I walked to the door of Marine One and had a change of mind.
‘’Its going to be a few hours, you can leave it here or take it back to Andrews,’’ I said.
In the White House I went down to the Joint Chief’s command center to see if it had been activated. Normally the night shift was light on duty officers. The incident in the East China Sea had raised the alert status level up by several steps and for tonight, the chairs at every position were filled.
‘’Have you been able to establish a continuous communication link to the Nevada?’’ I asked.
‘’Yes, there is a delay caused by the satellite, but we can communicate with the Nevada. It is sailing with just the conning tower above the water for stability and to reduce pressure on the hull, plus it allows all the antennas to work more effectively,’’ Rear Admiral Barnes answered.
‘’The antennas are undamaged and radar is working. The Nevada is reporting that several Chinese ships are approaching the area at high speed, confirming what the aircraft are saying. The Chinese ships are one hundred and fifty miles away from the Nevada’s current position,’’ he said.
‘’At one hundred and fifty miles they were five hours away,’’ I thought. All that indicated that it may have been a Chinese sub.
‘’The forward torpedo outer doors are damaged as is the outer hull from the bow to the D post. The pressure hull appears to be intact and undamaged and was holding pressure when tested,’’ he said.
‘’The collision damaged the forward-looking sonar on the bow. All the reactor checks are within normal limits, the missile tubes and missiles are being individually checked but so far, all test come back OK,’’ he added.
‘’When you get a break in the damage reports, I would like to know if there were any indication that whatever they hit broke apart or sank. I need to go upstairs for a bit, but I will be back in a while,” I said.
I had just walked into the Oval Office when Secretary of State Amos Dean called on the office phone.
‘’None of our allies have lost communications with any submarines and none have any in the East China Sea,’’ he said.
‘’OK, thanks for the call,’’ I said. Well, at least that is one answer so far.
I wondered what they had hit that acoustics or sonar did not pick up? Maybe they were not using active sonar if they were ordered to run silent. That was another question to ask – what were their mission orders?
Could it have been a North Korean sub? Intelligence had not reported that they were venturing that far from North Korea. Reporting always said they were staying close to home, maybe China had sold them some improved equipment or were helping with training, causing them to venture that far.
But why were the Chinese rushing ships to the area, another good question.
The sea was thousands of feet deep in that area, and the Navy did routine surveys to find any underseas volcano that could have made an undersea pinnacle peak since the last survey.
Several ships in the past had hit uncharted pinnacle rocks with bad results. In WW2 one of the battle ships had hit one and opened a gash in one of its oil storage tanks, taking it out of the war for months.
It was sent to the Puget Sound Navy Yard for repairs and they were notoriously slow. The aircraft carrier Saratoga was sent there to repair Japanese torpedo damage; it took over a year for the repairs to be made, just from one torpedo hit.
In 2020 one of our submarines hit one in a different area of the Pacific causing serious damage that took years to repair and injured half of the crew. Reports said they were using the wrong charts for the area.
I texted the girls for a VCATS to tell them I was delayed and may not make it tonight, I needed to stay in Washington for a while. We talked for over an hour and I got a few of my questions answered.
If I did not get home tonight, three of them and the boys were coming over tomorrow.
I went back to the military command center for an update.
Rear Admiral Barnes gave me the latest update.
‘’The Nevada had increased speed by a couple knots. They responded yes to your question, they did hear sounds that whatever they hit sank and was crushed by the pressure as it sank,’’ he said.
‘’They immediately surfaced and searched the area for survivors but found only debris which they brought a lot onboard for the investigation. The ship’s divers inspected the bow damage, including sending photographs. Then they headed for Japan because it was their original destination after completion of their patrol and has better repair facilities,’’ he said.
‘’A copy of the photographs should be here soon,’’ he added.
‘’Tell them to send photographs of the debris they kept so they can be immediately analyzed at the first opportunity,’’ I said.
I went to the CIA office in Section Four of the basement.
‘’Pull up the satellite video of the last pass over this area,’’ I said as I gave him the GPS numbers of the area of the Nevada’s last position.
I watched as the operator brought the information up, sent it to the big screen and then maximized the image as large as possible.
‘’Lock on that area while keeping the Nevada in the center of the screen and start backing it up at double time,’’ I said.
It was three hours earlier when the Nevada had surfaced. There was nothing and then the submarine on the surface of the ocean. With the enlarged images we could see the crew inspecting the bow of the sub. It was only a few minutes later divers were in the water looking at the bow.
Lookouts could be seen scanning the ocean. Several inflatables went over board to an area that looked to be a debris field.
The more I looked at the video the more questions came to mind.
- What were the mission orders? I wanted a copy of them to read myself.
- Why was the Nevada sailing at seven hundred feet? Would the answer be in the orders? Was it captains’ discretion? I wanted a copy of the Nevada log book for this mission. It was not that I did not trust the Navy, but I did not trust the brass not to cover their collective asses if things were amiss.
The test depth on the Nevada class of submarine was two thousand feet with a crush depth of twenty-eight hundred feet. That’s a lot of ocean to play with. Why seven hundred feet?
- Was the Nevada performing a clandestine mission for the CIA?
- What was the makeup of the crew for this mission? What was the normal crew make up? Were there any specialists aboard that would indicate clandestine operations?
- I understood why they could not use active sonar; it would be like a beacon to their location. But passive sonar could have been used.
- Was the Nevada having some mechanical or electrical problems on this assignment? More things a look at the logbook should answer.
I wrote down all the questions and would give it to General Ingram tomorrow. I wanted answers immediately, not the months from now that it would take for the Navy to issue a final investigation and report.
I ordered supper from the cafeteria and waited for it to be made. After supper I went back to the Oval Office and started reviewing instructions given to the agencies that reported to me.
After the election, the debate and final negotiations over the final budget last year, the agencies were to begin making the changes. To date I had not seen any changes nor any post in the federal register to make the changes.
It was simple; the flunkies at the agencies (the people that thought they had a ticket to retirement) were doing to me the same as they did with any presidential order from any president they did not agree with.
They simply buried the orders and instructions in their desk and when questioned, “We have scheduled meetings, or it is before the committee” or one of dozens of other excuses.
Monday I would have my staff do a little research and then all those department heads would be called in for a meeting they would not like.
Rear Admiral Barnes was back in with another update. ‘’The Nevada has had to slow back down for rough water. They are making five knots. We have ordered them to do a couple of shallow test dives to fifty feet, to check out all the systems. If they can travel at fifty feet, they can eliminate the rough water problem and may be able to pick up speed.’’
‘’We have been working with the CIA because of their location to see if their reporting stations picked up anything. North Korea has been looking for one of their subs for thirty-six hours but the search has been close to NK coastal waters.’’ He said.
‘’Could it have drifted that far? Although it could have been under power for a while and then drifted with the current, ‘I said.
That was more questions to ask, ‘’How did the currents flow in the China Sea? What happened that the North Koreans lost contact with their sub? Would the currents have carried it that far?”
‘’Frank will be here in a few minutes with the latest. The Nevada has sent hundreds of pictures of the debris they were able to pick up. The captain wanted to send everything before they did the test dives,’’ he said and then turned and left.
I worked on other issues for an hour before Frank arrived.
‘’Listening stations have reported a massive increase in radio traffic between Chinese Coast guard and NK vessels. The increase started thirty hours ago. Reporting stations in the area are saying they are looking for a sub that failed to return from a shakedown dive and equipment upgrades,’’ Frank said.
‘’Satellites show several NK subs missing from the docks. The last Romeo class sub they built in the nineties has been in the dry dock for eight months; a lot of that time was undercover,’’ Frank said.
‘’When it has been visible it looked like they have added thirty to fifty feet to the sub’s length. The length is either vertical launch tubes or an API, air-independent propulsion system. We suspect it was the API system,’’ Frank said.
‘’From intercepts, the Chinese have been supplying technical and possibly engineers. This was the fourth test dive for the sub and to be the longest yet – a ten-day test. It was due back four days ago. Five days ago there was a garbled transmission that they were having problems – nothing since,’’ Frank said.
‘’If the Chinese engineers and technicians were aboard that would explain China’s interest. A ten-day test would have given it enough range to be in the area it was in then,’’ I said.
‘’Frank, what is the maximum operating depth for that Romeo class?’’ I asked.
‘’Nine hundred with crush depth we suspect to be around twelve hundred feet,’’ Frank said.
‘’As soon as the Navy gets all the pictures from the debris field and the damage, I want to see them,’’ I said to Rear Admiral Barnes who had accompanied Frank into my office.
‘’Another hour and they will all be printed. One of the files from the debris field is a large one,’’ he said.
Edit by Alfmeister
Proof read by Bob W.