Idaho’s Submarine Fleet
During the middle of the night the small scale, unmanned sub glides through the cold, dark waters of Idaho’s deepest lake, Lake Pend Oreille. Idaho? Yes, for over 65 years the south end of the lake has been the premier testing ground for acoustic development of the Navy’s submarines. Many rumors have been sparked by the activity at the Naval Acoustic Research Detachment (ARD). “They are doing secret maneuvers in the middle of the night.” “They have a full-sized nuclear submarine there.” And my favorite: “They stirred up the ‘Paddler’!” (The monster that lives at the bottom of the lake).
The center was originally part of the Farragut Naval Training Station in 1942 just south of Bayview, Idaho. Soon after establishing the facility, the Navy found Lake Pend Oreille was the perfect testing area for acoustic related aspects of the submarines. The mission of the ARD is to help provide the Navy with a quiet running submarine at the least amount of money.
Lake Pend Oreille is 1,150 ft deep near the southern end. There is also a 4 mile wide channel running up the center near that area. The lake is 46 miles long. The steep tree-lined shoreline; the constant chilly temperature at 100 ft (39 F); the flat, muddy bottom; and little boating activity during the night makes this lake the perfect testing ground for acoustic (sound) studies on the vessels.
The center has a fleet of ¼ scale models: Dolly Varden, Kokanee, Pike, Whitefish, Steelhead. They also have two larger model subs: the Kokanee and the Cutthroat. These vessels are monitored during the tests by strategically placed hydrophones and recording devises on the lake bottom and shoreline. The data is gathered, analyzed and adjustments made where needed on the vessels. New concepts and ideas are tested here before being added to the fleet vessels.
The ARD has been an important part of the community of Bayview for many years. The mystery that surrounds the activities of the center adds to the local folklore and history. When you venture to the shores of Lake Pend Oreille near the southern end under the cover of dark to watch the “submarine races”, that may be literally what you see.