The US Navy is planning extensive tests of new visual submarine-detection methods this fall in the Sea of Japan. Totally coincidentally, that is the same place where North Korean and Chinese diesel-powered subs spend a fair amount of their time on patrol. What luck!
Although both North Korea and China field obsolete sub fleets, the antiquitated diesel boats are extremely difficult to find when submerged and running on batteries. US subs, on the other hand, are far more powerful but are powered by nuclear reactors, which make noise. And noise, of course, is how you find submerged submarines.
LASH – the Littoral Airborne Sensor Hyperspectral – is an advanced visual system that analyzes color paterns and notices color changes too faint for the human eye to pick up. According to a December article in DCMilitary
At its most basic level, hyperspectral technology is “the science of color,” said Greg Plumb, deputy program manager for the anti-submarine warfare portion of the LASH program. The optical sensor systems see color with a level of fidelity beyond anything the human eye-brain combination is capable of. Algorithms programmed into the system can be keyed to very specific colors, allowing operators to locate and track targets in situations where the human eye would never see them.
This new technology would maybe be most valuable in shallower water where the acoustical interference makes finding submarines by sonar much more difficult. Another possibile use for the system would be submerged mine detection and clearing, I’d think.
Although the sub fleets of our potential enemies in eastern Asia are badly outdated, it would just take a well-placed torpedo or two to knock one of our carriers out of action. That threat alone may keep the carrier battle groups farther from the action than we’d like if the shooting starts.
LASH will be tested aboard P-3 Orions and SH-60 Seahawk helicopters. The DCMilitary article, which I found by googling, discusses the possibility of using blimps as LASH platforms. Although blimps may be too vulnerable in a combat zone, I can certainly see them helping provide security away from the fight. Or even on our own shores, if the Department of Homeland Security ever gets around to trying to “secure” the “homeland”.
Although I doubt either China or the DPRK will take kindly to us snooping after their subs, I don’t know what the’re going to do about it at this point. We’ll see.