Hi-Tech Navy Sonar Searches for Air Asia Flight Wreckage

450x296_q95The Navy is using a special, hi-tech side-scanning sonar system to assist Indonesian authorities searching for debris and bodies from Air Asia flight QZ8501, the passenger jet which recently crashed into the Java Sea.

Called the Tow Fish side-scan sonar system, the technology uses sonar to map the ocean floor and search for debris and wreckage. The Tow Fish side-scan sonar attaches to a cable launched from an 11-meter Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat, or RHIB. The technology is deployed from the USS Fort Worth, a Navy littoral combat ship now assisting the search efforts.

The USS Sampson, a Navy destroyer, and the USS Fort Worth remain on station in the Java Sea conducting searches in support of the Indonesian-led effort.

The Tow Fish can extend from an RHIB going up to five knots and reach depths of 2,000 feet, Navy officials said.

“We can find things as small as a golf ball or things as large as an airplane,” said a Navy diver involved with the search.

Search areas have been centered in boxes approximately one nautical mile wide by one-to-two nautical miles long, according to Lt. Lauren Cole, Navy 7th Fleet spokeswoman.

The Tow Fish is designed to work in tandem with dive teams. Navy divers on-board the Fort Worth from a mobile diving and salvage unit continue to operate in the area as well, Cole explained.

Capt. Kendall Bridgewater, commanding officer of the USS Fort Worth, said his ship would continue helping with the search for as long as the Indonesian authorities needed.

“We are working closely with the Indonesians who are leading the search efforts. We are basically operating our small boats, launching our helicopters and conducting visual searches from the bridge as we transit the area,” Bridgewater said.

The USS Sampson remains on station and continues to assist in debris recovery efforts, Navy officials said. The USS Sampson recovered three bodies on Jan. 4 and transferred them to Indonesian authorities the same day.

To date, the USS Sampson has recovered 15 bodies and has taken care to follow religious customs and sensitivities, Cole said.

MH-60 helicopters from USS Sampson and USS Fort Worth continue to work together and are conducting both day and night operations in the Java Sea search area.

“Weather continues to be a challenge, but our crews are working hard around the clock to assist with search efforts,” Cole said in a written statement.

The USS Sampson also recovered airline seats Jan. 4 and are in the process of transferring the debris to Indonesian authorities, Cole added.



About the Author

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

    But what if the Chinese launch a DF-21 Ballistic AntiShip Missile at it?!?!?!

    • The one armed man

      Why would they do that?

    • Charles

      The Chinese wouldn’t likely waste a perfectly good DF-21 on an all but defenseless LCS that can be killed with a far cheaper alternative :-D

    • Big-Dean

      all the Chinese would have to do is yell loud, the poor scared little LCS will turn tail and run away, run away ;-D

  • miles

    I’m sure the crash sight is more then a Thousand miles away from the Chines coast/Taiwan!!!!!

  • Mitch S

    “We can find things as small as a golf ball”

    No wonder Pentagon brass green lighted that sonar system!

    • Mastro

      Ha- you know military cutbacks are for real when they start closing military golf courses.

    • Regan Lipinski

      Its a Marine Sonic, Sea Scan HDS System. marinesonic.com

  • Big-Dean

    the FARC (Fast Attack RHIB Carrier) is once again proving it’s worth

    USS Sampson: recovered 12 bodies
    USS Forth Worth: successfully launched and recovered it’s RHIB

    • ooga

      “USS Forth Worth: successfully launched and recovered it’s RHIB” = internet gold

    • Curt

      That’s more than the Sampson can do (operate 11m RHIBs that is). And unlike the Sampson, the Fort Worth’s RHIBs can tow sidescan sonar and actually do something useful, like find wreckage underwater. You know, useful things like black boxes. So, the Sampson can basically do what any fishing boat can do. The Fort Worth actually has unique capabilities that are far more useful. That must really bug you, doesn’t it.

      • Charles

        Can’t speak for Big Dean, but it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

        What should bother you, is that for the astronomical cost of LCS (which now rivals the cost of our allies high-end frigates), we could do the same task and deploy a far less expensive alternative to accomplish the same tasks. We could alternately install the same technology on another (either far cheaper, or more worthy) sea frame.

        This doesn’t justify LCS, or its horrifying cost to the US taxpayers, for so little return. LCS is little more than a corporate welfare program that delivers minimum value at maximum cost.

      • Big-Dean

        so Curt, it takes a $700 million dollar ship to haul around a RHIB which in turn hauls around a portable sonar unit-that’s a huge win in your mind.. A simple little fishing boat could do the same “mission” and save us billions of dollars in the process

        stand by everyone, the Fast Attack RHIB Carrier is here to save the day! (formally known as the little crappy ship)

        • Curt

          So, it takes a $2Billion Destroyer to do a visual search, with real Binoculars? And said ship cannot haul around said 11m RHIB, cannot support said sidescan sonar, cannot carry the gear the divers want to use (11m RHIB) and costs something like 5x as much to operate as well as carries 3x the crew. Not to mention said Ship has a 30ft draft (you might want to look at a Chart of the area before commenting on that) versus less tha 15ft on LCS. So yeah, the LCS is a vastly superior ship for this mission, which is kind of the idea. Do the other other missions like disaster relief, counter-piracy, counter-drug, etc, so the DDGs can do DDG stuff. And your right, a fishing boat, certainly a trawler, could probably tow a sidescan sonar, support divers (well absent the ability to helo evacuate during an emergency), and conduct basic surface search. And a Cessna 182 could probably search as well if not better and cost less than an hour of P-3 or P-8 flight time. You realize that argument just more strongly makes the case against the DDG being involved, right?

    • blight_

      The Sampson was on station (allegedly at Singapore) and the Fort Worth was in San Diego. This came up on DoDBuzz already.

  • guest

    Who is paying for all this??

    • Regan Lipinski

      The Navy was already in the area and MDSU1 already has several of our systems used for mine hunting and other under water imaging needs. The Sonar was a Marine Sonic Sea Scan HDS. marine sonic.com

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  • more info

    The Tow Fish can extend from an RHIB going up to five knots and reach depths of 2,000 feet, Navy officials