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Special Report

Submarine Escape, Rescue and Abandonment

Surviving a Submarine Accident Submarines in a Time of Austerity Emerging Nations’ Increasing Undersea Capability The Vulnerability of Submariners and the Importance of Rescue Rescuing the Future… Sponsored by

Published by Global Business Media



Submarine Escape, Rescue and Abandonment

Contents Foreword


Mary Dub, Editor Surviving a Submarine Accident Submarines in a Time of Austerity Emerging Nations’ Increasing Undersea Capability The Vulnerability of Submariners and the Importance of Rescue Rescuing the Future… Sponsored by

Published by Global Business Media

Published by Global Business Media Global Business Media Limited 62 The Street Ashtead Surrey KT21 1AT United Kingdom Switchboard: +44 (0)1737 850 939 Fax: +44 (0)1737 851 952 Email: Website: Publisher Kevin Bell Business Development Director Marie-Anne Brooks Editor Mary Dub Senior Project Manager Steve Banks Advertising Executives Michael McCarthy Abigail Coombes Production Manager Paul Davies For further information visit: The opinions and views expressed in the editorial content in this publication are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily represent the views of any organisation with which they may be associated. Material in advertisements and promotional features may be considered to represent the views of the advertisers and promoters. The views and opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily express the views of the Publishers or the Editor. While every care has been taken in the preparation of this publication, neither the Publishers nor the Editor are responsible for such opinions and views or for any inaccuracies in the articles.

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Surviving a Submarine Accident


Frank Owen, James Fisher Defence

When the Worst Happens… Escape Intervention Rescue Rescue Ready?

Submarines in a Time of Austerity


Mary Dub, Editor

Why Submarines and what do they do? National Power Projection Sea Control and Mine Warfare Capability Survivable Strategic Deterrence Defending Commerce and Communication in 21st Century

Emerging Nations’ Increasing Undersea Capability


Don McBarnet, Staff Writer

A Shift in the Vulnerability of the Undersea Environment Russian Submarines in 21st century Chinese Submarines Emerge Surprisingly

The Vulnerability of Submariners and the Importance of Rescue


Meredith Llewellyn, Lead Contributor

Submarine Rescue Developments in the United States The Loss of the Thresher (1963) A Second New US submarine is Lost – The Scorpion (1968) Deep Submergence Unit The NATO Submarine Rescue System (NSRS) Based at HM Naval Base Clyde in Scotland

Rescuing the Future…


Mary Dub, Editor

Admiral Mike Mullen’s Visit to China in 2011 and Visit to a Submarine Base Dajiang Class Tender Learning from the Kursk Experience and the 2005 Priz Rescue

References 16 | 1


Foreword T

he humanitarian rescue of comrades-in-arms

The third article describes the way nations around

when incidents occur among personnel is a

the world are developing their submarine fleet in

strongly held tenet in western armed forces. When

response to the same pressures that are driving

incidents happen to submariners many feet under

NATO countries. However, until recently, the actions

the sea, the rescue and the technology to facilitate

taken to rescue submariners in difficulty have been

that rescue become very important indeed.

open to criticism.

This Special Report opens with an article that looks

The loss of life recorded in the Tingle table is the

at the options available to survivors of a submarine

subject of the fourth piece. What is argued here is

accident and how their chances of survival can be

that submariners are hugely vulnerable and need very

increased. There are several limitations that impact

high levels of technology and equipment transferred

on escape systems, notably depth, pressure and

around the world quickly if lives are to be saved.

conditions on the surface. Where escape is not a

The final article on the future is an optimistic

viable option, it is necessary to deploy some form

afterthought in the face of the domination of gloom

of intervention system which can buy time until a

and pessimism. This article hopes that we may be

rescue service arrives. The article goes on to describe

about to see a greater level of transparency and

various types of rescue systems and assesses their

willingness to admit to submarine disasters in the

comparative strengths and weaknesses.

future, which would lead to more lives saved and

The second piece reviews the emerging salience of submarines at a time of global strategic change.

more good rescue technology on the world market to meet the new demand.

It looks at how a paradigm shift in communication and energy sources is leading to a new strategic role for submarines.

Mary Dub Editor

Mary Dub has covered the defence field in the United States and the UK as a television broadcaster, journalist and conference manager.

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Surviving a Submarine Accident Frank Owen, James Fisher Defence Frank Owen explores the options available to the survivors of a submarine accident and how submarine operating nations can increase the likelihood of their survival.


ubmarines are deadly machines. Their stealth makes them ideal instruments of foreign policy and, akin to a floating minefield, they demand a disproportionate level of resource to neutralise their effect. It is for this reason that more nations than ever before have started adding them to their orders of battle. These features make them objects of fascination to the wider public. Little wonder, then, that the loss of a submarine grips the world’s attention like few other accidents. They generate a feeling of helplessness in much the same way as accidents where miners are stuck several hundred metres beneath the surface. Some examples of peacetime incidents where people survived the initial accident are: • USS SQUALUS. This submarine sank in 243ft of water in September 1939 due to the mechanical failure of a valve indicator. All 33 of the survivors were rescued using what is known as a Submarine Rescue Chamber (SRC), versions of which are still in service. A short time later, HMS THETIS sank just outside Liverpool, UK, following flooding through a torpedo tube. Despite being so close to the surface that the stern was able to be lifted clear, 97 of the 101 on board perished because one of the escapees became trapped in the escape tower. • In 1953, HMS TRUCULENT sank in the River Thames estuary following a collision and, although all those that survived the accident made a successful escape, all were swept away by the strong currents and died from exposure. •T  he Peruvian submarine BAP PACOCHA sank in August 1988 following a collision with a fishing trawler. 33 managed to abandon the submarine before it sank, but several of the 22 trapped inside the submarine suffered injuries, some fatal, because of their unfamiliarity with the escape systems. • Perhaps the most reported accident in the modern era was of the Russian submarine KURSK which, in August 2000, sank following

massive explosions of her own torpedoes. The 23 survivors, trapped in an after compartment that subsequently suffered heavy leaks around the propeller shafts, were unable to be rescued. •T  he entanglement in August 2005 of the small Russian submersible AS-28 PRIZ (itself a submarine rescue vehicle) gripped the attention of the world as British and American teams flew to Petropavlovsk in eastern Russia. Ultimately, the British team, comprising specialists from Glasgow-based company, James Fisher Defence, was able to cut the cables entangling the Priz, thus enabling the vehicle to surface with only a few hours of breathable air remaining. In all, there have been over 170 submarines lost in peacetime and, while material safety has vastly improved in recent times, many of the accidents have occurred because of human factors. Situations where humans are contributing elements can include incorrect operation of valves and systems or confusion on or near the surface when in areas of high shipping density. Since most areas of high shipping density are around ports, it stands to reason that it is in these regions where the risk of submarine accidents is greatest.

When the Worst Happens… A submarine is in trouble. As its crew struggle to keep their submarine afloat, there may be sufficient time for some, or all, personnel to abandon ship on the surface. In such cases, there is a need to prevent seawater entering the open hatches. Products such as the Inflatable Freeboard Extender, developed by James Fisher Defence and Survitech, address this risk. Survival on the surface is an even greater challenge than those facing shipwreck survivors, since most submarines don’t carry life rafts. Once the submarine sinks (and can no longer surface), it is termed a Distressed Submarine or DISSUB. Conditions inside the DISSUB are likely to be fraught for those who have survived the initial accident. Mechanical systems that once controlled air temperature and quality are likely | 3


In all, there have been over 170 submarines lost in peacetime and, while material safety has vastly improved in recent times, many of the accidents Swedish Submarine Rescue Vehicle URF, launched from MOSHIP HMS Belos

have occurred because of human factors.

during SATs following complete refurbishment undertaken by JFD

to be without electrical supply. The temperature of the DISSUB will fall to that of the surrounding seawater within a couple of days. Emergency systems on board control the two fundamental gases of oxygen and carbon dioxide within survivable limits for a few days, provided those systems remain operational. The internal pressure of the DISSUB is likely to be elevated because of the water that has almost certainly flooded into the submarine. Injuries will be a further complication for the survivors, especially if the accident has involved collision with another vessel or object. Those inside are faced with decisions that will drastically affect their chances of survival. The choice of whether to attempt escape or await rescue by surface forces is heavily influenced by the conditions on board. Where the situation is deteriorating rapidly, escape may be the only option. Once aware of a potential incident, a nation will initiate a widespread search using various assets; military and civil. Once the submarine is confirmed (or decreed) to have sunk, the search turns into a rescue. A multitude of support assets will assist the rescue. Military aircraft will be tasked for search and air-freight, and naval vessels will support the search and act as potential Motherships (MOSHIPS). Offshore Support Vessels, such as those operating in the offshore oil and gas industry arguably make the best MOSHIPS. As with any emergency operation, people are key to the success of a submarine rescue. A wide range of people will be involved as Search

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Forces, with specialists forming the Rescue Team. The Rescue Team will consist of rescue system operators, medical staff and naval command and communications experts. Once found, the goal is to localise and survey the DISSUB using side scan sonar and Remotely Operated Vehicles, and then to keep any survivors alive until rescue can be effected. This team must also be prepared to support an escape.

Escape While escape systems have developed considerably over the years, there are still limitations. These include: • Depth. Most escape systems have been proven to operate to 180m which, fortunately, equates generally to the Continental Shelf around most countries. Even so, the risks of pressure-related injury during the ascent increase with depth. Should the escapee hold his or her breath during ascent, the air inside the lungs expands by doubling every ten meters. This can lead to dangerous ruptures in the lungs and embolisms which can be carried through the bloodstream and into the brain. •P  ressure. As the atmospheric pressure inside DISSUB increases, so does the bloodstream’s capacity to absorb nitrogen from the air. Over time, a survivor’s blood becomes saturated, generating the feeling of light-headedness associated with Nitrogen Narcosis (sometimes referred to as the ‘raptures of the deep’). During the rapid de-pressurisation associated with escape, the nitrogen suddenly returns to a gaseous state. No longer dissolved, gas


Scorpio ROV being mobilised for AS-28 Priz rescue

embolisms formed in the bloodstream can get caught in the joints of the body causing extreme pain (or ‘bends’) and, in some cases, death. •S  urface conditions. If it is rough, cold or dark, the escapees could be ‘jumping from the frying pan into the fire’. This is exactly what happened to those in HMS TRUCULENT in the accident referred to previously. During an escape, surface forces are presented with various recovery challenges; survivors are not safe until they have been located, recovered, recompressed, treated, decompressed and finally returned to shore. Since it should be assumed that any escapee may have suffered the worst form of gas embolism, they need to be recovered quickly, kept horizontal, inspected for possible injuries and readied for immediate treatment by recompression. Speed is very much of the essence since, without recompression, brain death can occur within four minutes of surfacing. Small boats that are rapidly recoverable are therefore a key component in the transfer between sea surface and the deck of the support vessel. Navies, therefore, need to have medical teams, boats, davits, and sets of recompression chambers available for rapid deployment to the site of a DISSUB incident.

Intervention Where escape is not a viable option, the deployment of an Intervention system comes into play. Deployment of an Intervention System in advance of the rescue assets has a four-pronged intent: to localise and communicate with the DISSUB, to extend life inside the DISSUB while awaiting rescue, to conduct a survey of the DISSUB in preparation for a rescue and to

ensure the rescue seat onto which the rescue vehicle will ‘mate’ is undamaged and clear of debris. Essentially, it ‘buys time’ until a rescue service arrives. To extend life, the Intervention System can ‘post’ pressure-tight canisters (known as Emergency Life Support Stores Pods, or ELSS Pods) into special receiving gear inside the DISSUB escape tower. Most submarines have sufficient life support supplies for seven days, but some of them may have been damaged or the survivors may need alternate supplies. Other systems, such as Ventilation and Decompression can also be utilised to refresh the DISSUB atmosphere by connecting hoses to special connectors on the pressure hull.

Rescue There are three main types of rescue systems: Free-swimming mini-submarines (often referred to as Submarine Rescue Vehicles or SRVs), Remotely Operated Rescue Vehicles (RORV) or Cable-guided bells (often referred to as Submarine Rescue Chambers (SRCs) or McCann Bells). The SRV is the most widely adopted rescue system, and is used by the UK, Russia, Sweden, Italy, Japan, and others. It has many strengths, being both well-practised and widely-used. SRVs provide an excellent environment for pilot ‘situation awareness’ and are unencumbered by the drag of an umbilical through the water column. SRVs operate independently of the host-platform, and, unlike their RORV counterparts, can be deployed from vessels with Single Dynamic Positioning, joystick control, or even twin-screws only. Many of the world’s SRVs were developed from | 5


In a post-Kursk world, it is a political imperative that all submarine operating nations be able to demonstrate that they have invested in the safety of the personnel who risk their lives beneath the waves.

JFD Workshop; two DSAR Class SRVs mid-build visible in foreground, LR5 and Scorpio ROV undergoing routine maintenance visible in background

submersibles used as diver lock-out chambers by the offshore oil and gas industry. The latest examples are systems developed for NATO, Singapore, Korea and the People’s Republic of China. In this area, there has been deep involvement by James Fisher Defence through its 25-year operation of the UK Submarine Rescue Service. In recent years, the company designed and built rescue vehicles for Singapore and Korea, provides pilots for the NATO Submarine Rescue System (NSRS) and provides a submarine rescue service for Australia using the former UKSRS vehicle LR5. SRVs present certain challenges. They are generally relatively heavy, with some vehicles weighing up to 50 tonnes. This necessitates careful consideration of aircraft deployability and in launching and recovering the vehicles at sea. The development and retention of pilot skills is

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always closely monitored since those skills are no longer widely used in industry. Historically, the performance of the vehicle has been closely linked to battery endurance, although advances in technology have virtually negated this argument in recent years. There are two basic types of submarine rescue vehicles that are permanently tethered to the support vessel (or Mothership/MOSHIP). The newest of these is the RORV, recently adopted by the USN. The strengths of RORVs are that they can be lighter than a comparable SRV since there is no need for a separate ‘command module’, and that their similarity to Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) means that pilots can be readily drawn from the offshore oil and gas industry with a minimum of additional training. The vehicles can receive virtually unlimited power through an armoured umbilical. This power allows it to


absorb the very significant hydrodynamic drag associated with the umbilical itself. The articulated skirt on the USN’s RORV greatly simplifies mating if DISSUB is lying at an angle as the vehicle does not need to change its own attitude in relation to the water current. RORVs face challenges, the key of which is that they are not widely used. Originally fast-tracked for Australia in 1995 and subsequently adopted by the USN, they require significant additional support equipment ‘top-side’ in the form of an umbilical winch and cursor, a more complex launch and recovery system and a DP2 capable MOSHIP. At the time of writing, there is only one RORV in service, as part of the US SRDRS rescue system. Both SRVs and RORVs, though capable, represent a significant investment, requiring large launch and recovery systems, large vessels to operate from and significant through life support. For this reason their use is generally limited to larger navies. The other type of tethered vehicle is a cableguided bell or SRC. Often referred to as a McCann Bell after the USN officer who refined the basic design of ‘Swede’ Momsen in the 1930s, SRCs have many strengths. They are lightweight and thus have a range of deployment options. They are simple and robust, using technology originally developed in the 1930s, and tolerant of high currents and large DISSUB angles. A number of nations are seeking modern variants as a low cost rescue system, offering high ‘bangfor-buck ratio’. SRCs, however, have their own challenges. They tend to offer a lesser operating depth than SRVs or RORVs, and require an intervention system to secure a cable to guide the bell to the DISSUB. The early SRCs also cannot maintain a high internal pressure, especially as it comes shallow, and cannot transfer its occupants under constant pressure into hyperbaric treatment chambers. This, however, is not the case for more recent versions.

James Fisher Defence advocates this view and advises nations to adopt a multi-tiered approach to emergency response: Level 0; Escape Training – ensuring that the submarine crew have the skills they need to escape a DISSUB. Level 1; Escape Response – having the systems to enable the crew to survive once they have escaped. Level 2; Intervention System – facility to keep survivors alive in the DISSUB whilst awaiting rescue. Level 3; Rescue Capability – low cost, high capability McCann Bell Based Rescue system which can rescue personnel in the vast majority of potential accident scenarios. Level 4; Full Rescue Capability – Submarine Rescue Vehicle with Transfer Under Pressure capability and either dedicated mothership or full flyaway capability. Who do you go to when you need submarine rescue? In many countries, including Sweden, Italy, Japan, China, Russia and Korea, the navies own and operate their own systems. Others, such as the UK, France and Norway (through NSRS), USA, Australia and Singapore, have recognised that the specialist nature of submarine rescue just doesn’t fit with standard naval career profiles, and have outsourced the operation and/or ownership of their submarine rescue responsibilities to experts like James Fisher Defence. These service providers have become the repository of vast amounts of expertise and are well placed to support emerging submarine nations as they consider their responsibilities to the crews manning these powerful instruments of foreign policy, and to the families and loved ones who support them. In a post-Kursk world, it is a political imperative that all submarine operating nations be able to demonstrate that they have invested in the safety of the personnel who risk their lives beneath the waves.

Rescue Ready? During the rescue operation, time is always of the essence. Most rescue systems are maintained with a theoretical ‘Time To First Rescue’, which is often 72 hours after the call-out. In reality, however, deployment times are entirely reliant upon aircraft, weather and ship availability. Nations choosing to rely on another nation’s rescue system could improve the chances of a successful rescue by having a local intervention system and recompression chambers on standby to support escapees or provide the necessary life support until a rescue system can be on scene.

Contact James Fisher Defence Gatehouse Offices, Westway Porterfield Road Renfrew PA4 8DJ, UK Tel: +44 (0)141 886 1985 Fax: +44 (0)141 886 6263 Email: Web: | 7


Submarines in a Time of Austerity Mary Dub, Editor “Almost all roles of surface warships will be taken over by submarines, as they will be the only naval units capable of evading the increasing intelligence capabilities (space satellites, airplanes etc.) that a fight between evenly matched modern states could bring to bear on them.” John Keegan, The Price of Admiralty (1990)

Operated with care and cunning and deploying multiple sensors, submarines can monitor happenings in the air, surface, or subsurface littoral battle space, providing a complete picture of events across all intelligence disciplines.


ubmarines are so effective in delivering on their intended purpose, which is to be covert, under sea and unseen war fighting and intelligence vessels, that they have a special and sometimes neglected place in the debate about defence spending. Mark Gorenflo, from the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy (Plans, Policy, Oversight & Integration) puts this in practical policy terms. “Undersea operations are the least visible. For this reason, they offer the ultimate in stealth and surprise while influencing events in all five domains with minimal risk. Unfortunately, because submarine operations are virtually invisible and highly secretive, they are least understood and most frequently under-valued by the public at large.”1

and sensors to unique intelligence on potential adversaries’ strategic and operational intentions.

National Power Projection Like other naval vessels, submarines are a superb means of power projection. For a conventional land attack, a U.S. attack submarine can carry and deliver a 16-Tomahawk land-attack missile salvo from a submerged launch, with up to 12 additional Tomahawks that can be reloaded and fired without surfacing. This can be delivered without the air cover a surface vessel would demand. Submarines are important to the US Navy’s precision strike capability. During Operation Allied Force in Kosovo, Allied submarines fired nearly 25 percent of Tomahawks launched against Serbian targets.3

Why Submarines and what do they do?

Sea Control and Mine Warfare Capability

Most importantly in the 21st century, submarines provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Intelligence is delivered in a way that is hard for other means to replicate. Submarines are vital in the provision of high quality intelligence. Operated with care and cunning and deploying multiple sensors, submarines can monitor happenings in the air, surface, or subsurface littoral battle space, providing a complete picture of events across all intelligence disciplines. They are also an intelligence “force-multiplier,” providing tip-offs of high interest events to other collection assets.2 What kind of intelligence can and do they gather that cannot be replicated by satellites or the other ubiquitous land, air and satellite sensors? The Department of Defense argues that the ability to dwell covertly for extended periods defeats efforts to evade or deceive collection by satellites and other sensors. Moreover, the intelligence gleaned from submarine operations ranges from highly technical details of military platforms, command and control infrastructure, weapons systems

For maritime nations like the United States, (and there are many others), submarines are the quintessential sea control platforms, with proven anti-submarine and anti-surface capabilities. Not only do they deliver sea control, but also mine warfare. Special Operations are another part of the portfolio of a submarine’s capabilities and both small and medium sized submarines have been used for clandestine insertion of special operations forces operating in the littorals. They also provide a reliable means for their extraction.

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Survivable Strategic Deterrence But it is at a strategic level that submarines deliver their most controversial, yet also their most powerful weapon – nuclear warheads. Trident submarines (SSBNs) carry 54 percent of the United States nuclear deterrent using less than 1.5 percent of naval personnel and 35 percent of America’s strategic budget. The United Kingdom also has Trident submarines armed with nuclear warheads, which it is intent on keeping. Their role is to provide both a second strike capability and a


An intentional systemwide disruption of fiber optic cables could cause significant commercial damage.

DSAR-5 seen from the front

strategic deterrent to protect British interests using a rationale that “rests primarily on protecting the United Kingdom against long-term uncertainties”.4

Defending Commerce and Communication in 21st Century While carrying nuclear warheads provides the most important and the most expensive rationale for submarines, the growth of the internet and global undersea fibre optic cables to enable instant international communication is a secondary but, some would argue, equally salient role for submarines. In an article for the Rand Corporation, the vulnerability of these cables was noted. Security is an important issue, because these cables are an increasingly vital element of the global economy. As one analyst has noted, “the increase in demand is being driven primarily from data

traffic from web-enabled applications . . . undersea cables are becoming an integral part of the everyday telecommunications infrastructure in a world that has no boundaries”. In short, an intentional system-wide disruption of fiber optic cables could cause significant commercial damage. 5 And the damage would not just be commercial. Many military networks are carried through undersea cables and an increasing amount of U.S. military communications occurs over undersea commercial networks. Disruption of these networks could significantly impede these communications. In all cases, of course, action would be taken to shift transmissions from the disrupted networks to other cables and satellite transmissions. However, the current satellite capacity is far exceeded by bandwidth demand. | 9


Emerging Nations’ Increasing Undersea Capability Don McBarnet, Staff Writer “We haven’t got the money, so we’ve got to think.” Sir Ernest Rutherford, New Zealand physicist (1871-1937)

Over the next decade, the U.S. military will need to undertake the most dramatic shift in its strategy since the introduction of nuclear weapons more than 60 years ago.


n the December issue of the Council on Foreign Relations magazine, Foreign Affairs, Andrew Krepinevich argues that the age of austerity will lead the Department of Defense to have to make significant strategic decisions. The days of merely reducing budgets little by little will have passed. Over the next decade, the U.S. military will need to undertake the most dramatic shift in its strategy since the introduction of nuclear weapons more than 60 years ago. Just as defense budgets are declining, the price of projecting and sustaining military power is increasing and the range of interests requiring protection is expanding.6 And the changes that will need to be made will reflect a paradigm shift in the increasing salience of the undersea environment. In the past, Krepinevich argues, freedom of the seas has mostly meant freedom of traffic over them. In recent decades, however, a vast undersea economic infrastructure has emerged, located primarily on the world’s continental shelves. It provides a substantial portion of the world’s oil and natural gas, and it hosts a web of cables linking much of the Defense Department’s Global Information Grid. Capital assets on the U.S. offshore seabed alone are estimated to exceed $1 trillion. And major new oil and gas finds in the eastern Mediterranean, along with prospective discoveries in the South China Sea, guarantee that undersea infrastructure will grow further.

A Shift in the Vulnerability of the Undersea Environment Until recently, this did not pose a serious problem, as these assets were generally inaccessible. Now, however, technological advances are rendering critical undersea infrastructure increasingly vulnerable to potential enemies. Once the possession of only the most advanced navies, autonomous underwater vehicles, or robotic submersibles, are now commercially available 10 |

and capable of carrying explosives and other contraband cargo. Latin American drug runners employ submersible and semi-submersible craft to move their freight, and it appears that other nonstate entities will be increasingly able to operate in the undersea domain. The undersea environment will become an increasingly important domain to protect and to dominate.

Russian Submarines in 21st century With the salience of the undersea space, submarines have become a strong component of the navies of emerging nations. Russia in the 21st century could not be described as an emerging nation, but its recent austerity drives and political history demonstrate that the technical excellence of its submarines is open to question. Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian military analyst and critic, has written in January 2012 about the sad fate of one of Russia’s submarine force. He writes
“Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy ambitions are majestic, often matching those of the great Cold War Soviet Empire, but its capabilities do not match. As the Potemkin carrier group sailed in the Mediterranean Sea, a fire gutted a nuclear strategic ballistic missile submarine, the Delta 4 class Yekaterinburg. The Yekaterinburg was in dry dock at a military shipyard near Murmansk undergoing repairs, when the fire began on December 29, apparently caused by negligence during maintenance work. The submarine burned for 24 hours. The outer hull and the torpedo section were badly damaged and the submarine’s hydro-acoustic (SONAR) system was utterly destroyed. The Delta 4 carries 16 SSN-23 liquid fuel ballistic missiles, each armed with four 200 kiloton warheads.” The missiles and torpedoes were removed as the Yekaterinburg was placed in dock and the two 180-megawatt nuclear reactors were shutdown, so there were no explosions or radioactivity leaks. No one knows when the Yekaterinburg will be fully operational


AS-28 Priz safely on the surface following successful rescue

again.7 The gritty reality for ministries of defence is that submarines cannot be maintained on a constant regime of reduced budgets, without at some point reducing the safety of the vessel. Yet, although the Russian defence budget is almost entirely secret, there is still a very high spend on submarines and their missiles. Two years ago, the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the Russian defence industry, Sergei Ivanov, disclosed: “The navy receives more than 40 per cent of the defence budget and most of that money is spent on strategic nuclear submarines” (RIA Novosti, June 3, 2009).8

Chinese Submarines Emerge Surprisingly The Chinese Ministry of Defence has a policy of ‘“harmonious ocean”, and this year it has begun to emphasise its maritime policy. It is investing in submarines to defend the littoral area of China and its commercial trading and oil and gas interests. China is seeking to defend the so-called ‘String of Pearls’, its strategic lines of communication. However, it was not until an incident during an exercise in 2007 that NATO became aware of just how far they had developed. During a NATO Pacific exercise, a Chinese Song submarine emerged from the water unexpectedly close to an American aircraft carrier creating consternation in defence circles in the United States. When the U.S. Navy deploys a battle fleet on exercises, it takes the security of its aircraft carriers very seriously indeed. At least a dozen warships provide a physical guard while the wizardry of the world’s only military superpower offers an invisible shield to detect and deter any intruders. So American military chiefs were left dumbstruck when an undetected Chinese submarine popped up close to the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk – a 1,000ft

The gritty reality for ministries of defence is that submarines cannot be maintained on a constant regime of reduced budgets, without at some point reducing the safety of the vessel.

aircraft carrier with 4,500 personnel on board. When it surfaced, the 160ft Song Class dieselelectric attack submarine was within range for launching torpedoes or missiles at the carrier. The Americans had no idea that China’s fastgrowing submarine fleet had reached such a level of sophistication, or that it posed such a threat. One NATO figure said the effect was “as big a shock as the Russians launching Sputnik”.9 | 11


The Vulnerability of Submariners and the Importance of Rescue Meredith Llewellyn, Lead Contributor

Escaping from a sunken submarine after flood, explosion or collision is no easy matter because of the potential location of the submarine deep under water and because of the need to depressurise the submarine crew slowly while bringing them safely to the surface.


eading the Tingle table, which is a comprehensive list of known submarine accidents with cause, country of ownership and number of fatalities, the reader is immediately aware of the relatively high risk of fatal incidents in Russian and the former Soviet Union’s submarines. And its not just Soviet submarines that have been at risk - a total of six nuclear submarines have been lost at sea: the Thresher and Scorpion of the U.S. Navy and four Russian vessels. U.S. and Russian naval experts estimate that since 1961, over 500 people have died in accidents aboard submarines, most the result of fires10. Submarines require good command, but also skilled maintenance and good care for the elite and highly trained sailors who man these vessels. They also require a national culture that values the human life of the submariners and is prepared to admit to accidents and invest in rescue equipment to save sailors in the event of an incident. Submarines can remain at sea and submerged for periods of months and the training and tolerance of such a confined environment requires special skills and a strong character. Escaping from a sunken submarine after flood, explosion or collision is no easy matter because of the potential location of the submarine deep under water and because of the need to depressurise the submarine crew slowly while bringing them safely to the surface.

Submarine Rescue Developments in the United States Prior to the Second World War, there was an assumption that when a submarine was damaged and could not be raised, the crew was automatically lost. However, in the 1930s Charles B. “Swede” Momsen began to think of technical alternatives for rescuing survivors from sunken submarines, which at that time was still a virtual impossibility. Momsen developed a submarine rescue chamber that could be lowered from the surface to mate with a submarine’s escape

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hatch and proposed the concept through official channels.11 This new chamber was used in 1939 to rescue the crew of the sunken US submarine Squalus. Squalus, then America’s newest submarine, had sunk in 250 feet of water during a test dive off the New England coast. Over the next 39 hours, Swede Momsen utilized a pearshaped diving bell of his own design to save all 33 crewmembers of the Squalus. Despite the honours and gratitude bestowed on Momsen, it was several submarine disasters later before the United States invested in a submarine rescue program.

The Loss of the Thresher (1963) On the morning of April 10, 1963, the US nuclear submarine Thresher (SSN-593) suffered what her crew first informed surface ships was “minor difficulties, have positive up-angle, attempting to blow,” but moments later broke apart and sank 200 miles off the coast of Cape Cod. All 129 hands on board were lost. The loss of the Thresher and her crew had seemed unimaginable to Navy officials. She had been the most advanced submarine ever built, capable of diving deeper and staying down longer than any submarine before her. After determining that a minor water leak in a joint had lead to the loss of Thresher, the Navy instituted new standards for the design, construction and operation of submarines that seemed to be working well until May 22, 1968.12

A Second New US submarine is Lost – The Scorpion (1968) The US nuclear submarine Scorpion (SSN-589) sank in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean only 97 days after being overhauled and refitted. All 99 crewmembers were lost. Despite two investigations, the Navy still has no conclusive evidence of what sank Scorpion. It was this incident that triggered the navy to realise that, however good the crew, the submarine design and the maintenance, a sea going vessel is always going to be at some risk and that there needed to be measures in place to rescue crew members safely.


ROV with ELSS Pod

Deep Submergence Unit In 1989, the US Navy established the Deep Submergence Unit (DSU) as an expansion to its existing Submarine Rescue Unit. Today, the DSU is home to a fleet of advanced deep submergence vehicles, deep submergence rescue vehicles, remotely operated unmanned submergence vehicles and support surface ships and crew. It stands ready in the event of a submarine disaster anywhere in the world. The equipment and crew of the DSU stationed in California can be loaded onto transport aircraft and be anywhere in the world within hours. While the assigned mission of the DSU is submarine rescue for the United States and its allies, they also assist with deep ocean search and recovery and scientific research operations for a variety of agencies, both military and civilian.

The NATO Submarine Rescue System (NSRS) Based at HM Naval Base Clyde in Scotland NATO Submarine Rescue System (NSRS) is a multi-national project to develop an international submarine rescue system. The system is intended

to provide a rescue capability primarily to the partner nations of France, Norway and the UK but also to NATO and allied nations. The NSRS is managed by Rolls Royce and entered service at the end of 2008. The complete system is intended to be fully air transportable in the A400M European large transport aircraft. On receipt of a SUBSUNK alert the submarine operator initiates the NSRS call-out procedure. The Intervention Remotely Operated Vehicle (IROV) will mobilise to the scene within 56 hours and locate the distressed submarine, establish communications, conduct damage assessment and prepare for rescue operations. The SRV along with a portable launch and recovery system (PLARS), support and operating equipment and Transfer Under Pressure (TUP) equipment will follow 6 hours later. All equipment and personnel are flown to the mobilisation port for embarkation on a suitable mother ship (MOSHIP). The complete mobilisation takes less than 18 hours and the MOSHIP will then sail to the scene where the SRV will be deployed. The aim is to achieve a time to first rescue of 72 hours, with personnel being brought to the surface in groups of 15 and transferring them to the TUP system if necessary. Other countries have their own systems: ASRV Remora is the Australian navy’s DSRV (deep submergence rescue vehicle). It is based on a diving bell design. The People’s Republic of China has three Dajiang (大江) class submarine rescue ships. Each ship is equipped with two DSRV. The JMSDF (Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force) has a deep submergence rescue vehicle (DSRV) Angler Fish 2 aboard the submarine rescue ship JDS Chihaya. The Korean navy operates a submarine rescue ship of British design called Cheong Haejin. Singapore has MV Swift Rescue, launched on 29 November 2008. Russia is believed to have one vessel of the Bester class and five of the Priz class, which was involved in the failed attempt to rescue the crew of the Kursk. | 13


Rescuing the Future… Mary Dub, Editor

In the field of submarine rescue there may be an emerging consensus among submarine building and owning nations that the rescue of submariners is an essential part of their duty of care to these elite sailors.


n the winter of 2012, when austerity, gloom and fiscal mismanagement and the consequences of austerity, gloom and mismanagement seem to dominate thinking, it is counterintuitive to be optimistic. However, in the field of submarine rescue there may be an emerging consensus among submarine building and owning nations that the rescue of submariners is an essential part of their duty of care to these elite sailors. What is the evidence for such a thought? While it is impossible to find surveys and only anecdotal evidence is available, this may still be the case.

be put aside, and some will be gradually resolved.” Mullen’s visit “shows our willingness and sincerity to open up to the outside”.14 What, if anything, does this willingness of senior Chinese defense officials to show off their latest submarines, strategic artillery and aircraft mean? What might be read into their statements is a readiness to be open not just in the face of success, a new aircraft or submarine, but in the face of a disaster when, due to an accident submariners’ lives are at risk and need rescuing. There is also the possibility that the humanitarian values of the West that place great value on human life might be shared.

Admiral Mike Mullen’s Visit to China in 2011 and Visit to a Submarine Base

Dajiang Class Tender

The Wall Street Journal reported Admiral Mike Mullen’s visit to a Chinese submarine base last summer with restraint. “Adm. Mullen was also flown to Zhoushan Island early Wednesday to inspect a Type 39A Yuan class diesel electric submarine before continuing the Asian leg of this tour”.13 However, China had a much more positive and forthcoming message online after the trip. Reporting from Hangzhou/Beijing they said: “US military officer Mike Mullen praised the transparency of the Chinese military after visiting air force and army bases in East China on Tuesday.” But more effusively, they emphasised the level of access they offered him and the extent to which they wished to overcome differences. “Mullen was given a high-level reception in Beijing. On Sunday, he was shown around the Second Artillery Force Headquarters, a strategic missile force that controls the country’s nuclear weapons. Mullen was the first US military officer to see the sophisticated equipment at the headquarters. At a meeting between Mullen and Chen on Monday, their talks dealt with sensitive issues, ‘which shows the maturity of our relationship and our willingness to overcome differences and increase consensus’”, Qian Lihua, director of the Foreign Affairs Office of the Ministry of National Defense said: “We sincerely exchanged views on our differences this time. I believe that as time goes by, some differences will

14 |

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) does have one Dajiang class vessel, which is used for submarine rescue equipment. It is difficult to obtain detailed information on its capabilities, but it is said to have two Type 7103 DSRVs (Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles), which can be carried during submarine rescue operations. They are handled by a large crane on the fore deck, though usually, only one Type 7103 SRV (Submarine Rescue Vehicle) is carried while the slot for the second is used for a Type 7103 training submersible, which is used to simulate stranded submarines in training exercises. The handling system of Type 7103 DSRV is also used for Sea Pole class bathyscaphes and Osprey class submersibles. With only slight modifications, Type 925 Dajiang class is capable of supporting all submersibles and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) in the Chinese inventory.

Learning from the Kursk Experience and the 2005 Priz Rescue The loss of 118 men in the Russian Kursk submarine in the Barents Sea in 2000 was a story of cover up, negligence and incompetence that may have resulted in some change in practice by the Russian navy. Five years later when a submarine got into difficulties in 2005, equipment and personnel from James Fisher Defence in Scotland were flown to the Kamchatka Peninsula off the east coast of Russia to rescue


President Putin awarded James Fisher Defence, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force personnel Illustration of James Fisher Defence’s Inflatable Freeboard Extender

seven submariners from the stricken AS-28 Priz submarine. A Scorpio Remotely Operated Vehicle was packaged and flown to Kamchatka on-board a Royal Air Force C17 from Prestwick Airport. On arrival at Kamchatka, the ground crews from Russia and the United States Air Force began the transfer of Scorpio onto a lorry bound for the coast. During exercises the Russian Priz submarine had become entangled in a discarded fishing net and the crew was trapped. And although the crew had limited supplies of oxygen, their training had taught them how best to conserve their supply of air along with the water and food rations they kept for such an emergency. The crew of the Scorpio cut the submarine free from the fishing nets and the crew, who had had a five day ordeal, were returned to base safely. President Putin awarded James Fisher Defence, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force personnel with the Russian Order for Maritime Achievement. This incident reveals the extent to which international cooperation for humanitarian rescue can be of benefit to the country instigating the rescue as much as the country facilitating the rescue itself. Because, paradoxically, to admit to an uncontrolled situation with potential loss of life that needs international assistance is better than trying to cover up a disaster after it has happened and the international opprobrium that results

with the Russian Order for Maritime Achievement. | 15


References: THE CASE FOR MORE SUBMARINES by CDR Mark L. Gorenflo, USN, and CDR Michel T. Poirier, USN (2009)

1 THE CASE FOR MORE SUBMARINES by CDR Mark L. Gorenflo, USN, and CDR Michel T. Poirier, USN (2009)

2 THE CASE FOR MORE SUBMARINES by CDR Mark L. Gorenflo, USN, and CDR Michel T. Poirier, USN (2009)


Michael Quinlan, former Permanent Under-Secretary of State, UK Ministry of Defence, quoted by Michael MccGwire ‘Nuclear Demonstration’ by Michael MccGwire / SEPTEMBER 24, 2006 / By scrapping Trident, Britain could make a real difference to global non-proliferation efforts


Rand Corporation: Submarine Cable Infrastructure p141, ‘A Concept of Operations for a New Deep-Diving Submarine’: by Frank W. Lacroix, Robert W. Button, Stuart E. Johnson, John R. Wise 2002


Strategy in a Time of Austerity Why the Pentagon Should Focus on Assuring Access by Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr. November/December 2012 Foreign Affairs


Russian Capability to Project Influence DwindlesnPublication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 8 January 12, 2012 03:15 PM by Pavel Felgenhauer


Pavel Felgenhauer: The Russian Sea-Based Deterrent Development Seems On Track Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 126 June 30, 2011


9 ‘The uninvited guest: Chinese sub pops up in middle of U.S. Navy exercise, leaving military chiefs red-faced’ by MATTHEW HICKLEY Last updated at 00:13 10 November 2007

10 US Navy’s Submarine Rescue Team Dateline: 08/17/00



12 US Navy’s Submarine Rescue Team Dateline: 08/17/00


July 14, 2011 By JEREMY PAGE Mullen visits air force, army bases in East China Updated: 2011-07-13 07:39 By Li Xiaokun and Cheng Guangjin (China Daily)


16 |

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Special Report – Submarine Escape, Rescue and Abandonment  

Defence Industry – Special Report on Submarine Escape, Rescue and Abandonment

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