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An Interview with Marvin Lasky

The question which more than any other plagues the sleep of the historian is “Have I really got it right?” Since I first began to research the history of ALBACORE, I have been continually chastened to realize how wrong my assumptions have been. ALBACORE is still best known for her perfectly streamlined teardrop hull and second submerged speed-reportedly 36 knots.

The hull came from the groundbreaking Series 58 model tests run at the David Taylor Model Basin (DTMB) in 1949. It was revolutionary to apply them to a submarine, yet the principles of streamlining were well understood. Only slowly did I come to appreciate that the real mystery which required the building of ALBACORE was the problem of controlling a submarine at the unprecedented speeds streamlining plus nuclear power would allow. Still, it is only since publishing several articles and a book on AGSS 569 that I have understood (I hope) a third and perhaps most significant reason for building the pure streamlined submarine: its acoustic properties and implications for sonar.

The nuclear submarine was one of the most crucial factors in winning the Cold War. The in Vlnerability of our Ballistic Missile Submarines ended the possibility of a disarming pre-emptive strike against our nuclear deterrent, and thus, more than anything else laid to rest the chance of a nuclear holocaust. Our attack submarines became the capital ships of the Navy, ensuring our control of the sea and the use of it by our carrier forces and shipping. The chief threat to both was the much more numerous Soviet nuclear submarine fleet. They often frightened us with their very high performance, speed, maneuverability, structural strength, diving depth; but the fact which gave our submarines their essential and decisive margin of superiority was their stealth, born of silence, and their own tremendously effective sonar listening powers. This was achieved by a highly secret, very long term program of undersea acoustics research, giving us the power to detect and track their submarines at extreme ranges-an achievement unguessed by the Soviets until it was revealed by the Walker spy ring in the 1970s.

The U.S. Navy’s superiority in the field of underwater acoustics goes back to its active partnership with the American scientific community, forged in World War II. Some of the most basic research breakthroughs were made then; afterwards, it was continued at DTMB, the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Undersea Warfare (CUW), ALBACORE. But as Rodney Carlisle, author of Where the Fleet Begins, a history of DTMB, puts it: “Unlike other areas, the field of underwater sound was of interest only to the Navy, and specialists could not count on broad based industrial support or shared investment from other branches of the military or civilian government departments … the Navy had, in effect, created a Navy-controlled and highly classified inter disciplinary area of scientific research and development” (Carlisle, 280). Underwater sound became the Navy’s own secret science pursued by a community of specialists working at various naval research facilities, publishing their findings in a group of classified journals.

The contribution of these men was vital to winning the Cold War. Their story deserves to be told; but it was hardly guessed until 1992. Now, telling it is hampered by the fact that it was classified for decades, and much is still secret. Tracking down the details of work done fifty years ago is not an easy matter. Many of the participants are deceased, and those who remain are very elderly. The chance to record their experiences is running out; this article is at least, a stab, in that direction.

An Interview with Marvin Lasky

When I first began researching ALBACORE, I spoke to Captain Frank Andrews, submarine project officer at DTMB, Commander of Submarine Development Group 2 (SUBDEV- GRU2), in command of the search for THRESHER, later Professor of Engineering at Catholic U. He told me “You should talk to Marvin Lasky.” Unfortunately, I didn’t, until just before the publication of my book on ALBACORE years later.

Who is Marvin Lasky? In Science and the Navy: the History of the Office of Naval Research, Harvey Sapolsky writes: ” ONR … promoted the concepts of towed arrays for submarine detection. The latter work, which has added greatly to antisubmarine warfare capabilities, was championed nearly single-handedly by Marvin Lasky, an ONR scientist who received the Defense Department’s Distinguished Civilian Service Award for his efforts.” In fact, Lasky received this award, the highest military decoration given to civilians, twice, as well as the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award (Sapolsky, 85).

So-“who was that masked man”? This article attempts to give the outline of the story, mostly in his own words. All direct quotes not otherwise attributed are his. One point that cannot be emphasized enough is his constant reference to his colleagues and their work, much of which I have regretfully left out. “It was a team effort in which we all marched together … we lived together as a family, on and off submarines.”

Mines. Torpedoes, World War II and Project General

Marvin Lasky was born in Brooklyn, New York, graduated from Brooklyn College with degrees in Pharmacology and Physics , then went to Columbia. When World War U broke out he sought to enlist, but on his first attempt was turned down because of asthma. But “like all Brooklyn College graduates” he had taken the Civil Service exam: “it was still the Depression and jobs were scarce.” He was hired by the Navy to work at the old Torpedo Station at Alexandria, Virginia, “then commanded by a chief warrant officer and producing an updated World War I design torpedo, the Mark 14 3A, using World War I technology, the identical gate valve, alcohol-air system, while the Germans had gone over to electric propulsion and were working on the acoustic torpedo.”

Meanwhile, “seeking to become more qualified as a scientist”, Lasky went to Catholic U. at night. “Catholic U. had put together a special course for the Navy on hydrodynamics and the behavior of submerged bodies such as torpedoes.”

His second attempt to enlist was successful, he was trained as a radar technician, and found himself at the end of the war sweeping American-laid mines in Sasebo harbor. He saw Nagasaki and “had visions of America so affected. We felt we didn’t want to be on the losing side. Coupled with the fact that I was Jewish-I lost family in Poland to the Germans, family in Siberia to the Russians-that gave a powerful motivation to my later work.”

After his discharge, he was hired by DTMB, based on his experience with mines and torpedoes, to work under V .L. Crisler on “Project General”. This was a torpedo counter-measure, a towed paravane trailing a cable with acoustic sensors and explosive charges located along it. If a torpedo crossed the cable, its noise would detonate the nearest charge. It was tested at DTMB’s establishment on Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho. “It was a ticklish operation; we didn’t want the sensors exploded by wave noise. We never really got the problems solved-but the technology that spun off educated and trained a lot of Model Basin people in problems that were eventually very useful to ALBACORE”, including towed sonar.

DTMB bad developed an underwater TV camera to observe flow patterns and cavitation around various experimental sonar domes and fairings tested aboard ALBACORE. From this camera was developed the video system used by the NAUTILUS to observe the underside of the ice pack on its transit to the Nonh Pole. When it was discovered later that the wake from the ALBACORE’s sail, bitting her prop and control surfaces, was a major source of noise, Lasky suggested removing her sail, and using a vidicon towed with the Project General technology to replace her periscope.

Blimp Towed Sonar, Surface Ship Silencing

Meanwhile: “V .L. Crisler was concerned to indoctrinate me into ways of adapting my knowledge into the problems he saw facing the Navy. To keep me interested he gave me the job of flying on blimps from Lakehurst in 1947-48 and towing sonar from them.”

An active sonar in a fish-shaped body, it was called A TERE (Airship Towed Echo-Ranging Equipment). “It didn’t work very well. Because the tow cable formed an antenna 1000 feet long, we picked up all the radio traffic on the East Coast. But we solved the problem of making a large winch and cable system efficient, small and portable. The first towed sonar on ALBACORE was an adaptation of this winch and cable system. Nothing is lost.”

ATERE ultimately led to the highly effective helicopter “dipping” active sonars used for many years. Towed sonar aboard the blimps held out the prospect of a vehicle combining the sonobuoys, MAD, radar, and other sensors of the patrol plane with the active sonar of the helicopter. How successful it was is an interesting question. Reportedly its fish could be towed at 60 knots, but could not operate at any such speed because of flow noise. A ZPG – 2 used it to track NAUTILUS in 1955, but she learned she could easily escape by going to a speed above that at which it could operate, and breaking the contact-just as she did with surface ship sonars.

Next, Crisler brought Lasky into the massive lengthy effort at DTMB to study surface-ship noise and silencing. Propeller cavitation emerged as the number one problem, and here “a towed hydrophone, streamlined to reduce self-noise, would be towed alongside a destroyer” while staff observed the props through ports and compared the visual onset of cavitation with noise (Carlisle, 278). The same approach was followed on ALBACORE, with tripod-mounted TV cameras replacing the visual ports.

At this point, acoustics, ship noise, and silencing became Lasky’s main work-ALBACORE was authorized in 1950, and “because of my experience with blimps, Crisler nominated me to become part of the ALBACORE team.”


During the next two years while ALBACORE was building, this team was trained and readied. They were assigned to SUBDEV-GRU2 under the guidance of Frank Andrews. “He was the man who indoctrinated us into submarines. A commander at the Model Basin, he had a Ph.D. He had access to the leading scientists and Navy brass. We had an Admiral.they called him Fearless Freddie Warder, for his exploits against the Japanese in World War II. He was a power in the submarine Navy. Frank introduced John Craven, myself, and Alex Tachminge on one of our liaison visits and got his backing for our testing program with ALBACORE.”

SUBDEVGRU2 had the twin purpose of exploring the role of the submarine in anti-submarine warfare, and familiarizing civilian scientists from many institutions with the realities of submarine warfare. Later it was to include ALBACORE, TULLIBEE, THRESHER, but at the beginning it was equipped with SSKs, the specially built K-1 to 3 and fleet boats modified as submarine killer submarines. The civilian group from DTMB who joined SUBDEVGRU2 at this time later made outstanding contributions to submarine technology. “The crew that went to sea on ALBA-CORE had to be trained and readied, had to develop technologies, so ALBACORE would be something we were educated for, so we wouldn’t waste time learning on the spot. Richard Dzikowski, Alex Tachminge, a guy named Hawkins did maneuvering and control, John Craven did the boundary layer, I did the acoustics.”

The uniquely fruitful partnership that had developed between the Navy and the American scientific community in the field of undersea warfare began in World War II. The connection was initiated by the civilian scientists themselves (as it was with the atomic bomb). As Lasky describes it, it was Vannevar Bush and Harvard President James B. Conant in 1940 who sought a meeting with Roosevelt and obtained his personal authorization for their project to mobilize American science for military research. And at Harvard, F. V. Ted Hunt established an undersea research program; he personally coined the term “sonar”. “He educated and trained almost all the acousticians in undersea warfare. His Ph.D.s were everywhere.”

This scientific eff on was directed first against the Germans in the Battle of the Atlantic, then to supporting the U.S. submarine war against Japan. But at the close of the war, we were rocked by the discovery of the German Type XXI streamlined U-Boat, with high submerged speed and endurance. It was simply beyond the capacity of any countermeasures we had. And it was quickly apparent that the Soviets were determined to build a massive fleet of Type XXI clones, threatening a new, unwinnable Battle of the Atlantic.

However, another piece of captured technology offered some hope of a solution, the GHG, a German sonar, a passive multiple hydrophone array. Ordinary wartime U-Boats had a listening range of ten miles at low speed, and the Type XXI could listen out to 4km at 15 knots. This was far beyond the ranges and speeds at which our active sonar could operate. And the Navy was astounded at the capability of the huge set aboard the war-prize heavy cruiser PRINZ EUGEN, using 240 hydrophones. She had tracked HOOD over the horizon in her famous battle with the BISMARCK, and had used it to avoid many British submarine torpedoes (all but one) throughout the war. She duplicated this feat for the US Navy in 1946, detecting and avoiding numerous torpedoes on an exercise. (Hackmann, 292-5).

This increased sonar range suggested the idea of the SSKs, numerous, mass-produced,inexpensive submarines, with no need for high speed or deep diving, quiet and with powerful sonars, to bar the Greenland -Iceland -UK Gap to Soviet Type XXI snorkellers. The purpose-built and conversion SSKs were given the huge 20 ft., BQR-4 passive sonar, a conformal array based on the GHG (FL YING FISH actually tested the original huge set from PRINZ EUGEN). They detected submarines at 38 miles or more with their all-passive sonar suites, and demonstrated that the submerged submarine was plainly the ideal sonar platform, with sonar performance exceeding that of any surface ship (Friedman, 84). On the other hand, though the SSKs were the quietest boats in the Navy “unfortunately silencing was little understood”. (Friedman, 78). In 1950, tests showed that with sonars placed as originally planned around her sail, machinery noise would have halved detection range on GRAMPUS. (Friedman, 78).


However, the fundamental breakthrough that was to go far to solve the Soviet submarine threat had already been made. During World War II Maurice Ewing and his colleagues at Woods Hole Oceanographic Labs discovered the existence of deep sound channels in the ocean, capable of transmitting tow frequency sound thousands of miles. This led to the establishment of three SOF AR (Sound Fixing and Ranging) stations for locating airmen downed at sea. The airman would drop a small explosive charge set to explode in the deep sound channel. Anywhere in the Atlantic, this signal would be detected and its position triangulated. Lasky says these stations are still in operation today, and revealed the position where SCORPION was lost in 1968, by the sound of her hull imploding.

After the war, leading scientists in wartime research formed the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Undersea Warfare (CUW), to continue their successful partnership with the Navy. Ewing and F.V. Hunt served on the CUW’s Panel on Low Frequency Sonar, which made, in 1950, the recommendation that led to SOSUS (Sound Surveillance System)-a network of fixed seabed arrays, 1000 feet across, mounting 40 hydrophones. They covered the North Atlantic at first, then much of the world’s oceans. By the end of the 1950s they were capable of detecting and tracking virtually every Soviet submarine at sea.

Lasky says “SOSUS was based on a system of sound spectrum analysis called Lo far. Every ship has an orchestration of sound. It comes first of all from the propellers-that’s very low frequency-then you have prop cavitation, then machinery noise, some continuous, some intermittent, then flow noise over the hull, through the piping. Diesel engine sounds were the loudest and transmitted over the longest range-so SOSUS was originally set on the diesel submarine snorkelling.”

For many years the Soviets totally failed to suspect we were tracking their subs; and this yielded a bonus in their failure to bother silencing them. We experimented with mounting diesel engines on sound-isolating mountings-they never did. (Lasky sustained permanent hearing loss aboard SCOTSMAN, the British sub that carried the first sound-mounted engines). The Soviets made great efforts to exceed our subs in performance and weapons, ignoring silencing until they learned of the existence of SOSUS from the Walker spy ring in the 1970s when they made desperate efforts to catch up.

Acoustics and ALBACORE

“The initial mission of ALBACORE was to go to high speed without cavitation, through her good hydrodynamic flow character-istics. The CUW knew they knew nothing about flow noise at high speeds-the only subs we had which had ever been there were the British hydrogen peroxide boats, EXPLORER and EXCALIBUR.”

It was the towed passive array which gave the individual submarine the power of detection, localization, and classification possessed by SOSUS. Yet, the towed array actually originated as a tool to study ALBACORE’s self-noise. Indeed, it is little appreciated that a main purpose of ALBACORE from the very beginning was acoustic study. The best hydrodynamic, low-drag shape was also the best acoustic, low-noise shape.

For example, NAUTILUS astounded the Navy in 1955 with her speed and the tactical superiority over ASW it gave her. But this was in spite of her appalling, unexpected noise at high speed; she could not use her own sonar above 8 knots. Poor hydrodynamic design caused vibration intense enough to cause structural damage; flow past flood openings created resonances in her ballast tanks. In the spring of 1956, Lasky presented a synopsis of her noise problems at a conference at BuShips: props, gear whine, reactor auxiliary pumps, whistles from hull openings and sail, creaks and groans from her hull as she changed depth. (Weir, 185) Lasky says this analysis was the work of Alex Tachininge.

However, vast progress was made very quickly. Gary Weir writes: “From the operating community’s vantage point.radiated noise and the capability of GEORGE WASHINGTON’s active and passive sonar took priority after the missile system”. In 1960 John Craven, chief scientist for the Polaris project, had sought to eliminate all possible sources of noise before completion. (Weir,263)

Gary Weir writes “As part of a team of physicists working on the acoustical problems of ALBACORE at DTMB, Marvin Lasky explored sources of noise common to all submarines and a few that were m9re characteristic of AGSS 569. All of these vessels displayed five major problems: noise over the passive sensors, transmission of vibration through the ship’s structure, machinery noise, water flow around the hull, and the noise of the propellers. Of these, water flow around the hull was the most important and least understood because no submerged submarine had ever achiev-ed very high submerged speeds” (Weir. 140).

Yet the teardrop hull helped in other areas; it produced the optimal flow of water into the propeller. reducing prop cavitation. And individual sources of noise were identified. studied, and eliminated in detail. “Specialized test runs included the study of vibration and sound emitted by nearly every conceivable part of the boat. including ballast tanks and superstructure vents. Researchers traced flow noise around the anchor and anchor chain, hatches and escape trunks, towing padeyes, stern light and cleats. handrails, whip antenna, stern planes and dorsal rudder, periscope housing, and sonar domes” (Carlisle, 249).

Thus, 569 lost her bow planes “so damned noisy I had them taken off.” DTMB insisted on a dummy sonar dome, for the study of its hydrodynamic characteristics. “There was no sonar dome or acoustics in the original plan that came out of the CUW.” And no sonar either; 569 was given an old, ineffective JP at the insistence of her skipper. Ken Gummerson. to avoid collisions while surfac-ing. This was replaced by a JT. which performed poorly until placed under the fiberglass DTMB dome. where it exhibited remarkable high speed performance. TV cameras and stroboscopes were used to observe cavitation and flow around the dome. Her second skipper. Jon Boyes. remarked, “We could hear through our own white noise at 30 knots with the JT, and were able to track Guppies at great distances because ALBACORE’s streamlining made her so quiet.”

Lasky recalls the Germans had problems with flow noise when they mounted the GHG ·on the high speed Type XXI and went to a World War I technique of enclosing the sonar in a water-filled dome. The next step was to move the sonar to the bow; Lasky attributes the idea of making the bow itself into a sonar dome to Howell Russell, senior projects manager in the DTMB acoustics lab.

Howell Russell says: “Our object was to create a quiet sonar platform as far from sources of noise as possible. We cut 6 feet of the steel bow off, took a mold of this, and the shipyard used this to create an identical bow of fiberglass, woven cloth and resin. We installed an early model sonar in the free flooding area behind it. All the new boats have it, but it was a first for ALBACORE.”

In 1960, the early sonar was replaced with a powerful combina-tion of BQS-4, the first major postwar active sonar, and BQR-2B, the American version of the GHG, the passive array used in the SSKs. In 1962, a first breadboard version of DIMUS {Digital Multi-beam Steering) was added to the BQR-2B, using an omnidirectional spherical array of 24 hydrophones, digital process-ing, and electronic rather than noisy slow mechanical beam steering. Frank Andrews says: “DIMUS was a method of process-ing sound coming into the array, a narrow beam distinct from all-around noise. It’s like 24 searchlights on all at once, simulta-neously looking in all directions, unlike a single beam that’s mechanically steered.” Thus, the spherical array was capable of tracking a contact in three dimensions; DIMUS made it both omnidirectional and capable of picking up very weak signals through the background noise.

ALBACORE ran tests with this sonar April to December 1962 under the direction of the San Diego Marine Physical Laboratory, where DIMUS had been invented by Dr. Victor C. Anderson in 1951. DIMUS contributed to the effectiveness of the huge spherical bow arrays which were an essential part of the design of all U.S. attack subs from TULLIBEE on, to the point where LOS ANGELES was intended to operate hers in a completely passive mode.

Writing the Historv of Sonar

“At this time [after 569’s completion] I became acquainted with Aubrey Pryce, an Englislunan who was working to compile a summary of acoustic data, done by so many different people in so many different countries. He encouraged me to develop the history of the effort going back to World War I and beyond, so we wouldn’t repeat problems that had already been solved.”

This was the origin of his series of articles, mostly in the Journal of Underwater Acoustics, tracing the history of sonar from its beginnings to 1970. In his research, he recovered many forgotten but useful concepts-including the passive towed hydro-phone array.

He found that in 1917 the Navy had assembled a group of specialists under Dr. Harvey Hayes of Swarthmore College at the New London Naval Experimental Station “to derive as quickly as possible the best available technology to defeat the U-Boat.” With the Submarine Signal Co., they produced the “Eel”, using 48 hull-mounted and towed hydrophones, tested aboard the destroyer JOUETI. The system was binaural, indicating both range and direction. Two arrays with 12 hydrophones each were towed 300-500 ft. behind the ship, 100 feet deep and 12 feet apart. A 12-channel electrical compensator provided electrical delay-line steering. On April 1918 JOUETI tracked submarine G-2 doing 7 knots in Long Island Sound.

“This system not only detected and located the direction of submerged targets but also by means of cross-fixing from the known geometry of towed and hull-mounted equipment could measure the range … Note that at time 11:44, with own ship proceeding at 20 knots, the target was held at about 1200 yds. range” (Lasky, “Review of Undersea Acoustics: To 1950”, 6).

When Dr. Hayes met with his British opposite numbers in 1919, they urged the development of their active, echo-ranging gear, ASDIC which the US Navy chose to pursue.

Genesis of the Modem Towed Array

The passive linear array towed by the modern nuclear submarine had its origin in the technology Lasky devised to measure the ALBACORE’s self-noise. Acoustic research on the ALBACORE was a double-sided effort. The more she was quieted, the greater her listening powers. And the more sensitive, sophisticated, and quiet her measuring equipment grew, the greater its potential for anti-submarine use.

During his year at SUBDEVGRU2 before ALBACORE, Lasky worked on the problem of making electrical connections through a submarine’s hull to removable equipment outside, based on his experience with mines. “I developed a removable torpedo-loading hatch with 6 waterproof, pressure proof electrical connections. This enabled us to transfer our instrumentation from one boat to another; we could on-or off-load a submarine in 3-4 hours.”

The next step was to use the ATERE equipment to stream a simple hydrophone from ALBACORE’s sail to measure near-field noise, “first at 15, then 30, then 45 feet. We were careful not to get it tangled in the screw.” Howell Russell tells the story of hearing gunshots and shouts on the headphones the first time he tried it. “Bang! Bang! Aaaaaa! They were listening to a John Wayne movie in the crew’s quarters.”

Lasky says: “The big problem was to get a sensitive hydrophone that could be towed at depth-our early ones leaked. But it was quickly apparent that this would allow picking up very long range signals. Sound transmission in the ocean is very comptex, but the low-frequency sounds of submarines persisted and were identifiable through the ambient noise produced by ship traffic, biology, the 60-cycle hum.

“We towed sonar to measure ALBACORE’s self-noise. Her first priority was to go to high speed without cavitation. When this was accomplished I got to work on the towed linear array. In 1956 I left DTMB to join Aubrey Pryce at ONR, where we achieved our towed array accomplishments.

“Aubrey convinced me that towing the array and doing it quietly was useless unless we quieted the platform-you didn’t want to just listen to your own noise. We were then just as noisy as the Soviets. To quiet the platform we needed a systems approach; we were listening in the very area we were noisiest.”

But according to Norman Friedman, ONR and DTMB did a special study of flow noise in 1959-61, towing a 50 foot, 11 hydro-phone array on a 3-mile cable, achieving “by far, the lowest self-noise to date over the full range of Lofar to medium frequencies ( 100 Hz to 1090 Hz) at speeds up to 10 knots” (Friedman, 67).

Lasky says “with the SSKs the problem was to achieve detection ranges of 10-20 miles whereas in order to intercept a Soviet nuclear sub trailing one of our carriers, you needed ranges of 100 miles and more. To get them, you needed a quiet sub, listening at optimum depths. This was the impetus of the towed array …

In February, 1962, ALBACORE tested “Towflex” made by the Chesapeake Instrument Co., which later became the towed array division of Gould. It was probably the first submarine-towed hydrophone array.

“Towflex was the first. It was a Chesapeake Instrument name. They made it for me and they didn’t do a very good job. The hydrophones were carried on a coaxial cable, and the flexing of the cable caused noise. We went back to a World War I technique, enclosing the hydrophones in a water-filled space. First we used a flooded fire hose, then we used Kevlar, a Dupont fabric that was abrasion resistant and acoustically transparent. The one that actually worked was refined by Hughes Aircraft and the Underwa-ter Sound Labs. Hughes very largely made the first version that worked a guy named Mike Basin was responsible.

“We had determined that the units had to be neutrally buoyant, and before we did any electronic signal processing with them, we towed them for stability. We did the initial telemetry, and Underwater Sound Laboratory took it over after that, made it smaller, transistorized the electronics. A guy by the name of Harold Nash did that.

“I’ve been very fortunate in having very capable guys working with me. Al Sykes, Aubrey, George Boyer-they were wonderful scientists-we had all worked at DTMB in different capacities, but eventually joined ONR to carry on the mission of improving our undersea warfare capabilities.”

Thus in 1962, we can see ALBACORE, with her powerful bow sonar with DIMUS and first towed array, as an embryonic prototype of the Los Angeles class: a killer of enemy nuclear submarines, fast, maneuverable, deep-diving, very quiet, with tremendous passive listening powers. This was the formula which gave us superiority over the advanced Soviet nuclear sub fleet in the 1980s, the last decade of the Cold War, and made possible the Navy’s offensive “Maritime Strategy … Analogous to the fighter airplane’s role of gaining command of the air, the nuclear subma-rine became the primary weapon for gaining control of the sea, necessary to allow us the use of its surface by our “power projec-tion .. forces, carrier and amphibious groups.

ALBACORE underwent a major reconstruction from December 1962 to March 1965, before resuming towed array testing. In the meantime, a towed array for operational use was being planned. Friedman writes that the National Security Industrial Association (NSIA), a group of major defense contractors, had done a study of ASW in 1964. They were tremendously impressed by SOSUS -they envisioned a submarine towing a complete 1000 ft. SOSUS array at the end of a 10,000 foot cable. In 1965 they proposed that the next submarine sonar include a bow spherical array and a towed array, using the BQQ-3 Lofar spectrum analyzer.

But to use Lofar effectively, it was necessary to have detailed profiles of Soviet submarine sound spectra-necessarily recorded by US submarines lurking in Soviet operating areas. But, unless at a dead stop, flow noise over hull arrays would mask the low end of the Lofar spectrum. “The ONR experiment with towed arrays offered a solution. Isolated from much of a submarine’s self-noise and suffering little flow noise, the towed array could be used while the submarine moved” (Friedman, 67).

The first array actually in service, authorized in 1965, may have been the Tuba-II (BQH-4) “The 258 foot, 3 inch diameter array, towed on a 2,600 foot cable, carried three subarrays of 50 hydro-phones each. The entire system was effective between 1OHz and 20kHz” (Friedman, 67).

Ballistic missile submarines used the smaller, simpler BQR-15, permitting them to look aft, behind their prop noise. Numerous arrays followed, retractable, clip-on, longer, thinner, lower frequency. SURTASS was a mobile supplement to SOSUS, towed by auxiliaries. Spruance and Perry class escorts, as well as Los Angeles SSNs, could operate completely passively, listening out to great distances, no longer advertising their presence by active pinging. Array length permitted the easy determination of range by triangulation.

Atlantic Underwater Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC)

Lasky received the DoD Distinguished Civilian Service Awards for towed sonar in 1972. However, he had earlier received this award for another achievement as Director of Acoustic Programs at ONR, the creation of AUTEC. During his early years there, major advances were made in silencing. During her Phase II 1956-60, for example, a careful effort was made to attack all sources of noise on ALBACORE. Her piping and auxiliary machinery was given resilient mountings to prevent vibrations from being transmit-ted through her hull; plastic coatings to prevent water noise were tested inside her tanks and free-flooding superstructure. These efforts led to the raft-mounted geared turbines used in THRESHER and most later nuclear boats.

As silencing and passive sonar improved dramatically, they came to represent a crucial part of the U.S. margin of superiority. We needed a careful analysis of our own submarine sound signa-tures to reduce them to the absolute minimum and extrapolate the ranges at which they could be detected. In particular, we needed to check our submarines upon completion and after modification and overhaul to make certain there was no unsuspected source of noise, a construction or design flaw, a faulty piece of machinery, even a loose piece of gear, to ruin a submarine’s stealth and announce her presence. ONR and BuShips sought to create an instrumented test range to serve this purpose.

“It required the coordination of parts of the system that often don’t talk to each other. Vince Prestipino at BuShips got the authorization for it, I did the acoustic work, and we shared the award for it. ONR wouldn’t normally have any control over scheduling submarines. Code 525 over at BuShips was the submarine code, Code 371 was the ship silencing code. Through Frank Andrews introducing us to the people in submarines and Vince Prestipino knowing everybody in silencing, we were able to join them both together. It was a team effort; it didn’t come full-blown from the brow of Jove.”

AUTEC was a joint US-British project. The site chosen was Tongue-of-the-Ocean near Andros Island in the Bahamas. It is a gigantic undersea canyon, 15 by 100 miles, as much as 6,000 feet deep, with immensely steep drop-offs forming its walls and only one access channel. Isolated from shipping, it possesses the necessary depth, space, ideal weather and low ambient noise. John Bentley writes that it was not complete until 1969, but it was in use much earlier {Bentley, 92). ALBACORE apparently visited it for the first time in 1959.

AUTEC possesses three ranges: for weapons testing, calibration of sonar, and the third, the Acoustics Range, is for measuring, recording, and analyzing the sound signature of our submarines. In addition, DTMB created MONOB I (Mobile Noise Measurement Barge) from an ancient water barge and moored her near Eleuthera Island, where she was used to measure the sound signature of ships and submarines using variable-depth hydrophones. Manned by DTMB personnel, Lasky says V.L. Crisler was her originator.

The Fly-Around Body

As valuable as AUTEC was, it meant that every submarine had to expend considerable transit time to travel to one very expensive instrumented sound range in one specific place, to undergo periodic sound checks on a rigid schedule. Would it be possible to develop a simple, relatively inexpensive piece of portable technology that a submarine could use to check its self-noise any place, any time without any serious interruption of its operations? The answer was the Fly-Around Body (FAB), conceived by Lasky out of his long experience with towing. The FAB, described in interviews with Lasky, Howell Russell, and a January 2000 SUBMARINE REVIEW anicle by Jack Hunter, was a wing-shaped hydrofoil tethered body, “flown by remote control from inside ALBACORE, using hydrodynamic lift to “rise” against the pull of its faired tether cable, like a kite. The FAB proper towed a neutrally buoyant hydrophone array behind it. “Flown” from ALBACORE’ s nose, it could be positioned anywhere 360 degrees around her hull, at any distance to at least 100 feet out.

Jack Hunter writes: “The concept was to take near field noise measurements while turning on and off various pieces of equip-ment. Once the first set of readings was taken the array would be moved further away from the hull by increasing the scope of the tow cable and a second set of readings would be taken. The collected data would be processed to determine the boat’s radiated noise signature.”

Lasky says: “After the towed array was proven, we concen-trated on the sound field around ALBACORE. With the F AB we could measure in yards what we had previously measured in miles. There were three elements to it: one was the towed array, one was the positioning system used to place it around ALBACORE, and the third was the analytic method for taking the near-field data we obtained on the cylinder of sound around ALBACORE, and translating this based on theory into far-field, into what the enemy hears. It was a huge research effort based on a very complex mathematical exercise, which Mike Junger pioneered. With our support he published a book called Sound Structures and Their Interaction. He was one of the early doctoral graduates of Ted Hunt.

“I did the array, and the controllable wing paravane was designed by Dr. Folger Whicker-this is patented at DTMB. The tow cable carried the remote control signal as well as the acoustic signals received from the array: they varied considerably around the submarine.

“The idea of the whole system was to eliminate the need of every submarine to go to Tongue-of-the-Ocean, not only on completion but after every upkeep and overhaul. It was very expensive. John Craven sponsored the FAB with me at ONR.”

Jack Hunter describes how the FAB was stowed on a cradle aft of the sail. ALBACORE’s dorsal rudder was turned into a crane by the addition of a boom and winch and used to raise and lower the F AB into the water. It was necessary to put divers into the water to connect and disconnect the hoist cable, thus limiting operations to sea state two or less. He wonders if this mighn’t be part of the reason the F AB was not pursued, although he notes the process of attaching the clip-on towed arrays was similar, using divers.

Lasky says: “The problem at the time was controlling the paravane; it really needed an autopilot. At that time the necessary computing capacity was an extremely expensive proposition. Meanwhile AUTEC was a going program, already funded and successful. But if the Cold War had stayed hot we might have gone ahead with it. But F AB technology is incorporated in the towed cameras Robert Ballard used to find TITANIC.”

In regard to FAB’s effectiveness and problems, Jack Hunter writes: “ALBACORE deployed twice to Ft. Lauderdale with FAB. The first set of trials ended prematurely when a casualty to the control system caused the F AB to crash into the sub and crush the fiberglass body.”

(About this incident Howell Russell recalls: “Once we racked up the FAB, clobbered it against the hull. Well we called the FAB ‘the Yellow Bird’ so some wiseguy hung a plucked rubber chicken from the sail with the sign ‘Sighted Bird, Shot Same.”‘)

Jack Hunter continues: “On the second test the system worked well. The noise data obtained were then verified on multiple runs atAUTEC.”

ALBACORE tested the FAB at Ft. Lauderdale in 1967. She also conducted F AB Phase I trials at Tongue-of-the-Ocean, and FAB Phase II trials off Portsmouth in 1968, according to her ship’s history. In 1970, ALBACORE began modification for Project SURPASS, her trials with viscous polymer liquid to smooth her boundary layer. But Project SURPASS was never completed, due to the final failure of her troublesome GM 16-338 pancake diesels, and that was the end of the availability of a full-scale submarine for such imaginative tests.

Lessons and Questions

This article only scratches the surface of the story of the Navy’s secret science, and of Marvin Lasky and his colleagues, Frank Andrews, Aubrey Pryce, Richard Dzikowski, Ted Hunt, Vince Prestipino, Mike Junger, Howell Russell, and many, many others. Writing it would be a major labor, but very instructive. One particularly impressive aspect of the acoustics program is the ease with which these men moved back and forth between the most abstract and complex principles of Physics and practical, ingenious engineering. Another is the rapport that existed between the scientists and the Navy.

“Our Model Basin civilian crew had the best cooperation not only from the officers but also from the enlisted men, especially in the forward room, where we installed the bulk of our gear. They not only hot-bunked elsewhere but also cheerfully gave up their bunks to the Model Basin research personnel and helped us install our instruments in the superstructure and around the propellers … ALBACORE was a miracle brought to fulfillment by the goodwill, superb team effort of many dedicated individuals. We were blessed by the good fortune to be friends and close companions, that we were not killed by the same misfortune that overtook our friends and sometime shipmates on thresher.”

This band of brothers spirit is no illusion; it is echoed by practically everyone the writer has spoken to connected with ALBACORE: CO’s, crew, DTMB and CUW scientists. It says a great deal about the U.S. Navy as an institution that it could foster, trust, and apply such a complex and sophisticated scientific effort. The acoustics program could fruitfully be compared with such efforts as that of Rickover and the creation of nuclear power, or that of BuShips to produce an effective fleet boat before World War II under Cochrane and McKee, or perhaps the effort to make carrier aviation work in the 1920s and 1930s. And, of course, the Manhattan Project that produced the atomic bomb.

Gary Weir quotes Marvin Lasky: “Let me tell you why the civilians were able to control ALBACORE. Because of the spillover of scientific effort from World War II and the respect of the naval officers in charge for civilian expertise in solving naval problems. This has since evaporated” (Weir, 142). If this is true, then it is all the more important to understand this time and its achievements, so we can, perhaps, recapture its brilliance and ingenuity when these are needed again. As Marvin Lasky says, “Nothing is lost.”


The DSF updated application is now available for distribution to potential applicants, high school counselors, and submarine-related commands. The deadline for completed applications and supporting documentation is March 15.

All paperwork must be on premises by that day. No exceptions. For further information, please contact Tomi Roeske at (757) 671-3200, e-mail, or write to DSF, 5040 Virginia Beach Blvd., Suite 104-A, Virginia Beach, VA 23462. The application can also be downloaded from our web site: www

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