July 28, 2016

Ouch! Before and After Photos of dented submarine Ambush

No subamarines, submariners, commanders, Admirals, or Ministers of Defence, like being associated with surprising and expensive indiscretions. Hence HMS Ambush's misfortune on July 20, 2016.

Apparently Ambush surfaced too quickly into a third party - in this case a tanker. Not only the repair bill, but the downtime of having one of Britain's latest SSN types out of circulation will be unwelcome.

First Before shot of a Astute class sub, leaving Britain. All shiny and new.

Second Before shot of an Astute class sub gives a clearer view of the two non-hull-penetrating optronic (also called photonics) masts - instead of periscopes. If one optronic mast was extended, prior to the attempted surfacing, then a damaged mast would add considerably to the repair bill.

The After shots are below: Looking very sorry.
All crumpled, dull (probably plastic taped over the damage) and unhappy. The optronic mast closest to the front has been "wound down" - I don't know if that is normal?

The collission apparently happened during the UK Royal Navy run "Perisher" course for SSN  Captain/Commander trainees. Whether Ambush was under the command of a trainee or instructor (known as "Teacher") is unknown. 

Trainees captaining subs in Perisher occasionally duel with a Royal Navy destroyer or frigate or two. While trainees, under pressure, may be mainly focussed on their destroyer/frigate foe, they might not always sufficiently consider third parties, like tankers, who turn up when least expected.

Sonar operators and trainees viewing periscopes ideally spot third parties before the sub surfaces, but not always.

UK Perisher once included RAN trainees, but as Australia has no SSNs Australian trainees now do "Dutch Perisher" for conventional subs, run by the Royal Netherlands Navy.

On Australians in "Dutch Perisher" see this RAN Submarine Squadron magazine "The Trade" pages 10 -13 - large PDF. 




Anonymous said...

My sonar is so good I did not hear the tanker above me?

Peter Coates said...


Probably a major operator and/or trainee commander error in the heat of the moment. Likely no active sonar was used.

Maybe the sound/signal on the passive sonar was so loud (with the tanker above) the operator(s) thought a sonar equipment failure was occurring - until the collission.


Nicky K.D Chaleunphone said...

Hi Pete
Let me guess, a student driver. Hope they have insurance to cover this

Peter Coates said...

Hi Nicky

Yep. The panel beaters might quote a million UK £s (or so) - but with no Courtesy Sub.



Peter Coates said...

I had an extra thought.

The dented submarine Ambush has two non-hull-penetrating optronic (also called photonics) masts - instead of periscopes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photonics_mast

If one optronic mast was extended, prior to the attempted surfacing, then a damaged mast would add considerably to the repair bill.

I noticed in the After shots one of the masts (the one at the front) is neither fully extended nor fully recessed. Is it being at "Half-mast" unusual or significant?


Josh said...

The straight is a sub ideal place for passive sonar. Apparently loaded tankers also can attenuate their own noise on the forward quarter - the huge bulk of oil in front of their engine and prop noise to some degree attenuates their signature dead on. Some have also theorized the boat was intentionally using the tanker to mask self generated noise, though in that case I'd expect the problem wasn't bearing related but depth/draft related. In any case these things do happen, usually because someone wasn't following all of the standard procedures to the letter. US boats have sunk a Japanese fishing vessel and been completely run over by a USN landing platform.


Peter Coates said...

Hi Josh

The complex, ever changing tidal currents in the Gibralter Strait (see this short Youtube https://youtu.be/Xs5HOzLVILY ) may have caused the collision if:

- Ambush was trying to hide under the tanker (as you theorise) or

- even pitched up and/or pushed sideways Ambush more quickly than expected while Ambush was below but a horizontal distance away from the tanker.



MHalblaub said...

Another major problem for Australia:
The part about ALIS is rather scaring. Well, the rest also.
Israel would get it for free but still doesn't like it.

During a submarine training for apprentice the normal crew must be aware where the submarine with a clear picture of what is going on around and stop the exercise in case of an major error. Also the surrounding ships of the Royal Navy should have noticed the tanker.

The periscope malfunction might be an indication that the trainee was tracking the situation at periscope deepth maybe with a simulated sonar defect. The dent may have destroyed the hoist system for the periscope.


Ztev Konrad said...

Interesting 'cover stories' , first the Spanish tanker, then a Perisher course. Im more inclined to think its in the fine RN tradition of submarines used for signals intelligence close in the ports in any one of the hot spots in the Med- Libya or more likely the russian involvement in Syria at the port of Tartus. Somehow it got in they way or was targeted by a russian vessel.
There are great stories from the early Cold War with the last of the T class subs ( the welded ones) HMS Turpin, Taciturn, Totem and there activities around the Soviet bases in Arctic ocean. One story even mentions being inside an inlet on the Kola Peninsula. ( GCHQ Uncensored story of Britains Most secret Intelligence Agency by Richard Aldrich)

As those who read the link provided by Peter would realise, Perisher requires a substantial anti submarine exercise by surface and air forces to provide the required testing of the future sub commanders .
"The second half of the sea phase centred around the massive Neptune Warrior NATO exercise"

A Perisher course in the Med ? Well there was the Phoenix Express exercise but that was back in mid May and focussed on migrant issues amoung others, so that was too long ago.
AS I thought, cover stories should have a degree of skepticism.

Peter Coates said...

Hi MHalblaub

Thanks for http://m.jpost.com/Opinion/Column-one-Time-to-walk-away-from-US-aid-462677#article=6017Mzc5OTg5QkNCNDkzQjFBOTUyRTFGMThGRUIyMUQzRDk= . Clearly Israel, which needs good weapons for its daily survival has healthy skepticism about the F-35. US arms companies can claim aircraft sales to Israel but such sales might also be seen as a US military aid money fix.

It suggests market distortion when:

- US arms companies heavily employ former USAF Generals and Pentagon officials (as employees, directors or consultants). Same thing is happening with LockMart in Australia.

- US arms companies can threaten to move factories out of congressional districts.

I put up the photonics mast theory but its only a theory. The theory so far lacks supporting evidence. But I'll add one problem with the photonic image being on a computer screen for viewing by trainee commanders AND crew-operators is each may have assumed the other was looking at it thouroughly when none of them were doing so in the heat of "battle".



Peter Coates said...

Hi Ztev Konrad

The collision happening in the Med and/or near Gibraltar (and during Perisher) may indeed be a cover story.

I too would have thought Perisher would be held in open ocean to avoid this very chance of banging into third-party civilian vessels.

Surveillance of Tartus and Russian naval ship reaction is therefore possible.

Yeah there are great stories from the Cold War of UK SSK and Ns surveilling the Soviet/Russian Northern fleet areas. On those activities I’ve read:

- “Hunter Killers” by Iain Ballantyne

- soon embarking on “The Silent Deep” by Peter Hennessy and James Jinks

“GCHQ Uncensored” looks interesting.

An excellent, quiet recent events, account of the use of NSA backup to the US military is “The Secret Sentry: The Untold history of the National Security Agency” by Matthew M. Aid.

Yes many exercises in the Med like “Phoenix Express 2016” http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=94805 which can become a partial real surveillance opportunity.

Poor Ambush has become a useful exercise to focus, in some depth on exercises or mistakes and draw some alternative conclusions.



Nicky K.D Chaleunphone said...

Hi Pete,
This is why the British should have kept some of the Trafalgar-class submarine they decommissioned as training submarines or school house submarines that the US Navy dose. Some Submarines the US navy keeps alive are often used as moored training ship for Nuclear reactor training or used to train crews and potential captains.

I bet the Perisher student has now been banned from ever serving on submarines ever again.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Nicky

Four UK Trafalgar class nuclear attack subs (SSNs) continue to be operational.

They are HMS Torbay, Trenchant, Talent and Triumph - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trafalgar-class_submarine#Boats_of_the_class

There remains doubt whether HMS Ambush was dented during a Perisher course at all.

- UK subs have been known to be dented during inspections of Russian warships and

- collisions with Russian subs while pursuing Russian subs.

- also a French SSBN and UK SSBN dented each other during SSBN patrol operations in 2009 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Vanguard_and_Le_Triomphant_submarine_collision

So what happened to HMS Ambush remains a big mystery.



Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

The ex-Vice Admiral, Masao Kobayashi showed captain of submarine played decisive role in submarine operation [1]. 2.5% and 0.7% of captains of German submarine had occupied ca. 20% and 14% of total sinking of enemy ships in World War I and World War II, respectively.

Unskilled captain sometimes causes collision. JMSDF had caused terrible collision with private boat killing 30 people e [1] nearly 30 years ago. Also, Ehime Maru and USS Greeneville collision had caused tragedy with death of 9 people [2] on Feb/09 2001. The submarine hull is so strong, collided small ship immediately sank, but submarine has nearly no damage.

[1] SHIPS OF THE WORLD, from 2016, No.8, page 145, by Masao Kobayashi
[2] https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%81%AA%E3%81%A0%E3%81%97%E3%81%8A%E4%BA%8B%E4%BB%B6 (JPN)
On July/23 1988 at the Uraga Channel near Yokosuka off the coast, Nadashio (SS-573, Yushio-class submarine) of JMSDF which was surface cruising had collided with leisure fishing boat First Fuimaru. After collision, First Fujimaru immediately (within 2 mins) sank and 30 people were killed. On Feb/28 1994, Tokyo High Court judged that the collision was primary attributed to the submarine.
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ehime_Maru_and_USS_Greeneville_collision


Peter Coates said...

Hi S

Its interesting that Nadashio (SS-573, Yushio-class submarine) collision occured while Nadashio was sailing on the surface. I wonder why Nadashio did not see Fuji Maru before collision?

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2001/06/02/news/ill-fated-sub-nadashio-sails-off-to-scrap-yard/#.V57YQPl97b0 records:

"The collision between the submarine and the sports fishing boat Fuji Maru No. 1 occurred July 23, 1988, when the Nadashio was cruising on the surface of the Uraga waterway bound for its home port of Yokosuka.

The Fuji Maru, with nine crew members and 39 passengers on board, sank immediately after the collision, drowning 29 people. One of the 19 rescued and taken to a hospital died the same day.

In December 1992, the Yokohama District Court sentenced the Nadashio captain to a suspended 30-month prison term and the Fuji Maru skipper to a suspended 18-month term. They were found guilty of negligence."

Separately https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ehime_Maru_and_USS_Greeneville_collision was tragic especially:


"As the heavy, partially submerged submarine bobbed in the ocean, it also displaced large waves that, in Waddle's opinion, threatened to capsize the life rafts in which Ehime Maru's survivors were gathering. Waddle decided that it would be safer to stand off the submarine from the group of survivors and wait for assistance to arrive. Ehime Maru's survivors, many of them struggling in the diesel fuel released from their sinking ship, were able to gather on several life rafts that had deployed automatically as their ship sank."

Shows how problematic submarine collisions are. Sub's usually cannot lower boats quickly to rescue survivors.



Anonymous said...

RN Subs can survive the occasional fender-bender. It's the crabs & barnacles they have to worry about:

"The crew of a British nuclear submarine faced death in soaring temperatures
when its air conditioning failed, it emerged yesterday.

Commanding officer Ryan Ramsey feared members of his 130-strong crew would
die during the 2011 incident on HMS Turbulent, which had surfaced in the
Indian Ocean.

Equipment began failing in 140F temperatures and men were collapsing.
Commander Ramsey ordered the sub to dive and it finally cooled in deep

It emerged that inlet pipes were blocked by crabs and barnacles."



Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

Nadashio saw First Fujimaru. The Uraga Channel, gate of the Tokyo Bay, is one of the most crowded sea areas in Japan. Though submarine had avoidance obligation ship, it did not obey the duty when it met small boats because of bad habit, i.e., avoidance by small boats not by submarine. Former is much easier than latter.

In that accident, the captain of Nadashio (middle of 30 years old) had not enough experience and unfortunately one yacht was across Nadashio just before collision, and the captain did not recognize possibility of collision because of bad habit and lack of experience.


MHalblaub said...

"Gray Lady Down"
Party onboard: Captain leaving 1. going to be next Captain...

strange part about the movie accident was nobody tried to contact the ship via radio.

Peter Coates said...

Hi S, Anonymous and MHalblaub.

Yes submarine operations are perilous (even in peacetime) in so many ways.



pacoes said...


Is not the first time this happened in the area.

In 1984 a Victor class submarine collided with a soviet merchant ( brastsvo, I mean), probably while trying to evade the hydrophone network that crosses the straight.

No far away, in 1986, the Atlanta (SSN 712) bottomed in the area, damaging the bow and ballast tanks.

In the nineties, a dirty incident with HMS Tireless (damage in reactor) created a very complicated situation between the governments of Spain and UK.

This is a very congested area, with almost 1.500.000 people living around. It's incredible that RN didn't comunicate the spanish goverment the incident up to 48 hours later, despite the fact it probably happened in spanish territorial waters.

Probably, they should make this practices in Falsane, for example. Or farther away.

Good blog. Congratulations.

Peter Coates said...

Hi pacoes

The UK indeed has provided only brief details about HMS Ambush's alleged collision with the tanker.
- What country/flag did the tanker belong to? and

- Why that 48 hour UK delay in telling the Spanish Government?

I see tension between the UK and Spain over ownership of Gibralter extends to the early British Empire:

"In 1704, during the War of the Spanish Succession, a combined Anglo-Dutch fleet, representing the Grand Alliance, captured the town of Gibraltar on behalf of the Archduke Charles of Austria in his campaign to become King of Spain. The occupation of the town by Alliance forces caused the exodus of the population to the surrounding area of the Campo de Gibraltar.[18][19] As the Alliance's campaign faltered, the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht was negotiated and ceded control of Gibraltar to Britain to secure Britain's withdrawal from the war. Unsuccessful attempts by Spanish monarchs to regain Gibraltar were made with the siege of 1727 and again with the Great Siege of Gibraltar (1779 to 1783), during the American War of Independence."

Hence subsequent UK submarine incidents don't help.

I gathered more details about a US and UK sub incident you mentioned

- "On 29 April 1986 Atlanta ran aground in the Strait of Gibraltar, damaging her sonar gear and puncturing a ballast tank in the bow section. The boat proceeded to Gibraltar under her own power." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Atlanta_(SSN-712) and

- HMS Tireless reactor coolant leak occured near Gibralter in the year 2000

A more serious naval reactor meltdown in the Med would be an international disaster.