Monthly Archives: October 2013

China – Nuclear submarine fleet comes of age

Sailors stand at attention on the nuclear submarine, stationed at the Qingdao base.

Sailors stand at attention on the nuclear submarine, stationed at the Qingdao base.

Excellent safety record, demanding training make force exceptional

China’s nuclear submarine fleet has had a remarkable safety record for more than 40 years and gained rich experience through rigorous training and drills, its fleet commanders said.

“We are China’s first nuclear submarine force, and the 42 years since our establishment have witnessed our success in avoiding nuclear accidents,” Rear Admiral Gao Feng, commander of one of the People’s Liberation Army navy’s submarine bases, told reporters during a rare open house in Qingdao.

China's nuclear submarine conducts a drill with other submarines.

China’s nuclear submarine conducts a drill with other submarines.

This is a tremendous achievement because almost all of the other naval powers in the world, including the United States and Russia, have had nuclear accidents on nuclear submarines, Gao said.

Senior Captain Jin Xupu, deputy chief of staff of the base, said nuclear reactors at nuclear submarines are much more sophisticated than those used in nuclear power stations and require higher safety standards.

“A nuclear submarine is like a moving nuclear power station, and its reactors must be capable of resisting stormy waves.”

Soliders stand guard at the Qingdao submarine base

Soliders stand guard at the Qingdao submarine base

 Jin said crewmembers on nuclear submarines must be able to respond quickly and promptly to any kind of contingency, such as a steam leak or fire.

“It’s very difficult to handle a fire during combat because the situation is different than when the submarine stays on the surface or it is peacetime, so crewmembers must pass numerous training tests and exercises on emergency response.”

When stationed in the base, captains and their crewmembers must check equipment on the boat on a weekly basis so that hazards can be discovered and fixed before the submarine leaves the base, said Peng Weihua, head of equipment supervision at the Qingdao base.

Ever since it was founded, the elite unit has been maintaining a low profile. Military observers and analysts have had few opportunities to look inside the deterrence force.

Sun Ruiqiang, a submarine captain, gives orders during a drill

Sun Ruiqiang, a submarine captain, gives orders during a drill

 The official debut of the fleet was in 2009, when the PLA navy celebrated the 60th anniversary of its founding with a spectacular parade that included warships from China and 14 other nations.

Two nuclear submarines of the Chinese navy led the parade and attracted much attention from the international media and the public, with many foreign military observers speculating that China’s nuclear submarine force had become strong and confident enough to show its muscle.

However, the force had chosen to continue a low profile until a recent open house for Chinese journalists.

“After more than 40 years of development, now is the time for us to show the world our determination and ability to safeguard peace and tell our people about this ‘mysterious’ force,” said Rear Admiral Li Yanming, political commissar of the Qingdao base.

Officers walk past the submarine's nuclear reaction cabin

Officers walk past the submarine’s nuclear reaction cabin

With China’s advancements in technological and manufacturing capabilities together with the increasing investment in arsenal modernization, the nuclear submarine fleet has made huge strides in its long-distance patrol trainings, senior officers said.

“I think the claims of some on the Internet that we are backward and can’t defeat other nations’ navies are biased,” Gao said. “Although our boats are not as advanced as our rivals’, we have the ‘spirit of victory’, and our tactics are good enough to enable us to compete with them.”

Moreover, the training and drills are designed for and simulate actual combat, leading to submariners being well prepared for any situation, he said.

In addition, we have gained a lot of experience through confrontation with our rivals, and such occasions testify to our prowess and confidence.”

Gao’s remarks were endorsed by retired commanders.

Qu Weiping, former political commissar at the base, said: “A nuclear submarine is a symbol of a powerful nation and a guardian of national security. We are the only maritime strategic force in Asia and an important part of the navy’s emergency-response combat forces.”

Qu said he has received several foreign military delegations that have visited Chinese nuclear submarines, and they all spoke highly of the crewmembers’ performance. Although he is unable to compare the skills and abilities of foreign submarines’ crewmembers with his own submariners, “I am convinced our men are able to rival any of their foreign counterparts”.

He said the world record for longest voyage of submarine, 90 days, was set by one of his boats, and the distance it traveled is one and a half times the length of the equator.

Wang Ping, a retired officer at the base who had been political commissar on a nuclear submarine, said he had taken part in receiving a visiting delegation of French naval officers.

“Back then, our vessel and equipment were backward compared with theirs, but they were impressed by the good condition of our equipment and my officers’ excellent ability to operate and maintain them,” he said.

Officers said their dreams have become realities as more advanced submarines and weapons are delivered to them.

“When I first joined the nuclear submarine force, becoming a captain was my dream,” said Senior Captain Yang Su, deputy commander of the base.

“And now, what I dream is to navigate our most advanced, modern nuclear submarine to sail around the world to promote peace and friendship

Source – China Daily

Canada – Underway on board a Canadian submarine (Video)

No one would argue the Canadian Navy has had an easy time of it with its four Upholder-class diesel-electric submarines. Each one has been plagued with problems since they were acquired from the British Royal Navy a decade ago.

Here’s a nice video of one of them, HMCS CORNER BROOK (ex-HMS URSULA) underway in early June 2011. One of three submarines based on the west coast at Esquimalt, British Columbia, the CORNER BROOK had just transferred from the east coast when this video was shot.

Sadly, the cheerfulness shown in the video didn’t last long. The submarine struck bottom while operating submerged near Vancouver Island in Nootka Sound on June 4, 2011. Despite injuries to two sailors and damage to the submarine, CORNER BROOK was able to return to Esquimalt under her own power. There she remains, awaiting full repairs that are not expected to be completed until at least . . . 2016.

Of the four Upholder-class submarines, only one, HMCS VICTORIA, is operational, although she has yet to be elevated to the fully operational status.

Source – Defence News

Russia to hand over first submarine to Vietnam in November

 Admiralty Shipyards this year will hand over to the Vietnam Navy, the first of the six diesel-electric submarines of Project 636 Varshavyanka.

submarine, russia, vietnam, navy, kilo class
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited the 636 Kilo class submarine named “Hanoi” of Vietnam’s navy during his visit to Russia

The first of the six submarines of project 636, built at the Admiralty Shipyard has passed the tests successfully

“The tests have been completed. The delivery of product signing is scheduled in early November this year. In late January 2014, the submarine will be sent to Cam Ranh and the final minutes of the receipt of goods will be signed,” a spokesman for the shipyard said.

Earlier, the “Kanwa Defense Review” magazine, dated November, made an exclusive interview with Deputy Director of RUBUN Design Bureau (Russia), Mr. Andrey Baranov, who said that the manufacturing of the six Kilo 636 class submarines for Vietnam was progressing very smoothly.

Under the plan, in 2014 Russia will hand over a 636 Kilo class submarine to Vietnam, three others in 2015 and the last two in 2016. These boats are equipped with more modern technology than the submarines of the same type of the Chinese navy.

Source – Vietnam Net

UK – Worker dies in Plymouth Dockyard accident

Worker dies in Plymouth Dockyard accident

        The civilian worker died following an  accident at Devonport Dockyard this afternoon

HEALTH and safety inspectors and police are continuing the investigate the  death of a dockyard worker at Devonport yesterday.

Officers from Devon and Cornwall police are leading the enquiry into the  death of the 57-year-old civilian.

The man, who was from the Newton Abbot area, was killed when he was operating  a cherry picker on a laid up submarine.

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said: “Just before 1pm on Monday,  October 21 officers were called to Devonport Dockyard following the report of an  industrial accident.

“As a result of the incident, a 57-year old male sadly died at the scene. His  next of kin has been informed.

“A joint investigation by Devon and Cornwall Police, the Health and Safety  Executive and MOD has commenced, and HM Coroner has been informed.”

It’s understood that the police will lead the investigation before fully  handing the case over to the HSE if they do not establish any grounds for  prosecution.

The HSE will then wait for the inquest to conclude before continuing an  independent investigation to establish if any health and safety laws have been  breached.

A spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive said: “We are looking into  the latest incident.

“Devon and Cornwall police are leading the investigation.

“We have had inspectors on the site but it’s very early days.”

The man, who has not been named, was a civian who worked for Babcock  Marine.

The dockyard operator released a statment shortly after news of the incident  broke.

It said: “Everyone at Babcock is saddened by this tragedy, and our thoughts  are very much with the family of the person who has lost his  life.”

Source – This is Plymouth

The Poseidon adventure: China’s secret salvage of Britain’s sunken submarine

A new book details how Mao’s navy raised the wreck of HMS Poseidon, which went down with the loss of 21 lives in 1931

HMS Poseidon, a state-of-the-art submarine launched in 1929. It sank only two years later

HMS Poseidon, which was a state-of-the-art submarine when the Royal Navy launched it in 1929 but sank only two years later off Shandong province

When the British submarine HMS Poseidon sank off China’s east coast 82 years ago after colliding with a cargo ship, the dramatic underwater escape by five of its crew members made headlines around the world.

But the episode was soon overshadowed by the communist insurgency already raging on the mainland, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and eventually the outbreak of the second world war. The world moved on, the wreck of the Poseidon lay 30 metres beneath the sea, lost to history.

Until now. A new book reveals that China secretly salvaged the submarine in 1972, perhaps to abet its then-incipient nuclear submarine programme.

Steven Schwankert, an American author and diving-company owner in Beijing, spent six years obsessively piecing together the submarine’s story; his book about the experience, Poseidon: China’s Secret Salvage of Britain’s Lost Submarine, was released this month.

“When you start something like this, you say I’m going to start at point A and end at point B. Then suddenly you realise that point B doesn’t exist, so you have to go to point C,” said Schwankert. “The challenge wasn’t to find the submarine per se, but to prove that the story of the salvage was correct.”

Although Schwankert never found the exact reasons behind the salvage, he has a few guesses: perhaps fishing nets were getting caught on its periscope, or China, then deep into the Cultural Revolution, simply needed the scrap metal. Or perhaps the Chinese navy’s underwater special forces salvaged the wreck as practice.

“In 1972, China’s nuclear submarine programme was just getting started,” he said. “If you have that kind of a programme, one of the first things you need to know is: if we lose this thing, can we recover it?”

On 9 June 1931, HMS Poseidon – one of the Royal Navy’s state-of-the-art submarines – was conducting routine drills near a leased British navy base off the coast of Shandong province when it collided with a Chinese cargo ship, tearing a hole in its starboard side.

Although 31 of its crew members managed to scramble off before the submarine went down, 26 were trapped on board. Eight were stuck in the submarine’s torpedo room, and over the next hour, they used a predecessor to modern scuba equipment to reach the surface – the first time submariners had used breathing apparatus to escape a stricken boat; until then, crew members had been taught to simply wait for help. Five of the men survived.

The incident made the front page of the New York Times, inspired a feature film, and changed maritime practice – the Royal Navy began adding escape chambers to submarines and expanded its research into treatment of decompression.

Schwankert first learned about the Poseidon while planning an underwater expedition to wrecks from the 1884-85 Sino-Japanese war.

He was fascinated by the vague descriptions of the Poseidon and sepia photographs that he found online, and set out to learn more, believing that the wreck remained on the seabed near Weihai, a port city in Shandong province. After a year of investigating, he began to have his doubts.

By combing through Chinese-language Google search results, Schwankert began to find online articles mentioning the salvage, including one on the website of the Shanghai salvage bureau. On one online forum, he found testimony from a man who allegedly saw the wreck being hauled on to the shore while swimming in the ocean.

China’s foreign ministry confirmed later that the submarine had been salvaged, but refused to provide any details. “Some people have suggested that I go out there and look at the site anyway. I said how can you do that? How can you prove a negative?” Schwankert said. “Every indication is that they brought up the whole thing.”

Source – The Guardian

UK – Vernon Coaker to visit yards building Trident’s replacement submarines

Shadow defence secretary to show Labour remains committed to new nuclear deterrent with visit to Barrow’s Vanguard site

Vernon Coaker

Vernon Coaker replaced Jim Murphy in the shadow cabinet reshuffle last week.

The new shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker will display his personal commitment to Labour retaining an independent nuclear deterrent on Wednesday when he visits the yards building the Vanguard replacement submarines that will be the successors to the current Trident programme.

Coaker replaced Jim Murphy in the shadow cabinet reshuffle last week and will travel to Barrow to show that Labour remains committed to a new nuclear deterrent.

In advance Coaker said: “In an uncertain and unpredictable world in which other nations possess nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation remains a deep concern, Labour believes it is right that the United Kingdom retains the minimum credible independent nuclear deterrent.

“We will continue to look at ways in which the Successor programme can be delivered efficiently, through the strategic defence and security and zero based spending reviews we have pledged to conduct under a Labour government.”

The local Labour MP John Woodcock, MP for Barrow and Furness, said “Vernon’s decision to come here first signals the strength of Labour’s support for the UK’s submarine programme and the value a future Labour government will place in the extraordinary manufacturing expertise it sustains in Furness and across the country. ”

Source – The Guardian

UK – MP is impressed with submarine contractor’s work

Penny Mordaunt MP visits Atmosphere Control International Ltd in Hilsea, pictured with managing director Steve Cassidy

Penny Mordaunt MP visits Atmosphere Control International Ltd in Hilsea, pictured with managing director Steve Cassidy

A DEFENCE contractor for naval submarines impressed a Portsmouth MP with its equipment and standards of work.

Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP, visited Atmosphere Control International and was given a tour of its headquarters.

The business, based in Williams Road, in Hilsea, makes air purification equipment for UK nuclear submarines allowing the sailors to breathe for months in their underwater vessel.

Its life support systems allow the submarines to obtain oxygen from the sea but it also makes gas management systems to dispose of unwanted gases such as hydrogen, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

In the 1970s, the business was put on the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarines programme.

The main challenge to overcome for the programme was how to maintain a breathable atmosphere onboard the submarine over a period of several months without servicing or using a snorkel.

Now, the company is supplying all UK submarines as well as many overseas nuclear and conventional submarines.

Ms Mordaunt said: ‘Atmosphere Control International is a really incredible place and a great company.

‘I realised this morning that the last time an MP has been to look around was the 1980s so a lot has changed since then.

‘I was really pleased that I was able to see them because they do some amazing work.

‘They supply some great equipment to our submarines and I found it all so interesting. I was really grateful that the business showed me around.’

Ms Mordaunt found the whole experience helpful as she is working on the Defence Reform Bill.

By seeing behind the scenes, the MP said it gave her a better understanding of what businesses need and the standards of equipment they have.

She added: ‘It was very very helpful and it was great for me to see what happens at a successful supply chain.

‘We often see and hear about BAE Systems but it’s not very often that you get to learn about the smaller ones and see how they are coping and what sort of equipment they have.

‘I was very impressed with the standard of equipment but they need to keep up to date as the submarines change so the reform bill is really important for things like that.

‘The visit helped a lot and I can understand better what is going on behind the scenes.’

Source –The News

Nuclear scare at Navy submarine base after ‘unbelievable’ failures

Double defects left vessels without vital sources of coolant for their reactors, despite earlier warnings and incidents

A major nuclear incident was narrowly averted at the heart of Britain’s Royal Navy submarine fleet

Experts yesterday compared the crisis at the naval base, operated by the Ministry of Defence and government engineering contractors Babcock Marine, with the Fukushima Daiichi power-station meltdown in Japan in 2011.

It came just four months after the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, announced that the base would “remain vital in the future”.

The failure of the electric-power source for coolant to nuclear reactors and then the diesel back-up generators was revealed in a heavily redacted report from the Ministry of Defence’s Site Event Report Committee (Serc).

Once a submarine arrives at the Devon base’s specially designed Tidal X-Berths, it must be connected to coolant supplies to prevent its nuclear reactor overheating.

But last July a series of what were described as “unidentified defects” triggered the failures which meant that for more than 90 minutes, submarines were left without their main sources of coolant.

The IoS has learnt that there had been two previous electrical failures at Devonport, both formally investigated.

They were the loss of primary and alternative shore supply to the nuclear hunter/killer attack sub HMS Talent in 2009 and the loss of “AC shore supply” to the now decommissioned nuclear sub HMS Trafalgar in 2011, the Serc report said.

John Large, an independent nuclear adviser who led the team that conducted radiation analysis on the Russian Kursk submarine which sank in the Barents Sea in 2000, said: “It is unbelievable that this happened. It could have been very serious. Things like this shouldn’t happen. It is a fundamental that these fail-safe requirements work. It had all the seriousness of a major meltdown – a major radioactive release.”

Mr Large warned that if a submarine had recently entered the base when the failure occurred the situation could have been “dire” because of high heat levels in its reactor.

Babcock launched an internal investigation after the incident; this blamed the complete loss of power on a defect in the central nuclear switchboard. It said the defect had resulted in an “event with potential nuclear implications”.

Among a number of “areas of concern” uncovered by the Babcock investigation was what was described as an “inability to learn from previous incidents and to implement the recommendations from previous event reports”.

A subsequent review from the Base Nuclear Safety Organisation revealed the “unsuccessful connection of diesel generators” and questioned the “effectiveness of the maintenance methodology and its management”, while advising Babcock to “address the shortfalls in their current maintenance regime”.

Operated under extremely tight security and secrecy, the Devonport nuclear repair and refuelling facility was built to maintain the new Vanguard ballistic missile submarines and is also home to the Trafalgar- and Astute-class attack submarines – both powered by nuclear reactors.

Babcock, which is Britain’s leading naval-support business and works with the MoD on a number of projects, admits that working with nuclear fuels will always carry a “small risk of a radiation emergency”.

Its own “stress test” on Devonport safety, launched after the Fukushima disaster, said that in the event of the failure of both power supplies, heat levels in reactors could be controlled by emergency portable water pumps, and added that such a failure had occurred a “number of times” previously.

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, said: “It’s deeply worrying that a technical fault resulted in an event with potential nuclear implications. As long as we continue our obsession with nuclear – both in our defence system and in energy generation – there are going to be safety issues like this.”

Ten days ago, the Office for Nuclear Regulation watchdog published details of an improvement notice it had served on Devonport on 16 July for three alleged breaches of health and safety legislation, and of Section 24 of the Nuclear Installations Act – regarding “operating instructions”.

Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: “Accidents such as the one highlighted in this report again show that a city-centre location is no place for nuclear submarines”

Babcock was unavailable for comment last night. But the conclusion of the MoD report said that while recognising organisations and individuals were “increasingly expected to deliver to tighter deadlines with limited resources”, failures would be reported and learned from, to deliver a “safe product”.

Source – The Independent