Dive! Dive! Top-Secret Subs in Northern Idaho?!

 Associated Press Writer

 ``Missile submarines were by definition beyond any control from land. Their entire mission was to disappear.''  -- Tom Clancy, from his novel ``The Hunt for Red October''

 BAYVIEW, Idaho (AP) — Dave Pierce likes to  play with model boats.

AP/Jeff T. Green
 One of 10, 1/4th scale model submarines moored at the  Navy's Acoustic Research Detachment in Bayview, Idaho.  The Naval Surface Warefare Center's test facility on Lake Pend Oreille in Northern Idaho, is the only of its kind in the world
 Model submarines, actually — up to 88 feet  long.

 A guy needs a very big bathtub for models on  that scale, and the Navy officer has just the  place —Lake Pend Oreille, which meanders  43 miles through the timbered slopes of the  Selkirk Mountains.

    Pierce commands a submarine research base where, years after the end of the Cold War,  the U.S. Navy is still perfecting the hunt for  Red October.
  AP/Jeff T. Green
                U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. David Pierce sizes up the 60-foot, 1/4th scale model submarine, "Dolly Varden" at the Navy's Acoustic Research Detachment in Bayview, Idaho. The  facility, at Lake Pend Oreille, which meanders 43 miles through the timbered slopes of the Selkirk Mountains, is the only large scale model submarine acoustic testing facility in the world.

 Northern Idaho may seem an unlikely place for one of the nation's most advanced   submarine test sites. But the Navy came for the waters, said to be perfect for running  silent and running deep.

 The lake reaches depths of 1,100 feet, with a constant subsurface temperature of 39.5 degrees. Constant   temperatures are important for  taking consistent noise measurements, since the speed of sound is  affected by temperature.

 Most of the surrounding land is government-owned, so there is little  development along its forested shoreline to create distracting noise.

 ``There is no lake like this anywhere in the world,''  said Pierce, a lieutenant commander, referring to the  combined attributes that make this an ideal place to  test submarine design.
  AP/Jeff T. Green
    Matthew Craun, research engineer from the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, analyzes data taken  from the 63-foot-long, 1/4th scale model submarine "Pike." The "Pike" is used to study structural acoustic responses of submarine stealth technologies by being moored 1,160 feet  below the surface of Lake Pend Oreille in Northern Idaho.
 The end of the Cold War did not end the threat from  foreign subs, says Tom Warring, a spokesman for the  Naval Surface Warfare Center in Carderock, Md.  ``The collapse of the Soviet Union doesn't mean subs  are going away,'' Warring said. ``Iranians own  submarines. Indians own submarines.

 ``There are a lot more submarine owners than there  used to be.''

 The Acoustic Research  Detachment has a key role   in the quest for ever-quieter submarines. It's  the only active-duty portion remaining of the  former Farragut Naval Training Center,   established during World War II to train  293,000 sailors. Most of the 4,000-acre center  was shut down in 1946 and made into  Farragut State Park.The remaining base covers just 22 acres along the south end of the lake, near this  resort community of 300 people. The fleet of remote-controlled model  submarines is housed in sheds built over the lake.

 Model subs are deployed for weeks at a time, tracked by underwater  microphones. But the top-secret testinghas little impact on public  enjoyment of the lake.
   AP/Jeff T. Green
   U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. David Pierce sizes up the 60-foot, 1/4th scale model submarine, "Dolly Varden" at the Navy's  Acoustic Research Detachment in Bayview, Idaho. The facility, at Lake Pend Oreille, which meanders 43 miles  through the timbered slopes of the Selkirk Mountains, is the  only large scale model submarine acoustic testing facility in the world.
 ``We test at night because there are fewer boats and the winds die  down,'' said Henry Netzer, the base's senior civilian engineer.

 Much of the testing is done in a  26-square-mile area in the middle of the lake,  far from most people, he said.Occasionally,  researchers have asked boaters to leave the  area because noise from their craft was ruining the tests.

 ``By and large the Navy here is real  cooperative,'' said Kevin Elmore, who works at  a Bayview resort.

 ``The subs go around the lake 10 or 12 miles from here, out in the middle  of no-man's land. We only see them go in and out.''

 The Navy is good for business, said Ruby Tidwell, owner of the Bayview  Scenic Hotel. ``Navy personnel stay here,'' she said. ``They can walk to  the motel.''

 But the base's mission has sparked a range of rumors and dark imaginings  over the years. Some believe a secret underwater river between the lake  and the Pacific Ocean allows full-sized subs to enter the lake.

 Another local legend links the base and a mythical underwater beast  named Pondy.

 Pierce, an acoustic engineer, said he'd never heard of the base before  taking command about a year ago. But others say it plays a key role in  the development of future classes of submarines.

 Pend Oreille has been called the Navy submarine force's ``most important  body of water,'' Rear Admiral Edmund Giambastiani, director of the Navy's  submarine warfare division, noted at a ceremony last year.

 Work here has saved some $1 billion in development costs because it is  so much cheaper to test models than full-sized subs, Giambastiani said.

 Workers at the base operate a variety of unmanned models up to 88 feet  long — about one-quarter the length of a full-sized sub. These days,  they're testing the Navy's new nuclear attack submarine class.

 How quickly and quietly do these vessels go? How deep can they dive?

 That's classified, said Pierce, the sole naval officer at the base, which  employs about 130 civilians.

 The key to submarine survival has always been stealth, and modern subs  are amazingly quiet.

 When tests were under way a decade ago on the design of the Seawolf  class, one of the models was painted prior to the trials, Pierce said.

 When tests showed an unacceptably high noise level, researchers found  the painting project was to blame.

 ``A bristle of the paintbrush used to paint the surface had been left on  the (sub's) dome,'' he said. ``One bristle had overcome the design of the  dome.'' The dome is the front of the submarine.

 Work is under way on a new $8 million building that will house five  submarine models including a 120-foot model of the new attack submarine  — the largest submarine model in the world.
   AP/Jeff T. Green
  Construction on the new Model andEngineering Support Facility at the Navy's  Acoustic Research Detachment on Lake Pend Oreille in Bayview, Idaho, continues  to progress. The new facility will support  the outfitting of up to five model  submarines once complete.

 The $50 million model will be called the Cutthroat, a name selected by  students at nearby Athol Elementary School to honor local trout.

 It is being built jointly by Newport News Shipbuilding and Electric Boat,  Netzer said. But final assembly will take place in the new building, a first  for the base, he said.

 The base has occasionally drawn anti-nuclear protesters, though it has no  nuclear facilities, Pierce said. The models are not armed and no weapons  are tested at Bayview, he said.

 The base has never lost a model in the lake's vast waters, Pierce said.  ``That would be a bad thing,'' he said.