I managed to snatch a glimpse of a TV program on Deutsche Welle the other day. The subject was the new non-violent totally-defensive U-212A class submarine, the latest in a long line of German U-Boats. Submarines.
Now anyone who knows even the first thing about military history will recognise the phrase "German U-Boat" carries the same sort of fear-factor as "Tyrannosaurus Rex", "Parking Police" or "Income Tax Audit".
The crew described the sub as "the most modern and most deadly non-nuclear sub in the world", and that's not much of exaggeration, if any. The Israeli Defence Force's Dolphin class would rival the U-212A, but that's because they have the same sonar fit and a more closely integrated combat system.
The captain, crew and narrator went to great lengths to explain that the primary mission of the U-212A class of submarines was reconaissance. Or, as they put it, spying. Seeing without being seen. Oh yes, it had weapons, some torpedos, but they were mainly for self-defence, the whole idea was to avoid combat, not engage in it.
Funnily enough, and contrary to all expectations, they were actually telling the truth. That's the prime mission of all subs these days. To be sneaky, gather data, maybe land some special forces to take a closer look (or commit mayhem) and lay mines. The last time that any submarine fired torpedos in anger was over 20 years ago, when the Belgrano was sunk by 3 improved WW-II vintage Mk 8*** torpedos, 2 of which hit. I might add that the recommended way of firing straight-runners (unguided torpedos) like the old Mk 8*** meant that only 2 from a salvo could hit if you 'scored a bullseye', but the chances of 1 hitting were really high.
How do I know all these gory details (like the fact that it was a Mk 8*** not a Mk 8** for example - ie the third not the second major re-build of the original Mk 8)? Well, for my sins, I've spent a bit of my time on board various submarines, in a professional capacity.
Later in the program, after the exercise had been completed, the sleek U-212A boat (subs are boats, never ships) U-31 cruised past another spectacular vessel. I couldn't read the hull number on it, but it had to be either the HSV-1 or HSV-2, there are only two boats that look like that. It was a US Naval catamaran so futuristic that looked as if it was going 100 km/h even though it was stopped. Probably High Speed Vessel 2.
It was a moot point whether the the crew of the U-31 was more interested in the HSV 2, or the HSV 2 crew more interested in the U-31.
What I found particularly fascinating was the sonar (sound) signature of the HSV 2 that the U-212A's crew played for the cameraman. Particularly ironic.
Let me explain.
I did the architecture, and some of the code, for the Audio processing module of the STN-Atlas CSU-90 sonar (known now for reasons I won't go in to as the DBQS-40). There's a significant Australian-made component in this German submarine, and the bit of the software that produced the sounds broadcast by Deutsche Welle was one of the bits I personally created.
As for the HSV-2? She was designed by Incat of Tasmania, and built in the USA by Bollinger-Incat. Australian military hi-tech sure gets around.