Photonics mast


A photonics mast aboard a Virginia-class submarine

A photonics mast (or optronics mast[1]) is a sensor on a submarine which functions similarly to a periscope without requiring a periscope tube, thus freeing design space during construction and limiting risks of water leakage in the event of damage. A photonics mast replaces the mechanical, line-of-sight viewing system with digital equipment, similar to a digital camera array, and it has fewer locational and dimensional constraints than a traditional periscope.

Unlike a periscope, it need not be located directly above its user, and it requires only a small pressure hull penetration for cabling. This allows the photonics mast to fit entirely within the sail of the submarine and means the control room need not be placed directly below the sail.

A photonics mast operates by rising above the water in a manner similar to a telescoping car antenna and provides information through an array of sensors, such as high-definition low-light and thermographic cameras. Images and information can appear on display panels for analysis. The photonics mast can also support the navigation, electronic warfare, and communications functions of a conventional optical-periscope mast.

Photonics masts by country

Chinese Navy

At least the Type 039B/C submarines are fitted with photonics masts.[2]

French Navy

The Marine Nationale's new nuclear attack submarines, the Suffren class, comes with an optronics mast with the following sensors:[3]

The mast is manufactured by Sagem (now Safran). The same mast can be found on the export oriented Scorpène-class conventional attack submarines made by Naval Group.[3]

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force

The Sōryū-class submarine is equipped with the CM010 optronics mast.

Royal Navy

The Royal Navy tested an optronic mast on the Trafalgar-class HMS Trenchant in 1998.

Astute-class nuclear attack submarines are equipped with two Thales CM010 optronics mast similar in capabilities to the Sagem model in French use.[3]

Royal Swedish Navy

The Royal Swedish Navy upgraded five of its Thales CK038 traditional periscopes to Thales CM010 optronics mast in 2007.[3]

Russian Navy

The Yasen and Borei-class submarines are fitted with photonics masts developed by Shvabe, a subsidiary of Rostec.[4] The Elektropribor Central Research Institute has also developed the Parus-98 photonics mast for the conventional Lada-class submarines and the export market (Parus-98E).[5][6]

United States Navy

Comparison in design of periscope well and sail.

In 2004, the United States Navy began fitting photonics masts to Virginia-class submarines.[7]

According to the US Navy:[8]

In Virginia-class boats, traditional periscopes have been supplanted by two Photonics Masts that house color, high-resolution black and white, and infrared digital cameras atop telescoping arms. With the removal of the barrel periscopes, the ships’ control room has been moved down one deck and away from the hull’s curvature, affording it more room and an improved layout that provides the commanding officer with enhanced situational awareness.


  1. ^ BBC News Scotland, A vision of evolving technologies 30 August 2007, 13:06 GMT
  2. ^ "Yuan Type 039B SSP". Retrieved 2020-05-01.
  3. ^ a b c d "De nouveaux mâts optroniques pour les SNA américains". Optronique & Défense (in French). Retrieved 2020-03-01.
  4. ^ "Latest Russian Submarines Being Fitted with Non-Penetrating Electro-Optical Masts". Navy Recognition - Online Naval Defence Industry Magazine. 2017-01-18. Retrieved 2020-05-01.
  5. ^ "Russia's Deputy Defence Minister visits Concern CSRI Elektropribor, JSC". Ministry of Defence of Russia. 2017-11-28. Retrieved 2020-05-01.
  6. ^ "Parus-98E unified periscope complex". Elektropribor. Retrieved 2020-05-01.
  7. ^ How Photonics Masts Will Work
  8. ^ "U.S. Navy Fact Sheet: Attack Submarines - SSN". The US Navy. 2007-11-13. Retrieved 2008-05-15.

External links

  • US Navy Fact Sheet, Attack Submarines
  • How Photonics Masts Will Work - from HowStuffWorks