Quotulatiousness

February 26, 2015

Are submarines facing premature obsolescence?

Filed under: Military,Technology,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Harry J. Kazianis looks at the risk for the US Navy as underwater detection systems become cheaper and more effective:

What would happen if U.S. nuclear attack submarines — some of the most sophisticated and expensive American weapons of war — suddenly became obsolete? Imagine a scenario where these important systems became the hunted instead of the hunter, or just as technologically backward as the massive battleships of years past. Think that sounds completely insane? If advances in big data and new detection methods fuse with the anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) ambitions of nations like China and Russia, naval planners around the world might have to go back to the drawing board.

Submarines: The New Battleship?

The revelation is alluded to in a recent report by the Washington, D.C.–based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) called “The Emerging Era in Undersea Warfare.” Smartly named by a certain TNI editor as the “think-tank’s think-tank,” CSBA has crafted in the last decade many of the most detailed and sophisticated reports regarding the most pressing national-security challenges around — sometimes years before anyone else. Ever heard of a little operational concept called AirSea Battle? They were at the forefront of it before it was in the news.

In a piece for TNI, the report’s author, Bryan Clark, lays out the problem in more layman’s terms:

    Since the Cold War submarines, particularly quiet American ones, have been considered largely immune to adversary A2/AD capabilities. But the ability of submarines to hide through quieting alone will decrease as each successive decibel of noise reduction becomes more expensive and as new detection methods mature that rely on phenomena other than sounds emanating from a submarine. These techniques include lower frequency active sonar and non-acoustic methods that detect submarine wakes or (at short ranges) bounce laser or light-emitting diode (LED) light off a submarine hull. The physics behind most of these alternative techniques has been known for decades, but was not exploited because computer processors were too slow to run the detailed models needed to see small changes in the environment caused by a quiet submarine. Today, “big data” processing enables advanced navies to run sophisticated oceanographic models in real time to exploit these detection techniques. As they become more prevalent, they could make some coastal areas too hazardous for manned submarines.

Could modern attack subs soon face the same problem as surface combatants around the world, where some areas are simply too dangerous to enter, thanks to pressing A2/AD challenges?

February 18, 2015

A tour of the French ballistic missile submarine Le Redoutable

Filed under: Europe,Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Gerard Vanderleun posted a link to this set of photos of the retired French submarine Le Redoutable:

Fascinating and worthwhile for the blend of megadeath and French lifestyles: A tour of the ballistic missile submarine Redoutable (photos) the largest submarine you can tour without security clearance, and one of the only ballistic missile subs fully accessible to the general public. The French nuclear submarine Redoutable spent the ’70s and ’80s at sea and was home to 135 sailors for months at a time. The missile boat-turned-museum resides in the French seaside town of Cherbourg after extensive refurbishment.

It's pretty much impossible to get a full shot of the sub, given where it rests. Let's just say, it's big.

It’s pretty much impossible to get a full shot of the sub, given where it rests. Let’s just say, it’s big.

Man, this looks like a nuclear power station control room. Oh, wait, it is. Along with all the other moving and dangerous parts of the "drivetrain."

Man, this looks like a nuclear power station control room.
Oh, wait, it is. Along with all the other moving and dangerous parts of the “drivetrain.”

The 16 missile hatches, with the lovely Cherbourg harbor in the background.

The 16 missile hatches, with the lovely Cherbourg harbor in the background.

February 6, 2015

Gas! – A New Horror On The Battlefield I THE GREAT WAR Week 28

Filed under: Europe,History,Middle East,Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 5 Feb 2015

After more than 6 months of stalemate, the German Empire is playing two new cards to gain a decisive advantage. On the Eastern Front, the Germans use gas on a huge scale for the first time. While the attack fails, the foundation for gas warfare is laid. At the same time Kaiser Wilhelm II agrees to unrestricted submarine warfare – any ship can be sank at any time.

November 15, 2014

Another hidden ecological disaster from the Cold War

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

I’d heard that the Soviet navy had dumped some potentially hazardous nuclear wastes in the Arctic, but I didn’t realize just how much they’d dumped:

While Russia’s nuclear bombers have recently set the West abuzz by probing NATO’s air defenses, a far more certain danger currently lurks beneath the frigid Arctic waters off Russia’s northern coast — a toxic boneyard for Soviet nuclear ships and reactors whose containment systems are gradually wearing out.

Left to decay at the bottom of the ocean, the world is facing a worst case scenario described as “an Arctic underwater Chernobyl, played out in slow motion,” according to Thomas Nilsen, an editor at the Barents Observer newspaper and a member of a Norwegian watchdog group that monitors the situation.

According to a joint Russian-Norwegian report issued in 2012, there are 17,000 containers of nuclear waste, 19 rusting Soviet nuclear ships and 14 nuclear reactors cut out of atomic vessels at the bottom of the Kara Sea.

Soviet nuclear waste in the Arctic

The K-159 went down in 2003 while it was being towed to the town of Polyarny — home of Russia’s primary shipyard used for servicing and decommissioning nuclear powered vessels — for dismantling. Nine sailors died trying to keep it afloat when a storm hit, ripping off makeshift pontoons welded to the side to ensure the porous rusting hull didn’t sink en route. Estimates place around 800 kilograms of spent uranium fuel aboard the K-159, according to Bellona.

Soviet nuclear submarine K-159 before she sank

“Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there are currently no concrete plans to raise [radioactive] objects, and potentially raising the submarine is a Russian responsibility,” said Ingar Amundsen, head of the section for international nuclear issues at the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA), a governmental body tasked with keeping watch over the nuclear threats in the Arctic.

September 28, 2014

The “Live Bait Squadron” in the Broad Fourteens

Filed under: Britain,History,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:20

Antoine Vanner recounts the tragic story of the sinking of three Royal Navy armoured cruisers (HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue, and HMS Cressy) early in the First World War:

Despite this “wake up call” regarding vulnerability of warships at low speed the Royal Navy initiated a patrol of the northern entrance of the English Channel with five obsolete Cressy class armoured cruisers. This group was known as “Cruiser Force C” and the patrol area they were assigned to was in the shallow waters off the Dutch coast known as the “Broad Fourteens”. The logic of maintaining a patrol in the area was unassailable as a fast German raiding force of destroyers could wreak havoc on British maritime supply lines between the English Coast and Northern France should they enter the Channel. Though destroyers and light cruisers would have been more suited to the task it was believed that destroyers would be unable to maintain the patrol in bad weather and insufficient modern light cruisers were available. The solution was to deploy old armoured cruisers which had at least got the necessary station-keeping capability. This was perhaps their only positive attribute.

The vulnerability of these cruisers was recognised by many senior officers, not only because of their obsolescence but because of their manning. Taken hastily from reserve – which meant they had been unmanned and poorly, if at all, maintained – on outbreak of war they were quickly overhauled and put back in service. Originally capable of 21 knots they now found it hard to make 15. Crews were in short supply, leading the ships to be manned by reservists, many middle-aged, many of them pensioners, who had not previously served or exercised together as units. In addition, nine naval cadets, some as young as 15, were allocated to each ship, being taken directly from the Royal Naval College. The general view of Cruiser Force C’s fighting potential was summed up in the nickname it quickly acquired – the “Live Bait Squadron”.

HMS Aboukir at Malta - note 6" weapons in casemates along sides

HMS Aboukir at Malta – note 6″ weapons in casemates along sides

Britain’s armoured cruisers can be fairly described as the most unsuccessful and unfortunate type of warship ever employed by the Royal Navy. The 34 vessels of this type that were in service at the outbreak of war had entered service between 1902 and 1908 – they were not old ships. Of these 34, a total of 13 were to be lost in the next four years. Intended to form part of the battle fleet, they had been rendered obsolete by the advent of the almost equally-disastrous battle-cruiser concept. The earlier classes – the six ships of the Cressy class being the oldest – had very limited offensive capability, especially in rough weather. They were large – and expensive – ships and they needed large crews.

[…]

At dawn on September 22nd U-9 surfaced to find the storm over, the sea calm but for a slow swell. Smoke was seen on the horizon and the U-9’s engines were immediately shut down to get rid of their exhaust plume. A quick appraisal led Weddingen to order diving but he continues to observe through his periscope. Three vessels were approaching – the Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue – and Weddingen steered on his electric motors towards the central vessel, Aboukir.

Undetected, U-9 came within 600 yards of Aboukir’s port bow before firing a torpedo. As this was still running Weddingen took his craft down to 50 feet, then heard “a dull thud, followed by a shrill-toned crash”. Cheering erupted on U-9.

Aboukir sinking - as depicted by the famous British maritime painter Norman Wilkinson the Hogue dropping boats to pick up survivors

Aboukir sinking – as depicted by the famous British maritime painter Norman Wilkinson
the Hogue dropping boats to pick up survivors

September 19, 2014

When Royal Navy submarines fly the “Jolly Roger”

Filed under: Britain,History,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:06

Ali Kefford on the origins of a colourful naval tradition:

Members of the crew of HMS Utmost with their "Jolly Roger" success flag, photographed alongside HMS Forth in Holy Loch, on their return from a year's service in the Mediterranean, 6 February 1942. (via Wikipedia)

Members of the crew of HMS Utmost with their “Jolly Roger” success flag, photographed alongside HMS Forth in Holy Loch, on their return from a year’s service in the Mediterranean, 6 February 1942. (via Wikipedia)

Sir Arthur Wilson was infamous within the Royal Navy for being an admiral with a tetchy temper. His nickname – Old ’Ard ’Art – was a bad joke about his uncaring nature.

Yet a verbal broadside he delivered in 1901 was to spawn one of the Submarine Service’s most loved and deeply ingrained traditions – the flying of the Jolly Roger flag to mark the victorious return from a successful patrol.

Wilson, later a hugely unpopular First Sea Lord, is said to have blasted the innovation of submarines, dubbing the covert way they operated as “underhand, unfair and damned un-English”.

He even went so far as to say: “They’ll never be any use in war and I’ll tell you why. I’m going to get the First Lord to announce that we intend to treat all submarines as pirate vessels in wartime and that we’ll hang all the crews.”

[…]

One hundred years ago this week, shortly after the start of the Great War, British submarine HMS E9 despatched two torpedoes at close range at Germany’s SMS Hela in a skirmish off Heligoland.

Its commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Max Horton, had to dive immediately to avoid return fire, so he did not see the cruiser sink.

But the 13-year-old Silent Service had notched up its very first kill, confirming the deadly effectiveness of sneaking around in the deep then launching a surprise attack on an enemy.

Horton, recalling Admiral Wilson’s words, told his signaller to sew a piratical Jolly Roger flag, which flew proudly from his boat’s periscope as she sailed into Harwich, Essex.

A naval tradition was born, as the skull and crossbones went on to be the Royal Navy Submarine Service’s official emblem.

The tradition continues to today:

September 14, 2014

Australia’s search for new submarines

Filed under: Japan,Military,Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:50

A few days ago, news reports indicated that the next generation of submarines for the Royal Australian Navy would be bought from Japan, rather than built in Australia. Kym Bergmann says the reports are probably misleading:

There has been a flurry of public commentary following yesterday’s News Limited claims that Australia is about to enter into a commitment to buy its next generation of submarines from Japan. The local submarine community has been concerned about that possibility for some time, and senior members of the Submarine Institute of Australia have been writing to Defence Minister David Johnston — and others — since January of this year warning against such a decision.

Understanding what’s happening is difficult because the speculation appears based on remarks apparently made by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe about such a course of action. The concerns have been reinforced among some observers by Abbott’s interest in strengthening Australia–Japan–U.S. defense ties — something in turn being driven by the rise of China. Yesterday Prime Minister Abbott did nothing to dampen the speculation, stating that future submarines were about capability, not about local jobs. As an aside, those sorts of comments also serve the PM’s aggressive political style, jabbing a finger into the eye of the current South Australian Labor Government.

However, the chances of the Federal Government making a unilateral decision to sole source a Japanese solution seem low — and if the Prime Minister were to insist on that particular course of action there could be a serious Cabinet and back bench revolt. Not only would such a decision constitute another broken promise — the word “another” would presumably be contested by the PM on the basis that no promises have been broken to date — but it’d almost certainly lead to the loss of Federal seats in South Australia (Hindmarsh for sure, perhaps Boothby and Sturt), as well as generate enormous resentment within institutions no less than the Royal Australian Navy, the Department of Defence, trade unions and a stack of industry associations, amongst others.

Australia is similar to Canada in this regard: military expenditure is almost always seen as regional development/job creation/political vote-buying first and value-for-money or ensuring that the armed forces have the right kit for the task come a very distant second. This means that the RAN, like the RCN, often ends up with fewer hulls sporting lower capabilities for much more money than if they were able to just buy the best equipment for their needs whether overseas or at home. But that doesn’t get the government votes in “key constituencies”, so let the sailors suffer if it means shoring up support in the next federal election…

May 4, 2014

The Battle of the Atlantic

Filed under: Cancon,History,Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

On the first Sunday in May every year, we remember the Battle of the Atlantic, one of the major contributions to allied victory in World War 2, and the Canadian part in that multi-year battle:

The Battle of the Atlantic campaign was fought at sea from 1939 to 1945 with the strategic outcome being sea-control of the North Atlantic Ocean. It was the longest, largest, and arguably the most complex campaign of the Second World War. Over the course of 2,075 days, Allied naval and air forces fought more than 100 convoy battles and perhaps 1,000 single ship actions against the submarines and warships of the German and Italian navies. Enemy vessels targeted mainly the convoys of merchant ships transporting material and troops vital to safeguarding the freedom of the peoples of North America and Europe.

On any given day, up to 125 merchant vessels were sailing in convoy across the North Atlantic. It was during these treacherous, stormy crossings that Canada’s navy matured and won the mantle of a professional service. Our navy escorted more than 25,000 merchant vessels across the Atlantic. These ships carried some 182,000,000 tonnes of cargo to Europe — the equivalent of eleven lines of freight cars, each stretching from Vancouver to Halifax. Without these supplies, the war effort would have collapsed.

Thousands of Canadian men and women – members of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), the Merchant Navy (MN) and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), mostly volunteers from small town Canada – had to face situations so perilous they are difficult for us to imagine. As Canadians, we should be proud of their courage.

Although largely unprepared for war in 1939, Canada’s navy grew at an unparalleled rate eventually providing 47 percent of all convoy escorts. Rear Admiral Leonard Murray, who as Commander-in-Chief Northwest Atlantic from March 1943, would become the only Canadian to hold an Allied theatre command during the war and direct the convoy battles out of his headquarters in Halifax.

During the Second World War the RCN grew from 13 vessels to a strength of nearly 100,000 uniformed men and women and nearly 400 vessels, the fourth largest navy in the world. It had suffered 2,210 fatalities, including six women, and had lost 33 vessels. It had destroyed or shared in the destruction of 33 U-Boats and 42 enemy surface craft. In partnership with Canada’s maritime air forces and merchant navy, it had played a pivotal and successful role in the contest for seaward supremacy.

Merchant ships of Convoy HX188 en route to Britain. Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-115006

Merchant ships of Convoy HX188 en route to Britain.
Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-115006

February 6, 2014

HMCS Windsor to be out of service for engine replacement

Filed under: Cancon,Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:13

The Royal Canadian Navy’s submarines are in the news again:

The Royal Canadian Navy’s only submarine on the East Coast will be pulled from service for up to a year because of engine woes, CBC News has learned.

HMCS Windsor, which completed a $209-million refit just 18 months ago, will be hauled from the water in March, the navy has confirmed to CBC News.

A navy spokesperson said one of HMCS Windsor‘s two diesel engines will be removed and replaced during the unscheduled docking.

A naval source told CBC News the job will take at least seven months but could last longer, depending on how the massive 16-cylinder diesel engine is stripped from the submarine.

And here’s the part that boggles my mind:

Blondin said the cost for the engine itself is $1.35 million, which he said is already a part of the “national spare parts inventory for the submarine fleet.”

The broken Paxman Valenta engine weighs eight tonnes and was commonly used to drive British trains.

Canada’s used British-built submarines are fitted with a special hatch that may allow the navy to simply pull the engine from the 20-year-old HMCS Windsor. But if the hatch — called a Dutch breach — turns out to be too small, the navy will be forced to cut the submarine in half to remove the engine.

They don’t know if the engine can be removed through the hatch that was designed to allow the engine to be replaced? I hope that’s just a mis-communication between the RCN spokesperson and the journalist!

January 31, 2014

Paper Dragon?

Filed under: China,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:41

In The Diplomat, Ian Easton gives some anecdotal run-downs of People’s Liberation Army operations (and mishaps) over the last decade:

In April 2003, the Chinese Navy decided to put a large group of its best submarine talent on the same boat as part of an experiment to synergize its naval elite. The result? Within hours of leaving port, the Type 035 Ming III class submarine sank with all hands lost. Never having fully recovered from this maritime disaster, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is still the only permanent member of the United Nations Security Council never to have conducted an operational patrol with a nuclear missile submarine.

China is also the only member of the UN’s “Big Five” never to have built and operated an aircraft carrier. While it launched a refurbished Ukrainian built carrier amidst much fanfare in September 2012 – then-President Hu Jintao and all the top brass showed up – soon afterward the big ship had to return to the docks for extensive overhauls because of suspected engine failure; not the most auspicious of starts for China’s fledgling “blue water” navy, and not the least example of a modernizing military that has yet to master last century’s technology.

Indeed, today the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) still conducts long-distance maneuver training at speeds measured by how fast the next available cargo train can transport its tanks and guns forward. And if mobilizing and moving armies around on railway tracks sounds a bit antiquated in an era of global airlift, it should – that was how it was done in the First World War.

[…]

While recent years have witnessed a tremendous Chinese propaganda effort aimed at convincing the world that the PRC is a serious military player that is owed respect, outsiders often forget that China does not even have a professional military. The PLA, unlike the armed forces of the United States, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other regional heavyweights, is by definition not a professional fighting force. Rather, it is a “party army,” the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Indeed, all career officers in the PLA are members of the CCP and all units at the company level and above have political officers assigned to enforce party control. Likewise, all important decisions in the PLA are made by Communist Party committees that are dominated by political officers, not by operators. This system ensures that the interests of the party’s civilian and military leaders are merged, and for this reason new Chinese soldiers entering into the PLA swear their allegiance to the CCP, not to the PRC constitution or the people of China.

This may be one reason why China’s marines (or “naval infantry” in PLA parlance) and other amphibious warfare units train by landing on big white sandy beaches that look nothing like the west coast of Taiwan (or for that matter anyplace else they could conceivably be sent in the East China Sea or South China Sea). It could also be why PLA Air Force pilots still typically get less than ten hours of flight time a month (well below regional standards), and only in 2012 began to have the ability to submit their own flight plans (previously, overbearing staff officers assigned pilots their flight plans and would not even allow them to taxi and take-off on the runways by themselves).

And yet, despite the occasional comic opera situation, the PLA (especially the PLAN) seems to be more dangerous to neighbouring countries:

Yet none of this should be comforting to China’s potential military adversaries. It is precisely China’s military weakness that makes it so dangerous. Take the PLA’s lack of combat experience, for example. A few minor border scraps aside, the PLA hasn’t seen real combat since the Korean War. This appears to be a major factor leading it to act so brazenly in the East and South China Seas. Indeed, China’s navy now appears to be itching for a fight anywhere it can find one. Experienced combat veterans almost never act this way. Indeed, history shows that military commanders that have gone to war are significantly less hawkish than their inexperienced counterparts. Lacking the somber wisdom that comes from combat experience, today’s PLA is all hawk and no dove.

January 10, 2014

US analysis of captured German U-boats after WW2

Filed under: History,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:12

Tony Zbaraschuk posted an interesting link to the Lois McMaster Bujold Mailing list (http://lists.herald.co.uk/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/lois-bujold):

Design Studies of German Submarines by the US Navy

The Design Study of Type IXC U-boats was made available by Scott Sorenson. The Design Study of Type XXI U-boats was made available by the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Public Affairs Office and the Navy Yard Museum — in particular Debora White, Gary Hildreth, Jim Dolf and Bill Tebo (a member of the US Navy crew of U-2513).

Photographs and documents of surrendered German submarines and their crews were made available by John Cunningham (a member of the US Navy crew of U-2513).

U-2513 off Key West, Florida - 30 October 1946

U-2513 off Key West, Florida — 30 October 1946

November 11, 2013

The newest menace of the waterways – private submarines

Filed under: Business,Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:24

Keeping up with the Joneses has always been a popular hobby among the nouveau riche, and topping the neighbours’ fancy car is only the start of it for some people. If your particular Jones just bought a lovely new pleasure boat, here’s a possible riposte — the Seabreacher J:

Seabreacher J

The Seabreacher J was designed and engineered exclusively for the recreational boating market. This model incorporates a jet drive for increased safety and better surface performance. The J model is able to be registered as a conventional powerboat. It is powered by a Rotax engine which is available in 155hp or 215hp supercharged variants. The engine and jet drive can be easily maintained at any personal watercraft dealership, making it a very basic watercraft to own and operate. The Seabreacher J combines the thrill of flying a submersible watercraft with the practicality and dependability of a conventional personal watercraft. The J model can be custom built with a host of available options that can personalize your Seabreacher to your desires.

The Seabreacher J isn’t a true submarine, but it’s priced for a larger market. To see what they look like in use, a quick Google Image Search turns up lots of “action shots”. True submersibles are also available for more wealthy customers, as Strategy Page explains:

Since the 1990s there have been a lot of recreational submarines. Luxury boat builders have even built submarine yachts. Submarine construction technology has come a long way in the past century, and it’s possible to build these boats at an affordable ($10-200 million) cost. They are safe and there are over a hundred of them out there.

A few companies have gained a lot of experience building subs for non-military underwater operations (academic research, oil exploration), which has created a body of information and cadre of technicians who can build these recreational subs. One of the largest civilian submarine yards is in Dubai, where dozens have been built so far and construction continues. Another large operation in the U.S. has built most of the scientific subs over the last two decades.

The submersible pleasure craft look like streamlined yachts while on the surface. The upper deck, including the bridge, is outside the pressure hull. When submerging, everyone goes below and the upper deck gets flooded. If you get close to one of these yachts it becomes obvious that they are built to dive. Military subs are still not used to encountering this civilian traffic underwater. The military boats have the right of way, but military boats are now warned to exercise extra care when approaching coastal areas used by civilian subs.

Owners of these luxury subs tend to be secretive, and the builders have agreed to some government oversight, especially to make sure militarized subs, that can carry torpedoes or mines, are not built. But there is no law against anyone owning one of these submarines, and it’s feared that it’s only a matter of time before drug dealers, gun runners, or even terrorists, get their hands on some of them. Some police officials believe this has already happened, but no one is saying much. The civilian subs don’t dive as deep as military subs and are not built for combat. They have staterooms and large windows. But they do have carrying capacity, and that could be put to criminal uses. Already, Colombian gangs have been caught trying to build subs, using Russian advisors initially and later just employing the same tech used for recreational subs. Over a hundred submersibles (a sub that travels just below the surface) have been caught carrying cocaine. The age of privately owned subs is here.

October 31, 2013

The drug-running submarine squadron

Filed under: Americas,Law,Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:25

Strategy Page reports that the set of almost-complete submarines built by a drug cartel in Colombia were much more sophisticated and capable than first thought:

The leader (Mauner Mahecha) of the project was a guy in his early 30s with no boat building experience but excellent organizational and leadership skills.

Mahecha had a huge budget and used it to find and hire men with the needed skills or experience with submarines. Mahecha also quickly recruited additional specialists as needed and obtained whatever materials the builders called for. His project built three submarines, and the project was shut down because one of the men recruited (an experienced engine mechanic working for the Colombian Navy) managed to tip off the Colombian Navy intelligence and then the U.S. about the project.

[…]

The Mahecha submarines, when closely examined by experts, turned out to be more sophisticated than first thought. The outer hull was made out of strong, lightweight, Kevlar/carbon fiber that was sturdy enough to keep the sub intact but very difficult to detect with most sensors. The hull could not survive deep dives but this boat didn’t have to go deep to get the job done. The diesel-electric power supply (up to two-hundred and forty-nine lead-acid batteries), diving and surfacing system, and navigational systems of captured subs were all in working order. Those who built these boats apparently borrowed much from recreational subs. The sub builders also had impressive knowledge of the latest materials used to build exotic boats.

The three fiberglass/Kevlar submarines were obviously built to transport cocaine to North America and the existence of a building effort had been detected by intel agencies. For several years before the submarine boat yard was discovered the U.S. Navy, in cooperation with some Central and South American navies, have been looking for these subs, at sea and on land. While these submarines didn’t run very deep (less than twenty meters/sixty-two feet), they are invisible to most sensors when completely submerged. These subs were designed to run on batteries for up to eighteen hours, before having to surface and recharge. When they are at sea, they usually operate their diesel engines. These are noisy. Sonar can pick up this noise over a long distance. By capturing these subs it was possible to run the engines and get a sound profile of this type of boat and equip American sonar systems with this data. These subs had a range (on internal fuel) of about twelve-thousand kilometers. Thus, the boat could get from Colombia to southern California and back. These drug gangs spent over two million on each of these subs.

The most potent weapon the U.S. Navy has against these tiny (less than thirty-four meters/one-hundred foot long) subs is heat sensors, but even that may have had limited effectiveness. That’s because one of the subs captured had a snorkel type device (a tall structure extending from the conning tower, which contained pipes allowing diesel exhaust to escape and fresh air to be brought into the submerged boat.) It’s this heat that airborne sensors can detect. All surface (or semi-submerged) ships at sea display this kind of “heat signature”, and capturing working examples of these cocaine smuggling subs makes it possible to get a better idea of what the airborne heat sensors should be looking for. A snorkel, however, puts out less heat that a sub running on the surface would and is harder to detect. When running on batteries there is no heat to detect.

October 10, 2013

Periscope view of HMS Illustrious, courtesy HMCS Corner Brook

Filed under: Britain,Cancon,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:55

Submariners love other ships … as potential targets:

In 2007 HMCS Corner Brook, a diesel-electric submarine of the Canadian navy, sneaked up on Illustrious during an exercise in the Atlantic.

HMS Illustrious in HMCS Corner Brook's periscopeTo prove they could have sunk the carrier, Corner Brook’s crew snapped a photo through the periscope — and the Canadian navy helpfully published it. “The picture represents hard evidence that the submarine was well within attack parameters and would have been successful in an attack,” boasted Cmdr. Luc Cassivi, commander of the Canadian submarine division.

Corner Brook, a former British submarine displacing only 2,400 tons, is no more capable than Dallas — and probably much less so once crew training is taken into account. American submariners spend far more time at sea than their Canadian counterparts.

Dallas and Corner Brook scored their simulated carrier kills against allied warships in the context of a scripted exercise. But many other close encounters between subs and flattops have occurred between rival nations deep at sea, in a usually bloodless duel that is nevertheless deadly serious.

August 28, 2013

Military deployments near Syria

Filed under: Middle East,Military,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:31

Zero Hedge passes on a bit of analysis from Stratfor:

In the event of a punitive strike or a limited operation to reduce Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s chemical weapons delivery capability — for instance, by targeting key command and control facilities, main air bases and known artillery sites — the United States already has enough forces positioned to commence operations.

US deployments near Syria 20130828

Four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers — and probably a nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine — are already within Tomahawk cruise missile range of Syrian targets. In addition, the United States can call upon strategic bombers based in the continental United States as well as B-1 bombers from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. In such an operation, the United States would be able to carry out standoff attacks beyond the range of Syrian air defenses, while B-2 bombers could stealthily penetrate the Syrian air defense network to drop bunker-busting bombs with minimal risk.

Considering that al Assad’s forces have a number of ways to deliver chemical weapons, ranging from air power to basic tube and rocket artillery, an operation that seeks to degrade the regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons would necessarily be far wider in scope and scale. This means tactical aviation would have to play a key role in such a campaign, which in turn would entail the deployment of significant enabler aircraft such as aerial refueling tankers and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets.

In addition, as reported the other day, the French carrier Charles de Gaulle has been ordered to move east from Toulon and the British are reported to have a nuclear submarine in the region as well.

Update: The Iranian Farsnews site says the US military will be in for a serious defeat if they attack Syria.

Syria’s supersonic and anti-ship missiles as well as the Lebanese Hezbollah movement will inflict astonishing damage on any invading force, specially the US Navy’s giant warships, an expert said, adding that the missile capability is working as a deterrent to a US naval attack on Syria.

“The supersonic and long-range anti-ship Yakhont missiles of the Syrian army and the Lebanese Hezbollah (resistance movement) are serious deterrents to a US naval attack by its warships in the Mediterranean Sea,” Dr. Mostafa Zahra, a military analyst and strategic studies expert, told FNA on Monday.

He said that Syria’s Iskandar high-precision ballistic missiles and its anti-ship Scud missiles will also target the US warships in case of a US naval invasion of Syria, reminding that the American military vessels are not equipped with any weapons system to intercept or divert the Syrian anti-ship missiles.

Did you hear that, Great Satan? “Astonishing damage“. You’d better back off now, infidel.

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