Submarine incident off Kildin Island

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Submarine incident off Kildin Island
Part of Operation Holy Stone
Baton Rouge scrapped.jpg
USS Baton Rouge being scrapped at Mare Island (1995)
Date 11 February 1992
Location North of Murmansk, Russia
69°38′42″N 33°46′54″E / 69.64500°N 33.78167°E / 69.64500; 33.78167
Result USS Baton Rouge written off[1][2]
Belligerents
 United States  Russia
Commanders and leaders
United States Captain Gordon Kremer Russia Cdr. Vladimir Sokolov[3]
Strength
1 Los Angeles-class submarine 1 Sierra-class submarine
Casualties and losses
1 nuclear submarine heavily damaged 1 nuclear submarine damaged
Submarine incident off Kildin Island is located in Russia
Submarine incident off Kildin Island
Location within Russia

The Submarine Incident off Kildin Island was a collision between the US Navy nuclear submarine USS Baton Rouge and the Russian Navy nuclear submarine B-276 Kostroma near the Russian naval base of Severomorsk, on 11 February 1992. The incident took place when the US unit was engaged in a covert mission, apparently aimed at intercepting Russian military communications. Although a majority of sources claim that the American submarine was trailing her Russian counterpart, some authors believe that neither the Kostroma nor the Baton Rouge were able to locate each other before the collision.

Background[edit]

Following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, uncertainty prevailed among the US intelligence community about the attitude of the former Soviet forces, especially those strategic assets that remained under Russian control. The US government tasked the US Navy to continue to keep a close watch on the main bases of Russian nuclear submarines to monitor developments.[4] During the cold war, this kind of submarine surveillance was known as "Operation Holy Stone"; submariners nicknamed the program "Operation Pinnacle" or "Bollard".[5] Author Jeffrey T. Richelson maintains that "Holy Stone" continued unabated, and that the 1992 incident was part of the operation.[6] This intelligence gathering included tapping Soviet submarine communication cables, recording the pattern of noises from Soviet submarines, and observing submarine-launched ballistic missile tests.[7]

Collision[edit]

Blind encounter[edit]

The collision occurred at 8:16 pm local time,[8] at a point slightly over 12 miles from the shoreline, in waters the United States regarded as international, and by Russia as five miles inside the Russian territorial sea (due to the Russian use of a straight baseline.) The mission of Baton Rouge off Severomorsk was reportedly the recovery or delivery of intelligence-monitoring devices on the seabed.[7] The American press claimed that the submarine was checking wireless traffic between Russian bases,[9] but the Russian counterpart asserted that the two boats were engaged in a 'cat-and-mouse game',[10] an opinion supported also by a number of Western sources.[11][12] According to naval analyst Eugene Miasnikov, the amount of antisubmarine surveillance deployed by the Russians along their shores makes the first possibility implausible. The second argument also seems to be weak, he asserts, given the circumstances, and the collision itself seems to have happened by chance. The breaking waves and the shallow waters of that area of the Barents sea prevented early detection of the other by either submarine, which at the time of the incident were using only their passive sonars,[13] by creating too much ‘noise’ around. Miasnikov maintains that the submarines of the Los Angeles class are unable to detect acoustic signals from targets located within a cone of 60 degree astern, thus the most probable scenario was that Kostroma approached Baton Rouge from behind. Indeed, the collision took place when the Kostroma was surfacing, hitting the US submarine underneath on her aft section. The Sierra class sonar is also ‘deaf’ to the aft direction; her usual pattern of acoustic search is moving along a loop course. The incident, however, implied that Russian attack submarines are capable of avoiding passive acoustic detection, at least under certain conditions.[7]

Damage[edit]

A Sierra-class submarine

Both submarines sustained damage, but there were no casualties reported. Russian reports and American aerial surveillance agree that the Kostroma '​s sail was dented on its front section. Russian navy sources reportedly found pieces of composite material from Baton Rouge '​s anti-sonar tiles.[7][14] The US Navy claimed that besides some scratches, dents, and two minor cuts on her port ballast tank,[15] the Baton Rouge didn't suffer major damage, but it was necessarily serious in any case, as any rupture on the single hull of Baton Rouge would have compromised her pressure resistance.[14] The deactivation of Baton Rouge was announced on 17 September 1993,[16] although some sources claim that the American submarine had been already taken out of service less than a year after the incident,[17] in January 1993.[18] According to Gregory Stitz, curator of Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum,[2] and some European sources[1] the costs of repairing the damaged pressure hull, along with a programmed refueling, were well beyond the planned budget; therefore the US Navy chose to decommission the submarine. Russian naval officers alleged that the US submarine became a constructive total loss right after the collision.[19] As for Kostroma, it was laid up on 28 March 1992, and by 29 June had been fully repaired at Nerpa shipyards in Snezhnogorsk. The Russian submarine was temporarily renamed Krab, before recovering her original name on November 1996. After a huge overhaul, again at Nerpa, she returned to service in 2005.[20]

Political consequences[edit]

Kostroma at anchor, showing a crest with a large numeral 'One' on the front of her sail, a "kill marking" which commemorates the collision[3]

The incident produced intense embarrassment in Washington.[13] Russia complained via diplomatic channels, and the Pentagon quickly acknowledged that a collision had happened, contrary to the official policy until then. A meeting between Secretary of State James Baker and Russian president Boris Yeltsin was arranged immediately. The Russian navy accused the United States of continuing intelligence operations around Russia's home waters, despite the end of the cold war. All this prompted the US Navy to stop some specific submarine activities off Russian bases, such as tapping underwater cables or intercepting wireless communications.[21] This measure, however, did not prevent a later incident in March 1993, when the Sturgeon-class submarine USS Grayling collided with a Delta class submarine, K-407 Novomoskovsk off Kola peninsula.[22]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b "In late 1993, it was announced that one of the oldest Los Angeles class boats, the USS Baton Rouge, would be decommissioned and placed in reserve. The official reason for this was that the boat was due for a very expensive refueling and the cost of this could not be justified in the current environment. However, confidential European sources have pointed out that the Baton Rouge was involved in a collision with a Russian Sierra class submarine and had not been to sea since. This, they suggested, pointed to serious pressure hull damage rather than refueling costs as being responsible for the decommissioning." Warships Forecast, February 1997
  2. ^ a b "Baton Rouge was due to be re-fueled, a lengthy and expensive proposition. Military budget cutbacks apparently did not allow for the additional expense of the repairs needed, and Baton Rouge was placed "In Commission, In Reserve" on 01 November 1993. This status meant that the Navy effectively retired Baton Rouge from service. Most of the crew was reassigned to other duties, and preparations were begun to safely shut the nuclear reactor down so that the radioactive fuel rods could be removed later, during the scrapping process (known as "submarine recycling" and performed at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington). She had been in service less than 16 years (from the time she was commissioned until she was placed in ICIR status). (...) The extent of the damage has not been publicly disclosed, but must be inferred from the fact that the Baton Rouge was decommissioned, rather than repaired." Stitz, Gregory: Peacetime Submarine losses. Texas Maritime Academy, Texas A & M University at Galveston, 1996
  3. ^ a b На Костроме я побывал, будучи в Видяево. По случайному стечению обстоятельств она входит в состав той же 7-й дивизии, что и Курск . На боевой рубке Костромы нарисована красная пятиконечная звезда с цифрой 1 в центре. Так в годы Великой Отечественной войны наши подводники вели счет своим победам. Что ж, цифра на рубке нашего атомохода появилась тоже не случайно. На мой вопрос, а не ругается ли начальство на такую символику, командир Костромы Владимир Соколов ответил так: "Сначала, конечно, морщились – мол, американцы нам теперь друзья. Затем вроде попривыкли, ну а после Курска кто и что может мне сказать на этот счет! Разве только то, что цифра уж очень невелика!. Шигин, Владимир: АПРК "Курск". Послесловие к трагедии. Олма-Пресс, 2002, page 401. ISBN 522403308X
  4. ^ Sontag & Drew, page 586
  5. ^ Reed, page 1
  6. ^ Richelson, Jeffrey T. (2008). The US intelligence community. Westview Press, p. 234. ISBN 0813343623
  7. ^ a b c d Eugene Miasnikov (April 1993). "Submarine Collision off Murmansk". The Submarine Review: 6. 
  8. ^ RFE/RL research report: weekly analyses from the RFE/RL Research Institute, Volume 1, p. 52. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Inc., 1992
  9. ^ John H. Gushman Jr. "Two Subs Collide off Russian Port", The New York Times, 19 February 1992
  10. ^ Artur Blinov and Nikolay Burbyga, "Underwater Incident in the Kola Gulf," Izvestia, 20 February 1992 p.1; Nikolay Burbyga and Viktor Litovkin "Americans Not Only Helping Us, But Spying on Us. Details of Submarine Collision in Barents Sea," Izvestia, 21 February 1992, p.2
  11. ^ Jane's defence weekly: Volume 17, p. 352. Jane's Pub. Co., 1992
  12. ^ Schwartz, Stephen I. (1998). Atomic audit: the costs and consequences of U.S. nuclear weapons since 1940. Brookings Institution Press, p. 306, note 89. ISBN 0815777744
  13. ^ a b Moore, Robert: A time to die: the untold story of the Kursk tragedy. Crown Publishers, 2002, page 116. ISBN 140005124X
  14. ^ a b "However, because American boats are of single-hull design, these tears were ruptures in her pressure hull, and thus represented significant damage." Stern, page 184.
  15. ^ The larger cut was five-feet long as per Reed, p. 153.
  16. ^ Navy to decommission Los Angeles-class attack sub Defense Daily, 17 September 1993
  17. ^ Linder, Bruce (2005). Tidewater's navy: an illustrated history. Naval Institute Press, p. 248
  18. ^ Polmar, norman 6 Moore, Kenneth J. (2005). Cold War submarines: the design and construction of U.S. and Soviet submarines. Potomac books inc., Chapter 17, note 57. ISBN 1574885308
  19. ^ Американцы тогда, правда, сумели доползти до своих берегов, но повреждения были столь впечатляющими, что новейший атомоход восстановлению не подлежал и был немедленно списан на металлолом.
    Шигин, Владимир: АПРК "Курск". Послесловие к трагедии. Олма-Пресс, 2002, page 401. ISBN 522403308X
  20. ^ Yanko, Eugene: Russian Arms 2009. Warfare.ru, 2009. 945 Sierra Class
  21. ^ Sontag & Drew, page 587
  22. ^ Stern, page 185

References[edit]

  • Sontag, Sherry and Drew, Christopher (1998). Blind Man's Bluff: The untold story of American submarine espionage. Thorndyke press. ISBN 0786218762
  • Stern, Robert (2007). The hunter hunted: submarine versus submarine encounters from World War I to the present. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1591143799
  • Reed, Williams (2003). Crazy Ivan: Based on a True Story of Submarine Espionage. IUniverse. ISBN 0595265065

Coordinates: 69°38′42″N 33°46′54″E / 69.64500°N 33.78167°E / 69.64500; 33.78167