We’ve all seen the movies — Run Silent, Run Deep; Das Boot; U-571, and others — in which the submarine captain orders “up periscope,” a big tube rises, the captain quickly unfolds a pair of handles, swivels his hat backwards, and looks through eyepieces while rotating the tube around 360 degrees to see what’s on the surface.
Since the captain on the periscope is the only one who can see what’s up there, the rest of the crew waits tensely and wide-eyed for the captain to announce the presence of enemy ships.
While this makes for enjoyable movies, rest assured it’s in the ancient past and getting father in the rear-view mirror all the time. Today’s optical devices that enable submerged submarines to see what’s on the surface are far more advanced than what we see in the old movies. In fact, they’re not even called periscopes anymore.
On the U.S. Navy’s most advanced submarines today, these optical devices are called photonics masts. They have a variety of electro-optical sensors like visible-light and shortwave infrared sensors, as well as low-light cameras that feed imagery through strands of optical fiber and onto high-resolution displays in the submarine’s control room.
The mast’s operator points the sensors and controls their fields of view with a joystick or even an off-the-shelf video game controller. No one stands at a periscope anymore, which offers advantages in situational awareness, maintenance, reliability, and even in the design of the submarine itself.
Traditional periscopes of the past forced submarine designers to place a hole in the vessel’s pressure hull large enough for the periscope tube and its optics. Designers also had to build a periscope well in the lower portions of the boat to fit the periscope when not in use.
Aside from physical bulk, however, putting a hole in the submarine’s pressure hull caused maintenance and reliability worries. If the worst happened and something outside broke off the periscope, the damage could cause seawater to leak into the submarine.
In addition, submarine designers had to locate the submarine’s sail, control room, and periscope well in a straight line to accommodate the mechanism. With the modern photonics mast, many of those problems are gone for good.
Designers of the Navy’s Virginia-class fast-attack submarines, for example, place the vessel’s sail forward of the control room. This makes the submarine itself more hydrodynamic, and enabled designers to build a relatively large control room.
The first-generation photonics masts that went aboard the Virginia-class subs offered all these advantages, but still had a notable drawback — their large sizes, which rendered them more detectable from the surface. The photonics mast heads, moreover, were of unique size to the U.S. Navy; anyone who sees one from the surface knows it belongs to an American submarine.
That’s changing, however, with the new-design Low-Profile Photonics Mast (LPPM). This device has a slim profile about the size of a traditional submarine periscope head, making them less detectable from the surface. LPPM deployable prototypes will go aboard the Pacific Fleet’s Virginia-class submarines this year.
Read more: Not your grandfather’s submarine periscope
The Latest on: Photonics masts
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The Latest on: Photonics masts
- L3 Technologies Wins Deal to Upgrade Navy Submarine Sensorson June 27, 2019 at 8:45 am
L3 Technologies Inc. LLL recently secured a contract to offer depot-level repair, and upgrade and overhaul services for the submarine photonics mast programs. Majority of the task will be executed in ...
- L3 Technologies secured potential $74 million contract to update naval photonics mastson June 26, 2019 at 10:33 am
NEW YORK, NY. L3 Technologies has secured a potential six-year, $73.7 million indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract to update, repair and overhaul submarine photonics masts used on U.S.
- L3 awarded $73.7M for Navy submarine photonics mast programson June 25, 2019 at 9:58 am
June 25 (UPI) --L3 Technologies Inc. was awarded a $73.7 million contract for repair, upgrades and overall services for the U.S. Navy's submarine photonics mast programs. Ninety-eight percent of the ...
- photonics maston June 24, 2019 at 5:00 pm
This contract provides for depot-level repair, upgrade and overhaul services for submarine photonics mast programs. Work will be performed in Northampton, Massachusetts (98%), and at various places in ...
- L-3 KEO to build electro-optical photonics masts to aid stealthiness of Virginia-class submarineon March 5, 2019 at 7:02 pm
WASHINGTON – U.S. Navy undersea warfare experts are enhancing the stealthiness and survivability of the nation's premiere fast-attack submarine fleet by equipping these vessels with improved sensor ...
- Support: XBox Does It Againon February 12, 2019 at 4:00 pm
One recent response to sailor complaints was the decision to replace the $38,000 handheld controller for the submarine photonics mast periscope with the lighter, cheaper ($40-$140) and easier to use ...
- US Navy's newest attack submarine includes an Xbox 360 controlleron November 13, 2018 at 3:46 pm
Modern submarines no longer use periscopes. They now come equipped with “photonics masts.” These are long telescoping masts equipped with HD imaging sensors that provide a 360-degree view. The image ...
- 5 facts about the Navy's newest submarine USS Indianaon September 28, 2018 at 11:07 am
The USS Indiana is the second sub in the fleet to use an Xbox video game controller to operate its advanced periscope, called a photonics mast. The mast contains a high-resolution camera that allows ...
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