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Peek-a-boo!

Two recent stories have me a smidgen troubled. First off, Iran announced that it had successfully flown at least one spy drone over a United States Navy Aircraft Carrier Battle Group -- and released the video to prove it. I'm a bit of a Navy buff, so I studied the extremely fuzzy photo and concluded that it is, indeed, a Nimitz-class carrier, sailing at a fairly decent clip and with an E-2C Hawkeye airborne radar plane on the catapult. Other aircraft appear to be F/A 18 Hornets and perhaps some S-3 Vikings -- but I'm guessing on the last one. That information conforms to where the Navy says their ships are -- the USS Eisenhower, CVN-69, is currently in the Arabian Sea. To my very amateur eyes, the photo could indeed be the Ike.

Next up, we have a report from the Washington Times that a Chinese submarine stalked the USS Kitty Hawk off the coast of Okinawa recently. (There was no word if the battle group was scouting for new bases for the troops currently in Iraq, as per Congressman Jack Murtha's plan to move them just around the corner and a fifth of the world away.) That is nothing new -- during the Cold War, Soviet subs, spy trawlers, and other warships routinely followed our ships around to the point where they would sometimes be given notice of course changes as a matter of courtesy (and a subtle insult on the pursuer's navigational and observational abilities). In the absence of open hostilities, it's something we must accept -- and use to our own advantage, as it gives us just as close a look at their vessels as they get of ours.

The new element in this story, though, is that the Chinese submarine -- a Song-class diesel electric attack sub -- apparently approached well within weapons range, then surfaced and revealed itself barely five miles from the Kitty Hawk. This apparently caused some consternation among Navy brass, because the Songs carry cruise missiles capable of causing a world of hurt on an aircraft carrier -- as well as torpedoes that can send one straight to the bottom.

For the record, the United States has not lost a big carrier since 1942, with the sinking of the USS Hornet off Guadalcanal. The last time we lost any fleet carrier was with the sinking of the USS Princeton, and the last carrier of any type to be sunk was at the Battle Off Samar, both in October of 1944.

The Song-class submarines are a formidable weapon. Instead of nuclear power, they use large batteries to operate underwater, and use diesel engines for power near or on the surface to move and recharge the batteries. They lack the range, speed, and flexibility of nuclear subs like we use exclusively, but they have numerous advantages of their own -- they are smaller, cheaper, and quieter when running on batteries. The fact that one got so close to one of our carriers before revealing itself is troubling indeed.

But are we seeing what happened, or what appears to have happened? Did these two vessels -- the Iranian drone and the Chinese submarine -- really get that close without being detected?

I'm not so sure.

There are definite advantages to detecting another nation's attempts to spy on you, and not interfering. It can let them think that their intrusion methods are more capable than they really are. It can give us a chance to see their systems up close, as well -- and give us insights into their technology. And in Iran's case, the idea of letting them see clearly just what kind of military presence we have -- and how ready they are -- operating right off their coast.

At least, I hope so. I have a special fondness for the Navy, and I'd hate to think they'd be submect to two such embarassing (and potentially dangerous) lapses in security in such short order.


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Comments (27)

They don't have to win any ... (Below threshold)
jpm100:

They don't have to win any battles. They just need to inflict casualties and we will lose resolve and go running home.

They wanted us to know that they have the power to perhaps not win an engagement, but to make it costly for us. Given the perception that casualties in the Iraq War cost the Republicans the election, they believe our politicians will shy away from conflict anytime soon. I can't say they would be wrong.

Like it or not, the perception is that the bar for victory against the US is much lower. Far below a tactical victory.

Being an ex-bubblehead, I w... (Below threshold)
VagaBond:

Being an ex-bubblehead, I was not worried about the report of the chinese sub. Onlookers are often spotted during Ops. Besides, it's a good bet that we knew the chinese sub was there all along.

The drone would be more of a concern to me.

Just what does the media th... (Below threshold)
jim:

Just what does the media think the USN should do during peace when a foreign SS is detected well before it reaches 5 miles from a USN ship? Do the media expect the USN to rebut publicly just how long the SS had been tracked and by what? Just how much noise do you think a sub makes at any real speed underwater, such as would usually be necessary to approach or pace a surface ship?

As for the drone, could the released pic be a blown up satellite shot? I don't know - just asking, as the quality seems low.

The drone and sub may have ... (Below threshold)
hermie:

The drone and sub may have both been detected, but the Navy hasn't acknowledged that it did, since THAT would be revealing it has the capability of detecting these things.

That would be like telling a potential burglar you have an alarm on your patio door. He'd then try another route into your home.

If the Chinese SS was in ob... (Below threshold)

If the Chinese SS was in observation mode, why would it surface? That sounds suspiciously like they were discovered and new it. It could very well be embarrassing to have it look like the USN was clueless, but you don't usually play those types of games with a carrier group.

My wild guess is that they snuck up on the carrier group and when they got to 5 miles they had active sonar pings coming from their prop wash. Best way to say "I'm not dangerous" is to surface.

Just a theory that makes me feel better. God knows the US military can't be perfect in all things at all times.

Jim has a good point about what actions the MSM expects the USN to do. If you're not in a shooting war, you can't really start destroying the subs of another nation. I've definitely heard enough stories from the squids about playing follow the leader with Soviet subs.

Re: the drone. Looks to me ... (Below threshold)

Re: the drone. Looks to me like there are Tomcats on deck which makes it an old pic.

I don't believe for one sec... (Below threshold)
drjohn:

I don't believe for one second that they were unaware of either. Those guys know when a gnat flies near a carrier and the submariners can spot a whale half an ocean away.

Not a chance.

They're playing with them.

Jay - back in the 60's when... (Below threshold)
Mike:

Jay - back in the 60's when I was in the US Navy and standing OOD watches on the bridge of a destroyer we almost always had a Russian trawler hanging around, both in the Med and particularly in the Tonkin Gulf. You had to track them constantly to keep from running over them. Once, while in the Med, we were conducting exercises with a task group and there was one trawler (trawlers were always called Ivan) that would get right in the middle of our formations while we were doing screening exercises. You never knew where he was going to go and it got a little dicey sometimes. The task group commander, via flashing light, finally started assigning him a station in the screens from the confidential Allied Naval Signal book. He would take the stations and then at least we knew where he was. It sure beat having a collision. Of course we did the same thing to them. We once carried a large highly classified container (looked like a conex box), which came with its own crew of operators, on our dash deck and trailed the Russian fleet around the eastern Med for about a month. Ships crew (except for the CO and XO) was not even allowed to know what was in the box regardless to security clearance, but I don't think it was sauna.

jpm100 - congratulations, y... (Below threshold)
theExecutioner:

jpm100 - congratulations, you hit the bullseye.

You guys can discuss this all you like, but jpm100 nailed it. The bar for victory against the US HAS BEEN lowered and for that alone, we have the liberal press and the Democrats to blame.

<a href="http://belmontclub... (Below threshold)

Here's an interesting story along these lines about "keeping an eye on the other guy" that Wretchard (Belmont Club) posted quite a while back. It's an article from the US Naval Institute's magazine Proceedings by Lieutenant Commander William R. Bray in 1998 whereby the French were getting nosy too. He posted the pertinent parts (although the entire article was fascinating).

just a clarification to som... (Below threshold)
jdubious:

just a clarification to some things i've been hearing on the radio, etc. contrary to (apparently) popular belief, diesel subs (depending on the make and model) can be very quie when submerged, quieter even than some nukes, because their quiet electric motors have no constant reactor pump noise. problem is their batteries are quickly depleted at high speed.

nuclear reactors are noisy things.

as far as the cruise missles, seems like unless they got lucky and hit a jp store or something, you could still most likely fight the ship.

not great, of course.

and i'd be willing to bet that a newer carrier can come close to outrunning a torpedo in a straight-line contest, they must do like 40 knots or soemthing. i could be wring about that tho.

Diesel Boat!?!?!? Who cares... (Below threshold)
DavidB:

Diesel Boat!?!?!? Who cares! They have to run near or at the surface to recharge and have a very limited range and speed while submerged on batteries. Could they get close? Sure. Do they get close? Only if we let them!

Nuclear boats noisy? When was the last time you were on a Nuc Boat? If you were in during the 60's, 70's or early 80's, then yes, they were a little noisy compared to todays Nuc Boats, but beat anything in the water at the time. Todays Nucs are a thing of beauty, quiet, fast and very dangerous. Can you say natural circulation? No need for reactor coolant pumps up to a very substantial power level. Noise transfer to the hull? Non-existent in todays sub navy. Every component is mounted in a noise isolation mount. You can stand next to an operating condenser pump and the only way to know it is running is to look at the shaft for rotation. It is highly likely that the Chinese Boat was being shadowed by one of our very own Nuc Boats. They got a little too close, and were hit with a single active ping to give notice.

Been there, done that.

my old eyes might be decive... (Below threshold)
tj:

my old eyes might be deciveing me, but when I looked at that flat top those sure did lok like F-4,s to me....look at the vert stab...dont it look like horiz stab,s droop to you?

If you don't know about Ran... (Below threshold)
Sandy P:

If you don't know about Rantburg, you should peruse the site.

This stuff was covered, since most there are military, ex-military, or former spooks.

DavidB... I agree with you.... (Below threshold)
tj:

DavidB... I agree with you...our dolphins knew they was being tailed....PING gotcha!

And just what did the more ... (Below threshold)
BlacquesJacquesShellacques:

And just what did the more shrill of you think the navy should have done? Shot down the drone? Sunk the sub? In international waters and airspace? Without a declaration of war? Get a grip.

The navy is entitled to sail the seas, everyone else is entitled to snoop, and vice versa. No big deal. I expect the navy got a lot more info than they lost.

And the big piece of info the navy pretty near gave away was "We are huge, powerful and utterly unafraid of you." I'd hate to dilute that piece of info by crybabying about some drone or diesel tin can.

As I understand it, surfaci... (Below threshold)
IllTemperedCur:

As I understand it, surfacing a sub is a supremely stupid way to "announce" one's presence. Much better to use active sonar to ping the carrier. I think that it's likely that either the sub was forced to the surface via active sonar or the Chicoms surfaced without knowing that the carrier group was in the area. Now THAT'S an "OH SHIT" moment.

As to the drone video/photo, I could swear that I see A4s at the stern, the delta wings are fairly obvious. I'm thinking that this is an old Russian video, from one of their Bear overflights.

Fifteen years ago the defen... (Below threshold)
robert:

Fifteen years ago the defence boys were working on a system that tracked subs using minute gravitational differeces as measured from space.

If they can do that, don't think for a second that the fleet was unaware of this tinker toy sub.

There always is a small risk of a first-strike because we just cannot blow them out of the water and shoot them out of the skies in peacetime.

But unaware? Not a chance.

Anyone who has half s brain... (Below threshold)

Anyone who has half s brain realizes that there are only two kinds of navel vessels, submarines and targets. Carriers are only good for fighting an enemy that doesn't have a navy.

re: the Chinese Sub<p... (Below threshold)
Dave:

re: the Chinese Sub

A Navy Chief I know peruses the message boards on Baen's Bar. She is actually serving on the Kitty Hawk, and when this was posted at the Bar, she was unimpressed. "Don't believe everything you read" was the general gist of her reply.

Something to consider.

Hah. Once again you bring u... (Below threshold)

Hah. Once again you bring up "navy". Having sailed on a steam ship, steam turbines are really quite noisy. Nuclear powered vessels are noisy because the steam turbines give off that high pitched whine (not to mention the reduction gearing to slow the high turbine speed to the slow speed of the propellor). Especially Steam Turbine Generators, the generators are noisy as hell (much more so than main propulsion turbines). Granted they are less noisy than diesel engines, but they will still produce some noise.

I'm not worried about Naval Warfare at all. No navy in the world can come close to matching ours. And if one of our ships were to be sunk by another nation? Godspeed to the nation that were to do so, for all of our forces would be hell bent on destroying that nation.

By the way Rick Dement, you're forgetting that Aircraft carriers carry planes that don't only destroy land based targets. Think Helicopters, Recon aircraft and much more, how do you think Naval battles in the Pacific during WWII happened? Take that, with our modern technology. I would be willing to bet (especially considering Aircraft carriers during wartime would travel with the full complement of protective ships, from Cruisers to frigates to destroyers, and probably even a complement of an attack submarine or two), that any submarines going after our carriers would be like going after "the boss" in a video game, they're going to need a lot of luck and skill going through everyone else!

Not to mention that nuclear... (Below threshold)

Not to mention that nuclear plants don't produce superheated steam. Saturated steam contains moisture in it, and has anyone ever been near steam pipes that BANG from water hammer? Especially main steam (I don't know what pressure they would run at, that's probably classified) lines running to the main propulsion turbines and generators.

<a href="http://intelligenc... (Below threshold)

This item says that the Navy has admitted that the Chinese sub was not detected. If I were the Navy, that's the kind of story I'd put out even if the sub had been detected, for a number of reasons. To give two examples: I wouldn't want to disclose our ASW capability to the Chinese-better to keep them guessing; it's a way to get the ASW community fired up to improve their methods and training. It might also be have a political purpose--to get Congress to fund new ASW programs.

Just some thoughts to chew on.

I think the IllTemperedCur ... (Below threshold)
JD:

I think the IllTemperedCur has it about right.

Surfacing to 'announce your presence' is the kind of thinking that caused USS Greeneville to chop a Japanese sightseeing boat in half off of Hawaii. Much better to ping or cavitate within the formation to 'announce' your presence.

I have a sneaky feeling that a US SSN 'announced' its presence behind Mr. Song sufficiently enough to drive him to surface. There are different ways to do it - active sonar lashing, opening launch doors, maybe even a water slug (if such a thing is still possible on the modern boats).

@HenryNuclear powe... (Below threshold)

@Henry

Nuclear power plants don't produce superheated steam? What Pressurized Nuclear reactor have you been working with? Of course they create superheated steam. That is the only way to efficiently run a reactor. Especially when you're limited to the size of the system that you're allowed to install.

Modern pressurized light water reactors use saturated steam in both the USN and the power industry. The system has a series of driers to remove the heavy particulate that is present prior to it's going to the turbines. You can find discussions of the process with a google search.

As for being noisy, I don't know what type of "Steam" ship you've been on, but I've been on more than a few nuclear SSN and SSBN and I know for a fact that they are extremely quiet. No doubt they aren't as quiet as a battery boat, but they are amazingly quiet.

In a prior incarnation I worked on the building and refit of Nuclear Subs including sound refits of portions of the nuclear plants. All equipment is sound checked prior to and after installation to ensure it meets sound level requirements. Engine rooms in modern nukes may be hot and smell bad, but they generally aren't what I would call noisy. And yes, I've been around active reactors, including those at sea.

As to Banging like a steam hammer, it doesn't happen on nuke subs. That would require water slugs to build up and not be cleared, which is typical of a low pressure system, which is not what is in a pressurized nuclear reactor.

HenryNylarthotep... (Below threshold)
jim:

Henry
Nylarthotep

LWRs do not generally produce superheated steam. The closest to an exception is the Babcok&Wilcox design that uses once-through steam generators. The B&W design yields a few degrees of superheat.

The reason for no superheat is that the process to create superheat entails exposing steam to heat w/o water present. That is, add heat to a mixture of water and steam and the only result is that more of the water changes phase. The steam itself does not get hotter until all the water has boiled. The once-through steam generators in the B&W design can result in the last few percent of the steam tubes having fully boiled before transit completion, thus briefly exposing the steam to more heat.

Fossil plants create superheat by routing steam back through the boilers after a previous pass made the feedwater turn to steam. US reactor designs do not do that.

On reactors being quiet, it is NOT the ambient noise in the propulsion spaces that is generally being detected. It is instead the vibration signatures which yield the "noise" that propulsion plants produce. This is the point of the mounting comment by DavidB, who clearly knows the technology. I invite a re-reading of his comment, and I am no one's sock puppet! ;-)

However, subs generally make most noise when they are at speeds greater than slow and the greatest contributor is generally propellor cavitation, which is independent of what was turning the shaft (diesel or steam or batteries). Conventional subs can be very quiet at very slow speeds on the battery - that is absolutely true. However, they cannot ever stay with a surface force that way. An ambush might be possible if the sub turned out to be in the right place at the right time, but it will not be able to "stalk" a CV TF.

To stay with even a slow surface TF, one must postulate a sustained underwater speed of at least 12 knots, and 15 would likely be closer. A CV generally does something like 25 when conducting flight ops, IIRC.

I sincerely doubt a diesel boat would be any quieter under the water at 15 knots than a nuke. After all, where is the diesel boat getting the oxygen to run its diesels? The answer is a snorkel sticking out of the water! How much noise do you think that would make? And diesel exhaust? Even if it exhausted underwater, imagine the collapsing bubble stream from it! That's like propellor cavitation on steroids! Also, the shallow water at snorkel depth means high propellor cavitation at any but very slow speed due to low water pressure. Additionally, a diesel boat at snorkel depth is in the middle of the highest noise detection layer.

Meanwhile, a SSN is still at low plant power at 15 knots and could be deep enough to keep high pressure on the propellor blades, helping to keep down cavitation, and could choose the depth for max stealth.

Folks, keep in mind that a ... (Below threshold)

Folks, keep in mind that a carrier doesn't operate alone. It's never just a carrier, it's a carrier GROUP, and many of those ships are there to protect that carrier. AEGIS cruisers, destroyers, and yes, submarines. I can guarantee you that nothing gets within MILES of a carrier without the Navy knowing about it.

They knew where that Chinese sub was, what type it was, and what it was doing long before it surfaced. Trust me on this.




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