U.S. aircraft carrier and part of its escort “sunk” by French submarine during drills off Florida

Mar 05 2015 - 61 Comments

If you thought aircraft carriers were invincible you were wrong.

On Mar. 4, the French Ministry of Defense released some interesting details, about the activity conducted by one of its nuclear-powered attack submarine (SNA) in the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean.

According to French MoD website (that is no longer online, even if you can still find a cached version of the article titled “Le SNA Saphir en entraînement avec l’US Navy au large de la Floride”), the Saphir submarine has recently taken part in a major exercise with the U.S. Navy off Florida.

The aim of the exercise was joint training with U.S. Carrier Strike Group 12 made by the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, several Ticonderoga cruisers or Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and a Los Angeles-class submarine, ahead of their operational deployment.

The scenario of the drills saw some imaginary states assaulting American economic and territorial interests; threats faced by a naval force led by USS Theodore Roosevelt.

During the first phase of the exercise, the Saphir was integrated into the friendly force to support anti-submarine warfare (ASW) by cooperating with U.S. P-3C Orion P-8A Poseidon MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft): its role was to share all the underwater contacts with the other ASW assets.

In the second phase of the exercise, the Saphir was integrated with the enemy forces and its mission was to locate the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and its accompanying warships and prepare to attack the strike group.

While the fictious political situation deteriorated, the Saphir quietly slipped in the heart of the multi-billion-dollar aircraft carrier’s defensive screen, while avoiding detection by ASW assets.

On the morning of the last day, the order to attack was finally given, allowing the Saphir to pretend-sinking the USS Theodore Roosevelt and most of its escort.

Although we don’t really know many more details about the attack and its outcome, the scripted exercise its RoE (Rules of Engagement), the simulated sinking of a U.S. supercarrier proves the flattop’s underwater defenses are not impenetrable.

This is the reason why modern subs often train with aircraft carriers: they pose a significant threat to powerful Carrier Strike Groups.

Obviously, this was not the first time a submarine scored a simulated carrier kill with torpedo attacks.

For instance, in 2007 HMCS Corner Brook, a Canadian diesel-electric submarine “sunk” UK’s Illustrious during an exercise in the Atlantic.

Image credit: U.S. Navy


  • Arnaud

    “There are two types of naval vessel: submarines and targets.”

    Le SNA Saphir en entraînement avec l’US Navy au large de la Floride
    From http://www.defense.gouv.fr – Today, 7:39 AM
    C’est après deux semaines de patrouille en Atlantique Nord que le sous-marin nucléaire d’attaque (SNA) Saphir est arrivé dans les eaux de la Floride pour participer à un exercice majeur de dix jours avec la marine américaine. L’objectif de cet exercice était d’entraîner un groupe aéronaval américain (CSG 12 pour Carrier Strike Group 12) composé du porte-avions Theodore Roosevelt, de plusieurs frégates de type Ticonderoga ou Arleigh Burke et d’un sous-marin de type Los Angeles, avant leur déploiement opérationnel.

    Le scénario de l’exercice prévoyait une agression des intérêts économiques et territoriaux américains par des états fictifs. En réaction, une force navale, dirigée par le Theodore Roosevelt était mise sur pied pour parer à toute éventualité.

    Durant la première phase de l’exercice, le Saphir était intégré à la force navale amie en soutien direct avec pour mission de faire de la lutte anti sous-marine en coopération SOUMAIR, avec des avions de patrouille maritime de type P3-C Orion P8 Poséidon. Il devait donc reporter tous les contacts obtenus sur les sous-marins ennemis et les partager avec les autres moyens anti-sous-marins du théâtre (avions de patrouille maritime, hélicoptères et frégates ASM).

    Dans une seconde phase, le Saphir, était intégré aux forces ennemies et avait pour mission de localiser le porte-avions Theodore Roosevelt ainsi que les autres bâtiments de la force navale amie et de se tenir prêt à l’attaque. La situation politique se dégradant de jour en jour, le Saphir s’est glissé discrètement au cœur de l’écran formé par les frégates américaines protégeant le porte-avions, tout en évitant la contre-détection des moyens aériens omniprésents. Au matin du dernier jour, l’ordre de feu était enfin donné, permettant au Saphir de couler fictivement le Theodore Roosevelt et la majeure partie de son escorte.

    Une fois l’exercice terminé, le Saphir a gagné Norfolk, plus grosse base navale du monde, pour une escale destinée à entretenir les liens avec l’US Navy. Nombreux furent les échanges avec les équipages des Los Angeles, notamment avec les marins du SSN Newport News désigné bâtiment hôte durant l’escale.

    L’amiral commandant les forces sous-marines et la force océanique stratégique (ALFOST) a rejoint le Saphir en escale pour rencontrer, en compagnie du commandant du Saphir, le Rear Admiral Butler, commandant du Carrier Strike Group 4 (CSG4) et le Vice Admiral Tyson, adjoint au commandant du USFFC (US Fleet Force Commander). Cette entrevue a permis d’effectuer un premier débriefing de l’exercice et de réaffirmer le besoin d’interopérabilité entre nos deux marines.

    Ce point est en effet essentiel pour une intégration efficace sur les théâtres d’opérations, notamment dans le golfe Arabo Persique. Cet exercice a de nouveau illustré la plus-value du concept d’emploi en multi-luttes / multi-senseurs des SNA français.

    En attendant le prochain exercice et comme disent les forces sous-marines américaines : « happy hunting » !

  • fact275

    U.S. Navy ASW capabilities are not what they were since 1990. Most of the fleet is now multi-role but with a focus on air defense. Dedicated ASW platforms like the old Spruance class DDs are gone. Hopefully this exercise is a wake up call.

    • General-Zod

      Much of the anti submarine warfare abilities have gone into the Air. Orion Aircraft are very capable and the new replacements provide the carrier groups with constant coverage.

  • Serge
  • John

    Carriers are easy meat. The Navy dumped their carrier borne ASW aircraft the S-3 Viking and have not paid as much attention to ASW since the end of the cold war. I believe even the Chinese had a sub surface in the middle of a carrier task force which they didn’t see. The Russians would have no trouble taking out a carrier in a real shooting war.

    • General-Zod

      Russia how? Their Navy is a floating hunk of rust. They have one surface vessel in the Black Sea fleet that poses a threat. A huge portion of it’s Submarine fleet are rusting and dormant. They maintain a small but potent force of Submarines. Many of them are Nuclear and are not attack based.

    • Tostik

      Carriers are not easy meat. These exercises are never full prosecutions, and they are never “free range”. If an American carrier used all their ASW resources, they would probably “sink” the approaching sub, and the sub would never get any training for an attack run on the carrier. And if American carriers can use all the ocean, and are not geographically constrained, they are unlikely to be found by any sub. ZigZagging at 30+ knots makes intercepting a carrier very difficult, even if the sub knows the general vicinity of the carrier.

      And these exercises are never one sided. The subs are often sunk, even when the carrier is not using all of it’s ASW assets.

  • John
    • Kyeld

      Uhh those are two different situations…one was an exercise, and the other was a Chinese sub that no one even knew of to be in the vicinity.

      • Testerty

        In the case of the Chinese sub, the US carrier group was on high alert as they were “invading” a Japanese task force off the coast of Japan. As such, the USS Kitty Hawk is on the look out for submarines, yet a Chinese sub came within 5 km of it.

        • Tostik

          No it was not on “high alert”. It was in a very low state of readiness because no navy in the world, at that time, was in a high state of alert, i.e. most ships were in port. The Kitty Hawk was joining a publicly known exercise with allies, which was probably the only reason the Chinese sub knew where it was in the first place.

          • Testerty

            Dude, the Kitty Hawk was on high alert because it was expecting Japanese submarine to be “attacking” it during the exercise. And since when do any aircraft carrier group ever goes on low alert in hostile region? Excuses, excuses….

    • Tostik

      Another sensational article which virtually no research behind it. The Kitty Hawk was joining a publicly known exercise, with allies, which was probably the only reason the Chinese sub knew where it was in the first place.

      And many American submariners have speculated as to why the Chinese sub would have surfaced while stalking an American Carrier. It didn’t make any sense. It gives your position away, and it shows how close you got–they know an American sub would never have done that. Some think they were having serious technical problems, Chinese subs being the junk that they are.

  • Casey

    Swedish Subs as well. The Gotland snapped a few pics of the Reagan.

  • JPdu83

    Good Job, Saphir :)

  • AJ

    While I will not try to minimize how lethal a good sub with a good commander can be, there is a very large divide between being able to sink a carrier and “most of its escort” during an exercise without actually firing anything, and doing the same thing during an actual battle with live weapons.

  • Byron

    do you have anymore details on this? how is it deployed, range, etc?

    • Tomcat

      Only the open source information. Several shots per system (think SEARam), several sensors per hull, and it’s violently agile. That last part is very important. Apparently this thing can out maneuver anything under the water. I’m assuming it’s a combination acoustically and magnetically influenced fuze. Doesn’t need to be a direct hit, just needs to pass near at the time of detonation. At that point it’ll break the torpedo if not cause a sympathetic detonation.

  • Tostik

    Did any of you experts notice the term “scripted exercise” near the end of the article. You don’t know the parameters of this exercise, or how realistic it was in a real world environment. The parameters were probably such that the French submarine was given a chance to “sink” the Aircraft Carrier for TRAINING reasons. Usually American submarines, Aircraft Carriers, and aircraft are put in a situation where they would never be, in a real-world environment, and then there’s a leak that the French/Dutch/Swedes “sunk” an American Aircraft Carrier, which a disservice to realism and the American Navy. In a real world environment, the Frogs would probably never have even found the Carrier in the first palce. LOL

  • freewheelinfranklin543

    CHECKMATE! Carriers are obsolete sittin ducks! Couple that with the new Russian cruise missiles and EW we will lose carriers.

    • Arcadiy Ivanov

      Very short range. Sub is killed instantly since there is no way for it to prevent detection after launching Шквал. Шквал also has a range of about 6 miles at best.

    • Tomcat

      The speed of the projectile means nothing, Not to mention the louder it is (which the Shkval practically screams upon launch), the easier it is to locate. ATT is a hard kill. You can’t counter it with speed. MAYBE if you made a silent torpedo, but good luck with that.

      The US EW capabilities are head and shoulders above any adversary. It simply isn’t a concern to them.

  • Jan Schmidt

    Also some german uboats succesfully “sunk” us carriers. the german U-24 (type 206A submarine) “sunk” the USS Enterprise, here’s a photo: http://www.abendblatt.de/politik/ausland/article107314674/Das-Zielfoto-das-einen-US-Admiral-wuetend-machte.html

    Of course the US admiral of the CVBG was pissed, really pissed. The type 206A has a nonmagnetic hull so MAD will not detect it. The successor, type 212 and 212A, have AIP, air independent propulsion, so they do not “snorkel” like conventional SSK’s. Rumor mill says, these new boat blew US CVBG’s out of the water in exercises several times. there was a exercise in the caribbean where US navy officers were on the bridge of U-31 (type 212) and it went in circles around a virginia class US navy sub without them heating ANYTHING. the US navy officers hat sweat pouring down their cheeks. it was a real shock to them. uboats are the best anti-shipping units, aip is even better then nuclear propulsion, reason is reactor noise. the only drawback is endurance of aip between 4 and 6 weeks. of course the 212 and 212A do a lot of “spy work” and “special forces” work.

    btw several us navy people said unofficially that the cvbg would not last 3 days in a real war against a real enemy… thats why they are used only against third rate enemies :)


      Our reactors, which are “noisy” according to you, are actually quieter than the natural processes of the surrounding sea. But nice try seeming informed!

    • saberhagen2

      LOL i did have a good laugh. No, genius, not just only one drawback. Actually the greatest drawback of diesel sub is speed. It cant catch up with a nuke ships, even with top speed. And of course no dumb captain will do full speed coz it would be loud. And the carriers are used against third rate enemies because, well, the US hasnt been at war with any 1st war countries since WW2. Now, go back to your COD kid and stop pretending you know anything about this subject.

  • No surprise, the main objective of carrier battle groups is to intimidate Middle East and African camel breeders and support military coups in the third world countries.


      Why was your ignorant and vapid comment given approval?

      • Raspberry Kush

        Because its true. Or do you actually believe the mainstream media actually tells the truth?

        • MR AWESOME

          Wow. I jumped right into a puddle of crazy talking with you!

  • John McElroy

    Heres the real scenario. The Squadrons are at home. The Ships Company has got the
    Carrier out do brodys in the ocean. Playing dodge the Sub and Fire Drills.

  • Heisenberg.roger@gmail.com

    I heard that before in the South Pacific a few years ago when on exercises with Latin American countries, a German made operated by the Peruvian Navy “sunk” a US nuclear carrier.
    Hey if a Diesel powered submarine can sunk a U.S. carrier what can we expect from the Russians?

  • mail33006

    “Hitting”, does not necessarily mean “sinking”. Ships do have damage control. Nonetheless, it’s always good to keep people on their toes!

    • Ken Morgan

      It does now 100 years ago they were to put a hole in the side of a ship. So ship designers made ships compartmentalised so a hole wouldn’t sink them.

      Torp makers made a bigger warhead or shaped charges to crack multiple compartments. So ship designers added flanges like spaced armour to the hull of a ship to absorb the shock wave and keep it away from the hull compartments. This slowed ships down due to extra drag.

      So torp tactics simply changed to detonation under the keel to create a giant super heated steam pocket. This weakens the keel Which expands and cools once it stops expanding it collapses due to water pressure. The ship then ‘falls’ into this collapsed void while supported at both ends by normal buoyancy. This breaks the back of the ship. It is like grabbing a plank of wood and snapping it over your knee. The weight of the ship breaks its own back..

  • 4567654

    I love reading the deniers that this was an exercise and not real. The fact is even with the US’s most advanced technology, the French sub couldn’t be detected and tracked thus why it won. You don’t need to actually sink a ship to be alarmed by those results. Why have exercises at all if they mean nothing? It’s people like you that you where things aren’t taken seriously and aren’t dealt with. You’d rather live in the comfort of your fantasy world where everything works as you wish it to be therefore no one needs to be concerned and no one does anything about it. If people like you were running the country, you’d be the US’s number one national security threat not terrorism.

  • RTFA

    It was a simulated exercise. Read the damn article.

  • Twisk

    These are war games undertaken under conditions of absolute realism. Otherwise, there would be no point. I’m afraid “bad-ass” “dodging punches” or “throwing back” are only Hollywood words.
    That carrier would have gone down in the real world just the same, only for good.

  • Matthew Marsh

    And how would you know what a ‘real war’ is since the US hasn’t been in a ‘Real War’ at sea since WWII. The USN conducts exercises Naval exercises with other nations as well, should these be discounted as “only a sim” whenever the US wins?

    The USS Cole was nearly blown outta the war by a IED on a speedboat.

    The fact is there are weapons, and ships in foreign Navies that are as good or even better than ours. If we were ever is a naval conflict we should expect to lose some ships, even many ships.

    • General-Zod

      That speedboat was piloted by a Terrorist. It didn’t sink the Cole either. It blew a huge hole in it and the Cole still stayed afloat. Even though it did kill dozens of men.