Passive sonar listens without transmitting. It is often employed in military settings, although it is also used in science applications, e.g. detecting fish for presence/absence studies in various aquatic environments . In the very broadest usage, this term can encompass virtually any analytical technique involving remotely generated sound, though it is usually restricted to techniques applied in an aquatic environment.
Identifying sound sources
Passive sonar has a wide variety of techniques for identifying the source of a detected sound. For example, U.S. vessels usually operate 60 Hz alternating current power systems. If transformers or generators are mounted without proper vibration insulation from the hullor become flooded, the 60 Hz sound from the windings can be emitted from the submarine or ship.
This can help to identify its nationality, as most European submarines have 50 Hz power systems. Intermittent sound sources (such as a wrench being dropped) may also be detectable to passive sonar. Until fairly recently, an experienced trained operator identified signals, but now computers may do this.
Passive sonar systems may have large sonic databases, but the sonar operator usually finally classifies the signals manually. A computer system frequently uses these databases to identify classes of ships, actions (i.e. the speed of a ship, or the type of weapon released), and even particular ships. Publications for classification of sounds are provided by and continually updated by the US office of naval defense
Passive sonar on vehicles is usually severely limited because of noise generated by the vehicle. For this reason, many submarines operate nuclear reactors that can be cooled without pumps, using silent convection, or fuel cells or batteries, which can also run silently. Vehicles' propellers are also designed and precisely machined to emit minimal noise. High-speed propellers often create tiny bubbles in the water, and this cavitation has a distinct sound.
The sonar hydrophones may be towed behind the ship or submarine in order to reduce the effect of noise generated by the watercraft itself. Towed units also combat the thermocline, as the unit may be towed above or below the thermocline.
The display of most passive sonars used to be a two-dimensional waterfall display. The horizontal direction of the display is bearing. The vertical is frequency, or sometimes time. Another display technique is to color-code frequency-time information for bearing. More recent displays are generated by the computers, and mimic radar-type plan position indicator displays.
Unlike active sonar, only one way propagation is involved. Because of the different signal processing used, the minimum detectable signal to noise ratio will be different. The equation for determining the performance of a passive sonar is:
SL − TL = NL − DI + DT
where SL is the source level, TL is the transmission loss, NL is the noise level, DI is the directivity index of the array (an approximation to the array gain) and DT is the detection threshold. The figure of merit of a passive sonar is:
FOM = SL + DI − (NL + DT).