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Mr. LeDuc is the Virginia (SSN-774)-class Test and Evaluation Technical Project Manager, Naval Undersea Wmjare Center (NUWC), Newport, RI. Mr. Ostaffe is Range Manager, NATO Naval Forces Sensor and Weap- ons Accuracy Check Site (FORACS)IU.S. Navy Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Cemer (A UTEC), West Palm Beach, Fl.

As the Battle of the South Atlantic reached its peak in the spring of 1982, Argentine commanders were increasingly perplexed and frustrated by the inability of the Type 209 submarine, SAN LUIS, to close the fight to the enemy, despite near-perfect attack opportunities. Six errant runs by six separate torpedoes went haywire and ran all over the place, a clear indication that the submarine – not the torpedoes- had a problem.

What turned out to be synchro-misalignment meant that incorrect bearing information was transmitted from the periscope to torpedo fire control but no one was aware of this problem. When the commanding officer had a target in his cross hairs, the torpedo data computer thought it was somewhere else and misdirected the torpedo- six times. After action analysis showed that during a pre conflict maintenance availability wires had been transposed, reversing polarity in the torpedoes’ gyros and causing them to tumble and lose orientation. Had SAN LUIS conducted a weapon systems accuracy check during her prewar availability, this would likely have determined the true health and readiness of tile weapon system, and perhaps changed the outcomes of the engagements with the Royal Navy.

U.S. Navy submarines have avoided such problems by conducting regular force operational readiness and accuracy checks at the NATO Naval Forces Sensor and Weapons Accuracy Check Sites (FORACS) range at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center’s (NUWC) Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC). One of the U.S. Navy’s best-kept secrets, AUTEC has increasing importance for America’s Submarine Force. In a sense, AUTEC is becoming a silent service for the U.S. Navy’s Silent Service. For instance, all new Virginia-class boats are required to complete complex sensor accuracy testing at the FORACS/AUTEC range prior to fleet deployment.

Consider it the gold shield of warflgliting approval that is essential to assuring the Submarine Force’s weapon systems readiness.

Unfortunately, very few people outside the Submarine Force test and evaluation community knew this was- and is- going on.


The NATO FORACS/AUTEC provenance goes back to submarine-launched torpedo problems encountered during tests in Puget Sound’s Dabob Bay in the late 1960s. “Sonar inputs to the fire-control solution were often incorrect,” according to Dr. James Mercer of the University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory, “sometimes as much as 20 degrees. An external accuracy test was deemed necessary.”

These challenges continued to dog the U.S. Submarine Force. “Even though today’s systems are computer-based, false alignments, imprecise inertial navigation and other systematic errors can exist,” Mercer said. For example, because fresh water and saltwater have different densities, “we discovered that fresh water in sonar domes can create significant bearing errors, and handover from one preformed beam to another can create erroneous speeds in fire-control solutions.”

Mercer also personally contributed to the design and establishment of what the USN then called FORACS- for “Fleet Operational Readiness Accuracy Check Sites”- ranges, the training of operators, design and installation of artificial targets, and the development of the accuracy standards manual by which the performance of systems being tested was assessed. “Proper testing required adherence to the master ‘Precision of FORACS Measurements’ document, he explained, “and close attention to the specifications for each individual U.S. FORACS range on the U.S. east and west coasts.

Fast-forward to early 2013, and the sensor and weapons accuracy testing enterprise is now conducted at an international level, embracing all manner of naval and maritime forces, not just submarines.


Today The NATO FORACS program office located at NATO Head- quarters in Brussels, Belgium, is responsible for the executive management of the project. Three NATO FORACS ranges are located in Stavanger, Norway, Souda Bay (Crete), Greece, and the third is co-located within the U.S. Navy’s Naval Undersea Warfare Center’s AUTEC facility in West Palm Beach, Fla., and on Andros Island, Bahamas.

NATO elected to base its FORACS technical requirements on those that the USN had put in place for AUTEC in the early 1970s, with the plan to conduct accuracy, alignment and performance trials supporting naval weapon engineering development for all NATO navies and maritime forces. In 1974, seven members Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States- signed a memorandum of understanding to establish the FORACS project as a multinational NATO activity. In 1994, Canada became the eighth member-nation in the project. Friendly non NATO navies and maritime forces can take advantage of the ranges, too.

The primary FORACS mission is to perform precision, dynamic calibration measurements of the accuracy of target and navigation sensors against a common geographical reference to satisfy national requirements and meet NATO material readiness standards. Each year, FORACS collects and analyzes accuracy data on scores of naval units to enable large-scale data integration. Data security is paramount. FORACS test results data are owned by each government and not shared between countries.

FORACS/AUTEC tests are statistically repeatable scientific tests that measure the bearing, range, heading and positional errors of sensors on surface ships, submarines and fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft; active, passive, dipping and towed-array sonars and mine- hunting systems; search and fire-control radars; peruses, periscopes, optical sights and rangefinders; infrared laser and TV sensors; inertial navigation systems, Global Positioning System equipment and gyro compasses; and radio-direction finding and electronic systems measures. FORACS/AUTEC ranges can test new ships, submarines and aircraft that have just completed upgrades and modernization or that are making-ready for deployments. This is a cost-effective means for verifying the accuracy and readiness of their systems.

“We act as an independent third party,” Trevor Kelly- Bissonnette, NATO FORACS project manager and technical director in Brussels commented. For example, Operational Capability Confidence Checks (OC3s) assure that a platform’s combat system is fully mission-capable. “The OC3 involves a real- time, combat system-level check within a realistic, theater-specific tactical environment,” Kelly-Bissonnette noted. “This enables explicit tactical development, including realistic engagement timclines, to be exercised and developed, as well as checking the technical performance of the combat system itself. It also provides operators with a better understanding of their systems and enhances commanders’ confidence in their units’ performance in the real world.” .

Understanding the value of such testing, the United Kingdom has actually mandated that every Royal Navy platform undertaking operations east of Suez will conduct OC3s, usually at the NATO FORACS facility at Souda Bay, Greece. This assessment and evaluation check, assembled in a coherent package and structured approach, provides the ship’s commanding officer with an accurate and timely assessment of material capabilities and limitations prior to entering the operational environment. The OC3 has proven so successful that the Royal Navy has considered applying this process to all RN ships no matter where they deploy..

While the United States uses the NATO ranges, there is also a U.S. FORACS In-Service Engineering Agent (ISEA) program within the Naval Sea Systems Command (NA VSEA), according to Kelly-Bissonnette. “The FORACS ISEA organization is focused on unique test issues to the United States, not NA TO. For example, developing the ‘shipalts’ [ship alterations] or ‘tempalts’ [temporary alterations] required us to bring test equipment onto ships; or test procedures for U.S.-only systems. In other NATO nations,” she said, “these functions are conducted by their materiel commands. NATO FORACS funds the U.S. FORACS ISEA for technical consultations, which improves harmonization between the programs.”

Virgitlia Class Embraces FORACS/AUTEC

The NATO FORACS test range at AUTEC provides the Virginia-class submarine program Test and Evaluation Program a valuable testing capability that complements NA VSEA and fleet weapon systems certifications. All newly constructed Virginia- class submarines are required to complete complex sensor accuracy testing on the AUTEC range prior to fleet introduction- not during a post-shakedown availability. It truly is a national asset and fundamental to NAVSEA and SUBFOR’s anti- submarine and anti-surface warfare test programs.

The U.S. Navy agreed to the NATO FORACS approach to sensor testing, which was empowered by SEA05, to ensure the operational effectiveness of the Virginia class. NATO FORACS offers a capability that the Submarine Force leveraged to do detailed runs, collecting reams of data and comparing it to Ground to determine whether the systems work as intended. This is the only time during the submarine construction and acquisition process that the service can determine that the systems meet standards.

The critical need for this has been highlighted by two facts of life. First, the various sensor systems are increasingly complex and inter-connected. Prior to the introduction of the local area network on board submarines, the various systems were stovepipes with limited or non-existent interface requirements. Now, everything is interconnected in the Virginia class, making systems testing more complex as well.

Second, the Navy is putting in place increasingly tight and streamlined submarine construction schedules to meet fleet force level requirements and deployment commitments. This, in tum, is driving the need to do more testing prior to delivery of new- construction SSN rather than wait until afterward.

“The FORACs Team is charged with ensuring accuracy of the systems they test, and the Virginia class is required to deliver certified combat systems to the Fleet,” according to Edwin Rahme, of the Virginia Program Office, PMS450. “PMS450 challenged NUWC Codes 40 [Platform and Payload Integration Department] and 70 [Ranges, Engineering and Analysis] to combine their efforts, complement their strengths, and eliminate duplication to ensure the enterprise as a whole was making the absolute best use of the resources provided. The results have been outstanding,” he continued, “and we have been able to ensure that we are making the best use of each taxpayer dollar we are entrusted with when it comes to operating ranges and delivering submarines.”

The real story is that a team of experts is mated with a Virginiaclass submarine, resulting in a highly successful program. FORACS/AUTEC provides seasoned military and civilian personnel with a high level of expertise to go out with the ship to acquire and evaluate the data. They know that they are guests and the submarine is in essence the crew’s home, so they work to create a win-win situation. In essence, by having highly skilled and experienced testers on board, the crew learns more about their systems’ performance. Thus the crew’s knowledge base increases and the C.O. uses this experience as an opportunity to raise the bar.

“One-Stop” Shop for USW Supremacy

NATO FORACS facilities are one-stop shops for all Submarine Forces warfare sensors. Tests can be tailored to individual needs. Far from just a technical testing capability provided by an engineering test bed, FORACS ranges deliver real and tangible assessments that ensure U.S. submarines are operationally ready to deploy.

Patricia Hamburger, the Director of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NA VSEA) Integrated Warfare Systems Engineering, underscores AUTEC’s value, and not just for the Submarine Force. “The leadership and commitment of NAVSEA 05H and Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) enable the U.S. Navy to sustain this vital sensor accuracy test service,” she noted in a May 2012 interview, “As the U.S. Navy’s sole provider of sensor accuracy testing, the NATO FORACS AUTEC Team and test capabilities are certified annually to ISO 900 I standards. We measure and assess reality, not what we think or hope might be the case.”

Reason enough why the Virginia-class program has wholeheartedly embraced FORACS/AUTEC testing, to ensure that the boat is ready for its number-one mission: warfighting!

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