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What is a Submarine Hull Penetrator?

What is a Submarine Hull Penetrator?

Modern submarines travel in some of the most difficult and extreme environmental conditions, thousands of feet below the ocean's surface. When it comes to submarines committed to the naval defense of countries around the globe, the importance and potential risk increase political conflict mount. In addition, today's undersea boats often have as much technology on board as the naval ships cutting through the waves above, and sometimes a great deal more. All of these systems must be capable of functioning at peak efficiency no matter which circumstances a submarine encounters: facing attack, experiencing pressure issues, even when taking on water. To keep vital external equipment, such as sonar and mast-raising mechanisms, ready to complete duties at all times, cabling must not become compromised. Submarine hull penetrators, along with a host of other subsea components produced by AMETEK ECP, help protect the vessel’s critical connections.

Essential functions of penetrators

In a nutshell, a submarine hull penetrator allows one or more cables (which may be single- or multi-port) to pass through the hull of a submarine and connect to a variety of different equipment that must, for various reasons, be on the outside of the sub. Sonar, for example, depends on it's emitting waves into the seawater outside the vessel but is controlled from within the vessel, as communication signals pass through the massively thick hull. Penetrators create a hermetic seal at all points of possible seawater entry that cables operate within. Different hull penetrators fulfill different cabling needs. They can house ethernet cables as well as coaxial, fiber optic, RF, microwave, and power connections. Sometimes, they'll need to be customized to serve hyper-specific functions, most often for the defense sector.

The right raw materials

Not all metals fare well in water, particularly the ocean. Submarine penetrators must be constructed using certain specific metals. Nickel aluminum bronze alloys are common for this marine purpose, particularly in the arena of defense, due to their anti-damping properties, non-sparking, high corrosion resistance, overall tensile strength, and ability to withstand impact and wear resistance according to the Copper Development Association. Stainless steel (as opposed to the structural steel in typical submarine hulls) is another solid material for hull penetration needs, as is MONEL's K-500 nickel-copper alloy, for similar reasons. AMETEK's Subsea Interconnect subsidiary has experience fabricating interconnects made with all of these metals, so the choice will depend on what is best for the specific application.

submarine hull penetrators

Compliance with international standards

These days, there are many standards and qualification requirements, and subsea technology is not an exception. Submarine hull penetrators used in the defense sector go through myriad certification processes. Some of the major ones include U.S. Navy PPD for fiber-optic hull penetrators, Navy SUBSAFE LEVEL 1, FIRST LEVEL-qualified, UK MOD-certified (both of those solely for U.K. naval vessels), the ASTUTE Submarine Program and, of course, ISO 9001 quality management standard. Anyone seeking hull penetrators and finding models that don't meet all of those certifications would do well to choose a different component.

Methods of quality control

When dealing with a hull penetrator or another component for which its failure has drastic consequences, the importance of thorough quality control measures before any of these products go on the market can't be overstated. Putting these subsea parts through insulation resistance, thermal cycling, fiber optic attenuation, hydrostatic pressure, electrical continuity (as well as conductivity and resistivity), pressure cycling and helium leak testing is the only way to be certain that they'll be fit to serve. Submarine hull penetrators from AMETEK ECP undergo all of these trials and then some. This helps better ensure that the components hold up under every type of pressure the sea's depths can bring.


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