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Feature Article

Interconnect Solutions Aboard Submarines
AMETEK SCP Continues to Implement Connector Technology in Naval Submarines

Feature Author
Marianne Molchan
Molchan Marine Sciences
Pawcatuck, Connecticut

Building manned submarines is a disciplined business requiring precise materials, engineering processes and documentation. Failure in any of these could have catastrophic and life-threatening results.

A 'whole boat' approach supports a disciplined methodology to connector design and implementation while considering all the physical, operational and safety aspects of the vessel. Capitalizing on advancements in electrical power, data distribution and throughput, AMETEK SCP (Westerly, Rhode Island) provides the U.K. Ministry of Defence (MOD) with connector solutions for Astute-class nuclear submarines. AMETEK SCP also has applied subsequent design and installation methodology to submarine programs for the Spanish and Australian navies.

Design for the Astute-Class Submarines
An integrated project team comprised of AMETEK SCP and BAE Systems (Farnborough, England) personnel was formed at the beginning of the Astute submarine program after a contract award in 2002. This was the first time procurement managers and shipbuilders had involved a supplier in the decision-making process and systems design. One of the interconnect solutions allowed the external equipment connections to enter the submarine directly in line with the internal equipment cabinets, resulting in improved access and easier maintenance.

Shortening the length of the inboard cable between the inboard cabinet and the hull penetration improved life-cycle maintenance. The design of the hull penetration accommodated single or multientry outboard cable assemblies for maximum operational flexibility. The hull penetration, certified as SUBSAFE and verified at Level 1, on the Astute-class submarines is capable of supporting cables using gigabit Ethernet, copper or fiber optics. The MOD Performance Technical Specifications 14299 for hull penetrations governed the testing requirements. This specification mirrors U.S. Navy specification MIL-C-24231.

AMETEK SCP also provided outboard cable assemblies interconnecting the splice block and the hull penetration. The splice block provided a series of plug-and-play pigtails leading to various functional outboard equipment, such as switches, hydrophones, accelerometers, lighting and communication jacks. This design is very similar to plug-and-play connections utilized today in offices and for in-home computers, video equipment and entertainment systems supporting maintenance and equipment replacement.

The engineering design for the Astute class introduced fiber-optic cables and connectors into the Royal Navy submarine power and data grid for the first time. This provided a significant increase in system throughput. The harnessing process resulted in reducing the number of hull penetrations by more than half. The number of different cable and connector types were reduced by a factor of 10, and a plug-and-play connector capability was introduced.

The improved multiport receptacle system allowed for multiple circuits to pass through a single hull penetrator. This is significant because an outboard circuit can now easily be replaced dockside during submarine maintenance. With the previous design, circuit repairs and replacements could only be performed during a major submarine refit. The plug-and-play design allows maintenance personnel to change out one or more circuits in a multiport penetrator.

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Marianne Molchan is the president of Molchan Marine Sciences (MMS). As a retired commander (U.S. Navy Reserve), diver and former NOAA officer, her interests have remained in and below the ocean's surface. MMS has served government and private clients worldwide since 1994.

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