News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, August 15, 2000 - 1:35 p.m. EDT
Presenter: Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, DASD PA


Q: Craig, does United States -- regarding the Russian submarine, does the United States have any independent information, as opposed to reports from Russia, about what caused this accident in the first place?

Quigley: No, we do not. We are relying on the Russians as the best source of information about what happened to their own submarine. We're certainly anxious to hear more and are very concerned for the safety of the crew. But we have no independent means of ascertaining -- we don't know what was the cause of the accident.

Q: So U.S. vessels that were in the region did not provide any information about what they heard or saw?

Quigley: I can say, without any equivocation, that there was no U.S. vessel involved at all in the accident. We don't know what the cause of the accident was. We'll rely on the Russians to provide that information over time. But there were no American vessels involved in the accident.

Q: I mean, as opposed to being involved in the accident, I'm talking about ships that were in the area, not involved in the accident.

Quigley: We had one T-AGOS vessel -- it's an oceanographic surveillance vessel -- that was a couple of hundred miles away from the site, the area of the exercise. And that was the only surface vessel that was in that part of the world's oceans at all.

Q: How about a sub-surface vessel?

Quigley: We don't discuss submarine operations, other than to say that our submarines operate throughout the waters of the world. But we don't discuss the specifics of submarine operations or their locales.

Q: And the T-AGOS didn't provide any information?

Quigley: None that I'm aware of.

Q: And where does the United States stand on offering or queuing up potential assets to provide the help to the Russians?

Quigley: Well, that's been provided in a couple of different means, John. Yesterday Mr. Berger, Sandy Berger, in a conversation with his counterpart in the Russian government, Mr. Ivanov -- there are two Ivanovs in the Russian government; this is his national security counterpart, as opposed to the foreign minister -- it was part of a regularly scheduled conversation on other topics -- he expressed concern for the sailors, asked if there was anything the United States might provide. The response was very cordial and appreciative, but they felt that they had enough assets on hand -- Russian assets on hand to carry out the task at hand.

Secretary Cohen today just about three hours ago sent a note to Defense Minister Sergeyev, again offering United States assistance in any way that we can, and so far, we have not heard back from that. But again, that's just been sent in the last couple -- three hours.

Given the time difference, we might not hear on that until tomorrow.

Q: Have you positioned any assets so that they could be more speedily brought to assistance?

Quigley: No, we have not like moved troops or flown things or steamed things somewhere. As I'm sure many of you know, the deep submergence rescue vehicle assets that the U.S. Navy has are located at North Island Naval Air Station in the San Diego metro area. The folks there are very much aware of the accident with the Russian submarine, of course. They've taken prudent measures to make sure they can account for their folks, they're doing an inventory of equipment, they're making sure everything is as prepared as it can be.

But again, in the absence of a request for assistance, we're just kind of taking what we think are the prudent precautionary measures to shorten the response time line, should such a request for assistance come. Many other things could be provided in the way of technical advice -- who knows what would be helpful to the Russians, and I'm sure they're considering that carefully.

Q: Do you have any reason to believe that an American deep submergence recovery vehicle would be able to fit the hatch of this particular submarine, even with the different adjustable collars that the United States has for it?

Quigley: We think so, John, but there's a lack of clarity on that. Some time ago there was a -- some years ago there was a template provided by the United States to various navies in the world saying this is what you would need to construct and put on the escape hatches of your submarines in order to make it compatible with our deep submergence rescue vehicles. Now, whether or not the Russians, or other navies, for that matter, have taken that next step and constructed that sort of an adaptive arrangement, we don't know.

Q: You don't know whether it would fit on there anyway, so --

Quigley: We're not sure.

Q: And one other sort of operating question. If the submarine is in fact at a 60-degree angle off level, which the Russians say it is, is that not beyond the operating parameters of this recovery vehicle?

Quigley: It is beyond the design parameters of the United States deep submergence rescue vehicles. It's been described to me by some of our technical experts as right on the edge and at very high risk. We would have to just take a really hard look at that.

And again, that would be preceded, of course, by very detailed technical discussions with the Russian Navy, with their design experts, so that we would have some clarity as to the current state of play on the submarine and how it's situated on the bottom.

Q: So it sounds like it might be a waste of time, even if you did send this piece of equipment over to the Russians, were they to ask for it.

Quigley: Well, again, in our invitation to the Russians and asking the question if there was anything to provide, if they choose to ask for some assistance, that may not be the form in which it's provided. So, I think that they are fully aware of our willingness to provide help, but they feel that they've got the assets on hand now that they need to do the job as they see it, and we stand ready to do what we can if that request comes.

Q: Admiral, are you aware of any queries by the Russians, perhaps, to NATO about possible assets in the event they were to request help?

Quigley: I heard that not long before I came into the briefing room, but I'm very fuzzy on details. I'm sorry, that's just about the extent of what I had heard. I don't know what may have transpired there. I would have to refer you to NATO.

Q: What was --

Quigley: I am clear on the request that -- or the offer that the United States provided. I know on the U.S. national side we have made that offer and the Russians have declined. On the NATO side, I'm not sure.

Q: What is it that you've heard about NATO?

Quigley: That there was some sort of a request. But I have no clarity on that. I'm sorry.


Q: Can you tell us what, if anything, we know about the Russian effort to affect a rescue? And is the Loyal, the T-AGOS ship you mentioned, moving closer so that it can monitor a rescue attempt?

Quigley: No, Loyal is remaining at considerable distance. And we don't -- we're, again, relying on Russian reports as to what it is that they are doing. I know that there is a variety of ships and aircraft that I've seen and read being described in print and electronic news pieces coming out of Moscow. But the exact state of affairs, Dale, as to what they may have on-scene and what their activities are this very moment, I don't have visibility on that.

There have been reports coming out of Russia that said that a recovery operation is underway. But that's a broad statement, I'm not sure what that means exactly.

Q: Craig, has anybody in the building here calculated how long the crew can survive in the sub in terms of the oxygen supply?

I think I remember when the Scorpion went down, they were able to calculate it out to like 110 hours per certain volume. But do you all have any kind of indication as to when we reach a point of no return in terms of the breathability of the air?

Quigley: I understand your question. I don't think we have the fact at our disposal here in the U.S. Defense Department to give a good, honest answer to that though. It would depend on how many people are specifically on-board the submarine; your level of activity amongst those crew members on the submarine; what is the state of the atmosphere on the submarine. And those are things we just don't know. So, we're just not sure.

Q: (inaudible)

Quigley: I've seen both 107 and 116, Bob, so I don't know. I've not heard an official figure given by the Russian navy yet, and I would certainly defer to them.

Q: Is the Pentagon entirely confident that there are no nuclear weapons on the submarine?

Quigley: Again, we're going with the public statements by the Russian naval authorities that there were not.

Q: And are there particular concerns about having two nuclear reactors at the bottom of the Barents Sea? Or is 450 feet of water just a fine insulation even should parts of that radioactive material get out of the containment vessel?

Quigley: Well, I think everyone's foremost concerns, John, are for the sailors that are on that submarine. But, again, from reports that the Russians have provided, their reporting is that the reactors were safely shut down. If that is the case, that would be -- that would give you one set of circumstances. If it were not that case, it would give you another. So again, I'm afraid we don't have very good visibility on that.

Q: You mentioned that obviously the reports of the Russian rescue effort are sketchy. Can you tell us whether or not the U.S. has information on whether or not the Russians do in fact have a similar rescue vehicle that we do?

Quigley: They do. It's not a perfect match, if you will. I don't think there are any two nations that have exactly identical equipments.

Q: (inaudible)

Quigley: No, I don't. But I know that if you look at nations like France and Great Britain and the Netherlands and Russia, all of whom operate submarines and have for many, many years, they each have some capability to rescue crew members from submarines in distress. And the Russian navy does indeed have that capability. Now, where it is located and its current state of readiness, I don't have that information.

Yes, sir?

Q: Can you tell us about the explosion that reports say Navy assets heard at the time of the --

Quigley: Chris, again, I've heard "collision," I've heard "fire," I've heard "explosion" as the cause of the accident. And I just -- it's confusing enough for me that I wouldn't hazard a guess in that regard.

The Russians may not yet be in a position to know with certainty what the cause of the accident was. So I would just be very reluctant to try to predict the accuracy of that cause versus any other. I'm sorry.

Q: Would it be inaccurate to say the Navy heard any explosion at the time of the mishap?

Quigley: I don't know what they may have heard. I'm sorry. Again, I'm sure that they'll be forthcoming with that as they can be in the days ahead. But I'm just not sure what sort of communications they may have had with the submarine or what their sensors may have picked up. I don't know. I'm sorry.


Q: The AMETEK and IUSS system is still very much in operation. This is not a classified piece of information. In fact, Aviation Week last year did a big kind of anniversary on these two sensor systems and how they've kept the peace in the Cold War. Can you deny or affirm that those systems were in a position to record and retrieve an acoustic signal from that incident?

Quigley: No, I will not be specific as to what any of our sensors may have detected.


Q: Just to get back to John's question for a minute, even if the crew can be saved at this point, it appears the vessel is certainly lost. What is the threat -- eventually, presumably, seawater will get in there. If that vessel sits there forever, it can't remain sealed forever against the elements. What is the threat in terms of the amount of radioactive material in those reactors? And how big a contamination potential threat are were talking about here?

Quigley: Well, I can't give you a sense of degree here. I mean, I would have to defer to the designers of those reactors and to what sort of protective measures do they have in place, how are they designed to withstand the elements over a period of time, and I just -- I can't give you a good answer. I'm sorry. I know I'm spending a lot of time telling you I can't give you a good answer, but this is -- these are all systems -- they're all perfectly valid questions; I just don't have the visibility to provide good answers.

I'm sorry.


Q: Here's one maybe you can answer. In addition to the DSRVs, the Pentagon and the U.S. government has apparently drawn up a list of things that, should the Russians ask, we would be willing to offer in terms of assisting them in this situation. Can you give us an idea of some of the things beyond that one submersible that you might be willing to help them with?

Quigley: Sure. Yeah. I'm not trying to be all-encompassing here, but some others come immediately to mind. There are two of the deep submergence rescue vehicles in San Diego are, North Island area, one of which, as I understand, is operational and ready to go. The other is not.

We have submarine rescue chambers that are -- I'm being a little overly simplistic, but it's basically a bell sort of a device that is lowered down from a surface ship by a cable of some sort, that would then meet up with a submarine's rescue or escape hatch on the bottom.

You certainly have salvage assets that you've seen used all too often in the last few years for aircraft accidents, the Challenger disaster, things of that sort, that could be used to recover objects from the ocean floor.

Certainly a variety of expertise exists in the Navy and in the private maritime salvage community for technical advice -- if not equipment, then certainly bringing another set of personal experiences and knowledge to the table to share information.

Medical information -- if that would be desired, we certainly have a great deal of experience in that regard and in the effects of deep water and deep ocean environments on human beings.

So, again, without trying to be all-encompassing, those are some other things that come to mind.

Q: How about the Glomar Explorer? Is that still a functional salvage ship?

Quigley: I don't know. I don't know where it is today, to be honest with you.

Q: Craig?

Quigley: Yes?

Q: Forgive me. Maybe we covered this already. But the depth seems to be in question. Some people are saying down to 500 feet. Some say 350. If it's closer to the latter, has anybody talked about the possibility of the crew trying to get out without any kind of rescue device, maybe with some kind of breathing apparatus, if the submarine has it, to come to up to the surface and then be decompressed if there are no pressurization chambers ready?

Quigley: Well, like the answer to Chris's question on the cause of the accident, I know we've seen -- I have personally seen water depths involved here from about 330 feet all the way to about 510 feet. So again, I have no confidence that we here have a good understanding of the depth involved.

But I'm told by folks that that is a very chancy thing, at best -- to try to exit a submarine at that depth. I'm not at all clear that it can be done.

I saw a report yesterday that there was a possibility -- let me go back. I saw reports both yesterday and today with people offering their opinions that it was feasible for crew members to exit the submarine at that depth and ascend to the surface, and I've heard equally adamant assertions yesterday and today that that can't be done.

So I'm not sure if we have a good handle on that. And I know we don't have a good handle on what may be aboard that submarine in the way of emergency escape equipment, nor whether it remains operational or if it's accessible. That we definitely don't know.

Chris, you had -- go ahead.

Q: Admiral, you've ruled out the possibility that the U.S. was actually involved in the mishap, and that's clear. Are you prepared to go further and categorically say that the Pentagon does not believe any submarine collision occurred in the Barents Sea?

Quigley: No. That's knowledge I don't have. I have to go back to the Russians being the most authoritative -- the only authoritative source here to say what was the cause of the accident. I'm completely comfortable saying that no U.S. vessels were involved. But beyond that, I'm not comfortable; I don't know.


Q: Let me just try Ivan's question a little different way. I'm guessing that U.S. submarine skippers have some guidance that they're given in terms of the maximum depth at which they could allow sailors to attempt to swim out if one of our submarines was in a situation like this. Can you tell us what that is?

Quigley: I don't know that, but let me take that question. I would think we would have that information too. I don't have that with me, however.

Q: Admiral, going back for a second to when you said it was a possibility of a 60-degree list, and if we actually sent a submersible down it could be a high-risk operation, is that high risk to our crewmen that are aboard or high risk in terms of possible success of the mission?

Quigley: Well again, let me go back, though, and -- one more step. I have seen reports that say that the submarine is sitting upright or 45 degrees or 60 degrees. I don't know if any of them are accurate.

But the question I was trying to respond to was the capability of our DSRV. And it has a design maximum; I'm not sure what that figure is, but I think 60 degrees, if it were 60 degrees, is beyond the design maximum at which that system can effectively mate with the escape hatch ring and get a seal, get a water-tight, air-tight seal.

And if it's indeed over that far, that becomes much more of a high-risk operation. If it's less, then you're back within the design parameters of our DSRV capabilities, and that changes the equation.

Q: Would that be high risk to our personnel that are actually down there trying to --

Quigley: High risk to everyone involved, the rescue personnel as well as those on board the submarine. So it would have to be done with extreme caution, if at all.

Q: Do you have any reflections on the fact that the Russian government is talking about this as it is evolving, and contrast that to the way that the government in Moscow used to deal with things like submarine accidents?

Quigley: I think it's a marked change. And I would offer them the highest compliments in this most difficult time. There's an incredible change in approach from 1990 to today, and this is something that the Soviet Navy would just simply have never discussed publicly, certainly not to the extent that they have so far. I think you're seeing a philosophical change in their approach to the release of information. It is conflicting information coming out from different parts of their organization, but there is an underlying willingness to share the information that we did not see in the days of the Soviet Union.

Q: Craig?

Quigley: Yeah?

Q: A two-parter. Do you have any information -- there seems to be a conflict again. There was a report yesterday that Soviet -- pardon me, Russian surface vessels had put down air and power lines, umbilicals to the sub. That was apparently rescinded today. Do you have any information on that? And secondly, what about the air supply? Will the batteries handle C02 scrubbers? Any idea how much air they would have, in days or hours?

Quigley: Let me go with the first one first. I do remember seeing the reports that talked about some cable or cables being sent down to the submarine. And again, it's a design element that I don't know whether or not that is a realistic capability on that particular class of submarine. It seemed a little odd, but if they had designed that capability into that particular class of submarine, great. But if they've now rescinded that today, it might be another example of a lot of information coming out as quickly as they can, and some of it's conflicting.

And I did take the oxygen question before you arrived. I don't think we can give a very good answer to that. It really depends on the level of activity in the submarine, the numbers of crew members, the state of the atmosphere in the submarine, the state of the equipment in the submarine; none of which we have a good handle on.


Q: A question on Kosovo. The Army has disciplined --