When you think of Idaho, what is your first impression? For me, prototype training in Idaho Falls as a US Navy Nuclear Reactor operator is first thought. For others, skiing, hiking, and amazing vistas come to mind. Still others think of potatoes. Many conspiracy theorists believe the US moon landing was actually filmed at Craters of the Moon National Park and we never set foot on the moon. All those things make Idaho uniquely Idaho. Today I want to tell you about a Navy facility in the Idaho wilderness. At the facility, engineers experiment with the latest in submarine hull design! Yep, submarines in Idaho!
Submarines in Idaho?
What? Submarines in Idaho? Hey, we once trained to run submarine nuclear power plants in Idaho, so why not? And, it makes sense when you think about the facility. Called the Acoustic Research Detachment (ARD) in Bayview, Idaho, the site, located on the southern end of Lake Pend Orielle, performs research, development, test and evaluation of submarine acoustic stealth technology. Cool, you might say, but why Idaho?
According to Wikipedia, the lake, located in the Northern Idaho Panhandle, and fed by the Clark Fork and Pack Rivers is 43 miles long and 1150 feet deep in places (like near the test facility). At depths below 100 feet, the water is a constant 39F. The lake has a flat muddy bottom, and coupled with little boat traffic at night, makes it a perfect acoustic test location.
Why is this important? Well, as a former submarine sailor, I appreciate the need for silence on boats (yes, submarines are boats and surface ships are ships). While surface ships can operate quietly, stealth is especially crucial for submarines. The ARD helps in the mission.
ARD has its own fleet of submarines. An article by the LA Times says the subs are up to 88 feet long (roughly 1/4 size of a real submarine). The latest model, LSV-2 (large scale vehicle), is about 120 feet. Cutthroat (LSV-2 modeled on the Virginia class), and Kokanee (LSV-1 modeled on the Seawolf class) comprise part of the fleet. Rumors say at least 5 others call the site home. I read another article that named the boats. In addition to the boats listed above, the Dolly Varden, Pike, Whitefish, and Steelhead round out the fleet.
Officially, and according to the Naval Sea Systems Command website, the purpose of ARD is as follows.
These state-of-the-art facilities support a wide variety of research and technology development programs ranging from submarine propulsor development to the calibration of full-scale acoustic transducers. Detachment personnel supporting the experiments form a highly capable and versatile workforce providing ARD customers a timely and quality outcome. They work closely with project scientists, engineers and technicians throughout the Carderock Division and other Navy and private organizations, to plan and conduct operations and experiments on the lake.
The results obtained during past experiments have been extremely valuable to the Navy, especially in the area of submarine propulsor design, sonar dome development, submarine construction cost avoidance, and the development of several critical submarine design features. Future plans include critical support of current and future Navy submarine design in the area of structural acoustics, hydroacoustics, propulsor development, target strength reduction, and related experiments using the unique capabilities of the ARD. The Large Scale Vehicle-2 (LSV-2), a large model of the VIRGINIA Class submarine, is being used extensively in the area of propulsor research. Large scale buoyant submarine models support testing in the area of submarine structural acoustic and hydroacoustic technology. Target strength testing is conducted using the Intermediate Scale Measurement System (ISMS), which provides a unique acoustic test capability unsurpassed by any other available facility.
The ARD also houses a model of the Zumwalt class of destroyers. Officially the Advanced Electric Ship Demonstrator (AESD), they call the ship Sea Jet. As I mentioned before, surface ships like to be quiet, too, and this facility helps make that a reality. As every submariner knows, there are only 2 types of ships – submarines and targets. If you are a target rider, quiet can help you, too!
Idaho and submarines seems an odd combination, until you look at why they exist. Then it makes perfect sense. Although almost 400 miles from the ocean, ARD makes great contributions to the submarine community. The improvements enhance the safety and effectiveness of US Navy boats. For that, and on behalf of submarine sailors former, current and future, thanks ARD!!
Have you been to Idaho? Maybe visited ARD or Lake Pend Orielle? Maybe prototype like me? Are you a former submarine sailor? Despite the brutal winters, did you enjoy Idaho? Leave me a comment and let me know!