Sounds of Life Heard from Cold War Sonar System

by Richard Sterk, Electronic Systems Analyst, Forecast International.

U.S. Navy Surveillance Towed Array Sensor Systems (SURTASS) Low Frequency Active (LFA) is part of the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS), installed on U.S. Navy T-AGOS class ships. (Source: U.S. Navy)

Today, more and more nations are using highly advanced diesel-electric submarines that are extremely difficult to detect. And, the U.S. Navy has been forced to rely once again on its Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS) – not seen in priority use since the height of the Cold War. This sonar system is considered essential to America’s efforts to detect newer and quieter diesel-electric submarines, especially those operating in the littoral environment.

The Low Frequency Active (LFA) portion of SURTASS listens for sounds reflected off submarines that are too quiet to hear with a passive system alone. By using specialized signals and echo detection, SURTASS LFA increases the distance at which submarines can be detected and tracked.

SURTASS replacement units are currently in production in the U.S. and Japan. Advanced R&D for system enhancements and upgrades are also underway. Although SURTASS usage has been restricted under certain geographic conditions in order to reduce the effects on marine life, environmentalists persist in battling the Navy over its utilization of the oceans as a test range for acoustic systems and weapons.

Still, the program is expected to continue receiving funding and support for spares and maintenance and to produce occasional (one or two) replacement units, as national security will overrule political sit-ins and rallies.

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