A sonobuoy (a portmanteau of sonar and buoy) is a relatively small (typically 4⅞ inches, or 124 mm, in diameter and 36 inches, or 910 mm, long) expendable sonar system that is dropped/ejected from aircraft or ships conducting anti-submarine warfare or underwater acoustic research.

Theory of operation

The buoys are ejected from aircraft in canisters and deploy upon water impact. An inflatable surface float with a radio transmitter remains on the surface for communication with the aircraft, while one or more hydrophone sensors and stabilizing equipment descend below the surface to a selected depth that is variable, depending on environmental conditions and the search pattern. The buoy relays acoustic information from its hydrophone(s) via UHF/VHF radio to operators onboard the aircraft.

History: searching the seas

With the technological improvement of the submarine in modern warfare, the need for an effective tracking system was born. Sound Navigation And Ranging (SONAR) was originally developed by the British—who called it ASDIC—in the waning days of World War I. At the time the only way to detect submarines was by listening for them (passive sonar), or visually by chance when they were on the surface recharging their battery banks or by massive air patrols with lumbering airships and biplanes. Sonar saw extremely limited use and was mostly tested in the Atlantic Ocean with few naval officers seeing any merit in the system. With the end of WWI came the end to serious development of sonar in the US, a fact that was to be fatal in the early days of World War II. However, considerable development of ASDIC took place in the UK, including integration with a plotting table and weapon.

The ravaging wolf-packs of U-boats in WWII made the need for sonar a priority. With millions of tons of shipping being sunk in the Atlantic [John Terraine, The Right Of The Line; The Royal Air Force in the European War 1988, published by Sceptre] , there was a need to locate submarines so that they could be sunk or prevented from attacking. Sonar was installed on a number of ships along with Radio Detection and Ranging (RADAR) to detect surfaced submarines. While sonar was a primitive system, it was constantly improved.

Modern anti-submarine warfare grew from the WWII convoy and battle group movement through hostile waters. It was imperative that submarines be detected and neutralized long before the task group came within range of an attack. With progress in naval aviation it became possible to dedicate entire classes of aircraft (such as the P-2 Neptune, S-2 Tracker, S-3B Viking and P-3 Orion) to anti-submarine warfare (ASW). A compact, portable and powerful sonar system that could be deployed by aircraft was needed: the sonobuoy.

Early sonobuoys had limited range, limited battery life and were overwhelmed by the noise of the ocean. They were also limited by the use of human ears to discriminate man-made noises from the oceanic background. However, they demonstrated that the technology was viable. With the development of better hydrophones, the transistor and miniaturization, and the realisation that very low frequency sound was important, more effective acoustic sensors followed. The sonobuoy went from being an imposing six foot tall, two foot diameter sensor to the compact suite of electronics it is today.

Concept of operation

Sonobuoys are classified into three categories: active, passive and special purpose.

*Active sonobuoys emit sound energy into the water and listen for the returning echo before transmitting—usually range and bearing—information via UHF/VHF radio to a receiving ship or aircraft.
*Passive sonobuoys emit nothing into the water but rather listen, waiting for mechanically generated sound waves (for instance, power-plant, propeller or door-closing and other noises) from ships or submarines to reach the hydrophone that are then transmitted via UHF/VHF radio back to a receiving ship or aircraft.
*Special purpose sonobuoys relay various types of oceanographic data to a ship, aircraft, or satellite. There are three types of special-purpose sonobuoys in use today. These sonobuoys are not designed for use in submarine detection or localization.
**BT—The bathythermobuoy (BT) relay bathythermographic or salinity readings, or both, at various depths.
**SAR—The search and rescue (SAR) buoy is designed to operate as a floating RF beacon. As such, it is used to assist in marking the location of an aircraft crash site, a sunken ship, or survivors at sea.
**ATAC/DLC—Air transportable communication (ATAC) and down-link communication (DLC) buoys, such as the UQC, or "gertrude", are intended for use as a means of communication between an aircraft and a submarine, or between a ship and a submarine.

This information is analysed by computers, acoustic operators and TACCOs to interpret the sonobuoy information. Any noise that a submarine makes is a potential death knell, so few submariners are communicative.

Active and/or passive sonobuoys may be laid in large fields or barriers for initial detection. Active buoys may then be used for precise location. Passive buoys may also be deployed on the surface in patterns to allow relatively precise location by triangulation. Multiple aircraft or ships monitor the pattern either passively listening or actively transmitting in order to drive the submarine into the sonar net. Sometimes the pattern takes the shape of a grid or other array formation and complex beamforming signal processing is used to transcend the capabilities of single, or limited numbers of, hydrophones.


External links

* [ Sparton Sonobuoys]
* [ Ultra Electronics - USSI ]
* [ Sonobuoy TechSystems ]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • sonobuoy — [sän′ō boi΄, sän′ōbo͞o΄ē; sō′nōboi΄, sō′nōbo͞o΄ē] n. [< L sonus, SOUND1 + BUOY] a buoy that amplifies sound signals picked up under water and transmits them by radio …   English World dictionary

  • sonobuoy — hidroakustinis plūduras statusas T sritis Gynyba apibrėžtis Plūduras, kuris pagauna garsus, sklindančius iš antvandeninio ar povandeninio laivo, kai šis siunčia informaciją radijo bangomis. atitikmenys: angl. radio sonobuoy; sonobuoy pranc. bouée …   NATO terminų aiškinamasis žodynas

  • sonobuoy — A sonar device used to detect submerged submarines that, when activated, relays information by radio. It may be active directional or nondirectional, or it may be passive directional or nondirectional …   Military dictionary

  • sonobuoy — noun Date: 1945 a buoy equipped for detecting underwater sounds and transmitting them by radio …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • sonobuoy — /son euh booh e, boy /, n. Navig. a buoy that emits a radio signal on receiving an underwater signal from a vessel. [1940 45; SONO + BUOY] * * * …   Universalium

  • sonobuoy — noun A buoy that sends a radio signal when it detects the sound of underwater objects (such as submarines) …   Wiktionary

  • sonobuoy — son·o·buoy || səʊnÉ™bɔɪ n. (Navigation) buoy that sends out a radio signal when it receivs an underwater signal or noises from a ship or boat …   English contemporary dictionary

  • sonobuoy — noun a buoy detecting underwater sounds and transmitting them by radio …   English new terms dictionary

  • sonobuoy — son·o·buoy …   English syllables

  • sonobuoy — /ˈsoʊnəbɔɪ/ (say sohnuhboy) noun a sonar device used to detect submerged submarines …   Australian English dictionary

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