Northwest Navigator: News and Information from Navy Region Northwest in Washington State's Puget Sound, including Bremerton, Kitsap County, Oak Harbor, and Everett

SURTASS ships return from deployment

NOPF photo
The SURTASS system operates on Tactical Auxiliary General Ocean Surveillance ships that are staffed by civilian mariners under contract to the Military Sealift Command.

The serpentine array is streamed aft in the cold, dark night. The massive tail silently hunts the deep water. It patiently crawls, waiting to lock on enemy vibrations using its superior hearing.

Suddenly a sound wave strikes the tail; a faint though discernible signal surrenders the submarine’s bearing.

The Master drives the catamaran starboard for another fix to capture the enemy sub’s position. Now the threat is located, the surface ship signals a circling P-3. The aircraft locks on the position and fires a torpedo—kill!

This is how Navy Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS) vessels help destroy an enemy sub in a wartime situation. SURTASS ships are a vital part of Navy Anti-Submarine Warfare, using their underwater detection skills to track and locate enemy submarines.

The SURTASS system operates on Tactical Auxiliary General Ocean Surveillance ships that are staffed by civilian mariners under contract to the Military Sealift Command. SURTASS ships are mobile counterparts to the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System, which monitors undersea activity from fixed locations throughout the world.

Unlike “typical” warships, SURTASS vessels are underway for three-month deployments vice six-month deployments. The USNS Effective and USNS Loyal are two SURTASS vessels that recently completed deployments.

The Effective and Loyal are stationed in Japan and have a Military Detachment crew fly out from Naval Ocean Processing Facility, Whidbey Island, to meet the ship. Between deployments ships complete a certification process that includes a ship end-to-end systems test.

The Effective recently participated in a successful exercise off the coast of South Korea with U.S. P-3s, DDGs, subs and the South Korean Navy.

The newest SURTASS vessels are twin hull, which improves ship stability during high sea states; this becomes vital for ship operations in the Pacific typhoon season. Once a submarine contact is detected, SURTASS Sailors analyze array acoustic data and disseminates the information through their chain-of-command.

SURTASS platforms have a crew of civilian and military personnel.

MILDET crew size for passive ships number around a half dozen and three times that for active ships. The Ship’s Master, who is responsible for the crew’s safety, is civilian and the SURTASS Mission Commander, who is responsible for carrying out the operation, is a Navy chief petty officer or commissioned officer. The supporting, non-military crew is contracted by SPAWAR.

Life on board is fairly comfortable. There is a weight room with cardiovascular machines to keep Sailors fit. The crew has access to e-mail to communicate with family back here in Washington and once a week they hold Movie Night to keep crew spirits high. In addition, civilians cook the meals and drive the ship so Sailors can concentrate on the main task at hand: finding submarines.

The future of Navy Anti-Submarine Warfare is in Asian waters where China and North Korea operate. SURTASS vessels deployed in this Area of Operation are under operational control of Seventh Fleet.

NOPF (Naval Ocean Processing Facility) is the central hub for all SURTASS operations. NOPF supports SURTASS 24-hours a day, seven days a week with a command and control watch officer in contact with the SURTASS command.

Ships such as the Effective and Loyal have a vital role protecting our national defense surveying undersea activities. The vessels work closely with the Navy’s ASW community, contributing products that ensure the U.S. Navy is the best informed, best trained and best fighting Navy in the world.

SURTASS is not the most overt Navy community, but they are always at sea tracking threats and informing Defense and Homeland Security Departments with timely, accurate information helping commanders make informed decisions to protect us all.

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