Seawolf and the Mariana Islands


The USS Connecticut, a prized Seawolf class submarine owned by the U.S. Navy, collided with an unidentified undersea object somewhere in the Asia Pacific region on Oct. 2, not far from Guam. Reportedly 11 crew members were injured. 

It is doubtful that the public will ever know the specifics about the undersea collision because of risks associated with national pride, and the need to avoid any possibility of further amplifying an already sensitive situation. 

For fellow citizens who may not be readily familiar with submarines, the Navy has several classes of undersea weapons of war. The boat that was involved in the early October collision is one of three submarines that make up the Seawolf class of undersea boats. 

The USS Connecticut is the second boat in the Seawolf class and is over two decades old. These vessels were built to go to extreme places such as below the ice sheets in the Arctic circle to conduct persistent and clandestine surveillance activities in very dangerous undersea environments. 

Representations past and present

The USS Connecticut is a weapon of war that was built to represent an America capable of demonstrating great technological feats tied to prosecuting war and violence to its advantage.

This submarine is several hundred feet long, can travel at speeds that are relatively swift, has a large crew, and has cruise missiles capable of delivering substantial firepower, presumably without nuclear warheads in this case.

The last time an American nuclear-powered submarine pulled into Guam from an undersea collision was the USS San Francisco, where nearly 100 sailors were injured and one reportedly passed away. 

The dangers of the current American-Sino arms race

China continues to grow its military influence in and around its near seas’ regions. The Chinese military has recently been increasing the numbers of sorties near Taiwan, sending several messages and signals that include their desire to show the world that they have the capabilities and intent to attack Taiwan, should the decision be made to do so. The Chinese view the presence of the British Navy in the area as provocative, in the sense that the British, the U.S., and Asian allies are conducting war exercises relatively near their country.  

American leaders argue that Chinese actions in the near seas’ region constitute aggressive behavior and that the ocean areas located throughout East Asia are of vital interest to first world western nations. The Americans also argue that China’s near seas regions are open to international, western based norms and the U.S. is allowed to maneuver and transit throughout the overall area.   

China continues down a path of doubling or tripling the number of nuclear-powered submarines it currently has, maintaining a host of submarines that are powered by diesel fuel, while protecting the relatively newly claimed reef spots upon which Chinese military resources are now placed. 

In total, all these developments portend very dangerous times for all of us. 

Questions remain about the Connecticut

What did the submarine hit? Was it an undersea mountain? Did the submarine hit an unmanned undersea vehicle? Was it a Chinese submarine? Was it a Russian submarine? Was it a DPRK submarine? Was it a surface ship? What was damaged on the submarine? What condition is the nuclear reactor on the submarine? Will radiation leak? 

If we go to war, how is war to be defined and prosecuted against China? How common are undersea collisions experienced by the American submarine community? Did ongoing multinational war exercises involving the British have anything to do with this event? How much will repair work cost taxpayers? What capabilities are not being lost to the Navy with the USS Connecticut offline? 

How will Guam benefit from emergency repair work? Are there programs in place to address emergent submarine repair work for villagers? What risks will Chamorros and villagers face, if anything, from this development? 

Guam, the priceless submarine shore location for many reasons

The U.S. Navy has seen its share of vessel accidents at sea not far from Guam. In 2017, the USS Fitzgerald, an American destroyer, collided with a Philippine-flagged container vessel, killing seven sailors in Japanese waters. Shortly thereafter, 10 more sailors died aboard the USS John S. McCain, another destroyer, when it collided with a Liberian-flagged tanker near Singapore. 

The challenge facing the Navy now is how will it go about getting more vessels operating at sea, in shorter periods of time, at a price tag that is manageable and reasonable? As it stands, every ship damaged or lost is a tremendous setback to this nation’s Navy, because China continues moving forward on growing its fleet of military ships. 

I want the American Navy to prevail against China at many levels. 

As far as submarines go, at least the hulls of these boats presumably remain intact, the nuclear reactor engine rooms are presumably intact, and the ballast systems remain presumably intact. If not, we are all in deep trouble.

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Rick Perez used to serve in the U.S. military and has work experiences in public policy research and public affairs. He is passionate about national security and geopolitics and runs a newsletter called Guam Affairs at guamaffairs.substack.com. For questions or comments, contact Perez at rickp7839@gmail.com.

Rick Arriola Perez | Author
Rick Arriola Perez is a U.S. military veteran who has worked for the U.S. Department of Defense, the Bank of Hawaii, and the government of Guam. He holds several degrees including ones from UCLA and the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. Rick is passionate about national security and foreign affairs in the Pacific Asia region and runs a blogsite called Guam Affairs at guamaffairs.substack.com. For more information, contact Perez at rickp7839@gmail.com.

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