Sonar proficiency is a complex and difficult skill that requires constant training in realistic conditions at sea. Lack of realistic training could jeopardize the lives of service members in real-life combat situations. This training cannot be duplicated with simulators or other artificial means.
What is Sonar?
Sonar, an acronym for SOund NAvigation and Ranging, uses sound energy waves to detect and locate submerged objects, such as submarines and mines. There are two types of sonar:
Passive sonar is a sound-receiving system that “listens” for sound waves generated by man-made or biological sources using underwater microphones that receive, amplify, and process underwater sounds. Passive sonar is less capable than active sonar of detecting quiet submarines operating in areas where background noise levels are elevated, such as coastal waters. Although improvements in passive sonar are continually being researched, passive sonar currently is less effective than active sonar at detecting modern, quiet submarines.
Active sonar is the most effective means available for locating objects underwater. Active sonar sends out a pulse of energy, often called a “ping,” that travels through water, reflects off an object, and returns to a receiver on the ship. Skilled technicians can use the reflected sonar pulse to determine the range, distance, and movement of an object. Common active sonars include echo sounders (such as depth sounders and fish finders), side-scan sonars, and military sonars (ship-mounted and/or sonobuoys).
Active sonar has the ability to locate objects that are too quiet to be detected using passive sonar technology. This makes active sonar invaluable for detecting very quiet submarines. Active sonar is also effective for locating underwater mines. Although active sonar is the most effective way to detect quiet objects, Navy vessels use active sonar sparingly because sonar pulses can reveal a sending vessel’s location, compromising the mission and safety.