Facing the Storm



Storms are a fact of life. That doesn’t make them any less scary or any less dangerous. Ben is terrified by thunder, and that threw a wrench into my monkey last night as I attempted to get ahead of the game. By the time we were all calmed down and back to Stable 1, it was too late to really do much.

The day ahead is busy and filled with things that should bring joy and excitement. But a pall of depression hangs over it all ad yet another veteran, unable to face his storms any longer, chose to take his life. I didn’t know him, in fact, I never met him because I was specifically forbidden to do so. But I did conduct some business with him not that long ago. About $330k worth, if you get my drift. We had a lot in common. Navy, 1st Class Petty Officers, submarines, families and an address. In the end, something had to have gone terribly wrong for this to have happened.

And what is scaring me is that it makes no sense. How is this happening and why? What is it that takes Veterans who seem happy and healthy and leaves them desperate enough to take their own lives?

Is it really just a storm?


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Howards



Howard Shultz made the “courageous” decision yesterday to not run for President of the United States. Given that pretty much the only person with less support for President was Jay Inslee, it appears that maybe the nation isn’t ready for a Washingtonian Chief Executive. To make sure that you get his point, Shultz is blaming you for not supporting him. Which is why I really don’t care what Howard Shultz thinks about anything, including coffee.

Meanwhile, the MILSUPRWRITER brought up the story of the USS Pampanito and the amazing repairs of her leaking Ballast Tanks.

Which led me to remember a Howard that I actually do care about and the night that we had our own amazing adventure with Missile Tube 6…


the TRIAD


 


A question about submarines and nuclear weapons has Dave off and running on a Friday when pretty everybody is sick and tired of the same old political discussion. So let’s look at some of the history of the Cold war and why we do things the way that we do them…


Thirty-Two Years

A really cool thing happened yesterday, my second day of training.

I was on a ride-along with one of the Delivery Drivers, learning how their days work, when we passed by Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. “They just brought that big submarine in here the other day,” he said, pointing where you could see it through the fence.

Sure enough, it was USS Michigan, my beloved boat. I knew that she was in PSNS for an overhaul, but had not realized that the dry dock was visible from nearby. 

Company policy is no personal cell phones in the trucks, so I didn’t have mine with me at the time we drove by. In the evening I took Ben and Cami back down to Bremerton where we stood in the parking lot overlooking the dry dock. I haven’t seen her since 1987. There was a bit of wistful emotion as I gazed at my old home, so close, and so far away. Ben was amazed at how big she is. He was also very excited to have finally seen her.

We came back home and I opened up my closet with the plastic bag containing my ancient foul weather jacket from my days on the boat. I inhaled deeply and for just a moment, I was… home…


 

 

‘Losharik’ Submersible Disaster Handicaps Russian Naval Operations – Jamestown

On July 1, a secretive Russian AC-31 (Project 10831) nuclear-powered submersible suffered a deadly onboard fire and explosion while operating underwater in the Barents Sea, close to the entrance to the Kola Bay (the Murmansk Fjord).

Source: ‘Losharik’ Submersible Disaster Handicaps Russian Naval Operations – Jamestown

Fourteen members of the AC-31 crew—including all senior officers aboard—perished in the fire. Four crew members and a civilian survived. To date, officials have not disclosed the nature of the doomed vessel’s last mission or details regarding the construction of the AC-31 itself (see EDM, July 8). Authorities only revealed that the AC-31 is an unarmed naval “scientific vessel” and was exploring the sea bottom. This secretive submersible is unofficially known in the Russian navy as the “Losharik”—derived from the name of a children’s cartoon horse made out of interconnected balls—because the pressure hull of the AC-31 is apparently a chain of connected titanium alloy spheres that contain the nuclear reactor, crew quarters and equipment. These titanium spheres can withstand massive water pressure, thus allowing the Losharik to reportedly dive as deep as six kilometers. According to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov all details concerning the submersible and its possible missions are a state secret, “but the President [Vladimir Putin] has been fully briefed” (Interfax, July 3).

The ice-free-year-round Kola Bay is a 57-kilometer-long fjord of the Barents Sea that cuts into the northern part of the Kola Peninsula. Along its banks are Murmansk (the world’s largest city and commercial port north of the Arctic Circle), Severomorsk (the main base of the Northern Fleet), and a number of other Russian military facilities and shipyards.

The Losharik is equipped with underwater mechanical hands/manipulators and floodlights, making it able to scan the seafloor and gather “samples.” Apparently, the Losharik was modeled on the United States’ unique nuclear-powered deep submergence vessel NR-1, built in 1969 and retired in 2008. The NR-1 conducted numerous classified missions involving the recovery of objects from the deep sea bottom. It was used to retrieve sensitive objects lost by the US military (jet, missile and ship debris) before the Soviets/Russians could reach them as well as to pick up equally sensitive objects the Soviets/Russians themselves lost at the bottom of the sea. The Losharik was designed to be like the NR-1 but superior, made of expensive titanium capable of descending 6 km (the NR-1 could barely make it 1 km down) and with a larger crew capacity of up to 24 men. The Losharik is carried to mission zones attached to a mother nuclear-powered submarine, thus providing comfort and concealment; whereas, the small NR-1 was towed by a surface mother ship, with the crew forced to endure sea sickness on the way. The construction of the Losharik began during the Cold War, in the 1980s, was abandoned in the 1990s due to cost concerns, but resumed after Putin came to power. By 2004, the Losharik had entered service (Lenta.ru, July 2; RBC, July 9).

All Losharik missions remain classified (as are the NR-1 missions), but they apparently were successful, since its entire crew was promoted to the rank of senior captain and was highly decorated (Gazeta.ru, July 3). The nuclear-powered Losharik can stay underwater searching the seafloor for as long as the crew can endure and its food supply holds out. The relatively large crew allows for running round-the-clock shifts focused on the mission at hand. The Barents Sea, at the entrance to the Murmansk Fjord, is only 200–300 meters deep—not really a typical Losharik mission zone. But just before meeting disaster, its onboard crew may have been searching for intelligence-gathering equipment potentially planted by the US military on the seafloor to monitor activities in the North Sea. Or maybe, the Russian navy itself had lost something during exercises. Another possibility is that this was a mission to test some new equipment, which may explain the presence of a defense industry civilian specialist onboard (RBC, July 9).

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin the fatal fire happened in the electric battery compartment of the submersible (Kremlin.ru, July 4). Nuclear-powered submarines use rechargeable batteries as backups—mostly traditional lead-acid ones that were used by submariners for more than a century. But the Losharik apparently has a more modern lithium-ion battery, like ones ubiquitous in mobile phones. Lead-acid batteries can produce hydrogen gas during recharging, which is a known fire/explosion hazard on submarines. Lithium-ion batteries, meanwhile, are more powerful, smaller, more reliable and considered safer than lead-acid; nonetheless, they also are known to catch fire and explode when short-circuited. Such an explosion apparently occurred on July 1, as the Losharik was docking with its mother ship, the BC-136 Orenburg, a modified Project 667BDR (Delta-3) nuclear strategic submarine. A series of explosions reportedly ravaged the Losharik’s bow, killing the 14 men inside. The crew members in the main command post of the submersible sealed the bow compartments, completed the docking procedure, switched off the nuclear reactor and abandoned the Losharik by boarding the Orenburg. The mother ship’s crew, apparently fearful the explosions and fire could spread and sink them, too, flooded the entire pressure hull of the Losharik with sea water and returned to base with the submersible and its dead crew inside the flooded hull. The surviving though injured crew (apparently four sailors and a civilian) were taken to a hospital but eventually released. A special commission is investigating what happened (Fontanka, July 9).

Shuigu told Putin, “The nuclear reactor of the submersible is intact, and this gives us hope to restore the entire ship soon” (Kremlin.ru, July 4). The Losharik is unique, and plenty of missions await it. For one thing, the Losharik can reportedly sabotage the United States’ SOSUS seabed sound surveillance system in the Atlantic Ocean, which would allow Russian submarines to break out of Severomorsk into the open Atlantic undetected (RBC, July 9). Moreover, a US RQ-4 Global Hawk drone was shot down by the Iranians in the Strait of Hormuz in June 2019. The Iranians gathered some floating debris, but there is surely a treasure trove left scattered on the seabed. And in April 2019, a Japanese US-made F-35A stealth jet crashed in the Pacific. Again, some floating debris was recovered, but more valuable technology could still be found underneath (Interfax, April 15). The Losharik tragedy came at the worst time for Russia, and Shoigu seemed nervous when reporting the bad news to Putin, anxious to stress that the disaster can be mitigated soon.

Cold War Tales: Ice Station Zebra



In 1963, Alister McClain published a novel about a spy satellite that fell from orbit and landed in a place where almost nobody could get to it. Almost.

The book and the 1968 film, tell the story of the race by an American atomic-powered attack submarine to get to the ice pack and land a team of Special Ops forces to retrieve the capsule before the weather clears and the Soviets can drop their airborne troops to do the same thing. There are submarines*, spies, confusion, double-crossing, star athletes and Rock Hudson. When everything is said and done, the film canister that everybody is chasing after is destroyed. After all of that effort and blood, nobody had anything.

Which is pretty much a metaphor for the Cold War anyway.

Imagine my surprise to learn – in a completely UNCLASSIFIED manner – that a few years after the novel and the movie, a US spy satellite dropped its film canister out of orbit, only to have its parachute fail and the canister plunge into the deep abyss of the Pacific Ocean**. The race was on to recover it before the Soviets could get wind of the potential intelligence coup and to keep them as in the dark about it as long as possible.

Heading to the scene, an old World War II Salvage Tug dragged a World War II surplus Floating Dry Dock out into the Pacific Ocean**. Inside the dry dock sat one of the most ungainly, misunderstood and surprising pieces of technology ever created. Even as men were walking on the moon, this thing, the Trieste II, was about to dive to depths almost never penetrated before for the sole purpose of recovering a satellite film canister that had landed in the wrong place.

There were a couple of differences from the novel and film. First, it wasn’t in the Arctic. Next, it was not an atomic-powered boat. But the biggest difference of all is that it actually happened.

A real-life Ice Station Zebra…


*The movie contains one of the most nerve-wracking scenes I have ever seen. I can watch it, but it leaves me with heart palpitations and sweating.

**Every “c” in “Pacific Ocean” is pronounced differently. Just thought you’d like to know that. Ever since Kenneth pointed it out to me, I cannot stop thinking about it.