Collision of nuclear submarines a frightening reminder

Last week, two nuclear submarines, armed with ballistic missiles, collided in the Atlantic ocean – the first revelation of such a collision since the end of the Cold War. Mike Wallace, Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia and a Senior Advisor to the Rideau Institute, provides the following analysis of the incident:

“The recent collision between a British and a French ballistic missile firing submarine is a hair-raising reminder of the dangers posed by these underwater behemoths left over from the Cold War. Although equipped with extraordinarily sensitive sonar arrays, they are rigged to avoid detection. On patrol, they can bank down the reactor, turn off equipment, and even issue the crew with slippers.

Steaming slowly in this “ultra-quiet” fashion, subs may fail to detect each other. And maneuvering these enormous single-prop subs in close quarters is extraordinarily difficult.

NATO countries minimize the possibility of collision by avoiding each other’s “patrol boxes”, where each nation’s submarine to ply undetected. But Murphy’s Law can always trump such precautions, and the dangers of a collision are likely to increase as the Russians ramp up the frequency of their patrols.

This incident reminds us that at least four nations ply the ocean depths with ballistic missile submarines carrying enough firepower to wipe out a continent and powered by enriched uranium reactors. We can be thankful that this incident did not result in disaster, but we may not always be so lucky.”

Michael D. Wallace
Professor Emeritus, UBC
Rideau Institute Senior Advisor

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