Chapter 3

Chapter III

SOSUS

 

As previously noted, the AUTEC base had, and presumably still has, other functions besides those described and listed above. Andros provided an important base for the United States and NATO’s Sound Surveillance System – SOSUS, known as ACOUSTINT, or acoustic intelligence.

 

Jeffrey Richelson, in his American Espionage and the Soviet Target (p.l53) notes that all Soviet Russian naval movements – both military and commercial – were considered targets for US intelligence collection. “A major role in that monitoring was played by a set of passive listening devices installed at selective locations on the sea floor.” By the early 1950s, American undersea intelligence expanded fast. Richard J. Aldrich, citing W. Packard’s A Century of U.S. Naval Intelligence (Office of Naval Intelligence, Washington D.C., p.51, 1996), states:

 

“In Washington, the Hoover Commission Report on American Intelligence Activities, completed in 1956, recommended that the US Navy expand the collection effort. This included the highly secret SOSUS project – Sound Surveillance Stations – which involved placing undersea microphones into the Atlantic. Using high-frequency radio direction-finders, contacts could be quickly co-ordinated and plotted. By the 1960s, with vast new resources authorised, the Americans were to launch a new wave of audacious operations” (The Hidden Hand, p.528).

 

SOSUS consists of an array of hydrophones attached to the ocean floor to detect submarines. But it is more than that. Arrays were first laid in 1950 along the east coast continental shelf of the United States as far south as the Bahamas. They were originally codenamed CEASAR, and were completed by 1954.

 

SOSUS is based upon a discovery about the nature of sound. In depths of the ocean of about 2,000 feet, there is a layer of water which holds, and protects, sounds entering it, carrying them for thousands of miles. Of the SOSUS system, the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIRRI) comments:

 

“Each SOSUS installation consists of an array of hundreds of hydrophones laid out on the sea floor, or moored at depths most conducive to sound propagation, and connected by submarine cables for transmission of telemetry. In such an array a sound wave arriving from a distant submarine will be successively detected by different hydrophones according to their geometric relationship to the direction from which the wave arrives. This direction can be determined by noting the order in which the wave is detected at different hydrophones” (quoted in American Espionage and the Soviet Target by Jeffrey Richelson, pp.168-169).

 

The hydrophones were sealed in tanks, approximately 24 to a tank, with the cables transmitting the data to shore facilities, as on Andros. The data collected about each submarine detected, such as its sonar echo, the noise of its engine, cooling system, and the movement of its propellers, can be translated into a recognisable signal, or “signature”.

 

The United States, and to a much lesser extent the United Kingdom, developed a global network of large, fixed sea-bottom arrays that listened passively for the sounds of, mostly Soviet, submarines. Variants, code-named COLOSSUS, were constructed along the Pacific coast of the United States, the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (GIUK) Gap, Norway, and in the Pacific and Indian oceans.

 

Surprisingly, in May (2nd, 1977), Gerry Gable, at the time a producer for London Weekend Television, but later owner and editor of Searchlight magazine, in a “strictly secret” memo, notes that Duncan Campbell, an investigative journalist, was asking commercial companies “who work on top security contracts” for “information on top secret work, including that on under-water detection hardware, which he clearly knows is beyond the pale”. That is the SOSUS system.

 

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In September 1968, construction of a large fixed underwater system, known as the Azores Fixed Acoustic Range (AFAR), began off Santa Maria, the southernmost island of the group; and was commissioned by NATO in May 1972.

 

The largest underwater monitoring station outside the U.S. located at St. Brides Bay, near Pembroke in West Wales, began operations in 1973. This is located at the RAF base. It is operated by the U.S. Navy Facility, or NAVFAC. According Richard J. Aldrich (GCHQ, p.377):

 

“A joint UK/US project team had identified RAF Brawdy on the coast of Wales as the ideal site for an additional SOSUS centre. Britain provided the land and the capital costs, while the United States contributed the personnel and the equipment for the intelligence analysis.”

 

In January 1982, U.S. Naval Investigative Service special agents raided the SOSUS underwater station at Brawdy, and discovered that of the 281 personnel with Top Secret clearance more than 45 were on drugs, and were then charged.

 

Brawdy was part of “Project Caesar”, began in 1954, with NAVAC stations sited along the United States eastern coast. It was officially described as an oceanographic research facility. By 1980, Brawdy NAVAC had 300 U.S. officers and other ranks on site. Altogether, it covers more than four acres of buildings, housing computers and other electronic equipment.

 

Interestingly, in 1967, the British government Joint Intelligence Committee’s report on where, in the event of war, Russian nuclear missiles were likely to land on the United Kingdom, listed under “26 RAF BOMBER BASES”, Brawdy (ANNEX A TO COS 1929/2/11/67). According to Hugh Lanning and Richard Norton-Taylor in their book, A Conflict of Loyalties GCHQ 1984-1991 (pp59-60), the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and the British government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have a presence at Brawdy. The base is, or was, home to 14 Signals Regiment (Electronic Warfare). Britain, Canada and the U.S. have established intelligence, air and naval facilities in Bermuda, all linked to AUTEC on Andros. A SOSUS base was later established on the Caribbean island of Antigua (see map of the Atlantic Ocean).

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Over the years, SOSUS has been upgraded a number (at least four) of times. As early as 1962, the capabilities of the SOSUS system were demonstrated during the Cuban missile crisis, when every Soviet submarine approaching the area was said to have been located, and then trailed. When two Russian submarines moved close to the East Coast of the United States, north of the Bahamas in April 1978, they were detected and tracked by SOSUS. The Brawdy-Azores and east of the Bahamas arrays were commissioned mainly to track Soviet submarines moving towards the Cape of Good Hope, the South Atlantic and the Caribbean.

 

In February 1983, Portugal began renegotiating its leases to the U.S. of its bases in the Azores, including the SOSUS underwater tracking facility at Santa Maria Island. But they were not, at the time, renewed by Portugal’s government. Nevertheless, U.S. forces remained in situ whilst new terms were considered.

 

While SOSUS capabilities have proved to be more than satisfactory generally, the system was vulnerable and fallible. Cables have been cut by Russian ships. Soviet trawlers hooked cables; and

undersea midget submarines have located the hydrophone arrays. Of SOSUS, Professor R.V. Jones in his Reflections on Intelligence (pp.96-97) notes that, in 1979, the arrays of hydrophones were reported to be capable of detecting the location of Russian submarines at a range of 3,000 miles. But:

 

“Since then, though, the Russians have acquired the necessary knowledge and techniques to reshape their propellers in American and British standards which give less noise; and so the detection range of SOSUS may have been reduced, unless detection sensitivity has advanced in the meantime.”

 

Professor Jones added later (p.166), that the key problem is to locate a submarine in salt water, almost impenetrable to light or radio waves. “Sound waves, which are much more effectively transmitted by water offered almost the only hope…the noise of the submarine’s engines and propellers could be detected, or pulses of higher frequency sound waves bounced off its hull, the acoustic forerunner of radar now known as SONAR and formerly as ASDIC”. (During the Second World War, I worked on ASDIC in a drawing office in Westminster.) ASDIC (Anti-Submarine Detection & Identification Committee).

 

The signals from U.S. hydrophones are transmitted by satellites for correlation to shore bases, which are processed automatically by computers at numerous stations (such as Brawdy and Andros, certified in 1969). Further data from these shore facilities are transmitted to acoustic research centres in California and Nevada.

 

Interestingly, it has been stated that one of Britain’s Royal Marines Special Boat Section’s (SBS) intelligence-related functions was, or is, to check sections of the SOSUS array system. Also SBS divers used Royal Navy submarines, such as the nuclear-powered Triumph, to get close to their targets, exiting the vessels under water via escape chambers.

 

Towards the end of the last century an advanced version of the U.S. system was the Fixed Distributed Surveillance (FDS) system, which was intended to counter quieter Russian submarines, noted by Professor Jones. The FDS system integrates large-scale, sea-bottom-mounted acoustic sensor arrays on a single fibre-optic cable system.

 

During the 1980s, there was a growing use of fibre-optics in global communications, particularly by the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as Russia. East and West attacked each others’ cable traffic. Naval security experts were concerned about devices deposited on the seabed, monitoring the movement of submarines. In 1995, Rear-Admiral Michael Cramer, the U.S. Director of Naval Intelligence, commented that post-Soviet Russia was continuing to construct miniature submarines capable of exploiting “things on the bottom of the sea”, i.e. SOSUS and other cables. By that date, it was estimated that there were probably 100 billion under-sea fibre-optic channels in use around the world. It was a whole new ballgame!

 

Nevertheless, modern nuclear submarines (British, American, Russian, French etc) are increasingly difficult to locate (witness the collision of the French Le Triomphant and HMS Vanguard on 6 February 2009, in the Atlantic), because they are very much quieter than in the past.

 

Commodore Stephen Saunders, editor of Jane’s Fighting Ships, noted that “The modus operandi of nuclear submarines is to operate as stealthily as possible. All submarines are making less noise now.”

 

The U.S. Trident submarines have exceptionally quiet engines, and an overall shape which makes them very difficult to pick up on radar, except by satellites, where water disturbance can be seen caused by submarines at certain depths. What these submarines do not do is go round very quickly, as propeller or propulsion noise could give them away.

 

To maintain their low sonic profiles, they do not use active sonar, which involves using “pings” to detect other vessels and submarines, but rely on passive sonar. Indeed, Britain’s Royal Navy nuclear Trident-class submarines – 16,000 tons and 450-feet long – are covered on their black hulls with sonar-absorbing anechoic (low-degree sound reverberation) “tiles”.

 

It is government intention, however, to replace the present missile system of nuclear-deterrent submarines by 2028. The new submarines would replace the Vanguard-class submarines that currently carry the United Kingdom’s deterrent. It is claimed that Vanguard submarines cannot be detected at sea; and can launch missiles at a range of 6,000 miles.

 

 

NOTE

In the summer of 2010, the British lost sight of a Russian nuclear submarine. Surveillance was lost as it departed from its base in Severomorsk, near Murmansk. It was finally located – through SOSUS? – three weeks later on patrol, probably west of the Azores and east of the U.S.. Said the MoD: “We play a cat and mouse game with the Russians; when they move out of their northern base, we track their submarines. Part of this is done by our Nimrods.” Surveillance will also continue, according to the MoD, “by using other equipment, with the help of our allies,” primarily the United States.

 

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Russian nuclear submarines were mothballed or just abandoned; and have rusted away, often dangerously. Consequently, the Russian submarine fleet was, and is, much reduced.

 

 

 

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Whether the U.K., or society at large, will require or want armed submarines by 2028 is, to say the least, problematic. Humankind may, hopefully have moved on by then.

 

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Additional Note: The United Kingdom has collaborated with the United States for decades in what has been euphemistically described as “defence”. And this has included AUTEC on Andros.

 

An important aspect of this “defence” is Electronic Warfare (EW), largely developed in Britain by Marconi Defence systems, including Marconi Underwater Systems, based at Croxley Green and at Portsmouth. Since 1968, Marconi has been part of the General Electric-Plessey organisation.

 

Involved, particularly for “defence”, is computer simulation. This is used to test torpedoes. Such computers, according to Marconi, “…embody the operational software, and control hardware identical to that being used in weapons being developed”, such as for Sting Ray and Spearfish torpedoes. Also involved in EW and submarine stealth technology, is the British Ministry of Defence’s Admiralty Research Establishment.

 

It was claimed in the 1990s, that Britain led the world in underwater warfare technology, although the Americans (at AUTEC?) might dispute that. The U.K.’s anti-submarine sonar weapons were regarded as some of the most advanced. The Marconi group of companies specialised in those areas.

 

An important, but secretive, company within the General Electric (GEC) “empire”, is – or was – Elliot Automation Space and Advanced Military Systems Limited (EASAMS), founded in 1962. EASAMS, apparently specialises in the field of testing by “simulation modelling” of computer-based “defence” projects, according to Tony Collins (Open Verdict, p.81). Its Underwater Group carries out studies into sensors, torpedoes and various acoustic countermeasures. One of its publicity leaflets states that EASAMS “has a wide experience in the performance assessment of radars, missiles, decoys and jammers”.

 

According to Collins (pp.140 and 143), the proliferation of electronically controlled weapons has caused a rapid expansion in the field of EW “to the extent that it can be a decisive factor in a war”. Missiles can be made to miss their target by being subjected to EW. Submarine commanders can use EW technology “to seduce an attacking torpedo into chasing the wrong target, or into ‘seeing’ or ‘hearing’ a target that does not exist”. EW plays a critical role in underwater warfare, as AUTEC is well-aware.

 

 

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