Russian Submarine in Gulf of Mexico Unlikely, Expert Says

September 3, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
Epoch Times Photo
This undated picture shows a Russian nuclear submarine Akula-class (Shark) by NATO classification. Both the Pentagon and the Navy have denied that a Russian submarine entered the Gulf of Mexico undetected in June and July. (AFP/Getty Images)

The Washington Free Beacon reported on Aug. 14 that a Russian nuclear-powered submarine spent several weeks patrolling the Gulf of Mexico, undetected by the U.S. Navy, in June and July. This was in the same time frame, the publication notes that Russian bombers entered the U.S. defense zone (close to, but not within U.S. airspace) near Alaska and California.

An anonymous official told the news agency that the smaller Akula class submarine—capable of destroying U.S. nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, but not capable of launching intercontinental nuclear missiles like some of the larger subs—was confirmed only after it left the region.

Both the Pentagon and the Navy have denied that a Russian submarine entered the Gulf of Mexico undetected, according to a report from the U.S. Naval Institute. Russian state-run news agency, RIA Novosti, reported that a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry refused to either confirm or deny the claims, noting that information on Russian submarine locations is classified.

The Washington Free Beacon is standing by its reporting.

This would not be the first time Russian subs tested the boundaries with the United States in recent memory, but there are some key differences between the last incident and this one.

In 2009, The New York Times reported that two Russian Akula submarines were patrolling off the U.S. East Coast—claims that were later confirmed by U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM).

While the Pentagon was quick to confirm the 2009 incident, according to the U.S. Naval Institute, amid the latest claims, “A Navy spokesman told the U.S. Naval Institute, after several checks with NORTHCOM, U.S. Southern Command and the Office of Naval Intelligence, none of the organizations were able to confirm the Free Beacon report of the Akula boat operating in the Caribbean.”

Terry Minarcin, a retired Air Force cryptologist who was assigned to the NSA, told The Epoch Times that the Pentagon would have little reason to try covering this up—and therefore, they’re likely telling the truth in this case. Minarcin is typically quick to point out when a game of smoke and mirrors is at play.

His point is based on sound reasoning. Information on detected submarine activity is available through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

If the Pentagon said that nothing was seen there, in this case, “I think they’re being fairly honest because of the potential that someone can come in and do a FOIA request for those logs,” Minarcin said.

He noted that the information could easily be obtained, “and if the military were doing a cover-up it wouldn’t be worth the bad press.”

The main system the United States uses to detect submarines is the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS). This is basically a large network of sensors installed at choke points in the Atlantic Ocean and at other key points including along the U.S. East Coast, West Coast, and the Gulf of Mexico.

SOSUS is part of the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS).

“Any submarine that goes through there is going to trip the sensors,” Minarcin said. “We have pretty much every one of the Russian submarines—we have their signatures on tape.”

Since each submarine leaves its own signature, and since they have a database of these signatures, “we can say, here’s this intruder, let’s run it by the databank. If it’s a British or French one sets off the alarms, we can check our sensors and say, oh it’s an ally. It’s no threat,” he said.

Minarcin added, however, that it is still possible something went by, and if you count the Russians out of the picture, the potential submarines in the area become much thinner.

“The only other navy that has sophisticated nuclear submarines similar to ours are the Brits,” he said, noting that the United Kingdom and the United States shared technology on dampening natural noise, and that a U.K. ship would almost certainly not be hostile.

He said Chinese submarines, meanwhile, are “very, very noisy.” The Chinese regime purchased some of the older submarine fleets from the Russians and tried quieting them down, he said, “but that’s really an impossibility” because you need to implement that right from the get-go in the building process.

Regardless, the reports have caused a stir, and are bringing attention to cuts in the Navy budget.

Soon after the initial report was published, on Aug. 17, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent an open letter to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert asking for more information on the incident and emphasized the potential threat.

“The submarine patrol, taken together with the air incursions, seems to represent a more aggressive and destabilizing Russian military stance that could pose risks to our national security,” he said. “This is especially troubling given the drastic defense cuts sought by President Obama, which include reductions in funding for antisubmarine defense systems.”

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