This Is Our First Look At The USS Connecticut After Its Underwater Collision
The Navy remains tight-lipped as to what the nuclear submarine hit in the South China Sea and the damage that was done.
One of the Navy's prized Seawolf class nuclear fast-attack submarines, the USS Connecticut (SSN-22), slammed into a "submerged object" on Oct. 2, 2021. After it was clear that the submarine was stable and its reactor was safe to operate, it limped from the South China Sea, where the collision reportedly occurred, back to the sprawling U.S. naval facility in Guam, where the damage would be assessed and the accident investigated. The Navy has remained very tight-lipped about what it thinks Connecticut collided with, or if it has any idea what it was at all. You can read about some of the possibilities here. As of today, no pictures of the stricken submarine have surfaced, which is somewhat remarkable, although there have been plenty of misrepresented images floating around social media that claim to show the damage. Now, The War Zone has obtained satellite imagery that shows Connecticut tied up to the pier in Guam — the first public image of the submarine since the incident.
The high-resolution satellite imagery was taken on Oct. 20, 2021. It shows two submarines in port in Guam. One, which is moored on the western pier near the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land (AS-39), appears to be undergoing some maintenance. The white tarp-like object on its bow is not an uncommon sight for submarines in port. While it is tough to tell, compared to the other submarine moored direct across the harbor to the east, its beam looks smaller and it does not appear to have a pumpjet propulsion system. These factors, and its general shape, indicate that this is most likely an improved Los Angeles class (688i) boat. The Seawolf class, with its 40-foot beam, is wider than America's other two fast-attack submarines — the Los Angeles class being 34 feet wide and the Virginia class being 36 feet wide. Also, this submarine features a pumpjet instead of a propeller. The Virginia class also is also equipped with a pumpjet.
In addition, we confirmed with the Navy's Pacific Fleet that the USS Connecticut is indeed still in port in Guam. With this in mind, one of the two submarines must be Connecticut, and the one on the eastern pier is almost certainly the boat in question.
What's most interesting about this image is that, while the resolution is limited, there doesn't appear to be absolutely massive damage to the Connecticut (or the other submarine, for that matter), nor is there any type of unique support infrastructure around an area of the submarine that may be damaged. We can see nothing on the sail or the top of the bow and sonar dome that would indicate a major impact. Based on the limited information that the satellite photo provides, it seems more likely that the collision occurred well below the submarine's surfaced waterline, such as on the bottom of its hull. This may preclude the possibility of a full head-on collision, or one from above, in which the sail bore the brunt of the impact.
Once again, these are superficial observations based on very little information at this time. So take them as such. Light damage to topside areas would not be visible in the photo. Regardless, it's good news that the entire front of the submarine is not pulverized as we have seen in past underwater collisions.
As for the status of the Navy's response to the mishap, Cdr. Cindy Fields, a spokesperson for the Submarine Force of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, told The War Zone the following:
“Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) is the lead for assessing damage of the submarine. NAVSEA is providing an assessment team responsible for coordination of the damage assessment and development of repair recommendations, which is forwarded to the Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, and NAVSEA for approval. Puget Sound Naval Shipyard is designated as Naval Supervising Authority for assessment and subsequent repairs. USS Emory S. Land (AS-39) is the lead maintenance activity in Guam.”
In the meantime, what exactly the submarine hit remains a major mystery. China has even capitalized on the event to demand answers as to the circumstances surrounding the incident, outright calling the Navy's response to the event a coverup, something the Pentagon has denied.
USS Seawolf was also seen heading to sea from its home in Washington State on Oct. 11, 2021. Some believe this was to replace Connecticut in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Navy only has three Seawolf class submarines, so getting Connecticut repaired as soon as possible will quickly become a major initiative. Hopefully, we will hear soon from the Navy on the extent of the damage and what caused it. For now, we have a lone satellite image that is, at least taken at face value, encouraging.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com