When This Soviet Submarine Sank, The CIA Was There To Pick Up The Pieces (And An Intelligence Victory)

Jeff Schogol

Key point: While the idea of finding a missing submarine in the Pacific Ocean, even when they had a general idea of where to search, proved so daunting to the Soviets that they’d ultimately given up looking, Bradley was fairly optimistic. He had a better way of locating it.

For the better part of two weeks, the world has watched, in hope and horror, as 13 countries embarked on a frantic search for the ARA San Juan, the Argentine sub that went missing on Nov. 15 with a crew of 44 aboard. It’s almost certain now that all hands have been lost, and it could be weeks or months before we know what caused the sub to sink. The first challenge is to locate it.

The ARA San Juan is first submarine to be lost at sea since the Kursk, which sank after an accident in 2000, causing the loss of 100 Russian lives. The remarkable string of safe patrols in the years since helped us all forget that submarine duty is one of the most perilous peacetime jobs in the armed forces. It’s certainly not something that any submariner takes for granted.​

For as long as they’ve had submarines, the world’s navies have worried about losing them — and especially about how best to find them when they’re lost, ideally soon enough that a crew rescue is still possible.

Much of the technology and strategy deployed in sub search and rescue today can be traced back to 1963, when the USS Thresher was lost at sea during routine deep-diving tests off of Massachusetts. The loss of that state-of-the-art submarine, and her crew of 129, sent a shockwave through the US Navy’s submarine program, leading to the creation of numerous deep sea programs that continue to this day.

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