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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nuclear Subs Collided 10 Times, Russians Say

Soviet submarines equipped with nuclear weapons have collided with as many as 10 Western submarines over the past few decades, two Russian submarine commanders said in an interview this week.


The accidents resulted neither in fatalities, nor any visible worsening in East-West relations during the Cold War, said the commanders, Rear Admiral Aleksei Ovcharenko, and Captain Valery Frolov.


"It is very dangerous", said Frolov, who together with Ovcharenko served as an adviser to the Russian arms reduction negotiating team. "If there were two nuclear reactors, one aboard each, it is terrible to think what could happen if these exploded".


Ovcharenko and Frolov, speaking in a rare interview authorized by the Russian navy, also said the two countries should limit the number of nuclear submarines at sea at any time. Such an agreement would reduce the chances of future collisions of submarines equipped with nuclear weapons, they said.


Russia, which concentrated on land-based nuclear weapons, has long been at a disadvantage compared with the United States in the field of nuclear submarines, which are more difficult to detect than land- or bomber-based missiles because of the mobility of underwater vessels.


"The Russian navy has an interest in discussing submarine operations", responded Kevin Latham, the assistant naval attache at the U. S. Embassy, "because they would like to have a better understanding of where our submarines are".


Three Western military attaches gave credence to the Russian claim of underwater collisions. Another, however, said the Russian allegations may be exaggerated or fabricated for political reasons.


"The Russians have often made allegations that are not based on fact", said the attache, who asked that he not be named.


The Russian navy's top spokesman, Alexander Veledeyev, said that while a series of submarine scrapes and collisions with enemy craft had occurred during the Cold War, the navy has not conducted an exact count and they did not keep precise data on the incidents.


"That's because it is hard to confirm encounters and identify enemy craft in the depths of the ocean", he said.


An American navy representative declined to comment on the Russian submariner's claims, saying any confirmations could "reveal a specific operation at a specific point".


The sole undersea collision that both America and Russia have publicly acknowledged occurred a year ago between the USS Baton Rouge and a Russian submarine in the Barents Sea, north of Russia. The two sides disagree on whether the incident took place in Russia's territorial waters.


Allied nuclear powers coordinate their submarine movements by dividing up the world's oceans into grids, and giving submarines a certain time frame to operate in that region, experts say.


Although fewer submarines are at sea because of the end of the Cold War and high operating costs, Russia's underwater forces are becoming proportionately more important to national defense because of sharper cuts in land-based missiles, Ovcharenko said. The second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed last month makes severe cuts in the heavy land-based nuclear missiles on which the Soviet Union based its nuclear strategy, while imposing more lenient caps on submarine-launched missiles, the centerpiece of the U. S. arsenal.


Americans will not comment on the number of U. S. submarines at sea.