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SS-22 Carrera Submarine Commander Discusses Diesel-Electric Submarine Initiative and Training with the US

SS-22 Carrera Submarine Commander Discusses Diesel-Electric Submarine Initiative and Training with the US

By Steven McLoud/Diálogo
October 05, 2021

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Five thousand nautical miles and nearly 30 days at sea — that’s the distance and time it took a Chilean submarine to travel from its home base in Talcahuano, Chile, to Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, California, to participate in the Diesel-Electric Submarine Initiative (DESI) with the U.S. Navy from June to September 2021.

Chilean Navy Commander Sergio Carter has more than 10 years of experience navigating submarines and is currently the captain of the SS-22 Carrera, a Scorpène-class diesel engine submarine. Considered true examples of hybrids, diesel submarines such as the SS-22 Carrera use batteries to travel silently underwater. The batteries are charged by the diesel engine that needs oxygen to run, requiring it to surface to power the engine. As a result, diesel submarines can only remain submerged for a few days at a time, as opposed to nuclear subs that can stay underwater for weeks.

With a payload capacity of 18 torpedoes or missiles, the SS-22 Carrera has six silos to fire from and proved a worthy opponent for the U.S. Navy during the three-month long exercise.

Cmdr. Carter met with Diálogo to discuss Chile’s participation in DESI and the benefit of training with the United States.

Part of the crew stands on the topside of the SS-22 Carrera while the submarine charges its batteries on the surface. (Photo: Chilean Navy)

 Diálogo: How would you describe DESI?

Chilean Navy Commander Sergio Carter, captain of the SS-22 Carrera: DESI is an initiative that began with the U.S. Fleet Forces Command in 2001, with the purpose of building an adversary force for training combat groups, and in the U.S. Navy strike group, with real resources.

In the specific case of Chile, before that and since 1994 we’ve participated in different events on the West Coast, mainly in the United States; since the DESI program began, we’ve participated since 2007. It’s a mutually beneficial exercise, very interesting for us due to its logistics and operational challenges.

Logistics [challenges] first, because operating a submarine for more than four months, almost five months, more than 5,000 nautical miles out from our home port, is unique in the diesel-electric submarine community in the world. I believe that very few countries can [do it] or have this capacity, and we have been able to do it in a systematic way. This creates added value in our preparation process, and in our ability to conduct and maintain operations for a long and significant time.

At the operational level, it’s having the opportunity to interact for so long with the best transportation resources, something the U.S. Navy has. It creates an experience for us, at every level we have on board; at the level of operators, maintenance personnel, and at the level of leadership that the officers and I perform, during operations. So, it’s a fabulous benefit for our crews and, I think, also for the U.S. government.

Chilean Navy Commander Sergio Carter, captain of the SS-22 Carrera, looks through the periscope during the DESI training exercise at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, California. (Photo: Chilean Navy)

Diálogo: Could you talk about the exercise?

Cmdr. Carter: This exercise consists of approximately 25 to 30 days sailing from Chile to San Diego. Once we are in San Diego, [we spend] about two and a half months here, and those two and a half months mean 40 to 45 days at sea, where this time we interact for 10 days with Strike Group One, consisting of the USS Carl Vinson, and then other submarine exercises to combat nuclear submarines; exercises with air means, such as the MH-60 Romeo helicopter at the San Clemente Island facilities; and also the submarine rescue exercise called Chile Mar, with the Undersea Rescue Command.

Diálogo: What was the benefit of training with the United States?

Cmdr. Carter: It is invaluable in terms of experience for operators, for maintenance personnel, and for those who operate submarines, due to the amount of air and submarine surface means that we interact with. Acting as an adversary force allows us to train in the most demanding environment possible. This provides capabilities to this team, which once back in Chile and the crews are mixed, allows for this knowledge to increase, along with the rest of the higher forces that are in Chile.

Diálogo: How can a submarine help combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing?

Cmdr. Carter: Within the Chilean Armed Forces’ scope of action, we have five defense mission areas, which fall to the Navy. One of those defense mission areas is to preserve our economic interests wherever they are, and this includes protecting our exclusive economic zone from illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Submarines are an excellent platform for that purpose. First, because they are discreet, nobody sees when they are operating; and second, because they have a number of sensors that allow them to detect any resource, both above and below the surface. They are capable of recording and locating [objects] by using optical, infrared, electromagnetic, and acoustic sensors, and this provides us with essential information to later determine whether or not the ships were operating according to current international regulations.