USS AUGUSTA Gains Contact with New Sonar System

ABOARD USS AUGUSTA (SSN-710) – At first glance, the “sonar shack” on board Augusta does not look much different from those on the other 20 submarines moored at the U. S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Connecticut. Beneath the outer layer of pushbuttons and “green screens,” however, a revolutionary concept in the development and fielding of sonar systems is taking form.

In the past, submarines usually took new and emerging technology to sea to overcome the limitations of systems already deployed or to provide a test bed for research and development. Although these new technologies were often implemented in commercial hardware which did not meet the old military standards and specifications, they became the “first wave” of Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) items to gain acceptance in shipboard systems. In December 1997, Augusta became the test platform for one of the Submarine Force’s most exciting technical breakthroughs in this area – the Acoustic Rapid COTS Insertion (ARCI) sonar system, AN/BQQ-10. Implemented almost entirely with COTS hardware and software, the BQQ-10 will quickly upgrade legacy submarine sonar systems (the AN/BQQ-5, AN/BQQ-6 and AN/BSY-1) by adding increased functionality and better operator/machine interface (OMI). Also, its open system architecture enables the rapid insertion of future technical innovations for maintaining the acoustic superiority of U. S. submarines.

“You never heard of this kind of technology in the sonar community 20 years ago,” said STSC (SS) Mike Fugate, Sonar LCPO on Augusta. “Up until a few years ago, the Navy was using the BQQ-5 legacy system across the board – the same basic system that was designed into a lot of the submarines from the 1970s.”

One of the most impressive aspects of this new system development has been its rapid implementation – from conception to installation in just two years. This is one of great attractions of using COTS technology – the ability to take quick advantage of innovation in the private sector with minimum development time and cost.

The BQQ-10 is versatile across platforms, and it will be installed on all Trident- and 688-class submarines, and a close variant on the New Attack Submarine (NSSN). Since her commissioning in 1985, Augusta has used the BQQ-5. “The BQQ-5 is a good system. It does exactly what its designed to do, and does it well,” said Lieutenant Dan Britton, Combat Systems Officer on Augusta. “But BQQ-10 interfaces directly with it and improves almost every aspect of its performance.”

Sailors onboard USS Augusta
examine contact data on a new ARCI display.

The BQQ-10 installation will occur in three separate phases (four for BSY-1 ships), and each phase will offer specific functionality improvements. “Incorporating the system on board will be a stepped evolution. Right now, we’re in Phase I – with a single new display console. Finally, Phase III will replace the entire passive BQQ-5 system in March 2000,” said Chief Fugate. “In the past, it sometimes took as much as ten years to do the same thing.” According to Lieutenant Britton, by the time BQQ-10 is completely installed on board Augusta, most of the other submarines on the Groton waterfront should have one or more of the previous phases installed. The whole Submarine Force is scheduled to complete the entire upgrade by the year 2005.

Equipped with Phase I of BQQ-10, Augusta’s improved capabilities include dual towed array processing, very-low-frequency passive broadband and passive broadband spatial vernier processing for the TB-29 towed array, passive automation, and addition of an improved common display workstation (CDWS). The term “spatial vernier” means the system forms four times as many azimuthal beams as BQQ-5. Additionally, the vernier processing focuses these sets of beams at four pre-determined ranges, which not only results in better bearing resolution, but also permits instantaneous target ranging without maneuvering. This capability will no doubt lead to improved submarine “dogfighting tactics,” further increasing the tactical advantage enjoyed by U.S. submarines.

Since BQQ-10 is based on a commercial open architecture, future improvements are expected to be as simple as loading new software when the updates are released. “In the end, it’s cheaper to buy and cheaper to maintain,” said STS2 (SS) Donnie Mellon. “The product is ‘sailor friendly’.”

The ARCI program has focused on a series of Advanced Processor Builds (APBs) to ensure timely and effective software upgrades. These APBs are different from the incremental phases in that they represent the very latest improvements in detection algorithms and processing. For example, when Augusta receives her BQQ-10 Phase II upgrade, the overall system improvements will include not only those which are part of the original Phase II design, but also the latest APB software updates. Another example of ARCI’s flexibility in incorporating improvements occurred on the USS Louisville (SSN-721). Louisville, based in Pearl Harbor, was the second U. S. submarine to install ARCI Phase I. Shortly after her installation and prior to her deployment, she rapidly incorporated numerous fixes to correct system problems and improve functionality. Several working groups, with members ranging from industry scientists to Fleet sonarmen, are researching new and improved processing and display capabilities for future APB insertions.

The real test for BQQ-10 will be its performance during an operational deployment. Some Fleet sailors who enjoyed success with the older, legacy systems are skeptical of the “hype” that BQQ-10 has received throughout the submarine community. Chief Fugate disagrees, noting that “it won’t be long before BQQ-10 will exceed the capabilities of all the legacy systems, because unlike those older systems, only BQQ-10 can be updated to meet the needs of any given mission. ARCI will ensure continued U. S. submarine superiority wherever we go.”

The U.S. Submarine Force will celebrate its Centennial in the year 2000. The Chief of Naval Operations, Submarine Warfare Division (N87), will act as the central planning staff for Centennial Events, with the assistance of the National Commemorative Committee for the Centennial of the Submarine Force, led by its Chairman, ADM Hank Chiles, USN (Ret.).

The Centennial will highlight our submarines’:

  • Combat contributions during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf War
  • Key role in maintaining peace and freedom during the Cold War
  • Technology contributions to nuclear power, Arctic exploration, and undersea research

Proposed Flagship Events currently planned for 2000 include the opening of a Smithsonian Exhibit in February; a Birthday Ball and the unveiling of a Sub-marine Stamp in Washington, D.C., in April; Atlantic and Pacific Submarine Flag Summits; several San Diego Fleet Week happenings: and the PCU Jimmy Carter (SSN-23) christening in December. Also expected are numerous other events that will be scheduled and planned on a local level.

For the most recent information, visit the Official Submarine Centennial Web Site at:

LT Sean Parker, COMSUBDEVRON-12,
and J03 Cristina Asencio, COMSUBGRU-2, Public Affairs

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