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Air ASW - Cold War Period

As the United States entered the Cold War period, Air ASW advancements continued as the Martin SP-5B Marlin seaplane, the Lockheed P-2V Neptune and the Grumann S-2F Tracker aircraft began searching for Soviet submarines. Also, the effectiveness of helicopters with dipping (or dunking) sonars would now be emphasized. Meanwhile, the submarine fleet was getting harder to find. As nuclear submarines began entering the inventory in the mid-1950's and newer diesel submarines were constructed, more advance Air ASW systems would have to be developed. One method of acoustically locating submarines was through the use of "Julie." "Julie" utilized small explosive charges which created an acoustic pulse that was bounced off submarine hulls and detected by passive sonobuoys. Conversely, a passive method to find snorkeling diesel submarines was a system called "sniffer." "Sniffer" operated somewhat similar to today's smoke detectors. It detected minute air particles and contaminants from the operation of a submarine diesel engine. Aircraft would mark their position after each sniffer detection. After several detections and adjusting for the wind, aircrews could begin localizing the snorkeling diesel submarine.

Most of the Air ASW operations were against the quickly growing Soviet submarine fleet. Typical ASW operations included tracking ballistic missile submarines as well as searching for attack and guided missile submarines shadowing the U.S. Fleet. Sonobuoys began to be used quite extensively during this period. Additionally, a lot of research was conducted to determine sound transmission characteristics of the ocean. This would lead to different sonobuoy designs to catalog water temperature profiles, to measure background noise levels, and to distinguish the different natural and manmade sounds.

Initial operating tests of the XCF dunking sonar began in January 1946. The sonar was carried aboard an H02S helicopter flying from Key West, Florida. Meanwhile, production of the Lockheed P-2V Neptune began at the end of World War II. Neptune aircraft production for the U.S. Navy would continue until 1962. During the time period, the Neptune would demonstrating its versatility by setting several endurance records as well as launching from the carrier deck of the U.S.S. Coral Sea using jet-assisted take-off (JATO) bottles.

Anecdotally, the Navy and the Bureau of Standards in late 1953 announced a joint project called "Tinker Toy". They were developing a process for the automated manufacture of electronic equipment and demonstrated its success by assembling a sonobuoy. Through this project, the sonobuoy would become a pivotal ground-breaker for the development of the microelectronic and solid state circuitry manufacturing industry.

In late spring, 1958, the HSS-1N helicopter, capable of both day and night ASW in poor weather conditions was publicly flown. By late summer that same year the Lockheed Electra civilian airliner design, selected as a replacement for the venerable Neptune, would fly its maiden flight as a P3V-1. By mid-March the following year, the HSS-2 amphibian all-weather ASW helicopter would also make its first flight.

The first P-3A was produced on April 15, 1961. It would later be followed by the P-3B which included more powerful engines and improved ASW acoustic sensors. In May 1969, the P-3C Orion aircraft was unveiled. As the P-3 Orion aircraft continued to enter the Fleet, older ASW aircraft began to be phased out. For example, the SP-5B Marlin of VP-40 completed the last U.S. Navy seaplane flight in October 1967. Additionally, the Navy Air Systems Command initiated a contract with Lockheed in August 1969 to develop the S-3 Viking to replace the aging Grumann S-2 Tracker.

The beginning years of the next decade saw many changes in Air ASW platforms. In July 1970, the P-3C Orion began its first operational deployment from Keflavik, Iceland. The advancements of the P-3C included the processing of directional sonobuoys as well as an onboard computer system. On October 1972, the SH-2D LAMPS Mk I helicopter was accepted for Fleet usage.

In November 1971, the first S-3A was completed by Lockheed. In January 1972, the S-3A completed its inaugural flight. The S-3A Viking would double the speed and range of its predecessor as well as tripling the search area capability. It began acceptance trials in October 1973 and was officially introduced into the Fleet in February 1974.

Also in 1974, a Harpoon air-to-surface missile was first launched by a P-3 Orion. This would lead to an expanded role for the versatile land-based aircraft. During the fall, a prototype LAMPS Mk III H-2/SR helicopter was delivered to the Kaman Aerospace Corporation for flight certification. The following year, in 1975, the first production P-3C Update I aircraft was delivered to VX-1. It included upgrades in navigation by the addition of the OMEGA system, better acoustic processors, a tactical display scope, and a seven-fold increase in computer memory. That same year saw the end of an era as the last S-2 Tracker was withdrawn from service after 22 years of operation.

Air ASW SensorsOn August 29, 1977, the first P-3C Update II arrived at the Naval Air Test Center for technical evaluation. It included an Infra-Red Detection System (IRDS) and was outfitted for the Harpoon air-to-surface missile. The first launch of a Harpoon missile by an operational squadron occurred in July 1979. Earlier in September 1978, the P-3C Update III test platform was delivered. The P-3C Update III would include an advance signal processor to replace the aging AN/AQA-7 acoustic processors. Additionally, the last P-2V Neptune rolled off the production line heading for Japan.

Meanwhile a new ASW helicopter, the LAMPS Mk III built by Sikorsky, was selected by the Navy on September 1, 1977. The following February, the Department of Defense authorized full scale development of the LAMPS Mk III. The SH-60B Seahawk LAMPS Mk III mock-up was put through shipboard compatibility trial during the summer of 1978. The following year, Sikorsky unveiled the SH-60B. The LAMPS Mk III would greatly expand and augment the ASW and anti-surface warfare (ASUW) role played by the destroyers and cruisers.

In 1982, the terror of the submarine threat was re-emphasized as an old Argentine submarine built during World War II successfully evaded determined and well-equipped British ASW forces during the Falkland Islands War. The Argentine submarine-launched torpedo attacks were unsuccessful due to the antiquity of the 1940's vintage weapons. Conversely, the threat posed by British submarines and aircraft severely restricted the Argentine Navy to the safety of the South American coast. From either perspective, the submarine threat and the ASW capabilities of each fleet were primary factors in the final outcome.

In 1985, the improved version of the Viking, the S-3B, was flown. It would include extensively improved acoustic and non-acoustic sensors as well as outfitting for the Harpoon missile. By the late 1980's, the SH-60F was developed to begin replacing the aging SH-3 helicopter. The SH-60F included an improved dipping sonar system and coupled it to the airframe of the successful SH-60B LAMPS Mk III helicopter. The SH-60F helicopter would provide inner zone protection of carrier battle groups. Additionally, a standardized helicopter airframe for both LAMPS and inner zone protection missions yields significant logistical savings.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:27:10 ZULU