• By The Financial District

Damaged U.S. Nuke Sub Working In Harsh Undersea Environment

The US Navy nuclear submarine that struck an underwater object in the South China Sea last weekend was operating in one of the world's most difficult undersea environments, one filled with noise from ships above and a seabed with constantly shifting contours that can surprise any submarine crew, Brad Lendon reported for CNN.

Photo Insert: The USS Connecticut is one of three Seawolf-class submarines in the Navy fleet.

US defense officials on Thursday did not give details of the accident that befell the USS Connecticut, saying only that a number of sailors aboard were injured when the sub struck an object while running submerged in the South China Sea.

The service said the injuries were minor and the sub arrived at the US naval base on the island of Guam on Friday under its own power. A Navy spokesperson told CNN the front of the submarine was damaged and there would be a "full investigation and a full assessment" of the incident.

The Connecticut is one of three Seawolf-class submarines in the Navy fleet, with a price tag of about $3 billion each. The 9,300-ton, 353-foot sub, commissioned in 1998, is powered by a single nuclear reactor and crewed by 140 sailors.

As it is larger than even the newest Virginia-class attack subs, the Connecticut can carry more weaponry than other US attack submarines -- including up to 50 torpedoes as Tomahawk cruise missiles, according to a US Navy fact sheet.

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And despite being more than 20 years old, it's also technologically advanced with updates to its systems performed during its service life. The Navy says it is exceptionally quiet, fast, well-armed, and equipped with advanced sensors.

"These subs have some of the most advanced -- in fact the most advanced -- underwater capabilities in the business," said Alessio Patalano, professor of war and strategy at King's College in London.

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According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, naval vessels use what is called "passive sonar" to detect objects in the water around them. Unlike "active sonar," which sends out pings and then registers how long their echoes take to return to the vessel, passive sonar detects only sound coming toward it.

This enables the submarine to stay quiet and hidden from adversaries, but it means subs must rely on other devices or multiple passive sonars to triangulate the location of an object in its path.

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