Russia detonated depth charges near US submarine

Publish date: May 6, 1998

Written by: Thomas Nilsen

A Russian helicopter dropped depth charges close to an American Los Angeles-class submarine in the Barents Sea last December. The American vessel was within four miles of a Russian Typhoon submarine in the process of launching 20 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as part of a destruction routine under the START arms control treaty.

According to the Washington Post, Russia has complained to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow about a submarine incident that occurred in the Barents Sea on December 3 or 4 last year. The Russians had announced the planned destruction of 20 ICBMs. The procedure was unusual because missiles are usually taken apart and cut up. The explosion methods was cheaper, according to the Russians. On the downside, the explosions lead to the release of some 80 tons of toxic rocket fuel chemicals into the environment. The 20 ICBM rockets were SS-N-20s, a three-stage, solid-fuel missile deployed on Typhoon submarines in the Northern Fleet.

Seven U.S. inspectors aboard a hydrographic vessel near the Typhoon submarine observed the destruction. The Washington Post reports that another submerged submarine appeared on the scene. Russian navy official said it was a Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered submarine, apparently gathering data about the launches. The Los Angeles-class has one reactor and carries nuclear weapons. A Russian vessel signaled the submarine to get out of the way, but it did not respond. After that, a helicopter dropped and detonated depth charges and the submarine retreated, according to the [Russian] navy officials.

The U.S. Navy has refused to comment on the alleged incident, but indicated that the submarine was not American. The Russian officials said they were sure it was a U.S. submarine.

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