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A Retrospective on Analyses of Submarine Loss Events

It is critical for acoustic analysts to understand that the level of energy produced in broad ocean areas by the collapse (implosion) of submarine pressure-hulls at great depth is exceeded by only two other human-associated events: the explosion of ammunition ships and nuclear events.

Examples: (1) The implosion of the USS THRESHER (SSN 593) at 09:18:24R on 10 April 1963 at a depth of 2400-feet created a 3.4 Hz
bubble-pulse (BP) signal equal to the explosion of 22,500 lbs of TNT at that depth; (2) the energy of the implosion of the USS SCORPION (SSN 589) at a depth of 1530-feet at 18:20:44 GMT on 22 May 1968 created a BP of 4.46 Hz equal to the explosion of 13,200 lbs of TNT, and (3), the implosion of the Argentine (ARA) submarine SAN JUAN (S 42) at 1351 GMT on 15 Nov 2017 at a depth 1536-feet created a BP of 4.68 Hz equal to the explosion of 11,475 lbs of TNT.

The derivation of these values was critical to understanding why these disasters occurred, e.g., assessing the responsible circumstances.

As those who have read my Submarine Loss Assessments already know, I have - for many years - relied on an outstanding technical support group which has expanded to include former US and foreign submarine Commanding Officers, Engineers, Designers, Authors, Researchers and very carefully selected members of the Press. Many of these individuals have spent their entire professional careers dealing with submarine issues.

No one who evaluates acoustic detections of submarine loss events can fully and accurately evaluate implosion acoustic data working in isolation from such resources, one of whom - a consulting engineer - provided the above discussed collapse depth and energy release calculations which werecritical to understanding the condition of the associated wreckages.

In contrast, two press releases associated with the loss of the ARA SAN JUAN illustrate the inadvisability of making public assessments in what amounts to a factual vacuum.

First, a USN spokesperson stated that the acoustic signal detected at a distance of 4165 nautical miles (nm) that correlated in position and time with the loss of the ARA SAN JUAN was "....not a whale and not a regularly occurring target."

Second, a senior official at the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) which operates acoustic sensors in the Atlantic (Ascension island) and Indian Ocean (Crozet Islands) stated that identifying the SAN JUAN associated signal detected by those sensors was "like looking for a cigarette on a soccer field." In fact, the actual published CTBTO data confirmed the signal level of the SAN JUAN collapse at a range of 4165 nm (Crozet Islands) was an enormous "tent-pole" in the ambient (background) noise that could have been detected at ranges in excess of the 24,900 statute-mile circumference of the earth had there been an unobstructed deep-water transmission path.

It is suggested that organizations most directly concerned with submarine loss events strictly control the public release of any assessments not confirmed by detailed technical analyses of available information including acoustic data if such data exists. The release of premature and inaccurate assessments is not helpful, especially when there has been loss of life.

And finally, whenever possible, analysts of submarine disasters should provide whatever information is available that can assuage the emotional distress experienced by relatives and friends of the lost crews. Example: the crew of the ARA SAN JUAN died in about 30 milliseconds (0.030s), less than half the minimum time of 80-100 milliseconds required for human recognition (perception) of an event. The crew never knew there was a problem which began when they died instantly, killed by a battery-generated hydrogen explosion that occurred at a depth of 130-feet about 21 minutes before collapse. The crew did not suffer anxiety or pain. The dissemination of such detailed information has the additional advantage of countering unfounded and reprehensible conjectures before they gain acceptance by the public. In the case of the SAN JUAN, the irresponsible and unfounded conjecture was that the crew unsuccessfully fought a fire for two hours.

There is an old English noun: "Polymath," first used in literature in 1621 to describe "an individual whose knowledge spans a substantial number of subjects, known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems." (Wikipedia) While acoustic analysts cannot be expected to become Polymaths, they should (must) have access to those who have the knowledge required to recognize and address complex technical issues that are identified - sometimes for the first time - during analyses of submarine loss event acoustic data for - to be sure - there will be additional submarine loss events in broad ocean areas.

To apply an old political aphorism: "In times of peace, prepare for war." In other words, the USN activity most likely to be involved in any future submarine disaster, the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS), should develop a "Tiger Team" to rapidly analyze any submarine loss event acoustic data, a team of technical specialists selected for their experience, energy and imagination who are able to access the technical resources required to support develop of refined assessments that represent the USN position.

The synthesis of all that has been written above is that when you keep analysts in the dark, you greatly increase the probability that you will get unenlightened assessments.