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U.S. Tech Hunts Stealthy Subs
by Alex Gronke, [IMAGE]2005


[IMAGE] The U.S. Navy wants to be sure it knows where a new class of sneaky subs is hiding.

Submarine warfare experts predict that by 2010, as many as 1,000 stealthy diesel submarines launched from ports not necessarily friendly to the United States will be plying troubled waters from the entrance to the Persian Gulf to the Taiwan Straits.

That prospect makes war planners in the Pentagon uneasy. Earlier this month, the U.S. Office of Naval Research awarded Pennsylvania State University $27 million to design an undersea surveillance network that seeks to strip the advantage of surprise from this new class of submarines used by both China and Iran.

These arenít your grandfatherís diesel subs. Vessels such as the German-designed U212 use fuel-cell technology to run silent and deep. Dubbed the poor manís nuclear submarine, new diesel submarines can cruise underwater for 70 to 80 days without surfacing.

To keep an electronic eye on these submarines, the U.S. Navy wants to lay a grid of semi-autonomous sensors, some stationary, others mobile, that can talk to each other and even make decisions without input from human commanders.

Known as PLUSNET, for persistent littoral undersea surveillance network, the concept is an undersea version of the net-centric war machine that the Pentagon plans to field on land in coming years.

Some naval warfare experts say that new diesel subs represent the greatest threat to the U.S. Navyís ability to project its power wherever it wants.

In addition to using fuel-cell technology to reduce engine noise, new diesel submarines have special coatings that render them invisible to the U.S. Navyís traditional sonar.

Itís easy for them to hide in the shallow waters close to land, laying mines or launching cruise missiles capable of sinking an aircraft carrier, said Joe Buff, an expert on submarine warfare.

Penn State is expected to demonstrate its PLUSNET concept in 2008. The Navy doesnít expect to have it operational until 2015.

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