Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Surprisingly Accurate Foreign Article About A U.S. Submarine Visit

Normally, whenever a foreign newspaper has an article about U.S. submarines, they're quite humorous from the standpoint of having lots of errors. That's why I was so surprised to see an article on a Korean website about the visit of my old boat USS Connecticut (SSN 22) to Pusan, South Korea -- the article was more factual than many you see in the U.S. papers (although that admittedly isn't very high praise most of the time. Check out these major points in the article:
1) The world's most powerful nuclear submarine is currently anchored at the Yongho-dong naval base in Busan.
Korean military authorities said on Monday that the USS Connecticut, the second of three U.S. Seawolf-class nuclear-powered attack submarines, has been moored at a pier of the Korean Navy's 3rd Fleet in Busan since Wednesday for an eight-day stay for maintenance and replenishing.
The Seawolf class was developed in 1990 to replace the Los Angeles class, the U.S. Navy's main nuclear-powered attack submarines. The ultramodern subs are considered the world's most powerful, far superior to the Los Angeles-class vessels in terms of attack and underwater operational capabilities.
Actually, we started developing the Seawolf-class in the mid-80s, but they are correct in pointing out that the Connecticut is the world's most powerful nuclear submarine (in a non-strategic sense). The blurb above would have been more accurate if they'd pointed out that the Seawolf-class boats are also far superior to Virginia-class subs.
2) Los Angeles-class subs have anchored at Korea naval bases before, but this is the first visit by a Seawolf-class vessel, provoking much public curiosity. Some experts believe that the Connecticut, which is under the command of the U.S. Navy's Atlantic Fleet, may have made its sudden appearance at the Korean Peninsula on a special mission. Typically only U.S. Pacific Fleet submarines stop in Korea.
OK, so this blurb isn't as accurate, in that lately many LANTFLT boats have been doing WestPacs; additionally, Connecticut is conducting a change of homeport to Bremerton during this deployment, so she pretty much is a Pacific Fleet boat already. Still, that's a fairly recent development, so the Korean author can be easily forgiven for not knowing that.
3) The Connecticut is expected to depart Busan on Wednesday. There is much speculation as to why the submarine entered the Yongho-dong base, where it can be easily seen by the public, instead of other bases such as Jinhae where submarines can be shielded from public view.
"It seems that they decided to give their crew time to relax, including a little tourism, to help them get over the fatigue of an extended period underwater. They also seem to intend to show something to North Korea and China," a Korean military officer said.
That's pretty much the best point of the whole article. Submarines almost always pull into Chinhae when they go to South Korea; I've never heard of a boat pulling into Pusan. (I'm pretty sure that the sub would have to anchor out in Pusan, while you can pull into the pier in Chinhae.) While it could be that the Navy was too embarrassed to send a boat to Chinhae so soon after the USS Chicago's "van-borrowing" incident, I think it's more likely that they wanted more publicity for this trip, for the last reason indicated above. For those worrying about the crew and how pegged their fun meter might be, I've pulled in both places, and Pusan is definitely the better liberty port -- even if you don't go to Texas Street (which now mainly caters to a Russian clientele anyway).

Update 0855 28 Nov: A reader who was in Pusan sent a picture of the Connecticut at the pier (yes, it turns out she did get to pull up to the dock):

Another picture from the visit, of the CO greeting some locals, can be found here. Also, as a commenter points out, it's likely that the reason the boat went to Pusan instead of Chinhae is because Seawolf-class boats draw several more feet than does an LA; she couldn't pull into Chinhae without risking running aground.


Blogger Fred Zimmerman said...

Maybe this is a response to the recent issue where the Chinese denied a US CV a port call in Hong Kong, forcing it to divert to Yokohama (and families to fly from HK to Y).

The point would be "don't want us in HK? we'll be glad to visit South Korea more often."

11/27/2007 12:20 PM

Blogger a_former_elt_2jv said...

Good old Texas Street. That brings back the memories.....

11/27/2007 12:44 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Other than your obvious parochial interest, what makes you say that SEAWOLF is superior to VIRGINIA? Its impressive SOF capability? Its massive Tomahawk VLS capability? How many torpedoes have we fired in anger since WWII? How many Tomahawks?

11/27/2007 8:14 PM

Blogger blunoz said...

Could a SEAWOLF class boat FIT in Chin Hae? Seems to me it was a pretty tight squeeze for a LOS ANGELES class boat. What's the draft on the CONNECTICUT?

11/27/2007 9:13 PM

Anonymous cvowell said...

Not the 1st boat to pull in Pusan. I was on the USS Darter (SS-576) and spent 4-5 days there about 1987.

11/28/2007 6:12 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was on DARTER with cvowell and remember that port call in Pusan.

11/28/2007 9:14 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for boats pulling into Pusan, maybe the author was speaking about nuc's only.
Being an old diesel sailor I can testify that we pulled into Pusan many times. At least twice per Westpac.
And then when on Grayback it was a short run from Subic. Not as short as Darter from Sasebo though.

But have only been to Chin-Hae twice.

11/28/2007 10:10 AM

Blogger get2djnow said...

I was on a 594 class and in 1986 we pulled into Chinhae. Getting to Pusan wasn't too bad. Texas St. was blast. The themed bars were a riot. Thanks for the article.

11/28/2007 12:19 PM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

1st Anonymous -- While my "Seawolf is so much better than Virginia" schtick is mostly just a friendly rivalry, most objective observers would agree that Seawolf is much better at "traditional" submarine missions. She carries 50 weapons vs. ~38 for a 688 or 774 (including in the VLS tubes) so she can carry more TLAMs; the only difference is the max salvo size of 8 vs. 16 in the 1st salvo -- but then a Seawolf can keep on firing 8 at a time, whereas a 774 is only able to fire 4. (A Seawolf basically has two 688 torpedo rooms, one on top of the other.)The most important difference is Seawolf's much superior speed, because in submarine warfare, speed is life. Those who don't believe that don't truly understand modern submarine warfare. Hopefully we'll never have to prove that in the real world.

11/28/2007 2:48 PM

Blogger get2djnow said...

The problem with the current submarine mindset, IMAO, is that the things cost WAY TOO MUCH. There are some much smaller designs, without the capabilities of the SSN 21 and 774 classes. That's okay, SEAL insertion is not a necessary capability of every sub. The guiding rule should be to put a platform in the water that can function as a sub-killer independently (i.e., no carrier flotilla needed). Small crews with small pressure hulls, external weaponry and the ability to network its tracking data is all I think is needed. $1 billion is a prohibitively high cost to defeat a 150-200 submarine fleet of the Chinese Communists. If less than a 1/3 of that can get us a platform, we'll be talking about a real deterrent in a sub fleet.

11/28/2007 3:38 PM

Anonymous Submarine Iconoclast said...

I hate to burst your bubble (not really, I just enjoy bad puns), but my understand of "modern submarine warfare" seems to differs from yours a bit:

1) Between reasonably modern submarines, I'll take the one with the more proficient crew for superiority. Would you contend that a beefier power plant overcomes the difference that a good or bad crew can make??? Or than that of an Approach Officer whose capabilities lend themselves more toward tactical employment than keeping up his Eng Dept records?

2) In some situations, speed > stealth... but in MOST situations, stealth >>> speed.

Enjoy savoring the glory of having once served on the most modern submarines in the world, but since your time PETERSBURG, 212, 214 and VIRGINIA have all superceded SEAWOLF. SONG is a bit of an unknown but certainly worthy of respect, SSGN offers incredible capabilities of its own and ASTUTE is almost out the door as well.

The best out there today? Almost certainly an American SSN with the right combination of cool experimental equipment, a talented and experienced crew and some savvy officers (mostly dependent on the crew and CO) - but on any given day, the odds are slim of that being one of the 2-or-3 hulls in your favorite class (don't know how you choose to count the JC here).

If I had to choose one sub today with all other factors being equal, I'd take a VIRGINIA. But if I had to spend a fixed budget to provide a fleet, I'd trade in a couple of those gold-plated, do-everything VIRGINIAs for around 10x as many 214s or equivalent to have a nice capability mix with more total platforms available.

But then, I'm not trying to get NR's approval to wear stars.

11/28/2007 4:56 PM

Anonymous old elt said...

Historical note: Was on the 621 when it tied up to the Florikan, no piers at that time, in Chinhae in January 1969. Had tried to go to Pusan, but seas were too rough to tie up to the ASR.

11/28/2007 5:17 PM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

Sub Icon -- There's no doubt that the proficiency of the crew, and in particular the CO, makes the difference in who's going to win a submarine encounter between two capable submarines. However, given comparable crews, and knowing the Seawolfs are just as quiet as a Virginia, I'll take the speed everytime. Given that Seawolf probably has a pretty high break point speed (yes, that's an unclassified term, for those who were wondering -- I had to look it up to make sure), without getting too technical (and classified) the sub that can hunt faster has the better chance of finding and localizing her quarry. It's my belief that the U.S. subs are good enough to overcome whatever tactical advantages having a CO who doesn't have to worry about being a Nuc might be to foreign navies, and with similar crews, a Seawolf would beat any other U.S. subs. (In answer to your question, I figure Carter is the same as the other Seawolfs as a tactical platform, only a little slower and harder to maneuver -- but still able to teach a Virginia a thing or two...)

Anyway, if a Seawolf ever gets in extremis, she always has the option of the 8 tube Mk 48 salvo with each weapon going out 45 degrees off from the next -- in wardroom training, we called that a "death blossom" in honor of the classic movie "The Last Starfighter".

11/29/2007 11:31 AM

Anonymous ex ssn eng said...

In a target-rich environment, one would appreciate every one of those eight horizontal tubes, but in a more "proactive" circumstance, the vertical Tomahawks would do as fine of a job or much better.

Circumstances permitting (of course), I've always been a big fan of using missiles for subs over torpedoes.

Overall, my take is that the Seawolf (visited during its newcon) is a fine weapons platform, but a solution for yesterday's problems, not today's. There's just too little bang for the buck, and if one is in a situation where speed 'matters', my overall take is that it's a low-probability-of-survival situation anyway.

Today's (and tomorrow's) U.S. submarine force will be playing a loser's hand if speed is considered essential to survival in a particular tactical scenario. If speed is essential, either create another scenario, or be ready to take a hit for the team because of the high ROI from a national security perspective.

Just my ten cents.

P.S. Have also been up close & personal with USS Texas, and that is just one fine machine.

11/29/2007 12:21 PM

Blogger Chap said...

NVR says you guys draw 5 feet more than our ex-boomer did. The new pier at Chinhae might well have handled you okay, as well as the deepwater pier; Kam went in and out of Chinhae so many times we gave the departing CO a chart of Chinhae rather than Pearl.

My guess is that the MUSE at the deepwater pier got too expensive, or that CSG7 decided to pull in where the big skimmers do, or sommat like that.

12/02/2007 8:08 PM


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