The U.S. Navy this spring awarded Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training (MST) $21 million under a previously awarded contract for new work on the Virginia-, Seawolf-, and Los Angeles-class attack submarines and Ohio-class ballistic missile boats to enhance the ships’ sonar performance.
The award is the latest in a series to the company for work on the BQQ-10 acoustic-rapid commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) insertion, or A-RCI initiative, which started in the mid-1990s, when the Navy saw that potential foes were fielding submarines that operated with significantly lower acoustic signatures.
The Navy’s recognition of an urgent need to detect quieter subs coincided both with the start of development of the new Virginia-class attack submarine and sharp cuts in defense budgets at the end of the Cold War. Available funds wouldn’t permit expensive programs to build entirely new sonars, which could take years.
The A-RCI initiative is managed by the Navy’s Submarine Acoustic Systems program office. The Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS) oversees the A-RCI software development. The Naval Undersea Warfare Center’s Newport, Rhode Island, and Keyport, Washington, divisions and the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Carderock Division support the A-RCI program.
Dave Boyle, business development director for the Lockheed Martin MST, said that A-RCI today provides upgrades for every Navy submarine on a recurring basis.
“What once was up to a six-year process is down to just 18 to 24 months,” he said. “Under A-RCI, submarine systems receive about 12 to 15 configurations each year.”
A-RCI introduces new digital-signal processing technology, including general-purpose processors, field-programmable gate arrays, embedded servers, and other components to upgrade performance of the hull arrays, wide-aperture arrays, towed arrays, and other sensors for all sub classes, enhancing capability without replacing the sonar systems themselves.
Navy program officials say that A-RCI upgrades are carried out through biannual technical insertions (TIs) of new computer hardware (servers, storage devices, displays)—for example, TI-14 and TI-16, during even-numbered years, and software enhancements, also biannually, called advanced processing builds (APBs, e.g., APB-13, APB-15) during odd-numbered years.
They explain that the risks of developing the complementary TIs and APBs are reduced by “leveraging” each other: Case in point, PEO IWS developed the APB-15 software using the already developed TI-14 hardware. The Sub Acoustics Systems office is developing TI-16 hardware using the completed APB-15 software.
The TI-16 upgrades now are planned to start installation next year on the Seawolf, Virginia, and Ohio classes.
Lockheed Martin has played an extensive role in Navy sonars. The company built the first active-passive digital sonar, the BQQ-5, in the early 1970s. In 1982 it provided the BSY-1 combat system for the Los Angeles-class attack boats, and in 1988 delivered the BSY-2 system for the Seawolf class. It also built the large-aperture bow sonar and the TB-29 towed array and low-cost conformal array.
L-3 Chesapeake Sciences, however, won a $20.8 million award in April 2015 for six TB-29A compact towed arrays for the Virginia class.
Former submariners Richard Udicious and Michael Feeley, writing in Proceedings in January 2004, said that A-RCI emerged as the Navy’s Program Executive Office for Submarines and established the goal of using state-of-the art processing to restore the Navy’s submarine acoustic superiority.
The effort required a move to COTS technology through an open-architecture design to permit broad commonality of capabilities among the sub classes.
The Navy says that over 19 years, the A-RCI phased approach has completed more than 180 modernization projects. The first phase, started in 1996, aimed at upgrades for towed arrays and the conformal hull array.
Work on Phase 4 now under way aims at upgrades for all sonars, including the new TB-34 towed array and BQS-25 low-cost conformal array that is going aboard Los Angeles-class improved (SSN-688I) boats.
The A-RCI concept has been adopted by PEO IWS for the SQQ-89(v)15 surface sonar on board Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. So far, the Q-89 has gone through three development and production cycles, upgrading the systems of 31 of the Navy’s current 87 CGs and DDGs.
Mr. Walsh is a veteran reporter of Navy and Marine Corps news and former editor of Naval Systems Update.