Friday, April 24, 2015

U.S. pursuing high profile submarine upgrades, tech infusions to retain undersea warfare leadership

Kalyan Kumar, International Business Times
23 April 2015

The U.S. Navy is working on a slew of new technologies to ensure that the country maintains its technological edge in the undersea domain, at a time China and others are rapidly modernising their submarine fleet. Commenting on the prospect of rivals closing in on the U.S edge in naval technology, Navy's Director of Undersea Warfare, Rear Adm. Joseph Tofalo said the force is “focused on sustaining R&D to ensure that the U.S. retains its technological superiority.”

USS South Dakota

Tofalo claimed that its R&D efforts have paid off as evidenced in the USS South Dakota, which is a prototype Virginia-class attack submarine engineered with a series of high-tech solutions.  He said the main innovation in the submarine R&D program has been quieting technologies for the engine room, in making the submarine harder to detect with the use of a larger vertical array and coating materials for the hull.
Tofalo also said risk reduction works have been done on other submarines as well, including the USS Dallas and USS Maryland. "The South Dakota will deliver in the next few years. I would like to think that our technological ability to maintain undersea dominance is going to help us with the capacity issue that a country like China represents," he said. The Navy official said the R&D program has the sole purpose to make sure not to get surprised. That is why, all the threat vectors -- hydrodynamics, acoustics and lasers are taken care of in the matter of latest innovation.

Emerging Technology

However, defense analysts have raised the spectre that the U.S. might be losing its military technological edge over adversaries. So, the U.S. has to re-think the role of manned submarines and accelerate innovation in the realm of undersea warfare. A report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments said, "America's superiority in undersea warfare results from decades of research and development, operations, and training. It is, however, far from assured. The 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," noted its author Bryan Clark.
Some technologies that might be changing the equation will include increased use of lower frequency active sonar and non-acoustic methods used in detecting submarines at short ranges. He also cites a technique of bouncing laser light or light-emitting-diodes off a submarine hull to detect its presence.

More Nuclear Submarines

Meanwhile, the Diplomat reports that U.S. Navy will build three instead of two nuclear-powered Virginia-class attack submarines or SSN-774 every year. This is because the older Los-Angeles-class fast-attack submarines of the 70s and 9os will be retiring soon and the U.S. Navy will face a shortfall in active vessels in the near future. The deficit in the U.S. Navy’s current requirement will be an average of 10 nuclear-powered attack submarines on a day-to-day basis. At this rate of deployment schedule, the navy will need a fleet of 48 SSNs over the next few decades. But, in 2025, the number of active SSNs will drop and it will be 41 in 2029.  The U.S. Navy’s current 30-year SSN procurement plan also factors in this gap, that may sustain for 12 years until 2041, when the number of SSNs will stabilise to 48.

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