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…


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. 

Is it 1991 again? | laststandonzombieisland

So three things happened over the weekend.

#1 & #2, the Navy christened two brand new Virginia-class SSN’s on the same day (Saturday) some 500 miles part when they broke bottles at Newport News for the future USS Delaware (SSN 791) at 10 a.m and at Groton for the future USS Vermont (SSN 792) at 11 a.m. Importantly, Delaware is the last of the Block III Virginia’s and Vermont is the first of the Block IVs as these boats increasingly replace the old 688s.

Source: Is it 1991 again? | laststandonzombieisland

Keep the Peace: October SubVets Meeting

There are days when I feel old. The kid who sleeps in my old bunk aboard USS Michigan hadn’t been yet born when I left her. My Navy was as different from today’s Navy as mine was from the days of World War II.

Holland Club Members being inducted. The Holland Club is for members who have been designated “Qualified In Submarines” for 50 years.

Each month I try to attend my local USSVI (SubVets) meeting, and I sit in a room with a bunch of other guys who are like me. We rode boats in the Cold War, for the most part. we have one WWII Vet in our Chapter, but most of us rode the boats that faced off against the Russians during the War that wasn’t a shooting war, but everybody was afraid it would be. In many ways, there was more tension because you couldn’t shoot first and ask questions later.

Politicians and Brass eager to justify budgets kept coming up with more and more ways to use the Silent Service that enhanced “national security” by sending so many kids into dangerous places to do dangerous jobs for dangerous reasons. All so that we might have that one piece of data that either gives us the advantage or prevents them from catching us off guard.

A bunch of us rode the Boomers. The boats designed to end the world. from Polaris to POSEIDON to TRIDENT, the missiles grew ever larger and ever more accurate. The technology became more advanced and the kids who closed the hatches and dove beneath the ocean to hide them did so because we believed it was necessary and critical. It was. Whether we were snooping or hiding or trailing or hunting, we kept the peace.

Whatever we did gave the politicians and Brass just enough of an edge to never need us to do the main job we were trained to do – kill people. A lot of people very quickly.

Anyway, all that to say that I really enjoy sitting around a table with coffee and Submariners.

This month our guest speaker was Pete Batcheller, a former US Navy A-8 Crusader Pilot who flew three combat tours in Vietnam. The Crusader was the last pure “Fighter” the Navy flew (according to Pete, I wonder if the F-14 counts?) and he had some great stories about how the plane handled and flew and what it took in combat to make sure that he came home from flying two missions a day off of USS Hancock CV-19. His main point was we – the submariners – and they – the airdales – had a lot in common when it came to facing off the Russians. Like us, it could be nerve-wracking and tense. But it helped maintain the peace, which was the mission of the Cold Warrior.

Russia Lost Two Nuclear Weapons. Why? They are Trapped 5,000 Feet Below the Waves on a Dead Submarine. | The National Interest

Komsomolets sank in 5,250 feet of water, complete with its nuclear reactor and two nuclear-armed Shkval torpedoes. Between 1989 and 1998 seven expeditions were carried out to secure the reactor

Komsomolets sank in 5,250 feet of water, complete with its nuclear reactor and two nuclear-armed Shkval torpedoes. Between 1989 and 1998 seven expeditions were carried out to secure the reactor against radioactive release and seal the torpedo tubes. Russian sources allege that during these visits, evidence of “unauthorized visits to the sunken submarine by foreign agents” was discovered.

In the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union constructed a super submarine unlike any other. Fast and capable of astounding depths for a combat submersible, the submarine Komsomoletswas introduced in 1984, heralded as a new direction for the Soviet Navy.

Five years later, Komsomolets and its nuclear weapons were on the bottom of the ocean, two-thirds of its crew killed by what was considered yet another example of Soviet incompetence.

The history of the Komsomolets goes as far back as 1966. A team at the Rubin Design Bureau under N. A. Klimov and head designer Y. N. Kormilitsin was instructed to begin research into a Project 685, a deep-diving submarine. The research effort dragged on for eight years, likely due to a lack of a suitable metal that could withstand the immense pressures of the deep. In 1974, however, the double-hulled design was completed, with a titanium alloy chosen for the inner hull.

Project 685, also known as K-278, was to be a prototype boat to test future deep-diving Soviet submarines. The Sevmash shipyard began construction on April 22, 1978, and the ship was officially completed on May 30, 1983. The difficulty in machining titanium contributed to the unusually long construction period.

K-278 was 360 feet long and forty feet wide, with the inner hull approximately twenty-four feet wide. It had a submerged displacement of 6,500 tons, and the use of titanium instead of steel made it notably lighter. It had a unique double hull, with the inner hull made of titanium, that gave it its deep-diving capability. The inner hull was further divided into seven compartments, two of which were reinforced to create a safe zone for the crew, and an escape capsule was built into the sail to allow the crew to abandon ship while submerged at depths of up to 1,500 meters.

The submarine was powered by one 190-megawatt OK-650B-3 nuclear-pressurized water reactor, driving two forty-five-thousand-shipboard-horsepower steam-turbine engines. This propelled it to a submerged speed of thirty knots, and a surface speed of fourteen knots.

The sub had the MGK-500 “Skat” (NATO codename: Shark Gill) low-frequency passive/active search and attack spherical bow array sonar system, the same sonar used in today’s Yasen-class attack submarines, which fed into the Omnibus-685 Combat Information Control System. Armament consisted of six 533-millimeter standard diameter torpedo tubes, including twenty-two Type 53 torpedoes and Shkval supercavitating antisubmarine torpedoes.

The submarine joined the Red Banner Northern Fleet in January 1984 and began a series of deep diving experiments. Under Captain First Rank Yuri Zelensky the submarine set a record depth of 3,346 feet—an astounding accomplishment considering its American equivalent, the USS Los Angeles class, had an absolute maximum depth of 1,475 feet. Crush depth was estimated at approximately 4,500 feet. The submarine had a special surfacing system, “Iridium,” which used gas generators to blow the ballast tanks.

The Soviet Navy considered K-278 invulnerable at depths greater than one thousand meters; at such depths, it was difficult to detect and enemy torpedoes, particularly the American Mark 48, which had a maximum depth of eight hundred meters. Although the submarine was originally to be a test ship, it was eventually made into a fully operational combat-ready ship in 1988. It was given the name Komsomolets, meaning “member of the Young Communist League.”

On April 7, 1989, while operating a depth of 1266 feet, Komsomolets ran into trouble in the middle of the Norwegian Sea. According to Norman Polmar and Kenneth Moore , it was the submarine’s second crew , newly trained in operating the ship. Furthermore, its origins as a test ship meant it lacked a damage-control party.

A fire broke out in the seventh aft chamber, and the flames burned out an air supply valve, which fed pressurized air into the fire. Fire suppression measures failed. The reactor was scrammed and the ballast tanks were blown to surface the submarine. The fire continued to spread, and the crew fought the fire for six hours before the order to abandon ship was given. According to Polmar and Moore, the fire was so intense that crewmen on deck watched as the rubber anechoic coating tiles coating the outer hull slid off due to the extreme heat.

The ship’s commanding officer, Captain First Rank Evgeny Vanin, along with four others, went back into the ship to find crewmembers who had not heard the abandon ship order. Vanin and his rescue party were unable to venture farther—the submarine was tilting eighty degrees headfirst—and entered the rescue chamber. The chamber failed to dislodge at first, but eventually broke free of the mortally wounded sub. Once on the surface, the abrupt pressure change caused the top hatch to blow off, throwing two crewmembers out of the chamber. The chamber, as well as the captain and the rest of the rescue party, sank under the waves.

Only four men had been killed in the incident so far, but after the submarine sank many men succumbed to the thirty-six-degree (Fahrenheit) water temperatures. After an hour the fishing boats Alexi Khlobystov and Oma arrived and rescued thirty men, some of whom later succumbed to their injuries. Of the original sixty-nine men on board the submarine when disaster struck, forty-two died, including Captain First Rank Vanin.

Komsomolets sank in 5,250 feet of water, complete with its nuclear reactor and two nuclear-armed Shkval torpedoes. Between 1989 and 1998 seven expeditions were carried out to secure the reactor against radioactive release and seal the torpedo tubes. Russian sources allege that during these visits, evidence of “unauthorized visits to the sunken submarine by foreign agents” were discovered.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.


Source: Russia Lost Two Nuclear Weapons. Why? They are Trapped 5,000 Feet Below the Waves on a Dead Submarine. | The National Interest

Is the U.S. Navy Too Small to Protect Convoys? | War Is Boring

The U.S. military’s top sealift officials are worried that, in a war with Russia or China, the U.S. Navy might not have enough warships to escort vital supply convoys from the United States to war zones in Europe or Asia.

Those fears might be overblown. Regardless, the Navy is moving to acquire a new fleet of frigates whose missions include convoy-escort.

Mark Buzby, a retired rear admiral who now leads the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, has been vocal about what he claimed is a dangerous shortage of escorts. The Maritime Administration oversees America’s roughly 12,000 professional mariners, who crew — among other vessels — the 61 sealift and logistics ships belonging to Military Sealift Command.

“The Navy has been candid enough with Military Sealift Command and me that they will probably not have enough ships to escort us,” Buzby toldDefense News, a trade publication. “It’s: ‘You’re on your own; go fast, stay quiet,’” Buzby said.

Rear Adm. Dee Mewbourne, the head of Military Sealift Command, reportedly shares Buzby’s concerns. “Adm. Mewbourn at Military Sealift Command and I have talked a lot about this and we have been trying to get the word out to people that we are going to have to do things differently,” Buzby told Defense News.

Lacking military escorts, sealift ships would have to cross the Atlantic or Pacific alone during wartime. Buzby and Mewbourne reportedly have advised ships’ crews to turn off their electronics to avoid detection, sail as fast as possible to limit their time in danger zones and expect to suffer losses to enemy attack.

It’s clear Buzby is imagining a major conflict, such as was possible during the Cold War. For decades following World War II, the Pentagon planned to move, by sea to Europe, huge numbers of troops and large quantities of weapons and supplies. Between 1969 and 1993 NATO rehearsed this massive supply effort as part of the annual Reforger Exercise.

Source: Is the U.S. Navy Too Small to Protect Convoys? | War Is Boring

Bikers Broadcast Slovakia’s New Cold War Divide 

Pro-Stalinist Communist Biker Gangs… SMH


Slovakia is emerging as the next political battleground between the West and Russia.

Atop multicolored motorcycles, nationalist Night Wolves bikers revved their engines outside the Russian embassy in Bratislava before driving 44 miles to establish their newest European base — in Dolna Krupa, a village in Slovakia, the former Eastern bloc nation that in the years since the Berlin Wall fell had mostly escaped Russia’s interference.

Their muffler-marked arrival in late June set off alarms in the capital, with the Slovak foreign minister saying the gang — which has called Stalin a hero and NATO a criminal organization — would be closely watched. More than 200 public figures penned an open letter asking the Slovak government to take action. But the biker gang remains, with officials saying they don’t have evidence to convict them of any crimes. Their stay in Slovakia is just one very visible sign of growing pulls and pressures between the country’s Western allies and an increasingly aggressive Russia trying to reclaim its old sphere of influence.

In July, Peter Marcek, an independent member of the Slovak parliament, led a 10-person delegation of lawmakers and businessmen to Crimea, publicly praising Russia’s presence there and suggesting the Ukrainian government was violating human rights in the region. Slovakia’s foreign ministry distanced the government from Marcek’s comments, saying in a statement that “the Slovak Republic still considers Crimea to be Ukrainian territory.” The Slovak government has also diplomatically protested against Russian misinformation campaigns. And President Andrej Kiska has warned that the base is “a serious security risk.”

Source: Bikers Broadcast Slovakia’s New Cold War Divide | Fast Forward | OZY