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

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


About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. But Carriers are actually very hard to find in the vast tracks of the ocean too. And they move very fast — 30+ knots. In order to be stealthy a diesel sub has to move between 3-4 knots–think guided mine. Sorry, 3-4 knots does not catch 30+ knots. Nor does it intercept the Carrier if it’s running a zigzag pattern. So even if the carrier is located,–very very difficult–you probably won’t be able to intercept it. And Carriers are starting to operate drones, some with a 1500 mile combat radius. The area of operations for the carrier will get a whole lot bigger.

    My guess is the French/Dutch/Swedish subs would have never gotten close to the US Carrier, in a real world environment. Meanwhile drones from the carrier would have destroyed the enemy sub’s base.

  2. Newsflash–Carriers have always been vulnerable. The way they survive is by out-ranging the threat. With drones, soon to be seen on carrier decks, Carriers will be able to lay 1,500 miles off the enemy territory, and make strikes–probably even destroying the enemy’s sub bases–so they can move even closer. And if you don’t think that Carriers are still very hard to find in the ocean, well, you need to do some more study. And even if the Carrier is found on the ocean, to get a sub in position to intercept a 30+ knot ship, that is zigzagging, is very difficult indeed. Yes the French/Dutch/Swedish/Australian submariners are very good, and I’m glad that’s there’s no chance we’ll have to fight them in a war, but they would probably never be in a position to even attack a US carrier in a real war. These exercises are about possibilities, not probabilities. Is it possible that a sub that might get in close to a carrier group?–yes, and training needs to done for that possibility.

    And as for the Gotland “sinking” the Ronald Reagan, I also know that the Gotland was “sunk” several times too. And even when the protecting escorts were unable to sink the Gotland, they
    successfully protected the Ronald Reagan. Probably, something similar happened in this exercise too, I’m guessing.

  3. Aircraft carriers dating back to their inception in 1916 have always been vulnerable. They are massive ships carrying huge loads. They are no agile and serve as floating airfields. The US Navy has a fleet of the most advanced Aircraft carriers and those carriers have plenty of countermeasures to protect them. The US Navy is not perfect but they absolutely take every piece of knowledge they get about weakness and apply that to the future. The Navy is 24/7 deployed and has been essentially since the Cold War.

    There are new Aircraft carrier defense systems and the US Navy is putting alot of stock into Anti Submarine Aircraft. If the Chinese snuck into the middle of an Aircraft carrier group – you can be sure that the Admiral of the US Navy would want to know why and analyze every piece of data as to how it could happen.

    In a real world War scenario – it would not be so easy to do that. The US is humble enough to admit weakness at least on an internal level. Let the enemy think that they can operate with impunity. Talk to an Admiral in the Russian or Chinese Navy and get their opinion on how easy it would be to sink an Aircraft carrier. Easy would be the last thing that they would say.

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