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earlier burfling | later burfling

Another submarine tragedy

Another tragedy has struck the submarining world. The BBC reports that twenty people died aboard the Russian Akula class submarine Nerpa:

An inquiry is under way into Saturday's gas poisoning on a Russian nuclear submarine in the Pacific that left 20 people dead, including 17 civilians.

Another 21 people were left ill in what officials believe was an "unsanctioned" activation of an automatic firefighting system that released freon gas.

A companion analysis piece notes that the Nerpa, while officially "new construction", was originally laid down in the early 1990s, just before the Soviet Union collapsed. Supposedly, the Akulas are designed for a crew of 73, yet there were over two hundred people on board Nerpa at the time.

Soviet designs weren't known for being particularly healthy for the crews, and I personally think that putting in what amounts to an automated asphyxiation system is a dumb idea even by Soviet-era standards. Having three times the normal complement on board couldn't possibly have been helpful, either. If, as the BBC piece indicates, many of the riders were civilians trying to teach the crew how to run their boat, that also points to real problems in training and leadership.

The analysis piece also notes that the Indian navy was planning to lease the Nerpa, along with a second Akula class boat, from the Russians. That's probably going to be rethought - but our Navy should be concerned, nonetheless. If the crews are any good, Akulas are at least as quiet as the Los Angeles-class boats I served on, and they could pose real problems for CENTCOM and CINCPAC if relations between the US and India ever got frosty. (A more likely scenario would be another shooting war between Pakistan and India - both of whom have nuclear weapons. Not a pleasant thought.)