Oops, another top secret exposed
Image on right is a screen grab of Microsoft's Virtual Earth showing the Ohio class ballistic missile submarine in dry dock near Bangor in Washington state. Inset: 2003 photo of USS Virginia in contstruction showing the propellor covered.
September 4, 2007 - 10:48AM
A man looking for a new home on an online mapping service has stumbled across an aerial image of a US nuclear-powered submarine in dry dock showing a part of the vessel that wasn't meant to be seen.
The image - which appears on Microsoft's Virtual Earth mapping service - is of the seven-bladed propeller used on an Ohio class ballistic missile submarine.
The vessel was being worked on at a dry dock at the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in Washington State, in the north-west of the United States. The base is part of Bangor's Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific which houses the largest nuclear weapons arsenal.
Propeller designs have been closely guarded secrets since the days of the Cold War. It is still common for them to be draped with tarps or removed and covered when a submarine is out of the water.
The propeller design is an integral part of a submarine's ability to remain undetected during operations, ensuring that it can patrol the seas in stealth without giving its position away to surface ships.
The find has triggered a debate over whether online mapping services offered by the likes of Google and Microsoft should be allowed to snap and publish images of sensitive US military installations.
Reporting the discovery, the Navy Times newspaper quoted military analyst Nathan Hughes as saying that exposing the propeller was a major blunder that had compromised "sensitive naval technology".
The paper quotes a Pentagon public affairs officer as saying that the Defence Department does not have a policy - or the legal authority - to demand the removal or blurring of commerical aerial or satellite photography....