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The Sub Hunters

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After the end of the cold war, warmer relationships between East and West cut down undersea military activity and reduced the need for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) technology. But in the last few years, those thawed relationships have started to cool once more. Russia and China have begun flexing their naval muscle with a growing submarine fleet that expands their reach – and puts them closer and closer to North American soil.

By 2020, Russia will have built 16 new nuclear subs. China’s submarine fleet has been expanding as well, extending operations and reach in unprecedented ways. As a result, military forces in countries including the U.S., Canada and Australia are ramping up their own ASW capabilities, and investing more heavily in technology that will help pinpoint potentially hostile subs.

Submarine in the Haystack

Submarines are notoriously hard to find

Submarines are notoriously hard to find – ASW is probably one of the most difficult parts of naval warfare. Navies are therefore equipping their vessels and aircraft with the most advanced imaging sensors available, adding technology that’s capable of detecting, locating and identifying vessels of all sizes, and capabilities, in vast stretches of ocean.

A New Era in Anti-Submarine Warfare 

One example of these dramatically upgraded capabilities is the Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft in use by the U.S. Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force. The P-8As are equipped with WESCAM MX-20 EO/IR systems which contain advanced multi-sensor imaging and lasing sensors.

The color cameras in an MX-20 deliver the highest resolution and most natural-looking image under daylight conditions.  Low-light cameras employ amplification technology, similar to that used in night vision goggles, to provide effective imagery under low-light conditions, such that those encountered at dusk.  Whereas the IR cameras used are sensitive to heat, and can be used under all conditions to detect motion and activity.  Because these cameras depend only on IR radiation that is emitted by all objects, they do not need ambient light and can therefore image in complete darkness.

Eyes in the Sky - L3 WESCAM MX-20 used for Anti-Submarine Warfare

All of these specialized sensors work together to focus, align and target, and create a hyper-accurate situational awareness picture – making it easier to detect, localize and track elusive underwater craft.

And when two aircraft are linked together and working cooperatively, those tracking capabilities are enhanced even further. While one aircraft stays at a high altitude to see a wider view, the other can fly lower to get a closer look – or attack hostile vessels with missiles or torpedoes. Learn more about how WESCAM technology contributes to the common operating picture.

The Royal Canadian Air Force also uses the WESCAM MX-20 for maritime patrol and ASW missions. Eighteen CP-140 Aurora aircraft, which have long endurance and a 7,400 km range, employ the systems to patrol vast areas and target subs when needed.

WESCAM offers a wide range of stabilized EO/IR imaging systems that are in use by coast guard aircraft and ships around the world.  Apart from ASW they are relied on to support key missions such as port and coastal security, navigation aids, drug and migrant interdiction, search and rescue, resource and environmental protection, and law enforcement.

WESCAM technology continues to provide defence agencies on a global scale the tools they need to protect the countries they serve. For more about our technology, check out or visit us on YouTube. You can also find us on Twitter at L3 WESCAM.

For more information on this and any other product that L3 WESCAM offers, please email us at




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