Courtship Rituals of French SSBNs

Various accounts have described the damage to Le Triomphant as the result of a low-speed collision — a glancing blow — that nevertheless crushed the French submarine’s sonar dome, which goes on the nose of the boat. By contrast, scrapes and dents on HMS Vanguard were allegedly visible to observers (meaning they were somewhere on its top half) as it proceeded homeward up the Firth of Clyde. It follows that the French boat was trying to nuzzle its British cousin.

[Update: Judging by “this video”:, there was no visible damage to the top half of the Vanguard.]

But really, I’m not here to talk to you about the private lives of mechanical whales of mass destruction. “Old news”: already. What’s of more interest is how the two organizations have reacted.

First, a bit of background. According to Stephen Saunders, a retired senior officer of the Royal Navy, the longstanding absence of France from the NATO military command structure raises questions about whether the French Navy participates in the alliance’s “waterspace management”: arrangements.

Judging by “the comments of French Defense Minister Herve Morin”: to the French radio station Canal Plus, it doesn’t, but would like to:

“There’s no story to this — the British aren’t hunting French submarines, and the French submarines don’t hunt British submarines,” Morin told Canal+ radio.

“We face an extremely simple technological problem, which is that these submarines are not detectable. They make less noise than a shrimp.”

He said the submarines’ mission was to sit at the bottom of the sea and act as a nuclear deterrent.

“Between France and Britain, there are things we can do together….one of the solutions would be to think about the patrol zones,” Morin said.

As it was undersea, so it is on land: the French taking initiative, the British displaying reticence. UK officials seem to have little to say about the matter. In fact, the only statements I can find online are couched grudgingly, as “reactions to”: “tabloid newspaper articles”:

The French are almost chatty by comparison. Not only did they publicize the collision “before they even knew what it involved”: (“probablement un conteneur” — can’t you hear the Gallic shrug?), but they declared the “collision entre sous-marins”: without fuss, and even threw in an “official communiqué”: And then there’s M. Morin’s modest proposal.

In fairness, I should mention that just last month, three retired senior UK military men called for “scrapping the nuclear deterrent outright”: Reticent, that is not. But their stand does not seem to be winning the day.

A final note: the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence reports an “uptick in Russian SSBN patrols during 2008”: All that’s cold is warm again. Or the other way around.

And with that, what you were waiting for: the “musical bonus”:

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