Quietly tucked away in the Defense Authorization Act is a special appropriation of more than one-hundred million dollars to repair the damage done to the Seawolf-class submarine, USS Connecticut which struck a submerged object while operating in the South China Sea on the afternoon of October 3rd.

New images have emerged that offer some information as to the scope of the damage to the submarine and suggest why the repairs will cost so much. A statement made by Navy officials and sub’s Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, and Command Master Chief of the Boat all being relieved of their duties also gives an indication of what may have happened just prior to the collision.

The Seawolf-class is said to be the most advanced attack submarine in the US Navy and perhaps the world.  It is also the most expensive submarine ever built by this country.  Initially, twenty-nine ships in the class were ordered to be built with the first being delivered in 1989. By then, the cost had ballooned to an eye-popping $3.3 billion a copy which would amount to more than $7 billion in today’s valuation.  Two of them would equal the cost of a Gerald Ford-class nuclear carrier today.

Perhaps the most important feature of a submarine is silent operations and the Seawolf-class is the quietest ever built.  It is said that the sound signature of a Seawolf running submerged at twenty-five knots is less than that of a Los Angeles Class submarine tied up at the pier in port.

The end of the Cold War and Seawolf’s staggering cost ended up combining to limit the class to just three being built. One of which is the USS Connecticut.  While designed as a hunter-killer of other submarines and surface ships, its stealth would also make it a very good spy vessel, relying on its stealth and on the relative lack of sophisticated anti-submarine warfare capabilities of countries like China in being undetected.  In this role, the USS Connecticut would be able to locate and track Chinese subs and surface combatants to record their own sound signatures for later analysis. The sounds that ships and submarines are all unique, like fingerprints on a human.  Recordings of various vessels stored by the computers that do acoustic processing aboard our own submarines and surface vessels can compare a vessel’s sound signature detected in real-time to its stored files and tell you which vessel or submarine you are listening to with a great deal of precision.  Right down the Frigate having a slightly bent blade on one of its propellers.

This was most likely the mission of the USS Connecticut in October, to locate, track and classify vessels operating in the South China Sea, with an emphasis on ships and subs of the Peoples Liberation Army Navy or PLA Navy. With communist China seemingly launching new naval vessels every month, we would be very keen to get ears on them, so to speak.

In the course of this operation, Connecticut ran into a submerged object said to be a sea mount and badly damaged her bow and nose section housing her passive and active sonar arrays, but not breaching her pressure hull.  To say the damage is extensive is not an understatement looking at these series of photos pulled from open sources on the internet.