For decades, the Navy has been striving to improve its ability to detect potential enemy submarines before they can get within effective weapons range of U.S. forces. In 1985, the Navy established the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS) Low Frequency Active (LFA) sonar program to develop a long-range capability for detecting a new generation of quieter Soviet nuclear and diesel submarines operating principally in the open ocean. However, as the Navy conducted testing of the system in the mid-1990s, some public interest groups and scientists raised concerns that SURTASS/LFA may cause harm to marine mammals. The Navy discontinued operational testing of the system and initiated an environmental impact statement process. The Navy will not begin testing or operating the system until it receives a Letter of Authorization from the National Marine Fisheries Service. A decision on the authorization is expected later in 2002. SURTASS/LFA will increase the Navy's capability to detect submarines in the open ocean, where the system was originally intended to operate. The Navy has considered a number of existing alternatives to SURTASS/LFA and found that the system provides long-range detection capabilities not available with other systems.
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