Navy Makes Submarines Quieter, More Stealthy

USSVirginiaThe Navy is outfitting a prototype Virginia-class attack submarine platform with a series of upgrades designed to improve sonar detection and make boats less detectable and more stealthy.

The work includes the addition of a large vertical array, special coating materials for the exterior of the submarine and special noise-reduction technologies for the engine room, Rear Adm. Joe Tofalo, director, submarine warfare, said Oct. 23 at the Naval Submarine League annual symposium, Falls Church, Va.

The innovations are being worked on the USS South Dakota, a Block III Virginia-class attack submarine, or SSN, now in development.

“The USS South Dakota is a platform for three crucial aspects of our efforts to work on acoustic superiority. The large vertical array is about 60-percent designed with a preliminary design and we are installing a similar array on the USS Maryland that is 75-percent complete,” Tofalo said.

The USS Maryland is an existing nuclear-armed Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, or SSBN.  The larger array will extend the detection range and provide the submarine with an improved intelligence picture regarding threats, undersea terrain and what might be operating in a given area.

The external coating technology now being engineered onto the USS South Dakota, designed in part by the Office of Naval Research, is intended to decrease the signature of the boat by making it less detectable to enemy sensors and sonar.

In addition, about a dozen special noise reduction technologies are being added to the engine room.

The idea is to stay in front of fast-moving technological progress on the part of potential adversaries and help ensure undersea dominance for the U.S. Navy, Tofalo said. Making a submarine harder to detect and increasing the range of its on-board sonar is designed to provide a technological advantage to U.S. submarines looking to operate beneath or behind barriers erected by the weaponry and sensors of potential adversaries.

Many countries such as China, North Korea and Iran have or are developing long-range anti-ship missiles designed to prevent surface ships from operating within a certain distance of the shoreline. These technologies and weapons could be intended to deny access or deny an area to U.S. forces, making it much harder to operate and project power.

Vice Adm. Mike Connor, commander of the Navy’s Atlantic submarine force, Atlantic, said anti-access, area-denial efforts are increasingly expanding into the undersea domain.

“We need to be ready for a Russia, China, Iran or whoever else who – recognizing the superiority we have today – seeks to develop an A2/AD like network underwater to match what many of them currently have on the surface and in the air. We know that is going to happen,” Connor said.

Tofalo said the Navy intends to implement these technical upgrades across the fleet of existing and future attack and ballistic missile submarines. The extent of integration of these new technologies, however, may largely depend upon budget considerations.

“It is my intention to pursue all of these acoustic superiority technologies for in service and future SSNs and SSBNs. The submarine force is the key that unlocks that A2/AD bubble. We are the folks who are expected to get in underneath and – at the time and place of our choosing – do what needs to be done. A significant part of our ability to do this is an acoustic advantage,” Tofalo added.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • Batou

    Awwhh! So being the biggest and baddest bully on the block is no longer an option in the face of a real challenger - China. Russia was always the poor-man’s option (if they could keep a boat afloat)! But China has quietly got a hand around the Yank’s throat and slowly but so slowly the Chinese Mistress squeezes…. the US of A days are numbered while their Mil-spec power is on hire-purchase to the land-lord. Just saying….

    • Blottomania

      Good grief…if you had a clue, you’d be dangerous.

    • BobSacamano

      Are you attending Harvard or Columbia, Cal Berkeley?

      • Steve

        No probably works at the White House.

    • tiger

      Bully? Ask folks in the Gulf staring at black flags who the bully is.
      Land lord China? Before you go on power kick, You still have a Billion + folks who need to eat & have a paycheck. Saber rattles over rocks does put shrimp fried rice on plate. China needs the US. We Need China.

  • meengrn

    “These technologies and weapons could be intended to deny access or deny an area to U.S. forces, making it much harder to operate and project power.
    Vice Adm. Mike Connor, commander of the Navy’s Atlantic submarine force, Atlantic, said anti-access, anti-denial efforts are increasingly expanding into the undersea domain”.

    Either one too many use of “anti” or one too few.

  • dubweiser101

    How much quieter can these boats get? Pretty soon the enemy will start having to look for black holes under the water to detect them.

    • Mastro

      Its unclear- and I doubt we will get a full analysis. I am confused about active versus passive sonar mitigation. Making a sub silent helps against passive- but having some super coating that absorbs sonar would be very useful as well.

      • RomanceWritr

        When a sub goes active to find another sub it is like 2 gunmen stalking each other in a dark tunnel with one of them holding a flashlight….Any doubt what will happen next.

      • dubweiser101

        US boats already have a ‘super coating’ to protect against active sonar and MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detection).

        Anechoic tiles have been applied to every boat since the 688-class Flight-I, and Anerchoic coatings + tiles have been built into the structural and hull designs of every boat since the 688-class Flight-II all the way up to the SSN-21 and all classes of boomers (SSBN’s) in between.

        I’m seriously blown away that the USN can make these things even quieter than they already are. These boats can already sneak up on whales without the whale ever knowing it.

    • C Wilson

      Don’t worry, we’ve been pretty good on slinking into bays and near harbors to sink plenty of ships from ww2 on through now. Our Navy is the best there is. I served in Personel, US Naval Station San Diego, Ca. I saw a lot of ships being built and when they allowed civilians to ride buses on our bases, I put a stop to it. That was during Vietnam in the 1960’s. Especially since they were using cameras. Our guys safety is a top concern even if Im in my 60’s now. Look to our Veterans, we know how to fight. God Bless all of them and the guys and gals serving now. Our ships sit at San Diego with Radar protecting us all 24/7 all around our nation. The ships are always in our Commanders thoughts and the Pentagon. They, the other nations might have numbers for our current guys and gals but they have no idea how many of us veterans are here still who aren’t upstairs in the clouds. I’ll defend this nation until my dieing breath. So don’t worry how quiet we are, we’ll make them think twice to come to our shores!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • steve

    oh please, no need for sinking chinese subs, chinese subs shake them selves apart over 10 knots. what is the chinese word for jalopy?

  • Kostas

    The main A2/AD challenge remains the vulnerability of all forms of TACAIR bases (land bases and aircraft carriers) and of the air tankers in the south east pacific. Without TACAIR we cannot achieve anything over there. No tactical air force means no susrface ships, no surface ships means no ASW reliable capability. No tactical air force means no way to strike enemy assets ( B2 and even LRS-B will be too few and probably to some epdegree vulnerable to future AA network). WE NEED to somehow increase the reach(range) of TACAIR

  • oblatt22

    What the navy is increasingly saying now is that the Chinese and even regional powers air and sea forces will be superior. Maybe they can sneak a few submarines in until that too is locked down.

  • Paul

    Silence is good when your trying to hide butif not already have them, should develop deploy-able sound generators to flood an area with sound. 1 as a decoy, 2 to mask over the sounds of the sub on the move.

    • Kostas

      interesting concept, reminds of barrage jamming for radars.

      However, you need to know that such sound generators currently exist as torpedo countermeasures.

      Moreover, the continuous production of such sounds would require a huge energy source, otherwise it would be very short in duration or space coverage.

  • tiger

    The USN needs to seriously consider going back into the Conventional power Sub business. The expense of the Virginia class & the pressure of finding recruits for Nuc school should be a spur to a small scale AIP/ fuel cell powered sub program. Want silence? Lose the reactor. We have enough forward bases that make fuel range a non issue. Increased numbers of conventional boats could free the SSN force for more high value missions.

    • gordx

      hydrogen power, ..that’s what the germans are doing, and you know they don’t make crap.

      • Brian

        They also do not patrol the Pacific

      • 6sb

        AIP is for the littorals, slow with limited power. Nuc boats are deep water and ideal for the vast distances of the Pacific. The Soviets tried the numbers game and lost the cold war. The Navy is sending a message to remind the Chicoms that even if they do A2/AD to the surface fleet, the seas are not yet transparent, and a modest number of superior nuc boats will do A2/AD to the PLAN.

    • Angel

      Tiger, as someone who earned his dolphins in 631, I agree with you. Lets look at Sweden, they have super silent conventional subs at 1/10 the cost.

    • Mike Anderson

      I agree and as an ex SSBN reactor operator have an informed opinion. No matter how advanced and technically superior you build, numbers have a large advantage in any fight. The Germans are building closed cycle diesels and the Japs are ready to build and export fuel cell boats. These are both capable of 2-4 week under water endurance’s and now coastal sized that can be uprated to ocean going. Needless to say are quieter that steam and gears. The Taiwanese are negotiating with Japan for 8-12 of their new boats as the USA will not sell the NUCS and have no others even on the drawing board. The NUCS had their time and place and still have a smaller place, but the hybrid-plant subs are in many ways superior and way cheaper so you can have a Navy instead of Club.

  • Giovanni Fima

    China wants be the 21st Century Gangs Khon (not sure on the spelling) to rule the world and America needs to be the 21st Century Romans.

  • R Shepard

    I love technology and with that said, I know of course that they can’t put glass windows on a sub that goes deep but in this day and age why could they not put cameras on the nose of subs and have them connected either wireless or some other means so the Commander inside or his officers could see on a big screen what is actually in the water ahead of them or below them if need be? Just a thought!!!

  • Stratege

    Russian “improved Akula” hunter-boat (and the latest SSN class “Yasen/M” i guess) has an unique wake-homing capabilities to detect submarines by the swirl (trail) named MNK-200 “Tukan”. In additional to the sonar, of course. It’s good question how effective it could be in “cat and mouse” games.

  • gordx

    anything the chinese have they STOLE from the americans,..unless it’s what the americans wanted them to have….hehehe.

  • BLWarmonger

    Actually, I think we’re worried about the Swedish kicking our submarine asses.…

  • Rob C.

    I hope they’re able keep production of the ship steady. Congress is trying cause trouble by blocking SSGN oriented Block V with additional VMP used multiple the ship missile carrying capacity. Its foolish, US Congress needs to come up with solutions before they try block anything. USS South Dakota is new and needed tool in US Navy’s arsenal, political forces need stop playing games with our defense. Virginia Class has been among highlights of the US Navy’s new construction programs. Why mess with success over protectionism?

    • tiger

      At $2.6 Billion a piece? Sorry. Rob. The checkbook is not endless. What you call playing games, most would call a budget. The VA could use $2.6 billion. So could a Border Patrol keeping thousands of kids off the Border. Hell, some could use extended Unemployment that end in Feb. Toys are nice to have. But these do not come from Santa….

      • STS1

        As always, nobody wants to spend money on the military until something happens and then we blame the military for not being ready. Why would you go to a gun fight without a gun?
        That’s what happens when you take away from the military.

      • xXTomcatXx

        $2.6 Billion was the estimated cost during design. They’re down to less than $2 Billion. Last award was $17.6 Billion for nine or ten. Not to mention they’ve gone from 4 to 3 maintenance periods during it’s life time. That’s a huge savings. Border Patrol (and more specifically the DHS) could take some lessons in acquisition here.

  • Giovanni Fima

    The ridiculous cost for each sub is do thanks to the union workers, the unions are like a cancer, difficult and costly to get rid of!

    • xXTomcatXx

      The costs have plummeted from $2.6 Billion to $1.9 Billion. That’s literally unheard of in defense acquisition.

    • tiger

      Rather than blame workers, you should focus on the fact there is only one company that builds them. A monopoly by Electric boat.

  • Giovanni Fima

    BS…U.S. doesn’t need China, China want to own the U.S. and its super power status around the world. I said it in my previous emails, China wants to be the 21st Century
    Gangs Khong and the U.S. needs to become the 21st century Romans!

  • Giovanni Fima

    You are correct, Rome fell just like all other empires. However Rome fell because of bad political decisions, squandering defense money on Roman games. Same parallel with our present incompetent administration toward our military. You can only maintain peace by projecting military might!

  • Carl T.

    The should use Bose noice cancelling headsets all around the submarine to make it quieter. Then a MIDI player could be used to make fake noises as a decoy or to control marine mammels to work with the submarines like organic UUVs. Maybe fit rail guns to whales. Do they work underwater?

  • mike anderson ETR1SN

    Sub qualified and reactor trained with years of research and thought bounced off old submariners and killers. Nucs these days are only useful for BN’s and SN mother boats for Hybrid-plant killer sub packs. the Sub Packs will be AUWV ( Autonomous Under Water Vehicles ) with the NUC mother boat to rearm and refuel/charge/carry the AUWV’s to detect/hunt/kill targets with the mother/manned boat to authorize the kill. The missile BN Nucs need to be manned only to release the missiles and even the crew could be exchanged underway to extend the cruise and useful time at sea until yard time is required. Time and technology has surpassed the NUCs in many ares, not all and the AUWV and swarm logic is fatal to any target.

  • Michael Meehan

    You really don’t need to lose the reactor to get a quiet nuke….just the coolant pumps. Use turbine-elctric drive (a technology dating back the the Tullibee) and you lose the “gear lines”……NC reactors reduce a nuke boats sound signature by an order of magnitude…just ask anyone that has done exercises with an Ohio class boat. I believe they did a alot of “proof of concept” work on all of this technology on the Tullibee, Narwhal, and Lipscomb…….we just need to apply those lessons….

  • M Wahrman

    Lets end the anonymous comment policy. The comments on this list need to be upgraded. Sorry if I have offended you, but the America-hating loony toons in the comments really need to go somewhere else to vent their rage at their own impotence.

  • Giovanni Fima

    Yes I didn’t want to be writing all the reason why Rome “fell”, unless I was willing to write for weeks, I was born in Rome and Roman history was one of my major. The point I was trying to make is our military spending is vital to our national security and should never be cut to fund other non essential programs. I will not get into details to what those programs are, I’m sure you have your opinion as I have mine.

  • Giovanni Fima

    I agree. Since I am new at this posting, my first draft was accidentally posted before I had a chance to clean up my vocabulary. English is my fourth language and I never did master it like an American. This is truly a great and beautiful country and I want it to stay that way for many generations to come.

  • MrV

    America needs to think not once but twice about giving away technology that keeps us ahead of the creeps in the world ie China and Russia. And about letting foreigners come to the universities here. They take what they learn back to their countries and end up using it against freedom and liberty and the USA. Who is going to address this issue? Smile at you to get what they want and stab you in the back. Someone do a check and see how many attackers in China and Russia and Iran are using technology and knowhow that came out of the USA. This means hardware and software ie Microsoft.

  • Vick Welsh

    If congress will do its job and let the Navy do its job we will be ok!!!

  • Giovanni Fima

    It gives me great pleasure reading all your comments as it gives me an insight to your underline patriotism for our great Country!

  • Giovanni Fima

    Our present administration is totally misguided and incompetent, this is not the time to cut our military while Russia and China are arming themselves threatening our country. China wants to be the dominant superpower in the imminent future with the help of Russia, they can’t do it alone. My prediction is, if China succeed then they will turn on Russia as they have unlimited natural and strategics resources right at their border, no need to get on a boat to America. Future wars are all about controlling populations and natural resources.

    • tiger

      Misguided perhaps, but World empire control is not in the cards & never has been our goal. America’s threats are more internal than from Cold War foes.