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DEFENSE ACQUISITIONS: Testing Needed to Prove SURTASS/LFA Effectiveness in Littoral Waters

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For decades, the Navy has been striving to improve its ability to detect potential enemy submarines before they can get within effective weapons range of U.S. forces. In 1985, the Navy established the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System SURTASS Low Frequency Active LFA sonar program to develop a long-range capability for detecting a new generation of quieter Soviet nuclear and diesel submarines operating principally in the open ocean. Since the end of the Cold War, the Navy has shifted its focus to include regional conflicts and the threat posed by diesel-electric submarines operating in littoral waters. The Navy continued to develop SURTASSLFA because it showed technological potential to detect objects at great distances. Sound produced at low frequencies can travel further underwater than sound produced at higher frequencies.2 However, as the Navy conducted testing of the system in the mid-199Os, some public interest groups and scientists raised concerns that SURTASSLFA may cause harm to marine mammals. The Navy discontinued operational testing of the system and initiated an environmental impact statement process. Currently, the Navy will not begin testing or operating the system until it receives a Letter of Authorization from the National Marine Fisheries Service. According to Navy officials, a decision on the authorization is expected later in 2002. In addition, some of the same groups that have raised environmental concerns have questioned whether SURTASSLFA will increase the Navys undersea detection capabilities and whether the Navy has an alternative for the system.

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  • Undersea and Antisubmarine Warfare
  • Acoustic Detection and Detectors

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