the Acoustics Intelligence Laboratory at the Office of Naval
Intelligence (ONI), STSCM(SS) Tim Hella and a small cadre
of colleagues are charting the elusive sound prints of the
still-mysterious ocean frontier.
work has come an ever-expanding body of knowledge from which
new naval tactics and technologies are derived.
developed by these specialists enables sonar technicians in
the fleet to sort through tens of thousands of possible contacts
and identify friend from foe.
(acoustics intelligence) is as much an art as a science,”
says STSCM(SS) Gerald A. Behnken, ONI Acoustic Intelligence
the ACINT Specialist Program was born out of Cold War necessity
in 1962, only a few individuals have been selected to carry
out the critical mission. Currently there are just 49 qualified
specialists, 39 submariners and 10 surface warriors. All are
volunteers, and each brings years of sonar experience to the
job. Virtually all of them joined acoustics intelligence as
an E-6 or above. Their most common shared characteristic however,
is their desire to excel.
is such a competitive bunch of guys. We all try to outdo one
another,” Behnken says. Hella amplifies. “Imagine
getting every ‘Type-A’ person you ever knew into
one small room.”
qualifying to become an ACINT specialist takes 16 to 18 months.
Candidates are handpicked from the most capable submarine
and surface Sonar Technicians in the fleet. The intensive
training is not a formal school, but a selective, self-paced
course of study coupled with formal qualification checkouts,
on-the-job training, briefings, practical examinations, and
time at sea under the supervision of a qualified ACINT specialist.
Specialist STSC(SS) Allen Sanders receives environmental
data for a sonar search plan update while underway.
you want to be a Sonar Technician, this is the place to be.
This is where the action is,” says STSC(SS) Arthur D.
Pistorio, who, at about the half-way mark in ACINT specialist
training, has found new meaning to the word “rigor.”
It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.
It’s very difficult. A lot of hours. An amazing amount
each trainee is required to demonstrate his knowledge before
a qualification board mid-way through the course and at its
completion. “The pressure was amazing. When I walked
out of my interim qual board I was so relieved,” Pistorio
each candidate who qualifies as an ACINT specialist will play
an important part, along with ONI civilian analysts, in assembling
and maintaining a voluminous acoustics intelligence database.
ACINT data must be collected and analyzed over many years.
the threat contact must first be acquired on sonar. An ACINT
specialist is able to quickly determine the general type of
vessel (submarine, surface warship, merchant vessel, trawler
or torpedo). More time and analysis are needed to make a specific
identification. If it is classified as a contact of interest,
the data collected on it is forwarded to ONI. In order to
classify to a specific vessel or hull number, other types
of collateral information are required to narrow the possibilities.
acoustic database serves numerous important purposes. ACINT
data help identify threat acoustic vulnerabilities; vulnerabilities
which may be exploited by new sensors, processors and displays.
The improved detection capabilities are refined in exercises,
which eventually become new tactical doctrine.
the expanding array of sophisticated technology and tactics,
it is still the ears and the minds of the specialists that
are the final determiners of good ACINT. “The human
factor is still necessary. That’s what makes it so interesting,”
Hella says. ONI’s ACINT specialists are deeply involved
in fleet training, devoting many hours to formal instruction
in such topics as acoustic analysis and the importance of
sound silencing for the SONAR division, the wardroom, and
real importance is that they’re authoritative data guys,”
says CAPT Arnold O. Lotring, Commanding Officer, Submarine
Learning Center, in Groton, Conn. “They back up the
database with vast experience. Any database can degrade. These
people keep it alive with their experience.” An ONI
ACINT specialist serves on the instructional staff at the
new Submarine Learning Center.
specialists support a wide variety of training programs to
prepare students for the challenges ahead. They tune acoustic
training programs and technical systems for attack team trainers
to replicate actual threat contacts. At sea, ACINT specialists
direct on-watch OJT, passing years of sonar experience on
to junior petty officers.
specialists are an integral part of bringing the crew up to
the highest levels of preparedness and training,” Lotring
says. “Underway they are critically important to the
mission’s success. Not only on the sonar side, but to
the commanding officer and the wardroom.”
he qualify, what can Chief Pistorio look forward to? Challenging
work, the comradeship of a select group of individuals with
a keen sense of legacy, and a lot of time at sea.
the ACINT program is not considered traditional sea duty,
specialists spend nearly half of every year at sea. During
the 16 to 18 month training period, aspiring specialists typically
take part in three to four submarine missions. After qualification,
they average two to three missions per year.
you look at the sea time that they put in, they do take it
to another level,” Lotring says. “I wish we had
more communities that have that kind of personal pride and
the Cold War has ended, and with it the primary mission of
collecting acoustic intelligence on Soviet ocean platforms,
ONI ACINT specialists have nimbly responded to challenging
naval worldwide operational priorities, such as the Global
War on Terrorism.
these changes, ACINT specialists consider one principle to
be immutable: a commitment to delivering the highest quality
service to the fleet.
you leave the boat, you’ve made your mark,” Behnken
says. “You’ve passed on something of value.”
is the Public Affairs Officer at the Office of Naval Intelligence.