New Sensor System Delivered to US Navy

(c) K.B. Sherman, 2002

A $ 6.4 million development-and-production contract won by Lockheed Martin in 2000 has produced the first TB-29A thin-line towed array to be tested by the US Navy. This is part of an $ 84 million LRIP contract for production of the first eleven TB-29A systems for the Navy. Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics and Surveillance Systems (NE&SS) (Syracuse, NY) is the prime contractor for the TB-29A program. Its partner subcontractor is L-3 Communications (Sylmar, CA).

Towed arrays are hydrophones (underwater passive acoustic sensors) attached by cables to the towing vessel, enabling it to detect and analyze the acoustic energy produced by sub-surface and other targets, as well as weapons deployed by same. Because water is far denser than air, hydrophones take advantage of the fact that sound travels faster and much farther underwater than in air. "LRIP for the TB-29A began in 2000.

Four arrays are scheduled to be delivered for operations evaluation (OPEVAL) in March, 2002," said Scott Gring, TB-29A Program Manager. Lockheed Martin received an initial order for engineering and manufacturing services for the upgraded "-A" model sonar in December 1998. The earlier TB-29 towed-array sonar program was cancelled after only 10 systems were produced, due to cost overruns. The TB-29A costs half as much as its TB-29 predecessor, with enhanced performance and added features such as integrated heading and depth sensors. "The TB-29A is a lower-cost variant of the TB-29 and uses more COTS technology," continued Gring. "The TB-29A also employs a new lightweight tow cable and will first be installed aboard a Los Angeles (SSN-668) class submarine. It will subsequently be installed aboard the Seawolf (SSN-21) and Virginia (SSN-774) -class submarines." Seawolf is the first in a planned class of three. Virginia will be the first of four planned SSN-774-class to date. The TB-29A will also be deployed as the Twin-line towed array on Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System USNS ships, according to Brad Hines, Manager for Business Development, Lockheed Martin Underseas Systems. The latest SURTASS ships are of the Impeccable Class (T-AGOS-23).

The Navy has indicated that it may eventually want as many as 100 TB-29A systems. Lighter and cheaper than its predecessor, the TB-29A will permit US Navy ships to keep tabs on its adversaries.