USS Connecticut Left Port In Guam For The First Time Since Hitting A Seamount: Report
The Navy says USS Connecticut would need to go back to its homeport in Washington State for more extensive repairs.
The U.S. Navy's Seawolf class submarine USS Connecticut reportedly left port in Guam earlier today under its own power. It's unclear what its destination might be, but we know the submarine is undergoing tests ahead of an expected voyage to Washington State. This comes more than a month after the highly advanced submarine was significantly damaged after hitting an uncharted seamount while sailing in the Pacific, an accident the service has since said was avoidable.
USNI News was the first report on Connecticut's apparent departure. Indications that the boat had left its berth in Apra Harbor, based on data from online ship tracking software, first began to appear on social media yesterday, including in a post from the China-based SCS Probing Initiative. The submarine has been in Guam since it arrived there on Oct. 8, six days after its accident, which reportedly occurred in the South China Sea.
The most recent satellite image from Planet Labs of Apra Harbor, which was taken yesterday and that The War Zone has reviewed, appears to show the submarine still pierside in the same place it had been for weeks. However, the timestamp on that image says that it was shot before the first social media reports emerged suggesting that the boat had left port.
“USS Connecticut has been undergoing damage assessment, repairs, and testing while in Guam. The submarine remains in a safe and stable condition,” Navy Cdr. Cindy Fields, a spokesperson for Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, or SUBPAC, told The War Zone. She could not comment on whether or not the submarine had put to sea for any reason.
The Navy has consistently said that Connecticut's nuclear reactor and the rest of its propulsion system were not damaged in the accident. It remains unclear just how serious the collision with the seamount was for the boat, with satellite imagery suggesting that its front sonar dome might have been ripped off entirely as a result. Other reports have said there was substantial damage to its ballast tanks and other parts of the underside of its hull.
While we can't say for sure, one definite possibility is that Connecticut is underway now off the coast of Guam, or at least had been for a time, to determine whether it can sail by itself to another base. This would be in line with Cdr. Fields' statement that the Navy is still assessing the damage to the submarine, but that it has also been performing unspecified "repairs" and "testing" on the boat.
If the damage to Connecticut is as substantial as has been reported, it will need to be put into dry dock at some point. Apra Harbor does not have adequate facilities for this level of maintenance and the Navy has previously said the plan is to conduct more extensive repairs at the submarine's homeport in Bremerton, Washington. If the boat can't safely operate on the high seas, the service will have to hire a company to use a heavy lift ship to get it out of Guam.
By every indication, at least at present, the Navy is still very committed to repairing Connecticut and returning it to service, no matter how costly or time-consuming it might be to do so. This makes sense, as The War Zone has noted in our previous reporting, given that this is one of just three Seawolf class submarines ever built. These are advanced and heavily in-demand assets that have significant intelligence-gathering capabilities and are employed to carry a variety of specialized missions. The last of the Seawolf class boats, the USS Jimmy Carter, is itself unique in that it has a 100-foot long Multi-Mission Platform (MMP) addition to its hull, among other changes, which reportedly enable it to conduct sensitive and potentially dangerous underwater espionage operations, as you can learn more about here.
While the Navy is still sorting out exactly what to do with Connecticut, the service has initiated a plan to conduct refresher "navigational safety training" across its entire submarine force.
Rear Adm. Jeffrey Jablon, head of SUBPAC, “and I have sent out today a joint message [about] having a navigational stand down," Vice Adm. William Houston, who is Naval Submarine Forces Commander, as well as being in charge of Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet (SUBLANT) and NATO's Allied Submarine Command, said at the annual Naval Submarine League conference this week. "And we will have that and we will go ahead and learn our lessons. The safety investigation board is not complete yet, but we know enough right now."
On Nov. 4, the Navy had announced it had relieved Connecticut's commanding officer, executive officer, and the chief of the boat, the last individual being the most senior enlisted member of the crew, over the underwater collision. These actions came after the service had "determined sound judgment, prudent decision-making and adherence to required procedures in navigation planning, watch team execution and risk management could have prevented the incident," according to an official press release. No additional details about the incident were provided.
“We have very rigorous navigation safety procedures and they fell short of what our standard was,” Vice Adm. Houston added at the Naval Submarine League gathering.
With regard to Connecticut itself, it remains to be seen how close the submarine may be to leaving Guam to start what will be a long and meandering journey back to an operational state.
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