A Landlocked Navy
Idaho is quite the seafaring state. Yes, it’s safe to say that the history of the United States Navy, and quite possibly the history of our nation would be much different without the contributions of our state. I realize that some of you may wonder what the heck I’m talking about, so let me explain.
Since World War II, Idaho has played an important role in preparing the Navy’s sailors for their roles at sea. In 1942, tasked with waging a war in the farthest reaches of the globe, the War Department recognized the need for a large facility to train more sailors. That year, the Navy built Farragut Naval Training Station on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille. At the time, it was the second largest naval training center in the world.
In the 30 short months it was operational, more than 290,000 sailors from 19 states received basic training at Farragut. The last class graduated in March, 1945, but that would not be the end of Idaho’s contribution to naval training.
In 1950, the Naval Reactors Facility was established near Arco to support the development of naval nuclear propulsion. Throughout the Cold War, thousands of officers and sailors were trained in the intricacies of the operation and maintenance of nuclear reactors. You may be interested to know that research at the Idaho National Laboratory’s Advanced Test Reactor and Naval Reactors Facility have contributed to the extension of the life of nuclear fuel on Navy vessels, so that some nuclear-powered ships never have to be refueled.
While the Navy has consolidated most of its nuclear research and training programs in South Carolina, Idaho’s involvement in research and development of submarines and warships continues today. Stretching back several decades, the Navy’s Acoustic Research Detachment (ARD) at Bayview, Idaho, has been conducting research and development on Lake Pend Oreille.
Scale models of the most advanced submarines in the world were, and continue to be extensively tested in the quiet, deep waters of the lake. North Idaho residents have known for a long time that Lake Pend Oreille is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and that it is ideal for fishing, boating, kayaking and all sorts of outdoor activities. But the depth (the lake is nearly 1200 feet deep) and the size (more than 40 miles long) of Lake Pend Oreille make it almost perfect for acoustic testing.
Oceans are full of background noise, such as waves, animals, earthquakes and volcanoes, which make it difficult to effectively test just how quiet a ship is. On top of that, salt water takes its toll on things. Testing in Pend Oreille eliminates many of the noise and maintenance problems, and the more controlled conditions allow the Navy to build smaller, quarter-scale and third-scale models, that are much easier and cheaper to operate or modify. Anybody who knows me knows that it warms my heart to see government agencies looking for ways to get the job done right while saving the taxpayers money.
The men and women of the Acoustic Research Detachment have played vital roles in developing the Seawolf-class and Virginia-class submarines, making our subs more silent. Underwater, silence can be the difference between life and death for American submariners.
On August 24, 2005, in Bayview, ARD embarked on a new journey, dedicating the new Sea Jet, a quarter-scale model of a DDX class destroyer. This is the first in the next generation of naval surface ships, which will go faster, farther, and quieter than anything on the waves. It is truly a remarkable craft.
With that, Idaho, the landlocked state more than 300 miles from the Pacific Ocean, will continue to shape the future of the United States Navy, and keep our men and women in uniform on the cutting edge of technology and military hardware. Idahoans should be proud, but not surprised, that Idaho’s Navy is helping to keep America safe and strong.