A Silent Hunter Becomes the Hunted:

Photo Credit: Christian Villada

Argentine Submarine vanishes; Search underway

Henry Neiberlien/Editor-in-Chief

Built in 1983, the Argentine diesel-electric submarine ARA San Juan is the newest boat in the Argentinian submarine force. The San Juan was built in Germany as part of the TR-1700 class of submarines.

These submarines were some of the fastest and most advanced submarines when they were built.  However, today they are showing their age.

The San Juan went through a five-year mid-life update between 2008 and 2013 to keep the submarine competitive and reliable well into the future.

Unfortunately, the ARA San Juan is now missing after contact was lost during a journey between Ushuaia naval base in southern Argentina and Mar del Plata naval base in northeast Argentina.

Contact between the Argentine Navy and the submarine was lost on Nov. 15, 267 miles of the coast and only faint emergency signals  has been heard since.

This loss has sparked one of the greatest international search and rescue operations in recent history to attempt to find and save the forty-four crew members, including Argentina’s first female submarine officer on-board at the time of its disappearance.

The Argentinian Navy has deployed everything in its arsenal for the search including helicopters, corvettes, and destroyers.

The US Navy is deploying a P-8 Poseidon from El Salvador to assist, and NASA is rerouting a P-3 Orion from Operation Icebridge to help as well.

Even the United Kingdom has offered their assistance to their former foe in the form of a research vessel and C-130 asset-based in the Falkland Islands.

Hopefully, the submarine just suffered a communications failure and is still carrying out its missions, however as the days go by the hope that submarine is still operational continues to fade.

Unlike a nuclear submarine like those found in the US Navy, a diesel submarine cannot stay underwater for multiple months with an unlimited range.

The San Juan is at the mercy of its electric batteries to provide power when submerged, and these need to be recharged by running the diesel engines surfaced or using a snorkel system. 

If the submarine did indeed sink with its hull intact, the crew would only have had hours not days of breathable air left before suffocation.

In normal operation, the San Juan can only be at sea for thirty days, so time might be running out for the crew’s rescue.

While incidents like these are increasingly rare due to modern high-tech submarines, it is very important to realize that being a submariner is still a risk as you and your boat are at the liberty of the sea.

This incidents proves that there are still risks involved  in submarine operations, and the Argentine navy is preparing for a possible underwater rescue of the submarines crew.