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Photonics Masts are critical subsystems of Submarine imaging, navigation, electronic warfare and communications system

A submarine is a naval platform that can stay underwater for an extended period to carry out missions, both offensive and defensive. It is a complex platform that includes multiple components. As radio waves cannot propagate in water, communication with submarines is difficult. To overcome this issue, submarines are being installed with antennas that can be raised above the water surface level, and employ ordinary radio transmissions for communication.


With advancements in technology, countries are replacing periscopes with photonics mast, which is a sensor-based digital viewing equipment. The photonics mast provides the imaging, navigation, electronic warfare and communications functions of a conventional optical periscope, according to U.S. Navy documents.


A photonics mast (or optronics mast) is a sensor on a submarine which functions similarly to a periscope without requiring a periscope tube, thus freeing design space during construction and limiting risks of water leakage in the event of damage. A photonics mast replaces the mechanical, line-of-sight viewing system with digital equipment, similar to a digital camera array, and it has fewer locational and dimensional constraints than a traditional periscope.


Photonic masts are critical subsystems of submarine electronic warfare systems. AN/BLQ-10 submarine EW system,  provides automatic detection, classification, localization, and identification of potentially hostile radar and communications signals at sea.

New photonics sensor masts to improve submarine stealth and survivability

U.S. Navy submarine experts needed improved sensor photonics masts for Virginia-class fast attack submarines to improve stealthiness and survivability. Officials of the Naval Sea Systems Command announced an $111.8 million contract to L-3 KEO to develop deployable prototypes of the Low Profile Photonics Mast (LPPM).


Photonics masts operate in place of the traditional submarine periscope aboard Virginia-class attack submarines. Each Virginia-class submarine will have two photonics masts, which do not penetrate (retract into) the ship’s hull.  Electronic imaging equipment will replace the prisms and lenses of the old optical periscopes.  The heart of the system is the sensor unit that will protrude through the water.


The photonics mast uses various electro-optical sensors, and does not penetrate the submarine hull like a traditional periscope does. Photonics mast sensors connect to the submarine by optical fiber.The LPPM is a low-observable optical mast that reduces the submarine’s risk of detection by enemy submarines and surface warships while the system is in use, while improving the submarine’s sensor capability


Imagery from the LPPM is displayed on high-definition screens aboard the submarine. Features include short-wave infrared (SWIR) and high-definition imaging, laser rangefinding, special stealth features, and an antenna suite with broad spectral coverage and direction finding. Navy Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert has asked for all Pacific Fleet Virginia-class submarines to be equipped with the LPPM and spare parts for the system to be made available beginning this year to support sensitive missions vital to national security.

This multiple electro-optical sensor is located in a rotating head. The masts are equipped with three cameras, including a color camera, a high-resolution black-and-white camera and an infrared camera, to provide imaging for the submarine. There is also a mission critical control camera in a separate, pressure-proof and shock-hardened housing, and an eyesafe laser range finder that provides accurate target ranges and aids in navigation.


Unlike a periscope, it need not be located directly above its user, and it requires only a small pressure hull penetration for cabling. This allows the photonics mast to fit entirely within the sail of the submarine and means the control room need not be placed directly below the sail. The mast rise like a car antenna, in a telescopic motion. With conventional periscopes, the control room had to be placed in the cramped upper deck. In the new Virginia-class submarine, the control room will be located on the wider second deck and will have a more open layout.


Images from the photonics masts are sent via fiber optics to two workstations and a commander’s control console. The two photonics masts are controlled via joystick from any of these stations. Each station contains two flat-panel displays, a standard keyboard and a trackball interface. Images are recorded on both video cassette and CD-ROM.


Stealth Technology for Submarine Masts

Officials of the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington  announced an $111.8 million contract to L-3 KEO (formerly Kollmorgen Electro-Optical) to develop deployable prototypes of the Low Profile Photonics Mast (LPPM). With options the contract could be worth $157 million.


The LPPM is a low-observable optical mast that reduces the submarine’s risk of detection by enemy submarines and surface warships while the system is in use, while improving the submarine’s sensor capability.


Features include short-wave infrared (SWIR) and high-definition visual imaging, laser range finding, special stealth features, and an antenna suite with broad spectral coverage and direction finding. L-3 Communications acquired Kollmorgen Electro-Optical in 2012. SWIR sensors particularly are adept at penetrating fog, haze, and other obscurants. Imagery from the LPPM is displayed on high-definition screens aboard the submarine.


The Australian minister of defense industry, Christopher Pyne, announced today that Thales and AMOG Technologies have teamed to carry out a study into the development of stealth technology for periscopes and optronic masts of Australian submarines.


“Research will examine whether patented technology developed by AMOG Technologies, and currently deployed in the offshore oil and gas sector, has applications to reduce the probability of submarine mast detection as they cut through water,” he said.


“Depending on the outcomes of the research, this new technology could open up opportunities for local module manufacture for application to submarine periscopes and masts produced at Thales’ facility in the United Kingdom.”

Navy asks Lockheed Martin to upgrade AN/BLQ-10 submarine electronic warfare (EW) system

Lockheed Martin was awarded an $20 million contract for AN/BLQ-10 Electronic Warfare System for U.S. submarines in Feb 2019. Acccording to a statement released by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems, Syracuse is awarded a $20 million contract for engineering and technical services for the design, development, testing, integration, technology insertion/refreshment and system support of the AN/BLQ-10 Electronic Warfare System


The AN/BLQ-10 processes signals from the submarine’s imaging mast or periscope when the boat is at periscope depth. It provides threat warning to avoid counter-detection and collision; determines the number and location of targets for subsequent prosecution; and conducts intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) to support the fleet or battle group.


The AN/BLQ-10 system is an electronic warfare support system for U.S. submarines. It provides automatic intercept capability (detection, classification, localization, and identification) for both radar and communications signals. Multiple subsystems process radar and communications signals.


The AN/BLQ-10 processes signals collected with the submarine’s masts. Radar signals are collected by the imaging mast, which is either a photonics mast (on the Virginia class) or a periscope (on all other classes).


Communications signals are collected from both the imaging mast and a dedicated communications intercept mast, which is either an AN/BRD-7 (on the Los Angeles and Seawolf classes), an AN/BSD-2 (on the Virginia class), or an MMM (recently fielded on some Los Angeles- and Virginia-class ships). These masts provide largely the same functionality but with different frequency coverage and localization accuracy


The program is adopting an open-architecture, incremental development process that fields hardware and software technology insertions every two years. The AN/BLQ-10 blends modular interoperable systems that adhere to open standards with published interfaces.


The system’s first technology insertion in 2008 added a subsystem to intercept some low-probability-of-intercept radar signals. Fielded upgrades from the 2010 technology insertions updated commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) processors and displays, and Improved Communications Acquisition and Direction Finding (ICADF) system.


TI-12 upgrades have been fielded on advanced-model Los-Angeles-class attack submarines (SSN 688I) to include new and more powerful computer servers; and standardize the system’s cyber security process.


TI-14 upgrades were scheduled for completion this year for 688I submarines and new-construction Virginia-class submarines. It not only updated COTS processors and displays, but also upgraded the system’s Electronic Warfare Server First Generation, which provides its electronic support system operator and platform decision makers with improved tactical situational awareness.


Xbox Controller to operate Masts

The Navy is beginning to use an Xbox 360 controller – like the ones you find at the mall – to operate the periscopes aboard Virginia-class submarines.Lockheed Martin and Navy officials have been working to use commercial off-the-shelf technology to reduce costs and take advantage of the technological skills sailors grow up with. The integration of the video game console controller grew out of that effort.


The Xbox controller also is significantly cheaper. The company says the photonic mast handgrip and imaging control panel that cost about $38,000 can be replaced with an Xbox controller that typically costs less than $30.


“That joystick is by no means cheap, and it is only designed to fit on a Virginia-class submarine,” said Senior Chief Mark Eichenlaub, the John Warner’s assistant navigator. “I can go to any video game store and procure an Xbox controller anywhere in the world, so it makes a very easy replacement.”


“Ideally, what they want to see in 10 years down the road is, there’s basically a glass panel display with windows, and you can just pull a window of information, review that, push it off, bring in the next window,” he said.


Global Market

The global military submarine photonics mast and antenna market is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 5.68% during the period 2017-2021, according to report  Global Military Submarine Photonics Mast and Antenna Market 2017-2021.


One trend in the market is affordable modular panoramic photonics mast. Affordable modular panoramic photonics mast (AMPPM) is a product of Panavision Federal Systems, a company based in California. The AMPPM sensor mast provides a 360 panoramic search capabilities to the submarine through many visible and IR sensors.


According to the report, one driver in the market is growing demand for multifunctional antennas. Further, the report states that one challenge in the market is threat owing to data leaks. The defense platforms are crucial for a nation’s security. It is, therefore, important that their specifications and operational capabilities are well guarded. Submarines are highly technology-dependent platforms that integrate a variety of components. Any information regarding the functionality of these components may lead to serious security risks if leaked. In August 2016, a news published by “The Australian” stated the leakage of design specifications of Scorpne-class submarines, which included information about their combat and stealth capabilities.


These components are typically deployed on submarines and are positively correlated with the dynamics of the submarine market. These components have undergone significant design changes to support enhanced stealth capabilities. Such design changes and operational shortcomings in traditional periscopes have resulted in the development of photonics masts. These are highly sophisticated and demand a high level of technical know-how from manufacturers, thus limiting their number in the market.


The Key vendors are  L3 Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and  Safran. Other prominent vendors are  Cassidian Optronics, Nereides, Systems Engineering & Assessment Ltd (SEA)and Thales Optronics.


References and Resources also include—forecast-to-2021—key-vendors-are-l3-technologies-lockheed-martin-raytheon–safran-300514845.html



About Rajesh Uppal

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