Now you see it, now you don’t

13 May 2008

The Royal Navy’s Astute submarines have a reduced sonar signature so they do not reveal their position.

The submarines use Thales UK’s optronic mast periscope, powered by Wind River’s VxWorks mission-critical RTOS. When the periscope is used, submarines are most vulnerable, whatever security is in place to ‘cloak’ its position. In the Thales optronic mast, the non-hull penetrating design enables the sensor head unit to extend from the submarine fin and perform a 360° scan of the surface so that the submarine commander can analyse the image data later, thus reducing the risk of detection.

The mast, which does not penetrate the hull, uses the RTOS running on Thales quad PowerPC AltiVec COTS boards and AdaCore GNAT Pro for the stabilisation system, video and thermal camera control, communication with the in-hull systems and control all the mechanisms and motors in the sensor head unit.

The sensor head unit is a pressure-proof, electro-optical assembly with high-performance camera optics, environmental sensors and stabilisation mechanisms. It can function in extreme temperatures, from -15°C to 60°C and can withstand nearby explosions, claims Thales. The mast control unit co-ordinates system controls and communicates with the submarine’s tactical data and combat systems. It uses two processors, both running VxWorks to raise and lower the sensor head unit out of the submarine fin.

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