Lake Pend Oreille’s Not So Secret Submarine Base

Locating a submarine base on a lake, hundreds of miles from the ocean would be a huge, strategic error. If military action called for a submarine, the time needed getting to the ocean, if it could, would cause navy commanders to stomp and yell in frustration.

Military leaders recognized this and established bases on our coasts. However, in Bayview, Idaho, at the southernmost point of Lake Pend Oreille, a U.S. Navy submarine base has been in operation since 1946, and its siting there was done because it’s a great place for a base despite the trouble any sub would have making it to the ocean.

One reason the Navy chose Lake Pend Oreille is because of deep, deep water. The lake bottoms out at 1,150 feet, the fifth deepest lake in the United States. Pend Oreille is also the largest lake in Idaho with 148 square miles of surface area. It has quite a long trench of deep water that gives plenty of maneuvering room for subs. It offers more seclusion and shelter than a coastal location too. The calm, clear and chilly water mimics ideal ocean conditions.

So what do submarines do at Lake Pend Oreille? No matter how dire any situation may be, the subs won’t see battle. Operating under a branch of the Navy called The Calderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, the Bayview site is one of eight nationwide that does testing and development of new technology for ships and submarines. Bayview’s specialty is the testing of new submarine design and propulsion systems that focus on acoustics to create the quietest submarine possible. A sub that can sneak around without our enemies knowing where it is or how to locate it makes for an advantageous position. The importance of this is why the Bayview facility, called the Acoustic Research Detachment, has been in operation for 77 years.               

Perhaps this causes worry for you deep state zealots that this is a covert, top secret operation, and whenever wrongdoing is detected, such as a fisherman reeling in one too many, helicopters are airborne, soon to converge on your boat.             

Take comfort that though details of specific, new technology is kept secret, the base itself is not. The Acoustical Research Detachment has been part of the community for a long time, and, on special occasions, has opened its doors to the public, allowing tours and displaying the subs used to test new technologies.

The base’s large-scale submarines range from one-fourth to one-half the size of the battle-ready ones plying the ocean. They are unmanned, remotely-controlled and packed with gear. Sensing equipment installed at the bottom of the lake is used to pick up the acoustical footprint of propulsion systems (the submarine moving through the water) and, quite often, the noise of equipment used inside subs. Testing is usually done at night when lake traffic is low to nonexistent, giving the best conditions to evaluate acoustics.

The Acoustical Research Detachment also does work for other defense agencies, private firms, academia, as well as allies of the United States. The facility is considered the best available for testing marine acoustics, allowing introduction of new technology at a low cost. Many design elements and components tested at Bayview have been integrated into Navy submarines past and present. Next time you recreate on Lake Pend Oreille, imagine the submarine-worthy depths below you.

James P. Johnson

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