Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Using Lasers To Find Submarines

Check out this story about how a scientist from the Naval Research Laboratory is investigating the use of lasers for finding or communicating with submerged submarines:
The shock wave created by either method can travel several miles and can be used for several purposes. One would be for one-way communication with underwater vessels. Triggering pressure waves in a specific order could allow a plane to communicate with underwater vessels via basic Morse code, or, more likely, says Jones, with a complex, encoded pattern of pulses.
Another use for laser-induced sound waves would be for mapping the ocean floor. When they hit a submerged object, the pressure waves bounce back. A nearby submarine or buoy could detect the pattern of those waves and create a map of the ocean floor, or the location of other submarines in the area.
Every once in a while, you read some story about how lasers are going to make submarines obsolete by making the ocean "transparent" and easily finding submarines. Somehow, these systems never end up working out. The reason, of course, if that you would get huge rates of false "positives" for any such system. One thing about ASW exercises that's always bugged me is how skimmers get a false sense of how good they are because they get cued to where the submarine is to start with -- otherwise, of course, it would turn such exercises into a waste of time because they'd never find the sub. Still, in the real world, they're not going to know where the subs are at to start their search, or even if one is there. When I was on the Carrier Group staff, during workups I saw many "positive submarine" detections called that weren't anywhere close to where the submarine actually was; in wartime, each of these would have likely resulted in wasted ordnance. Ships only carry so many ASW weapons. I think that to make skimmers aware of this, we should occasionally do ASW exercises where no submarine is present. That could be a valuable teaching lesson that could save ordnance for when it's actually needed during wartime.


Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

Ralph Chatham, submariner, got his PhD from Stony Brook in blue-green laser physics and their use in submarine comms. In 1977. Concept didn't go very far.

Ralph's been hanging around DARPA and Defense Science Board, though he may now be a full-time storyteller (am not making this up - Google him).

6/29/2009 3:11 PM

Blogger Squidward said...

Perhaps if we combined the laser beams with something else. Something that swims in the ocean. On the tip of my tongue...

6/29/2009 5:27 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saw Ralph at the B-Girl reunion in Portland last month. Hadn't seen him since he left the boat in 73. first thing he said to me was, "You owe me a dime." Says I, "Huh?" Says he, "I relieved you on the dive so you could have a piss call. First thing that happened when you left was Moose Malmquist on the stern planes put full dive on, we dunked the head valve and flamed out. You owe me a dime for the ride." Anyway, on the back of his business card he does mention satellite-to-submarine laser communication, etc. He's an interesting guy...

Re: ASW weapons on carriers, with all deployed carrier groups is either a T-AOE or a T-AE that haul the carriers back up load. There's plenty of stuff onboard that can be hustled over via helo to reload and rearm. No problems there.

Keep a zero bubble............


6/29/2009 6:01 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sink the T-AOE / T-AE first for a nice fireworks display . . . then watch the skimmers s**t their pants . . .

6/29/2009 6:29 PM

Blogger Rudder Amidships said...

Everytime I've been involved in a training scenario, it's a sad sight to see form the underwater viewpoint.

The surface battlegroup could have walked on all the sonar buoys that they dropped in the water. They still had no clue where we were.

We were out there banging on the hull with hammers and creating other generally loud transients. Still, they were wandering out there lost until we "shot" a couple of them. Even then, when they had a general idea where we were, they were completely hit or miss.

Maybe they just need more training?


6/29/2009 6:55 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see the same thing in the P-3 world...TACCOs that think they can track a sub. Fact is that their 'search' involves reading the message traffic for a given exercise, finding the regen point that is going to occur when they are on station and then dropping a 40-buoy pattern around it. Then they wait...and get pissed at the operators when the sub doesn't show up on time.

6/29/2009 7:29 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What used to tick me off was spending half the watch at PD, snorkeling, shooting trash, blowing shitters and fighting to keep her down and then being told to broach her up so they can see us. Oh, and energize the sub ID beacon. Yeah, they're good!


6/29/2009 7:59 PM

Anonymous EM1/SS said...

Don't forget that you have to bang on the hull/escape trunk ladder every 30 minutes for 2 minutes. That's the key to our stealthiness.

Really enjoy it when we sim a diesel boat and run a blower every few hours

6/29/2009 9:13 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was on the boat for the two (was it only two?) Valiant Shield exercises in recent years. I lost track of the number of times we "sank" the carriers in the battle groups. Only times they ever even came close to finding us was with the famed "simulated assets". Skimmers don't have a clue when it comes to ASW.

6/30/2009 1:13 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are the difficulties of the surface community in ASW due to equipment limitations (sonar not as good, limited by being near the surface, etc) or training/tactics? If the bottleneck it training or tactics, why wouldn't the Navy let some of their ASW experts, the submariners, ride aboard the skimmers during a few of these exercises to help teach them ASW? It seems to me that US submarines and US surface ships are ultimately on the same side and the Navy should be leveraging the best qualities of both sides in order to better prosecute the enemy.

-Clueless Ensign

6/30/2009 5:35 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know what's next: frickin' sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their frickin' heads.

6/30/2009 6:05 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would argue that the key issue is training, and a major contributor is the blivot effect—the need to cram 18 lbs of training into a 5 lb exercise. When ASW has to be fitted in with UNREPs, surface gunnery, NGFS, VBSS, AAWEXes, and God knows what else to get the “fully trained” check in the block, there isn’t time to do it right.

Forced contact ASWEXes are certainly detrimental to train-as-you’ll fight, in that real enemy submarines won’t broach on purpose, but there is a more subtle effect. Historical ASW actions took days, not hours—ASW is truly “awfully slow warfare.” Forced contact ASWEXes encourage impatience and short-term operational thinking.

In a nearer-ideal world, we would at least impose a real penalty—the green flare “flaming datum” would have to spend six hours lying to with comms shut down (and yes, that would include the CV and the group staff). It would play hell with carefully contrived exercise schedules in the short run, but the pain would help the lesson to sink in.
Bill the Shoe

6/30/2009 6:53 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clueless Ensign: In a word, the issue is "physics"...and that is a tenacious thing.

6/30/2009 6:56 AM

Blogger Maogwai said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6/30/2009 7:21 AM

Blogger Maogwai said...

I remember the Laser touted as the future, only from satellites.

When we helo types did exercises with friendly subs, I used the NWP ** for a discreet --- for the most obscure pump I could imagine and typically would find my target by focusing on those specific tonals.
(But I knew the target was being careless on purpose and I never fantasized that I was some sort of master ASW dude)

MM1(SS) hits it on the head.

6/30/2009 7:22 AM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

Best guys I worked with playing target for ASW forces (6 straight years on 3 diesel boats in SoCal) were the S-3s. Maybe not the best platform, but tenacious and absolutely dedicated to ASW. Dippers were second, for same reasons. Then P-3s. Then (tail-end Charlies) the skimmer force.

6/30/2009 9:07 AM

Blogger wtfdnucsailor said...

The last time any surface forces had to face a submarine threat was during the Falklands faceoff between Argentina and Britain. The sinking of the BELGRANO by HMS COURAGEOUS sent all Argentine ships into port. The fact that the Brits could not locate both of the Argentine Subs meant they expended almost all of their ASW ordinance on false contacts. I suspect our surface folks would react in the same manner.
Even when the surface folks (targets) worked on ASW in the sixties and seventies, we still shot them up before they got us. Many a battle group commander was embaressed by 'green flares on the flight deck'. The only guys we had problems getting away from were the helos once they made contact.

6/30/2009 10:10 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sensors and processing have gotten much better on the surface ships - similar to the COTS (commercial of the shelf) programs that the submarine force have. Training has improved as well - lots of retired STSs are helping there. In my discussions with several of these retired STSs there are still significant cultural hurdles that the surface forces need to overcome. It is a question of competing priorities for the senior leadership. Unfortunately, it will probably take a real flaming datum or two. Relocating the sonar shack from deep within the bowels of the ship to CIC - where full time adult supervision could be applied, would be a good first step.

6/30/2009 10:53 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out "Regaining Contact: Reemergance of ASW in USN" article in the April 2009 THE SUBMARINE REVIEW. I quote, "Finally, the unintended consequences of the years of reduced ASW training is that our leaders and instructors have less and less experience with ASW." And, under the heading of good news, "Great strides are being taken to resolve deficiencies with our torpedo programs. During my research, I was astounded to learn that we had not fired a lightweight torpedo warshot since 1994. The great news is that we fired a successful service weapons test in August with plans to restore this as an annual exercise."

Wait! Wait! there's more good news according to RADM (RET) Jerry Ellis the Special Assistant For Undersea Strategy Office Of The secretary Of The Navy.

Quote: "The surface warfare enterprise has re-instituted the ASW officer training course. The fact that this had been cancelled by the surface community several years ago told me volumes about their priority on ASW."

His report is a pretty sad story.

I know we all appreciate RADM (RET) Ellis hard work for DON on this issue. However, it speaks volumes to me that we use a retired RADM working at DON level to do this study and prod the Navy into action on this issue. I think the blue suit Navy still wants to ignore a lot of this.

To be realistic about ASW, I think our potential advesaries are not in our league when it comes to operating submarines. Nevertheless a lot more time and effort needs to go into realistic training against the types of submarines we may have to face. To do that we need dedicated training submarines. We had those from the 50's through the 60's with the two T boats and ex-K boat Barracuda operating out of Key West for sonar training.

There will never be another diesel submarine built in the USA. However we have leased a Swedish submarine for two years and learned how difficult it really is to find and prosecute these guys. We operated two ex-German type XXI boats with US crews for several years of testing and evaluation following WWII. So there is precident to do something outside the conventional approach followed today. Buy or lease several AIP submarines and operate them with US crews. Get one from Germany, one from Japan and one from Russia. That would do a lot to improve our ASW training.

Can't wait to read all the reasons why we can't do something like this.

My two cents, and keep a zero bubble....


6/30/2009 1:28 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's alarming that people who get bent out of shape at a mere whiff of "possible NNPI" on this forum are far less reluctant to hold open tactical discussions on subjects that may not themselves be classified, but in the aggregate can cause the discussion to turn confidential or secret in a hurry. That's the funny thing about tactical guidance - there's a lot of unclass paragraphs in there, but the page is still secret.

What is more likely to keep us alive, folks? Guarding NNPI, or guarding our tactical edge?

- Proud FT

6/30/2009 1:41 PM

Blogger AB- said...

Don't forget about the USS Dolphin (AGSS-555) - according to wikipedia and other liquid lubricated stories I've participated in, the Dolphin had the "first successful submarine-to-aircraft two-way laser communication".

The Dolphin also worked on the "fifth force of nature" so the whole laser thing might be complete BS.

I'm going with the fricken' sharks.

6/30/2009 1:58 PM

Blogger AB- said...

Talking about insane, money sucking, useless, never going to work, genius, mad scientist ideas - what about the bernoulli hump theory.

Supposedly some bright boy in a top secret think tank thought they could find submarines by looking for the microscopic difference in wave / surface height caused by the boat displacing water upward.

Here's a link to some of the wack jobs who are stilll "working" on this theory.

6/30/2009 2:09 PM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

"Don't forget about the USS Dolphin (AGSS-555) - according to wikipedia and other liquid lubricated stories I've participated in, the Dolphin had the "first successful submarine-to-aircraft two-way laser communication"."

True. Problem was that you had to know where the boat was to communicate with it. Big ocean = no comms.

6/30/2009 2:54 PM

Blogger Squidward said...

Proud FT - This stuff has been and continues to be discussed to death in public forums(including several magazines) with Big Navy's blessings. I've seen no details or technical specs on weapons, sensors, or other sensitive equipment.

The question you need to ask yourself is - do we get more harm or good from discussing this? The general line of thought is that more good comes of it.

As far as NNPI - many aspects of NNPI impinge on subjects like "how to find submarines". Thats why we don't discuss it.

6/30/2009 3:51 PM

Anonymous STSC said...

I'm with Proud FT on this one. We're traveling down a slipperly slope & there is no way back up once the information is out.

At least one post IMO reveals operational exercise data that isn't for public dissemination.

Please be careful what you post.

To Clueless Ensign:
We do have teams of people (including STSC's) from FLEASWTRACENPAC under the Naval Mine Warfare Center banner that fly out from San Diego to do ASW training on skimmers at sea. I almost took one of those billets myself for shore duty.

Their gear is good enough. The training regimen & priority for ASW by the surface Navy as a whole isn't.

Back to the original topic.
Lasers may have potential but the cost of development to the marginal gain in capabilities from their use makes me think this will never come to fruition. I think the program is a giant waste of R&D money that could be put to better use on our boats.

6/30/2009 4:08 PM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

In the early '80s I read the first ms of Hunt For Red October for the publisher. I thought the book had potential but recommended not publishing: "it goes from unclas to TS in a paragraph." I got two calls in about 15 minutes. The potential publisher swore it was all from open sources - the author said so. Right after him, some insurance guy named Clancy called - the author - and he too swore it was all open source. I said prove it.

Tom told me a story that I've never heard him tell anyone else. He said "I sell insurance in Owings MD. It's about 10 miles from Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant. I sell insurance to the guys who work there, drink beer with them, etc. They're all ex-submarine nukes. They tell stories..." I believed him. Open source. And if a near-sighted insurance salesman can dig this out, Lord knows what a real spy could learn. I then recommended publication.

Read Red October with 1983 eyes. Crazy Ivans. Trailing techniques. Etc. Scary back then. And Ron Thunman, the Navy's head submariner, bought the book by the box to hand out to anyone he wanted to impress about submarines.

This low-level unclas info is out there and can be found easily. If we had spies in our midst (Al Qaeda is everywhere and they're building a submarine...) , they'd have 100% of it. And that includes NNPI, perhaps the silliest labeling of intellectual property in history. Pull the rods - boil the water - make the steam - turn the screw. BFD.

IMHO, the total amount of otherwise unrevealed submarine info to be gleaned from this blog would not fill a gnats ass. All this handwringing is a bit overwrought. Unmanly. Dumb.

6/30/2009 4:24 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rubber Ducky, you're the one . . . you make my bathtime lots of fun . . .

6/30/2009 4:57 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please cover your eyes

When Rubber Ducky's elbow flies

'Cuz you may be thinkin' he's too old to matter

But he gets all atwitter if you say "reactor"

The "B" girls know him as one of their own

And it matters not that the tales have all grown

He's not an NR nuke, that's plain to see

But when pressed for relevance: "It's all about me"

While thankfully he's not some ol' Captain Blye

Keep a steak handy for that impacted eye.

6/30/2009 5:24 PM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

Have spent a total of 5 days underwater in a B-girl, BONEFISH under Bob Killion...

Keep working on the poemetry.

6/30/2009 5:54 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


In the frontpiece dedication of "Hunt For Red October" is the name of your first post on this thread, Ralph Chatham. let me see--Clancy+Insurance Agent-sold insurance to Ralph Chatham. Ralph told him submarine "sea stories" + ideas floating around about soviet submarines. = Premier dedication in Hunt For Red October.

I like Ralph. OK to good submariner on SS-580. Stood many a watch with him as his Diving Officer. We all recognized him as a "brain" and not "nuc" material--too smart. so he went on to the Burk Scholar Program, hence your first comment in this thread. He is a smoke boat shipmate I saw for the first time since 1973 at B-Girl Reunion in Portland OR last month, and happy to see him again.

I digress--Agree with you on amount of classified infor re: ASW and other subjects revealed on this blog. If potential naval advesaries want to collect intel, all they have to do is sign up for subject matter journals which they do--duuh! And turn it over to technical subject matter experts for analysis (think CIA here). The soviets did the same thing during the cold war.

I simplify of course, but for both USN, and advesary navies you become good at what you do by focus on the mission, experimentation, and practice, practice, practice. I refer you all to the history of the Tenth Fleet in WWII. an old lesson to be sure, and valid today on getting on top of the ASW problem. check it out on google!!

Bottom line--Do the elephants in DC understand the threat of AIP submarines in the hand of our advesaries, and are they ready to dedicate resources to counter them?? I think not...

(Sarcasm on)Not while we've got those great new Navy Working Uniforms that are gonna scare our advesaries into backing down (Sarcasm off)

My two cents, and keep a zero bubble........


6/30/2009 5:59 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 5:24,

ditto on the poemetry--keep your day job....


6/30/2009 6:06 PM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...


Ralph was a source for Clancy, but not a primary source and came in after the first ms was drafted. The basic yarn came out of Tom's bright imagination and the insights he got into submarining from card-carrying nukes who had punched out to civilian power and were getting bored looking at the same gage every day hoping the needle wouldn't twitch before they got to civilian retirement age. There's a bit more to the Red October dedication story, but not in an open forum.

Ralph's brother Howard was a nuke. Somehow got defrocked as an O-4 and after that worked for me in Crystal City. Superb officer, nothing but respect for him.

6/30/2009 6:55 PM

Blogger J said...

As a tactics instructor, I regularly google keywords pertaining to subjects I cover in tactics training. I've learned a lot that way and gained some new perspectives, and I've been able to pass some of that on.

I have also learned what is NOT out in the open, and as the FT and STSC have said, there was one post in particular that concerned me - now two (the second involving a term that is explicitly labeled "secret" in an NWP).

IMO opinion the two posts I reference were not handwringing at all, but a polite warning to watch your virtual tongues. By all means, continue. After all, you're not the ones facing an emerging tactical threat from ever more proficient foreign submariners who can google and learn from us just as well as I can learn from the Norwegians and British on the internet.

6/30/2009 7:16 PM

Blogger Srvd_SSN_CO said...

In the command course the skimmers seem 10' tall because they appear to have this uncanny ability to find you. It turns out, of course, that when you tell them to head SE and that a sub is within 2.0nm of your track, it is easier to find them.

Fast forward to more open water, non-scripted events like Valiant Shield, and skimmers die by the dozens. Falsely stacked exercises are very dangerous.

_sniffle_ Makes me proud to be a submariner.

6/30/2009 10:08 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The USN will not build any diesel AIP boats. Is there any venture capital out there that could build a small commercial (not armed) AIP boat to rent to the Navy for training services?

Or what about sea bass with really bad attitudes?

7/01/2009 6:29 AM

Blogger tennvol said...

Unless there have been some comments deleted, I have not seen anything in the comments above that I have not read elsewhere in open sources.

I have been out for 13 years, but I'm assuming the gross over-classification of information has not changed. I suspect the longer you are in, the more accustomed to it you get such that you don't find it unusal to see a description of doppler shift labeled as confidential. Or that the three-phase power equations I learned from a Pakistani TA in college were NOFORN.

7/01/2009 8:15 AM

Blogger chief torpedoman said...

I have been out far too long to know any of the current tactics and secrets, but I agree that we should watch what is said here. Even if it is available on google, why give it more credibility here and confirm it for anyone?

I think seveal posters have it exactly right; ASW is not a priority right now and it may hurt us later on.

I am glad that some STSs go on surface vessels to teach, but what about letting the surface type STGs ride the boats for a while. That is a much better way for them to learn.

On Unitas 29 back in 1988 (yes, I am that old), I set up for a couple of our STGs and TMs to cross deck to an old SSN that was with us. The STGs were amazed when they came back.

7/01/2009 11:07 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the ocean is a non-uniform liquid. It varies widely in temperatures (thermoclines) and salinity. We would have to put repeaters at every refraction interface to bounce the information via a different wavelength, power level, or focal length. The ocean would be riddled with these "mines" at various depths. I don't think it's possible.

Now...quantum communications devices...there's something!

7/01/2009 11:43 AM

Anonymous SJV said...

Looks to me like it's just a more efficient way to generate sound waves. The underlying detection capability wouldn't be any better than existing, but it might be cheaper and/or more robust. At the end of the day, this method just makes sound waves. You'd still have to receive the echos and process the signal. Same as now. The real trick would be if you could send the laser 500 yards or so out. Then you could go active without revealing your true location. The 66 feet he quotes would still get you dead when the passive listener 2k yards away heard you. In the end, it's still the complexity of the medium that makes us tough to detect. The ocean is our friend and the agent of our potential destruction. Crazy place to be.

7/02/2009 12:33 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How successful would ASW training be for skimmers if subs didn't have to report their positions when they came up comms?

7/03/2009 1:24 PM

Blogger Tiago said...

There are a lot of failed investigation around the world, some made by well intentionated scientists but many others are nothing but frauds made by pseudo scientists. Being on holidays in an apartment rental in buenos aires I read about the Huemul project. Appartently, a Nazi scientist escaped to Argentina after the WWII and convinced Peron to support his project to develop a Fusion bomb. This was a scam and Argentina lost millions of dollars

9/16/2013 12:00 PM


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