Sunday, August 07, 2005

reflecting on the russian rescue

originally posted at geezers corner.

i, like most submariners i know, had one fear when at sea. that fear: having the boat sink, and still be alive. that sounds grim, but it's true. to be trapped in a steel can beyond rescue, with no chance of getting out alive? to slowly freeze to death as the internal temperature drops to that of the surrounding sea? to begin to gasp and hallucinate as the oxygen levels drop, and the CO2 and CO levels rise? please. i'd rather die quickly as the hull crushed than slowly suffocate, watching my brothers and crew mates loose the mortal coil.
imagine being trapped, knowing that the vessel you are trapped in was probably your only hope. sinking in the only submarine rescue vehicle available in that theater of operations has to be a true test of one's sanity and courage.
the russians had their chance to change these circumstances. after the kursk sank five years ago, the russian navy proclaimed they would embark on an aggressive r&d program to upgrade their rescue capability. but their navy is cash strapped. so what was done? apparently not a damned thing.
the sf chronicle had a pretty good article on this today. a quote from the chairman of the Norwegian enviro group bellona shows i'm not the only one that sees this as a problem:
The accident and the drawn-out rescue operation showed that faulty equipment and a lack of specialists in the Russian navy -- once the world's largest -- made it ill-prepared to carry out rescue operations, experts said.

"The Russians don't know what they're doing when it comes to a lot of the technology they have," said Charles Digges, an expert on the Russian navy at the Norwegian environmental group Bellona. "I hate to speak about it so cavalierly, but it's just horrible. They'll never learn. They don't have the technology to rescue their own vessel."


but i must hasten to add that the us navy isn't a whole lot further ahead of the russians. when i was on the seawolf in the 70's, we did a lot of DSRV work to help the navy refine its underwater rescue capabilities. if you sank in shallow water, you might get lucky. if you are out in the big blue sea, you might as well hang it up. submariners understand that, and it's part of the acceptable risk when the boat pulls away from the pier. we rely on well designed and built submarines, using the best materials and rigorous inspections, as well as comprehensively written and reviewed work and test procedures. even then, the chance for an accident is always there. our friend murphy doesn't take vacations, unless it's to go along with you on yours.

what have we learned from this? first of all, we are seeing another opening in the wall that surrounded the soviet union for decades. we know that there was a submarine in trouble. 25 years ago, this would never have made the world's news. secondly, there was free and open discussions about what the boat was trapped in: an underwater submarine monitoring system antenna. tell me we would have heard that 25 years ago. not bloody likely. so perhaps there is some good beyond the actual rescue. it can not be a bad thing that the two main western powers rushed to aid a former enemy. and thirdly, the russians recognized they were in need of help, and asked for it. that must really rankle some of the bigwigs in the admiralty, but think of the positive press this will garner the west in russia.

and i think one other thing we can learn from this. submariners don't care what nation you sail for, or class boat you are on. we may have hunted each other in deadly earnest, but when the chips are down, even former enemies can hope and pray for the rescue of a fellow submariner in trouble. i'm sure there are other branches of the military where this is the case. i only know submarines. and it gladdens my heart to know that we are compassionate and human enough to care and worry about those that we might have once launched a torpedo against if necessary.
finally, a deep bow, and a hat tip to the brits. good job guys. we were getting there, but you got there first. good on ya.

1 Comments:

At 2:07 PM, Blogger Rob said...

Well said. When the chips are down all the trivial concerns go out the window..."who" doesn't matter so much as "how do we save 'em". I'm glad Russia realized that this time, and I hope if we are ever in the same situation we do, too.

 

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