KETCHIKAN - The U.S. Navy is upgrading its acoustic testing range near Ketchikan to better avoid detection at sea in submarine operations, officials said.
The first phase of more than $60 million in improvements has begun at the Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility, said Robert D. Kollars, director of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Bremerton, Wash.
Alaska Ship & Drydock in Ketchikan is starting to renovate two SEAFAC barges to accommodate new acoustical equipment. The barges will return to operations by November to conclude phase one.
The second phase involves installation of similar acoustical equipment and is expected to be complete by January 2007, Kollars said.
Better sound measurement equipment is needed because of the Navy's latest generation of nuclear attack submarines, he said.
"Submarines are becoming quiet enough that it's becoming very, very hard to hear them at all, even in this quiet fjord that we have up here," Kollars said. "So we've had to get a much, much more complicated microphone. That's what this new upgrade to SEAFAC is all about."
The facility was built in the early 1990s because the site offered better conditions than others in Washington state, California and Hawaii for testing submarines and the sounds they make, according to Kollars. Prince of Wales Island blocks Behm Canal from the open ocean.
Every Navy submarine operating in the Pacific Ocean is tested at SEAFAC, which conducts about a dozen tests each year. A typical test is conducted around the clock over a three-day period.
A normal testing cycle would include suspending a submarine under water between two barges.
"That way we can listen to just the machinery without the propeller and everything else that (creates noise) when the submarine is moving," Kollars said.
In another test, the submarine moves through a 250-yard acoustical course.
Data collected by the sound measurement equipment is transmitted to a SEAFAC laboratory.