez pas voir ne peut pas vous faire mal] The French tried to play down the collision, with a Navy spokesman saying: 'The collision did not result in injuries among the crew and did not jeopardise nuclear security at any moment.'"

Yes, that's very reassuring. Because, after all, what could really have happened, anyway?


"The incident sparked concern among nuclear activists, who have long warned that nuclear submarines pose risks of radioactive leaks into the world's waters. 'This is a nuclear nightmare of the highest order,' said Kate Hudson, chair of Britain's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. '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.'"

Well, that's just crazy, right? No? Remember the Kursk? And what about those warheads? HMS Vanguard alone carries 16 MIRVed Trident II missiles, each of which can carry 3 to 10 W-76 100 kt warheads (the Hiroshima bomb was 10 to 12 kt, by comparison). Together, the two could have been carrying 48 of these warheads when they ran into each other.

"Both are fitted with state-of-the-art technology aimed at detecting other submarines, but it apparently failed completely."

That particular sentence keeps coming to mind. You can trust the French, right, they know what their doing. Why the hell do the French and British have these boats, anyway? Who the hell is going to attack them? If I were the Brits I'd be more worried about dudes with backpacks, honestly!

In any event, what about us? The British only have four of these boats. According to

"The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which was forwarded to Congress in December 2001, outlined the Strategic Submarine Force structure: 14 SSBNs outfitted with the TRIDENT II (D5) Strategic Weapon System in 2 oceans . . . TRIDENT II/D5 missile construction continues with an inventory objective of 425 missiles for 14 TRIDENT II/D5 SSBNs in two oceans. Planned procurement through FY 2005 is 5 to 12 missiles per year."

Yikes! That's like over 4000 Hiroshima bombs trolling around in the world's oceans and we just sort of hope the military knows what the hell they're doing. We hope not one of those 1400 or so sailors locked in any of those iron coffins for six months at a time ever makes a mistake. Still, we've got all that state-of-the-art technology.

Like the USAF had when they lost track of 5 nuclear warheads for a few hours while they were flying over the US, or the missile crew that fell asleep for a few hours in Minot a while back, to say nothing of all the mysterious suicides these past few months of senior commanders at our missiles bases.

Such a big surprise?

BANTHEBOMB.ORG shows this really shouldn't have been such a surprise:

"On the basis of recorded incidents involving Polaris and other British nuclear powered submarines it can be projected that Trident submarines are likely to be involved in between 2 and 5 collisions with other vessels . . .

Not including the first Trident submarine there have been 23 nuclear powered submarines in service in the Royal Navy. From when each was built to the end of 1993, or until scrapped gives a total of around 384 reactor years. This includes hunter killer submarines.

The equivalent for Polaris is a total of around 102 reactor years. Between 1950 and 1988 there were at least 19 fires and 6 collisions, 2 of which involved 2 submarines, on all British nuclear powered submarines. In the same period there were 5 fires and 4 collisions, 1 of which involved 2 submarines, on Polaris submarines.

Trident submarines in service for 30 years will be in service for a total of 120 reactor years. The projected number of incidents for the projected lifetime of Trident, based on the figures for Polaris and for all British nuclear powered submarines are as follows:

Based on Polaris:

5.9 fires
4.7 collisions (all vessels)
1.2 collisions with other submarines

Based on all submarines:

5.9 fires
1.9 collisions (all vessels)
0.6 collisions with other submarines

An examination of a total of 63 collisions involving British or US submarines showed 73 % (46) occurred at sea and 27 % (17) when the submarine was berthing or in a harbour area.

These accidents occur as the result of the way in which submarines operate. By using active sonar they are able to accurately identify other vessels around them. However active sonar gives away the submarine's position. So they rely on passive sonar. This gives less accurate information which is difficult to interpret especially if the vessel is carrying out a serious of manoeuvres. When one submarine is following another, both using passive sonar, there is the danger of a collision. Such an incident could occur during operations or submarine - vs - submarine exercises."

Move along folks, nothing to see here. We've got all that state-of-the-art technology making sure we don't all go up in a puff of vapor.


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