Over at my place I’ve been following a news story and am crossposting it here. Here’s a snapshot of how the story changed as the reports became more available, newest on top. We’ll know more tomorrow, but as of right now the stories are mostly unreliable. Bottom line as of this moment: Something happened to a French SSBN, and maybe something happened to a RN SSBN, and there might be a connection. It’s worth watching news stories like this just to see how the narrative frame is built, how the information presented changes, and what lasting impressions come from the trail of reports even if some reports are factually wrong.

Update: Earlier this week the story was that Le Triomphant bonked some kind of shipping container upon submerging off Brest, and that’s what caused minor damage to the sonar dome. Information’s pretty weak; first reports always wrong/always believed…

Update: Daily Mail confirms. They say the French boat’s sonar dome was wrecked in the collision.

Amphibian sailor Ken Adams heps me to an “exclusive” from the Sun UK (I know, I know). Single source, I can’t find anything in French on the web or English, it’s on Wikipedia already but only sourcing the Sun article. Removing the hyperbole and speculation, the article says:

The Royal Navy’s HMS Vanguard and the French Navy’s Le Triomphant are both nuclear powered and were carrying nuke missiles.

Between them they had around 250 sailors on board.

The collision is believed to have taken place on February 3 or 4, in mid-Atlantic. Both subs were submerged and on separate missions.

A senior military source said: “The lines between London and Paris have been hot.”

The MoD insisted last night there had been no nuclear security breach.

She was last night towed into Faslane in Scotland, with dents and scrapes visible on her hull. Triomphant limped to Brest with extensive damage to her sonar dome.

Update 16 Feb: Welcome Joel’s fellow bubbleheads! The post’s getting a little cluttered, so further updates are in the comment string.

Posted by Chap in Maritime Security

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  • Following this has been very interesting so far. The original report in The Sun initially had only the sketchiest of bits. At that point (about 1945 Eastern time), Google News had zero hits on the incident. Now, we have both the Sun and Daily Mail articles cited above, along with a couple of wire service reports. By morning, I’d expect to see quite the string of entries in that search.

  • doc75
  • Chap

    Yeah, looks as though the Guardian got its leakers going, finally. However, in France, example here at AFP, the reports all quote the British press and the 6 Feb report of sonar dome damage to Le Triomphant.

    It’s worthwhile to go through many of these articles and just mark with a highlighter the actual facts in a story, then look at what is factual background and then seeing what’s left. In the Guardian article, for instance, most of the second half of the article is given to organizations against the existence of SSBNs; in the Sun, much of the space is given to exciting speculations and worst case scenario description. Both fit the paper house style, and you can do the same thing to the AFP article and see what changed or didn’t.

    By the way, this collision–a little more definite now but we’ll have to wait for more—comes at the time the UK’s Trident boats need replacement. Trident boats are very expensive and the discussion has come hot and heavy over the last few years about renewing the deterrent or not.

  • Rick Vernon

    A one-in-a-million accidental collision between two boomers while both were on deterrent patrols. Now that France is rejoing NATO command structures, an old French proposal for sharing SSBN patrol data will receive new consideration by London and Washington DC. The 3 February collision is a wake-up call on par with the January 1968 crash of a USAF B-52 over Greenland, while engaged in a routine Chrome Dome airborne alert “patrol” armed with four hydrogen bombs.

  • From an information flow POV, this story continues to be interesting. I posted an update to the Wikipedia pages for Vanguard and Triomphant last night after I read the initial article in the Sun. In the 15.5 hours since, Vanguard’s page has been edited 16 times by 12 different authors, and a new page titled 2009 Nuclear Submarine Collision has been created. What we see here is the power of distributed operations, where independent operators work toward a common goal with little or no direction from above. It seems to be the antithesis of the Navy’s strategic communications model.

  • The XO

    Interesting you say a French proposal, Rick. Just reading a new article on Time’s website – http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1879777,00.html?cnn=yes – and they blame the French for *not* wanting to share information about patrol areas. It goes on to quote a French Naval spokesman saying that’s not going to change when France rejoins NATOs C2 structure in a couple months.

  • Dee Illuminati

    Interesting concept that Wikipedia has where the latest facts are updated… that would be a useful concept here where redaction was used to identify data and facts that were proven or generally accepted as incorrect.

    If that was used here there would not be a circumstance that USNI could be used to cite incorrect information in a google search.

  • Sorry, as I first posted this to the other sub thread before seeing this one:

    I guess it is pretty easy to figure out that your have hit bottom, or a ship or sub that you know is there, but in a case like this, how would you know since there are no windows?

    Then again, since they knew they hit something, why didn’t they activate their active sonar not only to test the thing, but also to get a picture of what was out that and if it was just the one ‘container’ or many. OK, this post notes that the sonar dome was destroyed, but wouldn’t the Brits try to ping alerting the French to what they just hit.

    Then again, shouldn’t their passive sonar be able to pick up a couple Brits swearing a couple feet from their sonar microphone, even if damaged….