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Lieutenant Commander Brown is Action Officer for Imagery Modernization on the staff of Director, Submarine Waif are Division (CNO N77) in Crystal City, Virginia.

The Officer of the Deck sits at his workstation in the control room, watching his flat-panel monitor as he conducts an all-sensor search in the littoral. There are about fifty fishing boats of all sizes, some light merchants and passenger ferries, but the ship is in good tactical position. The Imagery Workstation automatically trains the imagery sensor, scanning the surrounding waters in high and low power. Suddenly, a “threat warning window” pops up in the comer of the OOD ‘s display, a cue from the ESM system that a potential threat radar has commenced radiating. 17ie OOD immediately takes manual control of the imagery sensor and trains it on the bearing of the ESM contract. Automatic target recognition software processes the faint image on the distant horizon and classifies it as a suspected weapons of mass destruction carrier. In seconds, he has sent a visual bearing and periscope radar range from the imaging workstation to the Tactical Control system. Three minutes later, he conducts another radar/visual observation, and begins to plan his approach to gather more information about the vessel. In another hour, the sun will set, and the OOD will shift his workstation from remote operation of the Type 18 to the Type 8 infrared scope. The Radio Room is lining up the Exterior Communications System to transmit a digital image of the weapons carrier to the Joint Task Force commander and receive the submarine broadcast from a secure website via passive Internet Protocol on the High Data Rate dish antenna.

This scenario, although fictional, reflects the composite of a host of technologies available now and in the next few years that will enable the U.S. Submarine Force to remain at the forefront of imagery technology. Many of the systems that provide these capabilities are in production and are being installed on submarines today, while others are nearing that point in various stages of development and testing. Looking even further into the future is TEAM SUBMARINE, a consortium consisting of the Submarine Warfare Division (OPNAV N77), Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Air Systems Command, various Naval Laboratories, and industry. These organizations are seeking out and implementing new technology across the spectrum of submarine warfare to ensure our submarines remain the most capable in the world.

As with any modernization regime, there will always be a mismatch between what is in development and the legacy systems still in use. It is understandable for those on the waterfront to voice concerns, and it is a common reaction from those of us inside the Beltway to say: “but we’re already doing that.” It’s not a lack of concern-it’s a matter of perspective. The acquisition community (CNO staff, NA VSEA, et al.) typically looks at the period two to seven years in the future, while fleet sailors serving on submarines today look to the next scheduled upgrade, or what is being installed on the boat in the next berth. To close the perspective gap, let’s review some of the imagery upgrades coming soon to a submarine near you.

The Non-Penetrating Revolution

Since 1992, advanced imaging technology has been deployed onboard U.S. submarines. In that year, the first Non-Penetrating Periscope was installed onboard USS MEMPHIS (SSN 691). The success of that program led to the Virginia class, the first submarine to be designed without a penetrating periscope. Virginia has two Photonics Masts, each of which contains three visual cameras (one color, one black & white high resolution, and one color “mission-critical” camera1), an infrared (IR) sensor, a laser rangefinder. and an advanced Electronic Support (ES) antenna, enclosed in a stealthy titanium head. In 1999, a prototype Photonics Mast was installed on USS ANNAPOLIS (SSN 760) to gather information on Photonics Mast performance and concept of operations in a forward-deployed environment. Results from ANNAPOLIS have exceeded all expectations. As a result, fleet operators now demand the superior imagery and tactical control capabilities of Photonics. In the near term, a Photonics backfit solution is not feasible; however, we are making improvements to our existing periscope inventory to bring Photonics-like capability to our traditional periscopes.


The most important element of the submarine imagery modernization program for the Los Angeles and Seawolf classes is the Submarine Imagery System (SUBIS). SUBIS provides the architecture for controlling sensors, as well as gathering, processing, and disseminating imagery information to the onboard tactical network. In its current configuration, SUBIS provides digital still photography. Low Level Light Television (LLLTV), color video, a Super VHS tape recorder, flat-panel displays, and image intensification. The next version of SUBIS will add the ability to control and monitor all imagery sensors from a seated workstation in the Control Room (meaning that the OOD and his assistants will no longer “dance with the one-eyed lady”). This capability provides a quantum leap in situational awareness, as the 000 will be able to easily integrate information from other tactical displays within the control room. SUBIS is designed with an open-architecture, Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) engineering approach to take advantage of the rapid progress of imagery sensor and processor development. SUBIS is in full-rate production today. As of the end of 2001, ten systems had been installed. Installations will continue through 2003 until all SSNs receive the system.

Own the Night

Today, 39 fast attack submarines and all 18 fleet ballistic missile submarines have a Type 8 Mod 3 periscope. This periscope has the same optical capability as the Type 2 periscope it replaces, but adds a 5-114 inch Extremely High Frequency dish antenna for highly reliable and tactically secure communications. Kollmorgen Corporation, the Submarine Force’s imagery industry partner for over 85 years, has developed a significant improvement to the imagery toolbox-infrared capability. While all submarines currently have image intensification, infrared periscopes have been extremely rare in the fleet. With this periscope, the Officer of the Deck will Own the Night by detecting, tracking, and monitoring ships in all conditions of visibility, even in heavy fog. Type 8 Mod 3 (EHF) installations will continue through 2005. The first two IR-modified periscopes are in production, scheduled for fleet introduction in late 2002. Full-rate production will commence in 2003, with installation on all SSNs completed by 2008. Another improvement to the Type 8 periscope system is enhanced signal-gathering capability, which connects the periscope early warning system to the ship’s mainframe ESM system.

“Radar Range … MARK

Increased operations in the high-contact density littoral environment have always posed a significant challenge to the submarine’s crew. The Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake, is integrating a COTS surface search radar into the Type 18 periscope to assist in contact management in the littoral. The radar, now under development, can provide range to a target on a given bearing, or automatically search all around the ship. This radar will be integrated into an existing tactical control system or displayed in a way that is yet to be defined. This program is being expedited to the maximum possible extent to provide the submerged submarine with unparalleled situational awareness as soon as possible. Phase I of the Rapid Realtime Rangefmder project reaches the fleet in December 2002. Full-rate production will commence in 2003.


These imagery improvements now in production are designed to support all conceivable Submarine Force missions. Periscope sensors have been a mainstay of submarine capability throughout our history, from optical imagery through signals intelligence antennae to the future of all-digital photonics. The transition to COTS-based open-architecture systems across all areas of electronic modernization will enable us to keep our submarine sensors and processors at the cutting edge. Injection of new capabilities will occur more rapidly and at lower cost. The Navy is making a significant investment in imagery capability today to ensure our Submarine Force can operate safely and securely in the littoral, 24 hours a day, with enhanced situational awareness.

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