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NEWS | May 27, 2021

NSWC Crane, NUWC Newport, and Penn State Applied Research Lab collaborate to modernize navy sonar capabilities

By Sarah K. Miller, NSWC Crane Corporate Communications

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane), Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Newport Division (NUWC Newport) and Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) Applied Research Laboratory (ARL) are collaborating to modernize the Navy’s sonar capabilities. The combination of these organizations’ expertise provides technical oversight and production solutions in the development, assembly, repair, test, and evaluation of undersea sensors.

David Bartlett, Chief Engineer for Undersea Sensors at NSWC Crane, says there is a need to work with NUWC and ARL to modernize navy sonar technologies.

“There have been a lot of changes in acoustic technology recently,” says Bartlett. “In the last ten years, Sound technology in the biomedical, automotive, and aeronautics industries has exploded, consequently the commercial market and private industry have been leading these technology developments but those industry technological advancements aren’t specific to the current needs of the Navy.”

Bartlett says there are challenges the Navy faces while the market leads acoustic innovation.

“Commercial markets driving acoustic innovation, but the incentives to serve the needs of the Navy Do not align with that market space,” says Bartlett. “The Navy’s needs are much larger in scale, and the sound energy used is far greater than what is used in commercial industry. When you consider the entire market, the Navy represents such a small portion that our niche of that market space has actually become very fragile.”


NSWC Crane has a long history of supporting Sonar development efforts dating back to 1963 with the advent of sonobuoy development efforts and adding T&E verification via lake facilities and its first strum and flow tank. Today this support is accomplished by utilizing state-of-the-art equipment to design, develop, prototype and verify via simulating characteristics (i.e. depth, pressure and temperature) that are vital to effectively test products.  

Penn State ARL has a long history of supporting the Navy, including in undersea technology. It was established in 1945 after World War II and specializes in many technology areas: undersea weapons, undersea vehicles/Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUV’s), hydrodynamics and structures, acoustics and quieting, communications and information, power and energy, navigation, and materials/manufacturing. It is the largest interdisciplinary research unit at Penn State, with about 1,200 people including faculty, engineers, staff, and students.

Dr. Mark Fanton, a Research Assistant Professor at Penn State University, works at ARL. Dr. Fanton says that expertise and support continues today.

“ARL has historically focused on supporting Navy technological needs,” says Dr. Fanton. “In particular, we have provided expertise in undersea technology, like boat sensors and hydrodynamics. With our Navy connection, we are driving fundamental research on basic acoustic materials [to develop critical tech].”

Dr. Fanton says the Navy is facing new challenges.

“The Navy requires customized applications, and ARL serves as a repository for expertise, teaching, and developing solutions. ARL serves the Navy by understanding its legacy systems as well as the means to provide the new tech into these spaces.”


According to the National Ocean Service, Sound Navigation and Ranging (Sonar) uses sound waves to ‘see’ in the water, as sound waves travel farther in the water than do radar and light waves. Sonar allows Navy ships and submarines to have situational awareness.

Bartlett says the approach to modernize sonar transducers and hydrophones is to engage research institutions such as ARL along with S&T developments provided by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) through Future Naval Capabilities and DARPA. Maturing those technology developments at organic facilities like Crane help to break down the barriers to entry for private Industry. Doing this while finding out how to integrate them back into larger systems through the Technical Design Agents like NUWC Newport is key to ensuring that rapid technology insertion is realized in a fully capable manner.  

With the shift in industry driving acoustic innovation, there’s one significant change that has impacted the Navy.

“Now that the commercial acoustic technology market has grown so large, there is a need to bring new technologies that support Navy needs that are different materials than are being pursued by private industry,” says Bartlett.

“There’s a new class of materials that are engineered versions of old materials,” says Dr. Fanton. “The new process in technology development enhances Navy applications. We are filling that role at ARL to instruct how to adopt those new materials into Navy processes. We are bridging the gap between new tech and older tech.”

A pilot effort involving the TR-343 transducer is currently underway. The TR-343 sonar transducer is part of a larger acoustic sonar weapons system that supports the AN/SQQ-89(V) weapons systems with Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) capability. The AN/SQQ-89(V) is a fully integrated surface ship undersea warfare combat system with the capability to search, detect, classify, localize, and engage submarine in the ocean.


According to the Tri-Service Maritime Strategy, Advantage at Sea, “several nations are contesting the balance of power in key regions and seeking to undermine the existing world order. Significant technological developments and aggressive military modernization by our rivals are eroding our military advantage…Free and open access to the world’s oceans has fostered an extraordinary era of wealth and peace for many nations. That system is now at risk.”

For instance, Advantage at Sea also notes current threats, “our globally deployed naval forces interact with Chinese and Russian warships and aircraft daily…With naval forces as the cornerstone of its efforts, China is aggressively growing and modernizing its military…China’s navy battle force has more than tripled in size in only two decades.”

Bartlett says equipping the Navy with this technology is critical.

“Our adversaries are building up their Navies as well as enabling technology; they are building quiet and hard-to-detect technology,” says Bartlett. “Open oceans enable the possibility of global commerce. This is more vital than ever.”

Bartlett says NSWC Crane’s niche expertise in this technology field combined with the knowledge base at NUWC Newport and ARL serves the Navy’s mission to ensure the security of the nation.

“What Crane brings to this effort is the large-scale production concepts, rapid First Article and engineering evaluation along with control of the feedback loop directly from Sailors using the technology, which has intrinsic value to meet real world applications,” says Bartlett. “The partnership with NUWC Newport and ARL is a merger of three perfect worlds. ARL is on the forefront of materials technology and NUWC Newport brings overall system expertise which will allow us to integrate new technologies at system level and modernize Navy acoustic capabilities.”

About NSWC Crane

NSWC Crane is a naval laboratory and a field activity of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) with mission areas in Expeditionary Warfare, Strategic Missions and Electronic Warfare. The warfare center is responsible for multi-domain, multi- spectral, full life cycle support of technologies and systems enhancing capability to today's Warfighter.

Join Our Team! NAVSEA employs a diverse, highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce - from students and entry level employees to experienced professionals and individuals with disabilities. We support today's sophisticated Navy and Marine Corps ships, aircraft, weapon systems and computer systems. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, IT and cyber specialists, as well as trade and other support professionals to ensure the U.S. Navy can protect and defend America. Please contact NSWC Crane Human Resources at