Couldn't ballistic missile subs have been easily tracked?

During the cold war (and I suppose now) what was to stop stationing ships just in international waters outside ballistic missle carrying submarine bases, not hidden or anything, with active sonar dialed up to 11 (as there would be no intent to hide these ships). Then when a sub was detected they could have sent other units after them.

Surely an approach like that would have made submarine launched ballistic missiles completely pointless?

exactly how would these trackers work?

those subs do not return sonar signals - do a bit of research on anti-sonar coatings.

currently, the only hope for tracking those boats is the fact they do NOT emit sound - everything else in the ocean does. Google “passive sonar”. And, before you get the same idea re stealth airplanes, google “passive radar”

Look at this map of international waters and rethink your strategy.

Just read an article in Popular Science which says that even deep-going subs can leave “footprints” on the surface which radar could identify.

I don’t understand what you mean by “sent other units after them.” Do you mean that the ships would try to sink the sub? Well, that is not a cold war, that is a hot war.

Do you mean that a surface ship would follow the submarine for its entire tour pinging it with active sonar? Ok, let’s say that the sub got the signal to launch it’s missiles. So it shoots a torpedo at the ship, sinks it, then fires its missiles.

I am trying to devise a system here that works.

Now, during the cold war, the US fast attack subs did follow Soviet missile subs around, but that was supposed to be a secret. It was not overt (in theory).

For all their effort it is not known that the Soviets were ever able to track a US ballistic missile submarine. The Navy likes to brag about how poor the Soviets were at tracking subs. The Soviets did have spies in Ames and Walker that gave them a good idea in what part of the ocean the subs might be. But it isn’t easy to track a sub 1000 feet down moving slowly or not at all. And you need the ships to do it.

I don’t think it will happen anytime soon. If it does, it will be with satellites and computers picking up subtle signals.

And there really isn’t anything to prevent the US from stationing boomers in the Great Lakes where they are not subject to being followed with ships.

This is completely wrong. Acoustic coating can only reduce the sonar signal bounced off of it by active sonar compared to say, steel. It does not prevent a return signal. Secondly, all submarines emit noise. Some emit more than others, and great effort goes into reducing it, but they are always going to make noise. Additionally, I’m not sure what exactly you think passive sonar is. It’s sonar that passively listens for sound rather than actively making noise and listening for the return signal. It’s not sonar that tries to find the absence of sound.

But in theory it can. Whether that is a technique that is often or reliably used is a whole nother story.

Indeed there is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rush_Bagot_Treaty

What happens when the homeported navy sends out escorts to clear passage for a boomer? Or, if we’re talking about Americans tracking Soviet submarines, what happens when the Soviet submarine would head for the Arctic icepack?

Treaties!? Just ask the Native Americans how that goes.

On a serious note, I agree that it does prohibit the use of the Great Lakes that way. And that is probably a good thing.

The unclassified evidence is that it was, and remains, very difficult to track down the location of a properly operating and operated ballistic missile submarine. Some of the reasons for that have already been mentioned. Some exotic technology has been looked at (and will doubtless continue to be) for ways to detect submerged submarines of any type.

The actual and most practical tactic most often used seems to be to have an attack sub lie quietly in the expected path of newly deployed, outbound ballistic missile subs, then to follow in their wake (“baffles”) where the pursuer can remain hard to detect from the missile sub. For this reason, on occasion friendly attack subs follow the ballistic missile subs out to sea, at a discrete distance of course, in an attempt to intercept any hostile attack subs that may try to do this.

There are a great many such “games” of skill and danger that go on in submarine missions and we, the public, will seldom, if ever, know of any of it.

BTW, I was not a submariner myself, but was for some years assigned to US Navy antisubmarine aircraft squadrons who tried to make life miserable as possible for Soviet submariners, even in peacetime. If we could locate one (which was fairly easy, they were very noisy back then) we’d harass them unmercifully with small noise bombs until we forced them to surface for the rest of their voyage to wherever it was they were deploying to - usually Cam Ranh Bay in Viet Nam or other ports operated by Soviet clients.

OK, to be in international waters, the Russian has to be 12 miles off the coast.
The sub leaves the harbor and submerges as soon as the water is deep enough, let’s say 1 mile out. I don’t know the range of the Russian active sonar, but I bet it isn’t 19,000+ yards.
Now assuming a straight piece of coast the sub has a 180 degree course selection. The sub does not have to run right under the Russian. If the sub hugs the coast for a few miles he will be increasing the range, and can then turn for international waters when he chooses.
Meanwhile the US surface forces will undoubtedly being screwing with the Russian. Pinging away with their own sonar, dropping small explosive charges to deafen the Russian sonar operators, that sort of thing.
Also if the weather up top is shitty, the sub can step on the gas, and probably leave any surface craft in its wake. Per Wiki the reported top speed is 25 knots, try doing that in a destroyer in the middle of a big storm.

You could be right about tracking them but what advantage would that give them? They could still fire their missiles?

Ballistic missile subs have to be fairly close to the surface (or in some cases, on the surface) to fire their missiles. There are also other signs that a sub is behaving in a way consistent with it setting itself up to launch. The shadowing enemy sub would look (passively of course) for those signs and would probably fire a torpedo at the missile sub if it was determined that a launch was imminent. Of course, this would not happen in a vacuum - there would probably be plenty of other indicators in the news and in the intel being received, that war was imminent.

Also, not all missiles can be fired off at once - AFAIK, they have to be fired in a sequence that may take quite a few minutes to complete. So even if the missile sub got one missile off OK, its remaining lifetime would be measured in a very few minutes after that, if there was an enemy sub in the area monitoring the missile sub for launch preparation or actual launches.

Is that map correct? According to it, there is no route through “international waters” from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean except one that passes close to Antarctica. And no such route whatsoever from the North Sea() to the Atlantic Ocean. ( - or rather the Norwegian Sea, since the North Sea is shown entirely white in that map.)

I suspect that map depicts oceanic regions that not within national areas of exclusive economic zones, which are usually within 200 miles of a nation’s coastline. Warships of other nations do not need permission to enter a county’s EEZ, whereas they must have consent to enter its territorial waters (between 3 and 12 miles offshore).

You’re probably right, but that map was my way of making the same point **Rick **did with much more detail. No way can a surface ship in international waters hope to identify and track a sub coming out of a naval port.

Yep, but another sub in international waters can sometimes do it if the conditions are right and the sub skipper and crew are competent. And lucky.

Don’t think this is this still in effect. The US operated aircraft carriers in the Great Lakes during World War II. One of the major military shipbuilders is located in Wisconsin and launches ships into Lake Michigan.

Do any ships operate out of the Great Lakes Naval Station?