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U.S. Ready to Join Nuke Sub Rescue if Russia Asks

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2000 – The United States is prepared to offer whatever assistance it can to rescue the crew of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, which reportedly sank Aug. 12 in the Barents Sea. But the Russians have yet to ask for help.

Both National Security Adviser Samuel Berger and Defense Secretary William Cohen have offered U.S. assistance in any form to the Russians, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said in an Aug. 15 press briefing.

"The response was very cordial and appreciative, but they felt they had enough assets on hand to carry out the task," he said. Quigley said the United States possibly could assist in several ways:

  • The Navy has two deep submergence rescue vehicles at Naval Air Station North Island near San Diego. One is currently operational and ready to go, Quigley said.
  • Submarine rescue chambers. Basically, these bell-type devices are lowered by cable from a surface ship and then mate with a submarine's hatch and bring crewmen to the surface.
  • Salvage assets. "You've seen [these] used all too often in the last few years for aircraft accidents, the [space shuttle] Challenger disaster, things of that sort," Quigley said.
  • Technical expertise. The Navy and the private maritime salvage community can supply valuable technical advice.
  • Medical information. "We certainly have a great deal of experience in that regard on the effects of deep ocean environments on human beings," he said.

The admiral said he isn't sure the American deep submergence rescue vehicle can assist in this situation. U.S. officials know too little about Russian submarine design and the Kursk's actual situation to be sure, he said.

Published media accounts have reported the Kursk may be listing as much as 60 degrees. Quigley said that would exceed the operational limits of the U.S. rescue craft if true. If rescue is possible at all, the mission would be "high risk to everyone involved," he added.

Another potential obstacle is the compatibility of U.S. and Russian hatches. Officials several years ago provided the U.S. rescue vehicle's hatch specifications to the Russians and other navies so they could design compatible hatches. But, Quigley said, no one is sure whether the Russians used those specifications on the Kursk.

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Related Sites:
Naval Historical Center: USS Squalus (SS-192): The Sinking, Rescue of Survivors, and Subsequent Salvage, 1939

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