Magazine article National Defense

Sensor-Enhancing Software Helps Detect Diesel Submarines

Magazine article National Defense

Sensor-Enhancing Software Helps Detect Diesel Submarines

Article excerpt

U.S. military planners have become concerned that rogue states or terrorist groups may acquire Russian Kilo-class, diesel-electric submarines and equip them with "air independent propulsion."

Diesel-electric submarines using air independent propulsion can remain submerged for extended periods of up to two or three weeks, and unlike nuclear submarines, diesel-electric submarines can "bottom out" or rest on the ocean floor.

Since shallow coastal regions are complex and noisy, the detection of such diesel-electric submarines is not possible using traditional acoustic methods.

With air-independent propulsion, the fuel source and reused exhaust gases are combined in a closed loop to generate a submarine's power. Current power plants include closed-cycle diesel engines and, more recently, fuel cells.

This form of propulsion, while not used by the United States, Britain or Russia, is used by smaller navies. It is considered ideal for small vessels, is cheaper to operate and makes the submarine more difficult to detect.

Diesel-electric submarines can provide a formidable challenge to current surveillance systems. The high ambient noise levels from local shipping traffic and marine life make passive sonar detection almost impossible in littoral waters.

The challenge of detecting diesel-electric submarines is best illustrated by an example from the Falklands War. During that conflict, the British Royal Navy could not defeat a single Argentinean diesel-electric submarine, although the British were highly experienced and released more than 150 weapons with no hits scored.

Low-frequency active sonar technology, such as the surveillance towed-array sensor system, may be an effective alternative to passive detection, but is politically disadvantaged because it has been reported to harm marine mammals.

Detecting submarines in littoral waters is comparable to locating landmines. …

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