It's still unclear why the USS San Francisco ran aground Friday night. But retired Rear Admiral Hank McKinney, the former commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet's submarine force, has a guess: underwater mountains, or "sea mounts.""I expect that we will find out from the Navy that this grounding was the result an unknown sea mount or one that was incorrectly charted," he tells Defense Tech.

Submarines have run aground in the past in the "open ocean" while running submerged generally due to a navigation error. With the advent of GPS and navigation satellites, these types of incidents are extremely rare today. I assume from the news that a sailor was critically injured and damage wasdone to the forward ballast tanks, that the submarine must have been movingat high speed and collided with a "sea mount", an underwater mountain. Theforce of this type of collision could do a lot of damage and could injurepeople in the submarine. You might check out the USS RAY (SSN 653) which had a submerged collision with a sea mount in September 1977.All of this is speculation. Submarines do not have an underwater "radar" todetect sea mounts. They rely on accurate charts and accurate navigation toensure that they steer well clear of known shallow areas. All submariners,particularly the navigation team, are trained to operate the ship in anextremely conservative and safe manner to avoid these types of incidents.
THERE'S MORE: CNN has confirmed Adm. McKinney's hunch.AND MORE:'s Joe Buff tells you everything you ever wanted to know about submarines' navigational charts, collision alarms, and crash-prevention techniques. Great stuff.
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