Somehow I always thought it would be other guys who would sink a tanker in the Strait of Hormuz to block the Persian Gulf. I reckoned without the peculiar incompetence of this administration and the bad luck our military has had in the region.
It appears we are still more of a danger to our allies than to our enemy, as the Japanese tanker Mogamigawa was reminded yesterday when rammed by the USS Newport News. What's a cruise missile up the stern tube between friends, eh?
Mishima had a good take on this earlier: "The sub rear-ended the tanker. It must not have seen its brake lights."
I figure that the captain - like the Decider in Chief - just doesn't know when to change course to avoid disaster.
More seriously, the collision brings into question the sonar and maneuvering capabilities of our subs in a high traffic channel like the Strait of Hormuz and shallow waterway like the Persian Gulf. While they might well detect a nearby ship in isolation, the presence of many ships and small craft in a narrow channel could have made it difficult to judge proximity of the Japanese tanker. It begs the question of how they could avoid Iranian coastal defence craft or submarines in a hot war.
The Iranians have built and deployed their own design of mini-subs in the Persian Gulf recently. These tiny torpedo-shaped subs can reach any target in the Gulf and carry mines, divers or torpedos. If the USS Newport News didn't detect the tanker, it is unlikely they would have noticed an Iranian mini-sub approaching.
Submarines are expected to avoid surface vessels, and a bloody huge, deeply laden oil tanker would seem a pretty obvious obstacle to avoid - especially since the tanker will not be able to adjust course quickly.
The Newport News is loaded with cruise missiles. We now have confirmation that they are operating in the Persian Gulf at a time when the Bush administration is moving all the brass around in preparation for cooking the intelligence justification for the next unprovoked, illegal war.
One possiblity is that the submarine was shadowing the tanker in a practice drill to hide beneath the tanker's noise signature in the water. Alternatively, the sub might have been hoping to use the cover of the tanker to slip into the Gulf undetected by the Iranians who monitor the straits very closely indeed. The shallowness of the strait would have made this a big challenge for our extremely large submarines, built for open ocean operations rather than coastal warfare in shallow waters.
The Japanese will be particularly sensitive to another collision with a US submarine having suffered the loss of the training vessel Ehime Maru in 2001 in the Pacific. At a time when the US has little credibility abroad, further erosion of our military's standing with our allies is very unhelpful.
There will be a lot of disquiet in the Navy today that this event has happened. I feel sorry for the captain and crew of the USS Newport News as we know that this administration is excellent at blaming the troops for its screw ups.