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Follow up to the shooting on board HMS Astute

In our “Flotsam” of May 2011 we reported about the fatal shooting of 08th of April 2011 on board the Royal Navy´s latest SSGN, the HMS Astute.

The shooting occurred during an informal visit by HMS Astute at Southampton.

During the port call the 23 year old Able Seaman Ryan Donovan ran amok on board and fired a total of 7 rounds from his service pistol, killing the Weapon Engagement Officer of Astute, LtCdr Ian Molyneux and wounding another Officer and Petty Officer. Only after being overpowered through heavy fighting, inter alia by the Lord Mayor and the City Councellor of Southampton, which just enjoyed a tour of the submarine, the incident could be ended.

Following a civil court proceeding at Winchester High Court Donovan on 19th of September 2011 was sentenced to lifelong imprisonment with a minimum of 25 years in prison. Early this year the UK media jumped on this story again, when assessments of the investigating police became public, which pointed at the abusive drinking habits by Donovan and others as an aggravating reason for the fatal shooting. The proceedings during the court hearing revealed that Donovan, who was known to be unstable and addicted to violent video games, had been reprimanded a few days before the incident to weeks of detainment for refusing to obey an order for cleaning ship. Also, his request for transfer to an RFA replenishment ship had been denied, and he was due to participate in another four week patrol on board the Astute although he had just completed a previous tour. During the informal visit of HMS Astute to Southampton Donovan and his comrades had spent 2 days almost entirely ashore visiting pubs and known red light establishments, with drinking a total of not less than 20 pints of beer and cider only hours away before he reported for his port watch on board the Astute. Part of the change of the guard he received the duty pistol, to then starting straight away his run of amok.

Not unexpectedly, the British media focused on the obvious drinking excesses among members of the Royal Navy, as highlighted by the police report. In 2011, the Navy rules still allowed the consumption of up to 10 pints of beer during the last 24 hours before reporting for duty, but no alcohol within the last 10 hours before active duty. This read line has now been reduced to a maximum of 5 pints. Nevertheless, this legal restriction is often neglected, in particular by lower ranks, as currently there are no legal means for superiors to order blood alcohol tests. All they can do is to test the physical and mental condition of inferiors through visual checks or smelling tests, to then dispense them from duties until being sober or to reprimand them by disciplinary measures.

The media showed some amazement about the rules of the Royal Navy with regard to alcohol as being too benevolent and excused by “Naval tradition”. In most cases it goes down well, but when unstable and violent bound characters such as Donovan consume alcohol excessively and have disciplinary problems, this may lead soon to danger for their comrades and the safety of the whole ship.


Russian Navy officially commissions “Borei”-Class SSBN

On 10 January 2013 the First of Class SSBN of the new “Borei”-Class, the Yuri Dolgeruki, was officially commissioned at Severodvinsk at the White Sea under great media attention. At the same time it became known that the building order for the 5th and 6th submarine of this class has been given, names for them are said to be Suvorov and Kutuzov.

The development of the SSBN of the “Borei”-Class (Project 955) goes back to the last years of the Soviet Union. However, keel laying did not occur before 1996 at the Sevmash shipyard at Severodvinsk, and a number of reasons, above all budget problems, interrupted the construction of the Yuri Dolgeruki between 1998 and 2001. The launch of this First of Class, therefore, was as late as April 2007, to be followed by comprehensive sea trials and test, often accompanied by enormous technical difficulties. Therefore, the commissioning had to wait until early this year.

As we reported in our “Flotsam” issues of August 2011 and May 2012, meanwhile 3 more SSBN of this class are under construction or doing sea trials already. SSBN No 2 is the Alexander Newski, which was keel laid in March 2004 and launched on 06 December 2010 and undergoing sea trial since October 2011. SSBN No 3 is the Wladimir Monomarch, which was keel laid on 19th of March 2006 at Sevmash. And, SSBN No. 4, slightly improved and now being designated as “Project 955A”, is the Knjas Wladimir (in the past also the names Svyatitel Nikolai and Wladimir Weliki were under discussion), whose keel laying occurred on 30 July 2012.

The first 3 units of the “Borei”-Class have a length of 170 m and a width of 13.5 m, their displacement is above water about 14,720 t and submerged up to 17,000 t, other sources state up to 24,000 t. The nuclear powered submarines have a surface speed of about 15 kn and submerged up to 29 kn, their operational diving depth is about 400 to 450 m. Besides 6 torpedo tubes for 53.3 cm self defence torpedoes the main armament is the SLBM “Bulova” (NATO designation = SS-NX-30) with MIRV capabilities for nuclear warheads, of which 16 can be taken on board. The crew is said to comprise about 107 men.

The status of operational readiness is still reason for much speculation. There seems to be some agreement about 8 Russian SSBNs being available currently for strategic deterrence, i.e. 4 units of the “Delta III”-Class and 4 more of the “Delta IV”-Class. The 8 “Borei”-Class SSBN as officially scheduled now as the new force of Russian SSBNs will most likely be the replacement of the “Delta III” and “Delta IV” -Class.


Indian Request for Proposal for AIP submarines expected also to be directed at HDW at Kiel

In early 2013 a statement by the Commander-in-Chief Indian Navy, Admiral Devendra Kumat Joshi, raised some attention also in Germany, when he confirmed a pending Request for Proposal (RfP) or tender by the Navy of India for the construction of up to 6 new conventional submarines with Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) directed at submarine builders in France, Spain, Russia and, of course, at ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems/ HDW at Kiel.

Already in early December 2012 the Russian submarine industry demonstrated its clear interest and its competition for this RfP to be expected from India, in particular since the Indian Navy operates 10 conventional, albeit non AIP-capable submarines of the Russian “Kilo”-Class (commissioned between 1985 and 1999). Also the German, French and Spanish submarine constructors believe in their chances, as the Indian Navy still operates 4 submarines of the German export Type 209 as “Shishumar”-Class (delivered by HDW between 1986 and 1994), and the submarine building consortium of the French DCNS and the Spanish Navantia won a 2,7 Bill. Euros contract on 07 December 2005, facilitating the construction of 6 new conventional submarines of the “Scorpene”-Class under licence at the Mazagon dockyard at Mumbai (before: Bombay) in India. However, the commissioning for the First of Class, originally scheduled for 2012, had to be postponed for three years, delivery of all six expected to occur now between 2015 and 2018.

The RfP is to be sent out in “near time”, although none has been received yet at HDW. The order is said to comprise a volume in the area of 7.5 Bill. Euros, making it one of the biggest arms procurement order in India, the Indian project name is “75-I”. Intent is to receive the First of Class in 2016/ 2017.


Another Collision by a US Nuclear Submarine

In early January 2013 it became known that another collision has occurred in the Strait of Hormuz between a US Navy nuclear submarine and vessel at the surface. The incident took place about 05.00 hrs in the morning of the 10 January 2013.

According to the media reports the Fast Attack Submarine USS Jacksonville (SSN-699) was sailing under water passing the just 40 km wide Strait of Hormuz between the Iran and the Arabian Peninsula known for its dense traffic and being politically very sensitive when it touched apparently an unknown fishing trawler, damaging one of its two periscopes.

The “Jacksonville” realized the collision only because of some unusual bumping noise and the discovery of an unusable periscope. No other damage seemed to have happened to the submarine and it could continue its voyage. The submarine called at Bahrain on 12th of January 2013 for a thorough inspection of the damage. A US Navy P3-C “Orion” MPA was detached to recconnait the sea area of the incident without finding any debris or damaged fishing trawler.

The inspection revealed that the upper part of periscope in question had been sheered off and the lower part was bent. So far, no further damage has been identified, also the unknown fishing vessel seems to have continued its voyage unharmed.

Die USS jacksonville in der Naval Station Mayport im Jahre 2007
USS Jacksonville at Naval Station Mayport, 2007

After the earlier collision of the USS Miami (SSN-755) and the USS Montpellier (SSN-765) this now is the third collision of a nuclear submarine of the US Navy within the last 10 months, we did report about the incident of the Montpellier in our “Flotsam” issue of December 2012. And, on 20 March 2009 there was a severe collision in the same sea area of the Strait of Hormuz between the SSN USS Hartford and the dock landing ship (LSD) USS New Orleans. The Commanding Officer of the USS Jacksonville is heading for difficult times, because the “Zero Tolerance” policy of the US Navy will most certainly lead to his relieve from command and facing a severe court martial.