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Submarines To Become Stealthier Through Acoustic Superiority Upgrades, Operational Concepts

The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Maryland (SSBN 738) , which along with the future USS South Dakota has been used to test acoustic superiority measures, prepares to get underway for routine operations from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., March 15, 2016. US Navy photo.

The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Maryland (SSBN 738) , which along with the future USS South Dakota (SSN-790) has been used to test acoustic superiority measures, prepares to get underway for routine operations from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., March 15, 2016. US Navy photo.

The submarine community is focused on maintaining access and boosting acoustic superiority after operating in relatively permissive environments for several years, two Navy officials told USNI News.

Director of Undersea Warfare Rear Adm. Charles Richard told USNI News in a March 22 interview that the submarine community knows how to operate in a stealthy mode, but “we’re not taking our stealth for granted and we’re not taking this competitive advantage we have for granted.”

To that end, he said, the Navy is building an upcoming Virginia-class attack submarine, the future USS South Dakota (SSN-790), with acoustic superiority features for the fleet to test out and ultimately include in both attack and ballistic missile submarines in the future.

Richard said the under-construction South Dakota will feature a large vertical array, a special coating and machinery quieting improvements inside the boat. The boat is on track to deliver early despite the changes, he said. Once South Dakota joins the fleet – in 2018, according to the boat’s commissioning committee – lessons learned from the acoustic superiority features will help inform enhancements built into future Virginia class boats and the Ohio Replacement Program boomers, as well as the legacy Ohio-class ballistic missile subs and some Virginia-class boats.

“Stealth is the cover charge, stealth is the price of admission, and while we have great access now we don’t take that for granted either,” Richard said.
“Making the right investments to maintain acoustic superiority over a potential adversary” is of high importance to the Navy today, and the South Dakota project represents “a clear national investment in acoustic superiority.”

Program Executive Officer for Submarines Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley told USNI News in a March 3 interview that acoustic superiority items, some of which will be built into the ship and some of which will be added during the ship’s post shakedown availability, “will kind of become the standard for what we do in various forms between Ohio Replacement, future Virginias and even backfit some on the Ohios and some of the delivered Virginias to make sure that submarine force is pacing the threat of these new highly capable submarines that are being delivered” from other navies like Russia and China.

Jabaley added that as the Navy looks at its next class of attack submarines, the SSN(X), stealth will be a key factor in the design and could lead to the Navy selecting an electric drive or other advanced propulsion system to eliminate as much noise as possible.

“I’m not just talking about the propeller or propulsor, it’s the whole propulsion system from power generation to motion through the water,” he said in the interview.
“How am I going to get beyond the limitations of a rotating set of blades and the unavoidable noise that I just can’t get below?”

Richard said that operational concepts were also important to maintaining a stealth advantage. The Navy is capable of operating in a stealthy manner but hasn’t had to in recent years, making it important for submariners to practice command and control in anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) type environments, where the submarine may not be able to report back up the chain of command to minimize its electromagnetic signature. Thinking about undersea warfare in the context of a peer competitor will help the Navy learn where submarines fit into various scenarios, whether it means getting into a restricted area and sharing information back to the fleet that other assets couldn’t access, or remaining stealthy and reporting back only after a mission is accomplished.

  • Curtis Conway

    With the advent of burgeoning Russian and Chinese submarine fleets, and both countries either considering, or actually manning cold war FBM patrols in the Pacific and Atlantic, the fast attack fleet simply must grow. Conventional missions will continue as before, and monitoring the FBM patrols are once again required. Plan for the worst and hope for the best, and hope we do not need the capacity.

  • Charles

    Sea bed sensors seem a more rewarding R&D thing to me. If they can observe and report, Air can fix the rest

  • RobM1981

    For now, stay noisy… let everyone think that you’re noisy. But, yes, by all means continue to push the acoustic superiority – and use it if/when you need to.

    Never, ever let them know what you can really do… until you need to do it 🙂

    The Virginia’s give me great hope that the USN can still build a great platform. And the Ohio’s, built when Rickover was still a Lieutenant j.g., or something like that, are also an amazing testament to how good we can be.

    Their replacement should be awe inspiring… in a low key kind of way.

  • @USS_Fallujah

    Being stealthy is great, but being able to detect and engage before being detected is the key to winning an engagement, as you reach the limits of reduced sound emissions you can still leverage advantages in sensor technology to keep ahead of peer adversaries.

  • PolicyWonk

    The submarine community is focused on maintaining access and boosting
    acoustic superiority after operating in relatively permissive
    environments for several years…
    =====================================
    Good idea. Especially since I’ve read that the Chinese have created their own SOSUS in the S. China Sea – and they’re trying real hard to make that a “less-than-permissive” environment.

    • Augustine’s Lion

      A new Cold war….

  • old guy

    No matter how good any fixed array, like SOSUS is, it has a life measured in minutes if a conflict is initiated.

  • Phil Verhey

    Would love to know more about the decoy program i can’t remember the name of… basically the sub would launch it out a front tube & i omits the subs casual/quite noise signatures & it then goes all quiet and drifts lower & off course. Much like MALD for the air force it could return a spoofed radar(sonar) return back to enemy sources. After launch a tail transducer would release and drag behind, on receiving a sonar wave the main body and tail would emit a spoof return the size & strength of it’s source boat back up while emitting a wave on the level to disrupt sonar reaching & accurately returning from below (where the boat went).

    LAST I READ, it had proven viable and had moved from the test lake to open sea trials.