Lost sub?
March 15, 2007 10:10 PM   Subscribe

We regret to inform you that we your husband's submarine is missing, and possibly sunk. Oh, wait. Never mind[pdf].
posted by ctmf (34 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think it's a good thing that they acted immediately to get the word out. Family members, probably not so keen on that kind of call at 4am, though.
posted by ctmf at 10:12 PM on March 15, 2007

I wonder what really happened.
posted by spork at 10:21 PM on March 15, 2007


Oops, never mind.
posted by Xurando at 10:27 PM on March 15, 2007

Clearly the work of that bastard, Thomas Dolby.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:30 PM on March 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

They were blinded by science?
posted by ctmf at 10:32 PM on March 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

They had just gone quiet.
posted by Clay201 at 10:32 PM on March 15, 2007

ctmf: Thomas Dolby
posted by senor biggles at 11:07 PM on March 15, 2007

I heard that there were motherfucking snakes on the motherfucking submarine.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:15 PM on March 15, 2007

During exercises, surface ships have a general idea of where submarines are operating underwater, but still have a hard time locating them. A Navy official said to ABC News, "It's like any other adversary. We hope they can't find them. They're doing their mission of being seen, but unseen."

So the U.S. Navy is "doing its mission" by sending out press-releases on the operations of its submarines. Admiral Rickover must be spinning in his grave.
posted by three blind mice at 11:16 PM on March 15, 2007

Actually I see very little wrong here. Subs by their nature are stealthy, if the surface ships couldn't pick them up, it just means that they are functioning properly. That they lost communication is clearly a glitch, but since we didn't go all kinds of DEFCON 1, it means that the sub knew there was a problem and didn't freak out.

The navy alerting the families might seem a little premature, but they didn't seem to be saying 'your son is dead', they were just letting them know that contact was lost. I think I would prefer they waited a day to get the full details, but then, my navy sister doesn't live on a sub so my opinion is probably biased. I think that keeping the families in the loop on the whole isn't a bad thing though.

But then, I'm all about less secrets in our lives...
posted by quin at 11:27 PM on March 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

USS San Juan is a Los Angeles class attack sub, not an Ohio class missile sub.

LA class subs don't carry nukes. (They're capable of doing so but because of START II they do not do so.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:37 PM on March 15, 2007

Start II's no longer operative (Russia pulled out after we ditched the ABM treaty).
posted by klangklangston at 11:43 PM on March 15, 2007

Thresher was lost 40 years ago. Being a sub crewman is far from the safest assignment in the Navy, and being in the service is not promised to be a safe job in any case, but it's been a long time since we've lost any subs.

LA-class subs are very sturdy. 2 years ago USS San Francisco ran into a previously-unknown undersea mountain and really wrecked its nose. One crewman was killed in the impact, but the sub survived.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:43 PM on March 15, 2007

Swallowed — and regurgitated — by evildoer Carl Stromberg's supertanker Liparus.

In The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), the American nuclear sub captured by the tanker was the fictional USS Wayne, but it bore the USS Thresher's hull number 593.
posted by cenoxo at 11:45 PM on March 15, 2007

I guess I'm remembering wrong; it was START I.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:46 PM on March 15, 2007

Maybe they were on a secret mission to use their fancy sonars to fry terrorist whales' brains?
posted by homunculus at 11:50 PM on March 15, 2007

Metafilter: we your husband's submarine.
posted by joe lisboa at 12:20 AM on March 16, 2007

Metafilter: we your husband's submarine.

I didn't noticed that.

We your husband's submarine belong to us.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:58 AM on March 16, 2007

I think the idea probably was, "We can call these people or we can let them see it in the news when they wake up." I can't imagine it would be pleasant to be woken up with a message of concern but it seems like that was the respectful thing for the navy to do by the families.
posted by rudyfink at 1:24 AM on March 16, 2007

It's kind of a no-win situation for the Navy; no matter what choice they made, they'd get criticized for it. Calling the families and letting them know that they were worried was probably the best of a bad set of choices.
posted by Malor at 1:49 AM on March 16, 2007

"Ummm, your grandmother's under the sea, and she won't surface."
posted by rob511 at 2:12 AM on March 16, 2007

Literary trivia: According to his memoir The Enormous Room, the poet e.e. cummings was believed to be dead by his mother who received a telegram that falsely claimed that cummings died when his submarine was torpedoed.
posted by jonp72 at 6:34 AM on March 16, 2007

I think even the old BQQ-5 sets on the 637s could pretty much blow the mind of a nearby whale, although I'm sure the 688s like San Juan have much more powerful active sonar. Thing is, subs almost never use sonar to "ping" because they rely on stealth, and going active would be like taping a "KICK ME" sign to your own back.

Also, during EXs like these, boats carry augmenters to help make them less stealthy, although I wouldn't put it past a skipper to arrange for a convenient augmenter "casualty" just to make him harder to localize and prosecute.

Since Thresher and Scorpion (the latter one, nobody talks about much), the Navy's had a protocol in place for possible SUBMISS/SUBSUNK, and it's called "Get the word out as soon as you think there's a problem." Send out a Navy Blue that there's a boat overdue, start calling on the ELF, start pinging, start yelling on the "gertrude" (an underwater PA system of sorts)...
posted by pax digita at 6:34 AM on March 16, 2007

Oh, and if this boat made SUBLANT look bad, I predict that skipper's relieved about five seconds after they finish tying up at the pier. He'll be standing at attention in front of a green-felt-covered table behind which some VERY unhappy admirals are gonna be sitting and staring holes in his forehead.

Okay, I'm off to sci.military.naval to read the scuttlebutt there...
posted by pax digita at 6:46 AM on March 16, 2007

I'm sure the skipper just went Crazy Ivan for a while.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:34 AM on March 16, 2007

I would imagine that the San Juan was involved in the latest iteration of the Philadelphia Experiment. The Navy was undoubtedly attempting to send it back in time to stop the Germans from bombing Pearl Harbor.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 8:49 AM on March 16, 2007

I'm with pax digita and Malor. There was a procedural glitch, they dealt with it appropriately. The procedure is there because in previous accidents there was a prolonged period after the accident per se when nobody on surface knew it had happened.

Anyway, this is what ELF was for, but they didn't finish building it in the end.

So the U.S. Navy is "doing its mission" by sending out press-releases on the operations of its submarines. Admiral Rickover must be spinning in his grave.

Um. This ain't Rickover's world no more, 3bm.
posted by dhartung at 8:52 AM on March 16, 2007

I always think about it when submarines come up, but does anyone else get a weird shiver anytime they encounter the phrase, "crush depth"?
posted by Cyrano at 9:07 AM on March 16, 2007

does anyone else get a weird shiver anytime they encounter the phrase, "crush depth"?

Well, yeah, even "test depth" is cause for pause..."In HY-80 We Trust," damn betcha. The "bubbleheads" learn to live with it as an occupational hazard of sorts.

Trivia: In the event, the near-instantaneous implosion of a pressure hull giving way would (at least in theory) cause an asymptotic rise in the boat's air pressure such that everything would spontaneously combust for a split second before the inrushing water necessarily snuffed all the fire out. I can't remember if they actually saw burns on bodies or gear with Thresher or Scorpion or any of the Sov boats, though. It's hard to tell, anyway. It'd probably be way too quick, stuff gets really messed up when the boat slams into the ocean bottom like a runaway train, and by the time you localize the wreckage and start shooting pix, everything doth suffer a sea-change into something rich and strange.

What happened to Kursk seemed way worse. Sort of like the Bee Gees song "New York Mining Disaster 1941," only colder and wetter. Current and former submariners everywhere were upset when that goatf*ck happened.

More trivia: American sub skippers on "spook" missions often had the disaster beacons welded to the housing so as not to give the national-security game away immediately in the event of a really bad day-- more about that sort of fun and games in this book.
posted by pax digita at 10:30 AM on March 16, 2007

SCDB, if you think there are no nuclear-tipped SUBROCs on board an L.A. class sub, you're nuts.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:34 AM on March 16, 2007

I think SUBROC's long gone. There was a successor program, SeaLance, that didn't result in weps going on boats -- in fact, I bet they never built a prototype. I guess we ran out of Communist aggression to counter, or something.

688is can carry Harpoon and Tomahawk, though. If they're part of SIOP, I wouldn't be in a position to know, although that may be publicly available somewhere -- Paging Tom Clancy! Fast-attacks typically would go looking for the other guy's SSBNs to kill, not run around nuking stuff themselves -- they're optimized for the former, not the latter.
posted by pax digita at 10:59 AM on March 16, 2007

The problem with SUBROC, and the general use of nukes in that way, is that they're too effective. It's the same problem as was with the nuclear howitzer: the sucker goes off too close to the guys who fired it, and kills them too.

LA Class subs usually carry Tomahawks and the Tomahawk can carry a nuke, but I don't believe that they carry nukes for them routinely. As of START, the total number of warheads the US is permitted to have was cut drastically, and nearly all of those are currently on Minuteman and Trident missiles.

Anyway, the point I was trying to make was that when contact was lost with USS San Juan, there wasn't any danger of that sub starting WWIII. (Or IV, or V, depending on how you count.) Even if San Juan did carry a nuke, it wasn't within Tomahawk range of any enemy target. (And it would have had to come to the surface to fire, which would have brought it back into communications, and...)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:04 PM on March 16, 2007

LA's don't have to surface to fire TLAMs. They fire them from canisters out the torpedo tubes from a middle-ish depth, or from the VLS (improved boats, which 751 is), also not surfaced. That wasn't a concern in this case, though. The Navy just thought maybe something catastrophic had happened on board.

ELF was in use for quite a long time, but mostly by the missile boats, who had to be in 100% communication while on alert. The bandwidth of ELF is so low, they communicated by trigrams (three-letter combinations), receive-only. Certain ones meant certain things, on a coded rotating basis. One meant "come to PD immediately for emergency message". If at any time, the trigram wasn't received, the boat considered it a loss-of-comms casualty and immediately attempted to regain communications by any means.

On the other hand, attack boats are usually on a broadcast schedule, with a periodicity appropriate for their mission. For instance, SJ may have been on an 8 hour broadcast. That would mean that every 8 hours, they had to be at PD, download the message traffic for info, and reply to anything that needed reply. Often there is no reply required. However, this situation is exactly why you do not miss your broadcast. I don't know what they were doing, but they missed theirs. It just so happens the Navy was biting their nails waiting for that reply and didn't get it.

If they were the simulated bad guy in the exercise, that might explain why they didn't respond to sonar searches or any of that - they may have just shrugged and figured the surface guys were trying some crazy/stupid new way to find them faster.

That skipper had better have a very good reason for missing his comms window, though. The press release kind of plays it down, but at the least, this guy canceled a very expensive exercise, dragged all the assets nearby out looking for him, activated ISMERLO, and damn near woke the president up. His mission debrief with SUBLANT is going to be fairly one-sided in the wrong direction.
posted by ctmf at 6:34 PM on March 16, 2007

Interesting bit on ELF, scroll down to "ZEVS SIGNAL CODING AND DECODING"
posted by ctmf at 6:53 PM on March 16, 2007

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