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Fire May Leave US Nuclear Sub Damaged Beyond Repair

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the captain-won't-order-a-hot-sub-for-lunch-again dept.

The Military 228

Hugh Pickens writes "AP reports that a fire that swept through a nuclear-powered submarine in dry dock at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard has caused such extensive damage to its forward compartments that the 22-year-old Los Angeles-class attack submarine might have to be scrapped. 'These submarines were designed decades ago. So they're no longer state of the art,' says analyst Loren Thompson. 'If this vessel returns to service, I will be amazed.' The fire broke out while the Miami was on a 20-month stay at the shipyard for an overhaul, and it took firefighters from more than a dozen agencies twelve hours to put out the fire, described as intense, smoky, and a 'hot scary mess.' 'It takes a lot of guts to go into a burning building. But the idea of going into a submarine full of hot toxic smoke — that's real courage,' said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree after meeting with the shipyard commander. Firefighters isolated the flames so they would not spread to nuclear propulsion spaces at the rear of the submarine. There was nuclear fuel on board the sub, but the reactor has been shut down for two months and was unaffected. Rear Admiral Rick Breckenridge says an investigation has been launched into what caused the fire, but he expects that investigation to take a long time to complete and wouldn't say if human error has been ruled out as a cause of the fire, or if the focus is on mechanical issues."

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228 comments

Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port too (4, Interesting)

crazyjj (2598719) | about 2 years ago | (#40109775)

Pardon my ignorance here. But I have a question.

I know that fire in a sub is considered one of the most dangerous threats there is (every crew-member is trained in fire suppression on a sub). But since this ship was presumably unmanned and in dry dock, and presumably also still air-tight, why didn't they just close all the hatches in the effected areas and shut off the oxygen? I can't imagine a fire in such an enclosed space would last very long without incoming oxygen.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (1)

berashith (222128) | about 2 years ago | (#40109825)

that may have been what they did. The ship was probably not full of people, and it may have just taken time to get to the hatches to seal it off.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109835)

There's a few reasons. First off, there's no way to shut off the oxygen on a sub from the outside, so the fire had to be controlled for that to happen. Second, the sub may be old, and it may end up being scrapped, but those things are expensive as hell, and they had to try to save it. Third, the top priority was making sure the reactor was safe, it would be a bit dangerous to just shut the door on a burning nuclear reactor and just cross your fingers that it goes out before something catastrophic happens.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109845)

First, it doesn't get rid of the heat, so it will reignite as soon as the space is re-entered and there may well have been hull cuts made for the overhaul that would have made that impossible anyway.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (2)

Minderbinder106 (663468) | about 2 years ago | (#40110173)

It wasn't in drydock yet, it was still pier side. I'm pretty sure that means there were no hull cuts yet. http://rt.com/usa/news/uss-miami-submarine-fire-064/ [rt.com]

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (1)

Minderbinder106 (663468) | about 2 years ago | (#40110207)

Never mind. The first two photos show diesel exhaust while it was being docked. The rest of the photos are during the actual fire.

Sounds Like That's What They Did (4, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 2 years ago | (#40109857)

Well after reading the article, I'm lead to believe that that is essentially what was done and that there were actually crew members hurt in the fire so the proposed strategy may have had to wait while they verified they weren't also trapping a human in there with the fire:

Two crew members, three shipyard firefighters and two civilian firefighters were hurt, but their injuries were minor, officials said. Officials were waiting Thursday to begin venting smoke and noxious fumes so workers could go inside the submarine to assess the damage. Workers had to let fire-damaged compartments cool enough for fresh air to be safely introduced without risk of another fire.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109869)

Assuming that a military press release is accurate is like trusting the multiple paedophile rapist who offers to babysit your kids.

The simple fact is that we do not really know what happened. As one of your wiser founding fathers noted, the man who only reads newspapers (or their modern equivalent) is less informed than one who reads nothing at all.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110769)

Assuming that everything is a lie is even more useless; it is impossible to be informed when you refuse to accept information.

And where did you read that quote? I bet it's a lie.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (1)

v1 (525388) | about 2 years ago | (#40109883)

I know that fire in a sub is considered one of the most dangerous threats there is

yep, fire is usually considered the #1 hazard aboard space ships and subs. Simply because the first thing you normally do when there's a fire is evacuate, something that's not such an easy option for them. And that's just compounded by the low availability of breathable air.

I don't know on the hatches, I'd expect a sub to have the usual complement of watertight compartments, so as long as the fire didn't get hot enough to melt or deform bulkheads (which it may, which is why they stopped using aluminum for warship superstructure) they should have simply been able to close the doors.

But maybe they had problems getting the people out first. Subs don't have too many doors on them, and if the fire is between 25 crew and the door and there's no other route, sealing off isn't an option.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (4, Informative)

Like2Byte (542992) | about 2 years ago | (#40110887)

I know that fire in a sub is considered one of the most dangerous threats there is

yep, fire is usually considered the #1 hazard aboard space ships and subs. Simply because the first thing you normally do when there's a fire is evacuate, something that's not such an easy option for them.

Evacuating ship is *not* the first thing submariners do. They attack fires with a vengeance. One, it's stealing our oxygen. Two, it's polluting our oxygen supply with *deadly* gases. Three, it can kill you fairly quickly. Some exhaust gases on board submarine cause damn near instant death.

And that's just compounded by the low availability of breathable air.

Actually, you're close. Underway (that means out to sea) subs purposefully keep their oxygen levels low - very low. So low that a cigarette will immediately extinguish when the smoker is not inhaling. It must be re-lit before each puff.

But that's not important. The important part is that whatever is attempting to catch fire would smoulder for a bit before flaming up - thereby catching the eye/ear/nose of the watch or any other passing crew member.

In port, oxygen levels are normal to the atmospheric oxygen levels of the surrounding city. (By the way, Norfolk, VA smells bad. - Norfolk sub sailors know what I'm talking about. ;P )

I don't know on the hatches, I'd expect a sub to have the usual complement of watertight compartments, so as long as the fire didn't get hot enough to melt or deform bulkheads (which it may, which is why they stopped using aluminum for warship superstructure) they should have simply been able to close the doors.

Let me address this. While in dry dock, the boats have all kinds of cabling in the way preventing hatches from being closed. Forgot about that in my first post on this topic. So, no, you typically cant just walk up and close the hatch - not that you'd want to. See my previous post, above.

But maybe they had problems getting the people out first. Subs don't have too many doors on them, and if the fire is between 25 crew and the door and there's no other route, sealing off isn't an option.

I find it hard to come to a conclusion where this would become a problem. There are multiple exits in most areas that are 'dead ends'. There'd have to be a pretty messed up situation that prevented ~25 people from escaping a location without them trying the emergency route *before* the emergency route became blocked.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (2)

Baloroth (2370816) | about 2 years ago | (#40109899)

They probably couldn't shut off the oxygen without access to the compartments themselves, especially if the control room was on fire (which apparently it was). Same with sealing the rooms: if they can't get to the rooms, it's hard to seal them off. Ideally, I suppose there would be automated systems capable of shutting off air and sealing specific sections, but these subs are a 40 year old design, and this one was in for a refit, so I don't imagine it has systems capable of that. You normally want a sub to keep supplying air to every section, and you certainly don't want an automated system glitching and shutting it off, so even if you could install such a system, it might not be worth it. Barring that, doing it manually would probably be possible, except for the part where the section you want to seal off is already on fire.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109977)

This ship was into a 20 month overhaul. Most of the systems were probably not under power anyway, probably only lighting and maybe ventilation running. Don't know about shipyards but on other construction sites most of the doors are bolted open or removed as they are obstacles.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109903)

When a boat is in dry dock chances are it is not air tight. That is when some heavy maintenance is going on and one of the first things they do is start making hull access cuts in the boat so they can get stuff in and out of it. Plus those hatches do not just flop close you have to use hydraulics from the inside to close them, there are usually all kinds of cables and stuff running through those hatches like power and air since everything is shutdown.

You also cannot assume the ship is unmanned. When my Sub was in dry dock it was constantly manned with at least a few people on watch and who knows how many ship yard guys down there doing work. The fact that the fire got so bad is surprising to me. Anytime there was any kind of hotwork going on there were firewatches stationed.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (1)

IP_Troll (1097511) | about 2 years ago | (#40109949)

The ocean is freezing, the sub is well insulated, that traps heat. Even if you stop the rapid oxidation of the material in the compartment the heat does not dissipate instantly, so as soon as you open the compartment the fire will start again. Also the stored heat will continue to deform/ weaken the material that makes up the compartment.

Look at the coal fires that have been raging underground in PA for decades.

That is not to say that they did not seal off compartments, just that the whole situation is more complicated than just sealing the compartment until there are no visible flames.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110143)

Well I can't answer your question directly but consider...

The USS Coral Sea was being scrapped in Baltimore in the 90's when it caught fire. This would happen regularly, but this particular time was different. The fire raged for several hours, then eventually got so hot that the reaction continued without the benefit of oxygen (not sure it can be called "fire" at this point). The heat was so intense that the now "burning" mass melted through the decks into the water and oil filled bilge, then through the hull into the harbor and dropped to the bottom of the harbor under about 25 feet of water... where it continued to "burn" in the mud for 15 minutes covering the entire downtown area in a stream induced fog.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (5, Informative)

stewbee (1019450) | about 2 years ago | (#40110161)

Hi there. Ex-submariner here. One reason was that they likely could not close the hatches. Being in one of these extended dry dock periods usually means that they have all sorts of hoses, wires, etc. going through the hatches making them neigh impossible to close without taking a hatchet to them all. Not to mention, if they were doing any sort of work on the sea water piping, which may be plausible since they were in dry dock, then the fire would still be supplied from the lack of piping that is normally there due to the repair.

My first guess of how this fire happened is that someone had done some welding in a compartment and something caught fire. Usually the Navy is pretty good about removing flamables in the area. They even go so far to have a "fire watch" for several hours after the welding was done to ensure that nothing catches fire. it will be interesting to hear what the root cause is.

Another interesting fact about L.A. class submarines, of which the Miami is included. There is only one water tight door interior to the sub, and that is the one that separates the forward part of the ship to the rear (ie engineering which was apparently not affected). Compare that to the submarine that I was on (Sturgeon Class), there were two water right doors for just the forward part of the ship, and two in the engine room. Basically, if you ever have flooding in an LA class sub, you are going down. At least in a Strugeon class, if 3 of the 5 compartments were completely flooded, you could still survive.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (1)

ultranova (717540) | about 2 years ago | (#40110689)

My first guess of how this fire happened is that someone had done some welding in a compartment and something caught fire. Usually the Navy is pretty good about removing flamables in the area. They even go so far to have a "fire watch" for several hours after the welding was done to ensure that nothing catches fire. it will be interesting to hear what the root cause is.

That's standard procedure for welding (mandated by the insurance companies). And welding could well still be the root cause: in one place I worked, a fire broke out after smoldering unnoticed for over eight hours.

Or it could be a short-circuit and we just got lucky that it occurred on a drydock rather than at sea. Or *drumroll* terrorism.

Also additional holes cut into hull (1)

michaelmalak (91262) | about 2 years ago | (#40110787)

Also, additional holes are often cut into the sub hull, to access locations inaccessible from the interior, to bring large equipment in/out, and to provide convenient (horizontal) human access.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110193)

I highly suspect that a sub does not have a "cut off all oxygen" button somewhere.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (5, Informative)

michael021689 (791941) | about 2 years ago | (#40110203)

Every ship is manned until it is decommissioned. One third of the crew is on board at all times to stand security watches and maintain the ship. For various reasons listed in other comments, just shutting the hatches was unacceptable - even if you had been able to stop the fire that way, the risk of reflash and the damage would be unacceptable. Submariners do not run from fires.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about 2 years ago | (#40110237)

Well the fire could do a fair amount of damage before it used up all the Oxygen... These subs are designed to keep people alive for extended periods... I would expect there is enough oxygen for a wide spreading fire.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (1)

hackertourist (2202674) | about 2 years ago | (#40110261)

There's plenty of oxygen on board that you don't want a fire to get to: emergency oxygen bottles, and the oxygen supply in torpedos, for instance. If you abandon ship, you risk major explosions before the fire goes out.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (4, Informative)

destiney (149922) | about 2 years ago | (#40110293)

When metal burns, depleting it's oxygen supply doesn't always help. When I was in, the SOP for burning metal was to push it overboard and let it sink to the bottom where it could burn out safely.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (1)

plopez (54068) | about 2 years ago | (#40110389)

"I can't imagine a fire in such an enclosed space would last very long without incoming oxygen"

That depends on what is burning. One material may serve as an oxidizer for another material. Thermite for example. If they were overhauling it it could have been from oxy-acetolyne or solvent. High explosive without a detonator will not explode but will burn. I.e. torpedoes. Modern torpedos also have engines driven by a variety of fuels. I'm not sure what they were using on the Miami but hydrogen peroxide torpedoes were, I think, used by the US for a while before being discarded as being too dangerous.

There are probably other nasty things on a sub I do not know of.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (1)

michael021689 (791941) | about 2 years ago | (#40110535)

You are right on many points, but there were no torpedoes on board during this period. They are removed for exactly the reasons you listed.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110767)

Correct... tons of nasty things.

There is a LOT of hydraulic oil in systems throughout the submarine, for example. These are high pressure systems - so as soon as the heat from the fire causes a breach in the hydraulic system somewhere, you'd have finely misted hydraulic fluid feeding the fire big time.

The general atmosphere on a submarine is fairly oily/nasty as well. Even with the various air cleaning systems, pretty much everything on a boat that old is going to be impregnated with a mixture of diesel, cooking oil, and hydraulic oil just like my clothes were everytime I spent time onboard. So even things that weren't originally very flammible could be made flammable over time.

Plenty of pure oxygen onboard, as well as a LOT of high pressure air (~3000 psi) stored in airbanks for emergency blow and other uses (including the Emergency Air Breathing (EAB) system that the people fighting the fire were no doubt using).

Many torpedo fuels burn on their own without external oxygen... although I'd be surprised if any torpedoes were still onboard. It's SOP to offload torpedoes prior to an extended shipyard period.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (1)

MikeMo (521697) | about 2 years ago | (#40110527)

Not knowing in this specific case, but subs in dry dock usually have their hatches stuffed with cables and pipes. The ship is not self-sustaining, so everything needed (like power and water) comes in through the hatches. They can't be shut easily.

Also, there is usually crew on board, particularly in the reactor spaces. They don't just leave the reactor "unwatched", even it if is shut down.

Closing the hatches and letting it burn itself out would be a lot like just giving up, too.

Re:Had bad experiences when I was 22 and in port t (4, Informative)

Like2Byte (542992) | about 2 years ago | (#40110543)

Pardon my ignorance here. But I have a question.

I know that fire in a sub is considered one of the most dangerous threats there is (every crew-member is trained in fire suppression on a sub). But since this ship was presumably unmanned and in dry dock, and presumably also still air-tight, why didn't they just close all the hatches in the effected areas and shut off the oxygen? I can't imagine a fire in such an enclosed space would last very long without incoming oxygen.

I am a former submariner.

1 - A submarine in dry dock is basically a ship on ship. A problem on one constitutes a problem on the other.

2 - There is a lot of piping throughout the boat. It contains either oxygen (@ 10's of PSI) or hydraulic fluid (@ thousands of PSI). If the piping burst, its source is a giant tank containing much more of the stuff in a different location of the boat. There are isolation valves, however, which may mitigate the problem for a while.

3 - There's this thing called a nuclear reactor. It's shut-down while in dry-dock but still requires power to keep it safe.

4 - Separating the reactor and the forward compartment is a giant tank containing thousands of gallons of diesel fuel oil. If it over heats, well, yeah, kiss your asses goodbye.

5 - There's a HUGE battery on the boat for when the boat needs to run off of battery power. It contains an enormous amount of energy - so much so that if it caught fire and exploded, the sub, the dry-dock and the facilities surrounding it would be damn near vaporised. I think anything within a few miles would *easily* have its windows blown out if not flattened.

6 - If the reactor has a problem, you'll basically have Fukushima on your hands.

7 - Submarine fires (when the get large enough) dont stay a single class of fire for long. There is too much hydraulic fluid, electrical line and combustible materials for it to remain one class of fire for long - ergo, one can not simply spray water (seawater, btw) to extinguish it.

So, no. Shuttering the place up and trying to starve the fire isn't exactly a proactive manner to extinguish a fire.

Throw in skeleton crews (most systems shut down), lots of welding, oil and whatnot all over the deck and you have a recipe for disaster on your hands. I'm surprised there arn't more fires of this magnitude more often.

More questions? Guess I'll read below and answer some there, too.

Cities... (5, Funny)

khr (708262) | about 2 years ago | (#40109823)

Well, that's confusing... The article is from a newspaper in Seattle, about a Los Angeles class boat in Portsmouth, Maine named Miami...

Re:Cities... (5, Informative)

DanTheStone (1212500) | about 2 years ago | (#40109927)

You almost got it. It's at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (named for Portsmouth, New Hampshire) which is in Kittery, Maine.

Re:Cities... (5, Funny)

berashith (222128) | about 2 years ago | (#40109991)

so this is why the USSR had so many nukes. cant figure out which city is important, just bomb 'em all

Re:Cities... (1)

Jeng (926980) | about 2 years ago | (#40110141)

Forrest: (voice-over) Now, I don't know much about anything, but I think some of American's best young men served in this war. There was Dallas, from Phoenix. Cleveland, he was Detroit. And Tex was, well, I don't remember where Tex come from

Re:Cities... (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about 2 years ago | (#40110759)

Los Angeles is the class of ~60 boats (similar to the Constitution class designation in Star Trek). That class is the largest in the world, except for the USSR's Foxtrot (diesel). The "USS Miami" is the name of the actual boat. It's base is located somewhere along the Maine coastline.

Re:Cities... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110897)

Which has its home port in Groton, Connecticut.

Admiral Rickover (1)

serbanp (139486) | about 2 years ago | (#40109849)

is uncomfortably spinning in his grave...

Re:Admiral Rickover (1)

C_amiga_fan (1960858) | about 2 years ago | (#40109955)

Not really. He saw a lot of submarine accidents during his career, including ones that were lost at sea.

OFFTOPIC: The best submarine simulation I've ever seen was Red Storm Rising (can be played on Commodore 64 emulator). The reason I mention is is because it includes Los Angeles class submarines as your main weapon to fight the Russians. It seems odd to hear that guy call them "obsolete" but I guess they've been replaced by Seawolf and other classes.

Re:Admiral Rickover (1)

serbanp (139486) | about 2 years ago | (#40110159)

You're right, of course. I remember reading about how USS Thresher was lost at sea.

I was just playing the man's fame of being supremely obsessed about quality control.

Re:Admiral Rickover (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110303)

Remember that old story about him when he was interviewing a Nuclear Power candidate and he sat back and told the officer "Piss me off" and they guy hesitated for just a second before shoving everything off of Rickover's desk onto the floor? LOL...

Re:Admiral Rickover (1)

DesScorp (410532) | about 2 years ago | (#40110525)

You're right, of course. I remember reading about how USS Thresher was lost at sea.

I was just playing the man's fame of being supremely obsessed about quality control.

Speaking of the Thresher, after years of investigation... including surveys of the wrecks of both the Thresher and the Scorpion, it's almost certain that neither sank because of reactor problems, but instead sank because of welding quality control in other areas of the boats. IIRC, it's thought that the garbage disposal on one of the subs had a line burst which caused flooding. This was traced back to the contractor during the construction period. The propulsion plants themselves operated exactly as designed.

Re:Admiral Rickover (1)

DesScorp (410532) | about 2 years ago | (#40110493)

Not really. He saw a lot of submarine accidents during his career, including ones that were lost at sea.

And he was absolutely ruthless about all of them, ending careers on the spot if skippers and senior officers didn't live up to his near-impossible standards. And while it sucked for them, that's a huge reason why the US Navy had the outstanding nuclear safety record during his term. He had zero tolerance for anything less than perfection, because while Rickover was the foremost proponent of nuclear power in the country, he also feared it greatly. He knew well the dragon driving those boats. It sucks to serve under such men, but the Rickovers and the LeMays and the Pattons of the world also undeniably set standards of excellence that we miss when they're gone. Those B-52's that launched with live nukes a couple of years back? Probably wouldn't have happened under Curtis LeMay.

Non-toxic smoke (1, Insightful)

virgnarus (1949790) | about 2 years ago | (#40109889)

"It takes a lot of guts to go into a burning building. But the idea of going into a submarine full of hot toxic smoke — that's real courage."

I wasn't aware burning buildings didn't involve hot toxic smoke, unlike submarines. Do burning buildings have warm aromatic vapors instead?

Re:Non-toxic smoke (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109947)

/s/ I think he was probably hinting at the idea that most burning buildings have things like windows that can vent vapors and smoke if necessary, or maybe that most burning buildings aren't likely to sink to the bottom if compromised, or possibly that most burning buildings don't contain nuclear reactors. But hey, go ahead, ignore logic.

Re:Non-toxic smoke (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110005)

Sinking is very hard in a drydock.

Re:Non-toxic smoke (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110049)

Not compared to a submarine, in which case, you got fire hot enough to burn (scorch) metal along with the various tightly paced electronics all in a enclosed environment. Most homes are made of brick and wood and not nearly as filled with electronics and other toxic items along with lots of spacing and holes that let smoke slowly escape.

Re:Non-toxic smoke (1)

NemoinSpace (1118137) | about 2 years ago | (#40110901)

Not sure why you would be aware of it. I'm infering from your post that you have zero experience fighting fires at all.
Shipboard firefighting is a different beast. The methods required to combat fires in an enclosed space with 10x less volume and a plethora of volitile and toxic materials is night and day. To worsen (better?) your odds, a shipboard firefighter is trained from day one to activley engage the fire and put it out - or die trying. Passivley supervising a controlled burn is usually not an option. A flashover in a burning building may take 20 minutes compared to 3 minutes in a confined space. Most shipboard firefighters have to be "untrained" if they want to work for a fire department. Their methods are too radical and dangerous.
In any case you have focused on the wrong object of the subject, that being courage.
Suffice it to say, these guys have balls.

never involved in combat (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40109941)

And never will be. These vessels are a relic of the cold war. We don't need them any more, and they are taking up huge amounts of money that the country DOES NOT HAVE.

This should be a good point to take stock of the situation, realize we no longer need to be spending more on our military than every other country in the world combined, and stop spending our grandkid's money.

You're thinking of Oho class (1)

Quila (201335) | about 2 years ago | (#40110295)

Those are Cold War relics, although some have been converted for modern times with Tomahawks.
This is an attack sub, perfect for protecting other warships, protecting general shipping, delivering SEAL teams, and launching conventional tactical strikes against land-based targets. These are the backbone of our fleet, and relatively cheap given the number that have been produced. In general, as far as bang-for-buck in Navy equipment, they are about the best -- very effective and very hard to kill.

we no longer need to be spending more on our military than every other country in the world combined

Good point. We need to stop protecting all these other nations of the world. Let North Korea overrun the South, let China take over Taiwan, etc. Let them fully pay for their own defense.

and stop spending our grandkid's money.

Of the thousands of things the federal government spends money on without constitutional authority, at least Navy spending one of the few things that is actually authorized.

Re:You're thinking of Oho class (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110651)

It is my opinion that in the coming years, one of the biggest threats to the security of our nation and many others is going to be all of the surplus Russian and Chinese diesel subs being sold to other countries.

Boomers are a Cold War relic (which is why many of them have been retrofitted to other purposes), but attack subs are going to continue to maintain relevancy, much of it to combat their hostile counterparts.

Re:never involved in combat (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110315)

And never will be. These vessels are a relic of the cold war. We don't need them any more, and they are taking up huge amounts of money that the country DOES NOT HAVE.

You really need to look at the budget someday. And by someday, I mean before you open your mouth again. If the military were completely shut down, the United States would still be spending more than it collects. What the country is spending money on is old people. Old people are expensive.

One ship lost for the navy (1)

slb (72208) | about 2 years ago | (#40109953)

From TFA: "Ships in the USS Miami's class cost about $900 million at the time to build. The newest attack submarines, the Virginia class, cost about $2.6 billion apiece." So yes I would be amazed if this vessel returns to service, but I would also if it is replaced with a new one...

Re:One ship lost for the navy (4, Informative)

bruce_the_loon (856617) | about 2 years ago | (#40110281)

What will likely happen is what has happened before. The oldest LA class boats are the ones being replaced by the Virginia class, so they'll promote the Miami down the list to be written off against the next Virginia instead of whatever boat was scheduled for scrapping. That boat will then get an overhaul instead of being scrapped.

Been done with destroyers, carriers and subs in the past if my history memory isn't full of holes.

Well, Breckenridge, old chap... (1, Funny)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | about 2 years ago | (#40109959)

...I gues we'll have to scrap it then. So ... fire on a submarine, right? Can happen, can happen. New for nerds indeeed.

I don't understand how this is possible (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 2 years ago | (#40109985)

What the hell was burning? The subs are nuclear powered so it wasn't fuel. What are we talking about here? Bedding? I just don't understand.

As other people pointed out, why weren't the hatches just closed? A fire won't last long if the hatches are closed.

Finally, there has to be some kind of fire suppression system on these subs. Don't tell me all they've got are some hand held fire extinguishers.

Anyway, this is of course very sad. But I find it more weird then anything else.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (3, Insightful)

jeffmeden (135043) | about 2 years ago | (#40110059)

What the hell was burning? The subs are nuclear powered so it wasn't fuel. What are we talking about here? Bedding? I just don't understand.

As other people pointed out, why weren't the hatches just closed? A fire won't last long if the hatches are closed.

Finally, there has to be some kind of fire suppression system on these subs. Don't tell me all they've got are some hand held fire extinguishers.

Anyway, this is of course very sad. But I find it more weird then anything else.

1) You would be shocked what burns once you get past about 500 degrees (hint: plastic, rubber, vinyl, paint) but I suppose you think a sub is nothing but metal on metal with some metal to insulate the electrical wires? 2) Hatches don't close themselves, especially in the right order to make sure that the nuclear fuel in the sub doesn't get licked by flames (pretty bad scenario). 3) Fires don't fight themselves in an enclosed space. Do you think they have sprinklers in there or what? Maybe a little Halon to put the fires out and kill any crewmen in that section of the ship?

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 2 years ago | (#40110149)

exactly how do you get the fire that hot? What are we burning to get this inferno going?

I'm assuming this was a freak electrical fire? Okay... what the hell did it touch off. electrical fires are a big spark but without a fuel source after that that is the end of it. what was the fuel source?

Telling me plastic burns isn't helpful because you can't start a raging inferno with nothing but a spark and plastic. There has to be an intermediary fuel source unless this is especially combustible plastic.

As to automatic fire suppression systems... bare minimum it should have a sprinkler system. If temperatures rise beyond a certain point then Halon would be no threat because frankly anyone still in there is already dead.

Again, it's sad... but it's more puzzling then anything.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

ZeroSumHappiness (1710320) | about 2 years ago | (#40110335)

So I don't know the material makeup of Los Angeles class submarines but there are plenty of metals that can burn once you get them hot enough. Aluminum and magnesium are popular candidates since they're very light weight for their strength -- I wouldn't be surprised if there was a lot of that in the boat. Also, since this was in retrofit, there's a good chance there was welding going on, which would easily be able to get the ignition temperatures necessary to start it up, especially if they were using any oxyacetylene torches for the welding or cutting.

However, if there were Halon suppression systems installed and active they should have fired them off because Halon isn't actually that dangerous, all things considered.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | about 2 years ago | (#40110447)

So I don't know the material makeup of Los Angeles class submarines but there are plenty of metals that can burn once you get them hot enough. Aluminum and magnesium are popular candidates since they're very light weight for their strength -- I wouldn't be surprised if there was a lot of that in the boat. Also, since this was in retrofit, there's a good chance there was welding going on, which would easily be able to get the ignition temperatures necessary to start it up, especially if they were using any oxyacetylene torches for the welding or cutting.

However, if there were Halon suppression systems installed and active they should have fired them off because Halon isn't actually that dangerous, all things considered.

Aside from being an asphyxiation hazard...

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (2)

ZeroSumHappiness (1710320) | about 2 years ago | (#40110607)

From Wikipedia, Halomethane, Fire extinguishing [wikipedia.org]

Halon 1301 total flooding systems are typically used at concentrations no higher than 7% v/v in air, and can suppress many fires at 2.9% v/v. ... Halon 1301 causes only slight giddiness at its effective concentration of 5%, and even at 15% persons remain conscious but impaired and suffer no long term effects.

However, I did ready why halon is /not/ in use on these boats in that same section:

[Halon is] totally unsuitable for Class D (metal) fires, as they will not only produce toxic gas and fail to halt the fire, but in some cases pose a risk of explosion.

TIL.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 2 years ago | (#40110473)

My understanding is that subs are mostly steel. I'm not comfortable with simply calling this a regrettable incident and writing "oops" on the headline. You're talking about a fire that destroyed a sub outright. That's not even remotely acceptable. If I say "oops" then I'm accepting that this can happen at any time again and again without anyone taking any responsibility or taking any action to make it less likely.

I don't even begin to understand the mentality that views that acceptable. That bad things happen is something I accept but you have to then figure out what happened and take steps to avoid that situation in the future.

Everyone seems to be saying there is no way to stop this from happening. WTF? Seal the compartments when not in use for one. For another, there should be sensors in the sub that relay temperature alerts to the bridge. In drydock that information could be further piped to the central office of the repair yard.

Whatever... you have to have some kind of system in place so this doesn't happen. Apparently there isn't such a system which bothers me.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

Andy Dodd (701) | about 2 years ago | (#40110717)

Based on the comments I've seen from an ex-submariner earlier in the comments on this story:

Normally, a sub has multiple fire suppression and control systems that usually make fire control a situation of "close the hatches and deprive it of oxygen".

However, during a retrofit effort, the sub's configuration is anything but normal - In many cases seawater piping that is normally sealed and full of water is empty, dry, and providing a perfect source of outside air. Many of the hatches have cables and wiring running through them to support the retrofit efforts.

e.g. this would have been far less of a problem if the ship hadn't been in the middle of a major retrofit.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

michael021689 (791941) | about 2 years ago | (#40110913)

You misunderstood what the other submariner said. No class of US submarines has an automatic fire suppression system. It is up to the crew to fight fires.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

osu-neko (2604) | about 2 years ago | (#40110485)

...you can't start a raging inferno with nothing but a spark and plastic.

This statement is false. Granted, it's far more difficult/less likely than dropping a match onto a puddle of gasoline, but that match can just go out, and that spark can ignite the plastic. Dramatically different odds, but it's a likely/not likely difference, not a can/can't difference here.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

michael021689 (791941) | about 2 years ago | (#40110487)

Sorry, but you are terrible misinformed about submarine design. They are not just metal with some insulation for wiring. Their are chairs, beds, rags, oil (so much oil), personal items, trash, dryer lint, and dust (bigger source of fire than you might think). That is just for a functioning submarine. A ship in refit like this has holes cut it it, fresh paint all over, tape everywhere, and a million other small combustible things. A trash can fire can fill a compartment with smoke in a matter of minutes when there is no outside ventilation. And, no, there should not be an automatic fire suppression system. Sprinklers would go off indiscriminately and damage expensive equipment. This is unacceptable because even if there IS a fire a boomer has to stay on get back on alert covering its package and the fast boat on mission has to continue to be in top secret places without anyone knowing. Halon is impractical and wouldn't be used even if it was. These are not small rooms that are easily sealed off. There are two separate spaces on this class - you would have to fill half of the sub up with gas and then you wouldn't have any way to remove it because you are under the water. Even if there is a fire, people stay in the compartment. It does not matter if a fire is raging in the torpedo room - I will still be sitting in control sweating breathing through an EAB because we need to be able to track contacts and other such things at all times.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (4, Informative)

Jaktar (975138) | about 2 years ago | (#40110093)

The USS Miami was my first boat, 1998-2003.

Yes, there is a possibility this was bedding. Usually though, when you go into an overhaul like this, all the bedding is removed. The mattresses may or may not have been removed.

There is a lot of wiring that is bundled together around ships. There is also quite a bit of temporary equipment that is brought on the ships during overhauls like they were doing that could have been the source as well.

There is no "fire suppression system" as you might imagine. Normally all firefighting would have been taken care of by the 130 man crew. Portable extinguishers only go so far, and it seems that this was far beyond a few extinguishers.

I stood my fair share of watches in the engine room. I knew this day would come sooner or later. I'm sure that the nuclear operators stayed at their watch stations during all this. This is a hell of a way for the Miami to go out.

Can do, will do, glad to.
First to fire, twice to fire.
SSN-755

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 2 years ago | (#40110119)

Aren't these titanium? Titanium is a highly reactive combustible metal, which is the only thing to know to actually burn in pure nitrogen. Closing the hatches will only trap heat making it more dangerous.

At normal temperature in air it quickly reacts with water to form a tough surface layer which makes it quite inert and resistant to corrosion. But get it hot enough it can start to burn, and there is only one fire extinguishing agent (FEM-12 SC) known to be effective against a titanium fire.

The Russians had a disaster with a titanium sub, the K-278 Komsomolets. In this case the fire burned through internal bulkheads.

I closing hatches in this case would have done nothing other than trap heat and people in the sub.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 2 years ago | (#40110215)

Well that sounds unpleasant... but it still takes quiet a bit of heat to make that happen.

I had no idea titanium reacted that way. My previous impression was that it was noted for being especially stable. In any case, I'm pretty sure these subs are mostly steel.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

michael021689 (791941) | about 2 years ago | (#40110233)

The US does not us titanium for its submarines.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

DesScorp (410532) | about 2 years ago | (#40110593)

The US does not us titanium for its submarines.

Correct, the US uses HY 80 rated steel on most of it's subs (rated for 80K lbs per square inch). The Seawolf class used HY 100 rated steel, but was so expensive that, IIRC, we went back to cheaper HY 80 on the Virginia class (which, as a result, can't dive as deep as a Seawolf).

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

waferbuster (580266) | about 2 years ago | (#40110545)

Nope, 688 class subs are made of high yield-strength steel. It's not the metal of the hull that burns, it's all the insulation that's glued onto the inside of the hull. There's plenty of flammable materials on a sub, most of which produces huge amounts of highly toxic fumes. Added to the danger is that in drydock periods, the hatches are fouled with hoses going to various systems. Many of these hoses are air hoses, pressurized to about 100psi. If the fire ruptures one of these hoses, there's a ready source of oxygen directly at the fire source.

Added to that problem is that there are areas on the submarine that no-one can access after the ship is constructed, due to installed piping and wiring blocking access. I remember on one sub, there was a beer bottle visible in the outboard frame leftover from new-con, but there was absolutely no way to get to it to remove it without crazy amounts of cutting. If a fire spreads to these inaccessible areas, you're screwed.

Fighting a fire on a submarine sucks.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

xfade551 (2627499) | about 2 years ago | (#40110197)

The ship was in drydock (not in the water), so it was already in maintenance-and-repair mode, so things like the fire-pipes (sea water for fire hoses, IIRC) were probably empty, and even if they weren't, the pumps to keep the system charged may have been shutdown. As for flammable materials: non-asbestos pipe insulation can burn (steam pipes all over the place), wire insulation can burn as a secondary fire (generally needs a hot ignition source, ship's emergency batteries can catch fire, the emergency diesel engine fluids can catch fire. And being under maintenance, there could have been cans of paint or solvents or any number of other flammable products on board.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

michael021689 (791941) | about 2 years ago | (#40110599)

Anytime damage control equipment is degradation, temporary systems are on board. There are always watches on board to make sure that things like this don't happen. Many, many precautions are in place, but, when it comes down to it, submarines are quite flammable and it only takes one oily rag or mass of dust and lint to cause a fire like this. We live every day knowing that this is the risk.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 2 years ago | (#40110951)

Fine... but then why have all the doors open? Just shutting the stupid doors would solve most of the problem since the fire would burn up all the oxygen or whatever is burning and that would be the end of it. You'd get a fire in one compartment that would have burned itself out fairly quickly.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

hackertourist (2202674) | about 2 years ago | (#40110235)

There's plenty of flammable stuff on board. Torpedo fuel, hydraulic and other oils, cooking oil, fabrics, paint, etc.

The hatches weren't just closed because you don't want to abandon a ship with a nuclear reactor and a bunch of torpedos on board (or any ship worth $900 M for that matter) unless there is absolutely no other choice.

Also, according to TFA there were people on board in the aft compartments.

Fire suppression on a sub is difficult because you can't just point a firehose at the fire: the extra weight of the water may end up sending the boat to the bottom. Using Halon or somesuch would force you to surface soon to prevent killing the crew.
A sub is also a very dense structure. There are lots of nooks and crannies, so building an automatic suppression system that can reach everywhere (again, without flooding the boat) would be difficult.
So yes, from what I've seen of submarines (mainly on Discovery Channel, I admit), yes, it's mostly handheld fire extinguishers.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 2 years ago | (#40110367)

From what I've seen they're made up of different compartments. I don't see the problem with closing them. when people aren't inside. If you want to air the boat out, then do it through the ventilation system. If a temperature sensor starts reporting high temperature in a given compartment, why would I keep pouring air into it? I would have it automatically stop feeding air to that compartment and then of course flash a warning light or an alert to the bridge where they could override the automatic system or if no one is on board simply not.

What you're saying is that they just have all the doors open and the top hatch open. I don't see why you'd do that especially if there is basically no one on board.

Hindsight 20 20... I know... but subs shouldn't suffer burn so badly they get scrapped. That's absurd.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

hackertourist (2202674) | about 2 years ago | (#40110679)

There were people on board according to TFA. Repairs were being carried out at the time.

It's possible that holes were cut in the hull for these repairs, which would make it impossible to seal compartments airtight.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

michael021689 (791941) | about 2 years ago | (#40110699)

They shouldn't burn so bad that they are scraped, but that does not mean the proper precautions weren't in place or that your suggestions aren't ridiculous.

In drydock there are many cuts in the hull and equipment added or removed that makes obtaining an air tight seal impossible. Not to mention that, as was mentioned many times by other people, simply cutting off the air is not sufficient. These are not WW2 boats - these things are massive with more air than you give them credit for. All of this ignores the risk of simply allowing a fire to burn on in the presence of a nuclear reactor.

Re:I don't understand how this is possible (1)

michael021689 (791941) | about 2 years ago | (#40110659)

You're reasoning is mostly accurate, but fire hoses with seawater are the primary method of fighting a fire with portable extinguishers acting as a first response tool. The amount of water required to cause one of these to sink is absolutely massive - you would not reach that level with firefighting efforts. The bigger problem is that, as you stated, these are very dense ships with many combustible materials. It can be extremely difficult to get to fires in the outboards burning the hull insulation.

2.6 Billion for a New One (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110011)

Just a few facts

1. 2,600 Million dollars for a new sub or the wages.
2. This is the equivilent of the median income of 52,000 families for a year.
3. Kepler Mission cost (program that has found hundreds of exoplanets) is around $600 Million
4. ITER cost (fusing program) - $16,000 Million.
5. $47,000 per year to incarcerate a prisoner in California
6. Cost of head start program per child = $5,800

Nope. No real point. Just make of it what you will

-- MyLongNickName

Re:2.6 Billion for a New One (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110191)

Umm, doesn't your habit of signing with your sig in the comment kind of defeat the whole AC commenter thing?

Not trying to be an ass, but probably succeeding. I generally find your comments useful/insightful/funny/etc

Re:2.6 Billion for a New One (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110377)

It just means I was too lazy to log in. Nothing more.

I doubt it cost 900 million to replace it. (1)

Shivetya (243324) | about 2 years ago | (#40110037)

Some sites put the cost of refueling and refitting a nuclear submarine at nearly a billion dollars so I would expect in current day dollars Seawolfs which is the class that followed LA class ships were North of two billion each.

I would expect the costs to repair one have to be close a new one, the difference being it might be easier to fund a repair instead of a new ship. Still I would have expected a fire to cause damage to the hull to be sufficient enough that major sections would have to be replaced. Let alone I have seen what fires that don't even burn the entire interior of a vehicle do to what remains and frankly the clean up would involve gutting any area smoke reached.

Turn them into Moored Training Ships! (3, Interesting)

Wells2k (107114) | about 2 years ago | (#40110079)

Some folks in the community are already bandying about the idea that this boat be turned into a moored training ship for nuclear propulsion training, the way they did with the MTS-626 and MTS-635.

On those ships, you do not need to have all of the electronics gear, torpedo armaments, or anything else... you just need an operational reactor, which is all towards the aft end of the boat in the first place. As the fire occurred in the forward end of the boat, this is a very likely scenario. Since the MTS-626 and MTS-635 are getting older by the day (they are old Lafayette class boats built in the early 60's!) and there is a need for replacement anyway, this seems like a good way to go.

Overhaul (1)

StikyPad (445176) | about 2 years ago | (#40110089)

There's lots of "hot work" (welding, grinding) on a boat during overhaul. Starting a fire is easier than not. There's supposed to be a fire watch posted on station with fire extinguishers in hand during work, but with more nooks and crannies than an English muffin, it's not hard to imagine an ember falling behind some fixed-in-place furniture and starting some long-lost paper smoldering until eventually it flashed over long after the job was done. Just speculation, but fires are the number one enemy of boats and ships, so much so that the Navy spends more time training personnel for firefighting than anything else.

Pfft, nonsense. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110189)

Just cut it in half.
Mini-sub! A whole new class of warfare. They will never see what hit them!

Why do I care? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110243)

How is this news for nerds?

A sad day (1)

michael021689 (791941) | about 2 years ago | (#40110297)

I wish the best to my shipmates on the Miami. Fire is our greatest fear and the few scares I've been through have always brought out the best the crew has to offer. I have no doubt that every one responded courageously befitting the dolphins on their chests.

Really bad if the battery catches fire (4, Informative)

bubblegoose (473320) | about 2 years ago | (#40110443)

There is a 250 volt battery with a huge amount of potential energy. You have basically a medium size bedroom full of batteries that are 6 feet tall.

The battery can keep the lights running for about 1.5 hours while also supplying power to move it through the water and power the reactor plant to do a restart.

We calculated one time that if all the energy in the battery was released at once (not possible, we knew that), it would blow the sub 1.5 miles into the air.

Re:Really bad if the battery catches fire (1)

michael021689 (791941) | about 2 years ago | (#40110729)

Thank you for raising that point. The battery alone is a huge fire risk. These are not pure metal ships.

Lots of fuel onboard a sub. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40110863)

Ex sub nuc here. Spent lots of time in overhaul and worked on other boats during short overhauls.

Lots of "hot-work" (welding, cutting with torches) going on during an overhaul. Get pipe insulation hot enough and it will burn.

The inside of the sub has lots of sound dampening material (things like rubber and insulation) to keep sound from the inside from reaching the hull and going out into the water. The steel of the hull is also coated with rubber to absorb and contain sound. All that will burn.

We carried diesel for the backup generator, and tanks of hydrogen. Add to that the battery, oxygen canisters, lubricants, and assorted chemicals. There is a lot of fuel.

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