A U.S. nuclear submarine that collided with an unknown object in the South China Sea earlier this month, damaging the vessel and injuring a dozen crew members, is now the subject of an official investigation and military analysts say there could be several scenarios behind the collision.
The nuclear-powered fast-attack sub, the USS Connecticut, was operating in an Indo-Pacific region with a reputation of being difficult to navigate, when it “struck an object” while submerged on Oct. 2, the Navy reported the incident on Oct. 7, five days after the collision occurred.
Not much information has been released about the incident, however, the Navy stated that there were no life-threatening injuries, the submarine was in “safe and stable condition,” and its “nuclear propulsion plant and spaces were not affected and remain fully operational.”
Experts say there are many possible things that could have caused the damage to the sub, including an underwater sea mound, construction elements from an oil company conducting exploratory drilling, or some sort of underwater drone.
Brent Sadler, a Navy veteran of 26 years and a senior fellow for naval warfare and advanced technology at The Heritage Foundation, said the strike was probably a “sudden shock” considering it “knocked 11 sailors to the ground.”
Since the Navy hasn’t released many details about the incident or photos of the damage to the sub, he said all theories of what could have caused the collision are equally plausible, adding “knowing where the damage is, rules certain things out.”
“Some of the bottom features aren’t well updated,” he said. “There could have been a feature that just was not on the chart. It could be a sea mound or underwater construction from oil exploration.”
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. James Chiacchia believes the cause may have been much more sinister than an oil pipe or underwater mountain and that it might have been an underwater Chinese drone.
China has demanded the U.S. provide a report including details about where the crash occurred, what caused it, whether the collision caused any damage to the marine environment, and if there was any nuclear leakage.
Reports of the crash stayed quiet while the sub sailed to Guam. Sadler said it is not uncommon for the Navy to keep such a collision secret until the vessel is safely in port because the location and transit status of subs is considered sensitive information.
The collision is being investigated by the U.S. Pacific Fleet and Naval Safety Center.