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Underwater 3-D tracking reaches milestone

Former and current employees of the Dabob Bay underwater tracking range mingle with one another outside the Naval Undersea Museum Tuesday. Hundreds gathered to celebrate 50 years of 3-D underwater tracking at the Dabob Bay Range in Hood Canal.  - Photo by Jesse Beals
Former and current employees of the Dabob Bay underwater tracking range mingle with one another outside the Naval Undersea Museum Tuesday. Hundreds gathered to celebrate 50 years of 3-D underwater tracking at the Dabob Bay Range in Hood Canal.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

The Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division, Keyport reached a milestone Tuesday.

Hundreds gathered at the Naval Undersea Museum auditorium in Keyport to celebrate 50 years of 3-D underwater tracking at the Dabob Bay Range in Hood Canal.

“The Dabob Bay Range was established in the early 1950s and became the world’s first underwater 3-D tracking range with the installation of a specialized hydrophone array designed for underwater tracking,” according to a news release.

On May 22, 1957, the first torpedo, a Mark 27, Mod 4 Torpedo, was tracked in three dimensions.

“The failure rate of torpedos in World War II showed there was a need for torpedo testing,” said Diane Jennings, NUWC Division Keyport’s Public Affairs Officer. “The 3-D tracking range we use today was developed from that.”

Current and former employees who worked on the range or in torpedo test and evaluation at Keyport as well as the original technology developers from the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington who helped develop the range attended the commemoration ceremony and picnic at the Keyport Lagoon.

“A lot of old friends are probably being reunited today,” Jennings said with a smile.

Acting Division Technical Director, NUWC Keyport Gerald Richards was one of many speakers at the commemoration ceremony. He expressed great appreciation for the former employees who developed and worked at the Dabob Bay Range.

“We can’t possibly recognize them all now, but we owe them all a great debt,” Richards told the crowd.

Today the Dabob Bay Range is part of the Navy’s Pacific Northwest Complex of Undersea Ranges. The Navy specifically chose the Dabob Bay site for the 3-D underwater tracking range.

“The Navy actually searched for the right location to test torpedos on the West Coast and the area at Liberty Bay was quiet, sheltered and had the right type of seabed for torpedos to land on,” Jennings said. “As needs changed, the range move to the Hood Canal.”

The Dabob Bay Range is still operational and provides “critical tracking data for performance evaluation of weapon systems and enabling improvements in the Navy’s national defense capabilities,” according to a news release.

Rich Peel works with the national Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUV) test center and works on the Dabob Bay Range. He says the range is a tremendous benefit to the Navy.

“As we put young sailors in harm’s way, we need to make sure the equipment works properly and improve it along the way,” Peel said.

Although the underwater range at Dabob Bay has been improved over the years, the basic concepts for acoustic tracking remain the same.

“While technology has advanced, a lot of the same technicalities are still in place,” Jennings said.

A plaque commemorating the 50-year milestone will be displayed at the entrance of Building 1074 on the NUWC Division, Keyport.

“I’m really proud of what’s happened over the years,” Peel said. “We get so busy with day-to-day life that you don’t think about what has been done here.”

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