GEAR & TECH

The US Navy just launched an effort to built this super-stealthy submarine

The Navy is now launching the most technologically advanced attack submarine it has ever developed by christening the USS South Dakota - a Block III Virginia-Class attack submarine engineered with a number of never-before-seen undersea technical innovations.


While service officials say many of the details of this new "acoustic superiority" Navy research and development effort are, naturally, not available for pubic discussion, the USS South Dakota has been a "technology demonstrator to prove out advanced technologies," Naval Sea Systems Command Spokeswoman Colleen O'Rourke told Scout Warrior.

Many of these innovations, which have been underway and tested as prototypes for many years, are now operational as the USS South Dakota enters service; service technology developers have, in a general way, said the advances in undersea technologies built, integrated, tested and now operational on the South Dakota include quieting technologies for the engine room to make the submarine harder to detect, a new large vertical array and additional "quieting" coating materials for the hull, Navy officials explained.

The USS South Dakota was christened by the Navy Oct. 14 at a General Dynamics Electric Boat facility in Groton, Ct.

"As the 7th ship of Block III, the PCU South Dakota (SSN 790) will be the most advanced VIRGINIA class submarine on patrol," O'Rourke said.

Sailors, aboard the Virginia-class attack submarine USS Texas (SSN 775), moor the boat to the pier. Texas is visiting Yokosuka for a port visit. U.S. Navy port visits represent an important opportunity to promote stability and security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, demonstrate commitment to regional partners and foster growing relationships. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brian G. Reynolds)

In recent years, the service has been making progress developing new acoustics, sensors and quieting technologies to ensure the U.S. retains its technological edge in the undersea domain – as countries like China and Russia continue rapid military modernization and construction of new submarines.

The impetus for the Navy's "acoustic superiority," is specifically grounded in the emerging reality that the U.S. undersea margin of technological superiority is rapidly diminishing in light of Russian and Chinse advances.

Described as a technology insertion, the improvements will eventually be integrated on board both Virginia-Class submarines and the now-in -development next-generation nuclear-armed boats called the Columbia-Class.

Some of these concepts, described as a fourth generation of undersea technology, are based upon a "domain" perspective as opposed to a platform approach – looking at and assessing advancements in the electro-magnetic and acoustic underwater technologies, Navy developers explained.

"Lessons learned from South Dakota will be incorporated into Block V and later Virginia Class submarines, increasing our undersea domain advantage and ensuring our dominance through the mid-century and beyond," O'Rourke added.

Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Casey Hopkins

The idea with "acoustic superiority," is to engineer a circumstance wherein U.S. submarines can operate undetected in or near enemy waters or coastline, conduct reconnaissance or attack missions and sense any movement or enemy activities at farther ranges than adversaries can.

Acoustic sensor technology works by using underwater submarine sensors to detect sound "pings" in order to determine the contours, speed and range of an enemy ship, submarine or approaching weapon. Much like radar analyzes the return electromagnetic signal bounced off an object, acoustics works by using "sound" in a similar fashion. Most of the undersea acoustic technology is "passive," meaning it is engineered to receive pings and "listen" without sending out a signal which might reveal their undersea presence or location to an enemy, Navy technology developers explained.

Some of these concepts, described as a fourth generation of undersea technology, are based upon a "domain" perspective as opposed to a platform approach – looking at and assessing advancements in the electro-magnetic and acoustic underwater technologies, Navy developers explained.

The new "acoustic superiority" effort is immersed in performing tactical assessments as well as due diligence from an academic standpoint to make sure the service looks at all the threat vectors – whether that be hydrodynamics, acoustics, lasers, among others.

The emerging technologies, however, are heavily focused upon sensitive, passive acoustic sensors able to detect movement and objects of potential adversary boats and ships at much further ranges and with a higher-degree of fidelity. While high-frequency, fast two-way communication is currently difficult to sustain from the undersea domain, submarines are able to use a Very Low Frequency radio to communicate while at various depths beneath the surface, Navy leaders told Warrior.

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Groton, Conn. (July 30, 2004) - The nationÕs newest and most advanced nuclear-powered attack submarine and the lead ship of its class, PCU Virginia (SSN 774) returns to the General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard following the successful completion of its first voyage in open seas called "alpha" sea trials. Virginia is the NavyÕs only major combatant ready to join the fleet that was designed with the post-Cold War security environment in mind and embodies the war fighting and operational capabilities required to dominate the littorals while maintaining undersea dominance in the open ocean. Virginia and the rest of the ships of its class are designed specifically to incorporate emergent technologies that will provide new capabilities to meet new threats. Virginia will be delivered to the U.S. Navy this fall. U.S. Navy photo by General Dynamics Electric Boat (RELEASED)

Building upon developments with the South Dakota, the Navy, DARPA and industry are continuing to explore a new-generation of undersea technologies including quieter, stronger, longer-range communications, sonar detection and undersea drone autonomy.

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency and BAE-Systems have begun a high-tech project to engineer undersea drones that can use active sonar to find enemy submarines and network back to a host submarine in real-time.

The project, called Mobile Offboard Clandestine Communications and Approach (MOCCA) program, brings the prospect of a major breakthrough in undersea communications technology – allowing submarines to detect enemies from a much safer standoff distance. These days, in the dangerous and complication realm of undersea warfare, most undersea drones typically gather intelligence before returning to download data at the mother ship; this emerging technology would enable near real-time undersea connectivity between drones and larger submarines.

Instead of using passive sonar technology which listens for acoustic "pings" picked up from undersea enemy movement, MOCCA plans to use active sonar technology able to proactively send active acoustic pings forward and analyze the return signal to discern the counters, speed, shape and distance of an enemy submarine – all while enabling the host submarine retain its stealth properties.

Using satellite integrated telemetry, some underwater drones can transmit information back to boats in near real time; this provides a substantial tactical advantage because smaller drones are less detectable to enemy sonar and therefore able to access areas that are more difficult for larger submarines to penetrate. Such a technology allows for closer-in reconnaissance missions when it comes to operating in enemy territory, close to the shoreline, or overcoming the anti-access/area-denial challenges posed by potential adversaries.

The PCU Illinois returns to base Oct. 6, 2016, after completing its sea trials. The Illinois was commissioned and became the USS Illinois on Oct. 29. (Photo: U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Steve Owsley)

Such scenarios, envisioned for the not-too-distant future, provide the conceptual foundation of the Navy's emerging drone strategy. The idea is to capitalize upon the fast increasing speed of computer processing and rapid improvements in the development of autonomy-increasing algorithms; this will allow unmanned systems to quickly operate with an improved level of autonomy, function together as part of an integrated network, and more quickly perform a wider range of functions without needing every individual task controlled by humans.

Groups of underwater drones will soon simultaneously use sonar and different sensors to identify and destroy enemy submarines and surface ships, search for mines, collect oceanographic data and conduct reconnaissance missions – all while a single human performs command and control functions aboard a Navy ship or submarine, senior service officials explained.

The approach is designed as a mission multiplier to increase efficiency and perform a wider range of functions much more quickly. Armed with a small fleet of underwater drones, a submarine or destroyer will be able to perform higher-priority missions while allowing unmanned systems to quickly gather and transmit combat-relevant tactical and strategic information.

Study: US Undersea Technological Dominance in Jeopardy

Senior Navy officials have explained that the innovations contained in the USS South Dakota do, at least in part, help address an issue raised by a report several years ago by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

The report, titled "The Emerging Era in Undersea Warfare," says the technological margin of difference separating the U.S from potential rivals is expected to get much smaller. This is requiring the U.S. to re-think the role of manned submarines and prioritize innovation in the realm of undersea warfare, the study says.

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Newport News, Va. (May 17, 2006) Ð The Pre-Commissioning Unit Texas (SSN 775) sails past the Coast Guard cutter Sea Horse (WPB-87361). The fast-attack submarine returned to the Northrop Grumman Newport News, Va. shipyards after successfully completing alpha sea trials to test the boat's capabilities. Texas is the second Virginia-class submarine, the first major U.S. Navy combatant vessel class designed with the post-Cold War security environment in mind. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Apprentice Patrick Gearhiser (RELEASED)

"America's superiority in undersea warfare results from decades of research and development, operations, and training. It is, however, far from assured. U.S. submarines are the world's quietest, but new detection techniques are emerging that don't rely on the noise a submarine makes, and may make traditional manned submarine operations far more risky in the future. America's competitors are likely pursuing these technologies even while expanding their own undersea forces," writes the report's author Bryan Clark.

In the report, Clark details some increasingly available technologies expected to change the equation regarding U.S. undersea technological supremacy. They include increased use of lower frequency active sonar and non-acoustic methods of detecting submarine wakes at short ranges. In particular, Clark cites a technique of bouncing laser light or light-emitting-diodes off of a submarine hull to detect its presence.

"The physics behind most of these alternative techniques has been known for decades, but was not exploited because computer processors were too slow to run the detailed models needed to see small changes in the environment caused by a quiet submarine. Today, 'big data" processing enables advanced navies to run sophisticated oceanographic models in real time to exploit these detection techniques," Clark writes.

Although the CSBA study was published several years ago now, the issues it raises have been of great relevance to developers of undersea technology working to sustain US dominance in an increasingly contested domain. In addition, Navy developers have specifically said that many newer innovations have been engineered to address the concerns mentioned in the study.

China's Yuan-class attack submarine. | Congressional Research Service

Chinese Submarine Threat

When asked about the pace of Chinese undersea military construction and modernization, Navy officials say that the Navy is focused on sustaining the research and development, or R&D, sufficient to ensure the U.S. retains its technological superiority.

Maintaining an advanced submarine fleet, and strategic nuclear deterrence in particular, is all the more pressing and significant now that China has operational nuclear-armed JL-2 missiles able to hit part of the United States, Navy developers say.

Several Congressional reports in recent years have pointed out that Chinese modernization plans call for a sharp increase in attack submarines and nuclear-armed submarines or SSBNs. Chinese SSBNs are now able to patrol with nuclear-armed JL-2 missiles able to strike targets more than 4,500 nautical miles.

The Chinese are currently working on a new, modernized SSBN platform as well as a long-range missile, the JL-3, Congressional information says.

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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