Inside the History of Detachment Puget Sound

July 8, 2020 – Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division (NSWCCD) has several detachments scattered across the United States, all of which specialize in key areas that support the warfighter.

Carderock’s Detachment Puget Sound in Washington State is a facility that supports the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets with assessment of submarine acoustic signatures and other technical support, but it was not always affiliated with the command. In fact, in 1951 the group was originally part of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS), which operated the Carr Inlet Acoustic Range (CIAR) near Fox Island, Washington. CIAR was initially designed to measure the signatures of surface ships and diesel submarines, and was at the forefront of developing the Navy’s ship acoustic measurement methodology. The early CIAR engineers invented and built some of the first acoustic signature measurement devices fielded by the Navy. Many of the measurement and test processes developed in this era form the basis of the highly sophisticated methods and capabilities now in use. Several generations of advancement from these beginnings led to the current technology that enables NSWCCD to measure the latest quiet submarine classes.

Some of the pioneering U.S. submarine acoustic measurements conducted at CIAR began in 1953 with the newly converted hunter-killer submarine USS Bashaw (SSK 241). In 1957, the first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN 571), was measured at CIAR. Shortly after the visit to CIAR, USS Nautilus departed Seattle on June 9, 1957, on “Operation Sunshine” for the first attempt to transit under the North Pole.

Into the 1960s and 70s, the PSNS acoustics group embarked on an expansion of facilities and capabilities. A static test site that allowed submarines to be suspended from barges and tested in a stationary, yet submerged, condition was established at CIAR in 1969. Through this innovative and still unique capability, engineers were able to shut down a submarine’s reactor power while continuing to supply power from shore, and thus neutralize the noise produced by their reactors. While the sub remained suspended, noise from its propulsion systems was eliminated, allowing the test team to focus on non-propulsion sources. A major accomplishment utilizing the static site was when a suspended acoustic trial was conducted on nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarine USS Alabama (SSBN 731). Alabama was suspended while various systems of the ship were sequentially secured. Utilizing shore power supplied to the ship, individual shipboard components were de-energized. This allowed analysts to understand all the sources of noise and catalog those components, providing a wealth of knowledge for future submarine design.

A few years later, the PSNS acoustics group led the development of the Santa Cruz Acoustic Range Facility (SCARF) at Santa Cruz Island, California. The new facility was similar to CIAR in that it tested submarine acoustics, but it did so with submarines operating at higher speeds and deeper depths. In 1973, the shore side facilities on Fox Island that supported the CIAR range grew from a simple barge and pier to a fully equipped acoustic laboratory.

As submarine signature silencing became a focal point of submarine research and development (R&D), the shipyard’s acoustics group transferred organizationally from PSNS to the David Taylor Naval Ship Research and Development Center (DTNSRDC) – now known as NSWCCD – in 1984, joining the command’s Ship Acoustics Department. The group of engineers, who remained stationed on the West Coast were aligned technically and administratively with their DTNSRDC West Bethesda counterparts to support both the Pacific and Atlantic fleets, and to leverage the hull, mechanical and electrical (HM&E) expertise of DTNSRDC. Although the group of engineers belonged to DTNSRDC – known as DTNSRDC Detachment Bremerton at the time – they remained a tenant command located within PSNS.

The CIAR and SCARF facilities were disestablished in 1992 as acoustic interference from industrial and residential development, and the physical size of the CIAR operational area became too limiting for measurement of new generation quiet submarines. These facilities were replaced by the new Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility (SEAFAC) in Ketchikan, Alaska. SEAFAC, which is located in the deep, quiet and protected waters of the Western Behm Canal is currently the only Pacific-centric facility used by the Navy to measure and characterize submarine signatures. During this same timeframe, DTNSRDC became NSWCCD.

In May 2009, Carderock’s Detachment Bremerton relocated from PSNS to Naval Base Kitsap, Bangor. A new facility, which was constructed specifically for the Detachment, was built on the shores of Hood Canal and became the current NSWCCD Detachment Puget Sound. The new facility houses about 100 technical employees supporting Atlantic and Pacific fleet acoustic trials, and performing other fleet support functions. Detachment Puget Sound also maintains a local test capability for various undersea equipment including Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV) and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV).

Today, Detachment Puget Sound personnel and their West Bethesda colleagues support acoustic trials at both SEAFAC and the South Tongue of the Ocean Acoustic Measurement Facility (STAFAC) at the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) in Andros, Bahamas.

Building on a foundation established by innovative and forward-looking scientists and engineers originally at both CIAR and David Taylor Model Basin, West Bethesda, today’s Signature department personnel at both Detachment Puget Sound and West Bethesda are advancing signatures measurement and fleet support technology and capability. This advancement is building new history that will enable NSWCCD to meet the challenges presented by the Columbia-class submarine and beyond.

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