ABOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK -- The skipper of the USS Kitty Hawk said Thursday escort ships protecting the aircraft carrier failed to detect a nuclear-powered Soviet submarine that rammed it in the Sea of Japan because they were too far away.
The Pentagon said both vessels sustained some damage.
Capt. David N. Rogers said the 5,200-ton Victor I class attack submarine was operating without navigational lights when it struck the 80,000-ton Kitty Hawk Wednesday night during joint U.S.-South Korean naval exercises.
'I was on the bridge at the time of the incident, monitoring one of the two radars,' Rogers told reporters aboard the carrier. 'We felt a sudden shudder, a fairly violent shudder.'
'We immediately launched two helicopters to see if we could render any assistance to them but the Soviet sub appeared to have suffered no extensive damage,' he said.
In Washington, Pentagon officials said the Kitty Hawk's anti-submarine helicopters, planes and escort ships had broken off sonar contact with the submarine two hours before the collision because the carrier had been ordered to proceed to the Yellow Sea.
Under peacetime conditions, it is not necessary to maintain a 24-hour watch on Soviet submarines, even when it is known they are in the vicinity, they said.
The carrier, accompanied by eight escort ships, apparently ran over the stern of the submarine as it was surfacing, the officials said.
A submarine's sonar is blind at its stern because of the sound of its own engines, and Pentagon officials indicated the Soviet boat's skipper was unaware of the presence of the carrier when he attempted to surface.
Nevertheless, the officials pinned the blame on the submarine for failing to turn on its navigation lights and a U.S. Navy investigation of the incident was under way.
Rogers said the collision as the Kitty Hawk sailed south toward the Yellow Sea 150 miles east of South Korea caused no damage to the carrier and no injuries among its 5,000-man crew.
But a Pentagon spokesman in Washington said the aircraft carrier was taking on water as a result of damage to a tank carrying jet fuel that is situated below the waterline near the starboard bow.
However, the damage was not severe enough to prevent it from continuing its normal operations, the spokesman Michael Burch said.
The sub, which was believed to have been surfacing when it hit the carrier, appeared to have sustained more damage than the carrier.
A dent or a crease was visible on its deck between the conning tower and the stern and the submarine was motionless for a time after the collision, Burch said.
There was no immediate reaction on the collision from the Soviet Union.
The failure of the escort ships to detect the submarine raised speculation about how the U.S. Navy could permit a Soviet submarine to approach so closely to a major ship such as a carrier.
'If it were a wartime situation, the submarine never would have gotten within the battle group,' Burch said in Washington. 'But these were peacetime operations. It is not unusual to lose contact' with a submarine.
The sub, which carries a crew of 90 and is armed with 18 torpedos, had been shadowing the Kitty Hawk since March 19 when it left the South Korean port of Pusan and was sailing parallel with the carrier before the collision, Rogers said.
'The Soviet sub did not have navigation lights in violation of international regulations,' Rogers told reporters aboard the Kitty Hawk in the Korea Strait.
'Kitty Hawk has no sonar system of its own but cruisers, destroyers and frigates accompanying it have sonar and other electronic systems that provide a significant capability against submarines,' Rogers said.
He said the escort vessels were 2.5 miles away from Kitty Hawk at the time of the incident -- a distance out normal operating range of sonar system.
'I presume that the submarine was submerged or partially submerged. That is why it did not appear on our radar scopes,' Rogers said.