Naval Facility Point Sur

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Naval Facility Point Sur
NAVFAC Point Sur logo.png
NAVFAC Point Sur logo
ActiveJanuary 1958 - October 1984
CountryUnited States of America
AllegianceUnited States U.S.
BranchU.S. Navy (Integrated Undersea Surveillance System)
Size10 officers, 96 enlisted personnel, and 18 civilians
Part ofIntegrated Undersea Surveillance System
Aerial view of the Point Sur Lightstation with the Naval Facility Point Sur in the background in 1969.

Naval Facility Point Sur was one of 30 top-secret sites worldwide that were built during the Cold War to detect Soviet submarines. In 1958, the U.S. Navy built a Naval Facility (NAVFAC) ½ mile south of Point Sur (36°18'15.1"N, 121°53'18.1"W) on the Big Sur coast to provide top-secret submarine surveillance using the classified SOSUS (SOund SUrveillance System). The public was told the station was engaged in oceanographic research. Long-range acoustic listening was first tested and partially developed at Point Sur light station. The facility was one of the few stand-alone SOSUS stations around the world; virtually all others were part of larger bases. NAVFAC Point Sur played a key role in identifying the location of the wrecked Soviet submarine Soviet submarine K-129, a portion of which was eventually raised in a significant intelligence coup. The NAVFAC was closed in 1984, when its operations were computerized and its data transmitted to another location. All but one building was donated to California State Parks in 2000, which uses some of the buildings for housing. The facility is not open to the public.


During World War II, naval personnel stationed at Point Sur, California conducted experiments with early sonar and radar systems. In 1949, while conducting research into the use of sound to detect submarines, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory reported it was able to detect submarines at ranges of 10 to 15 nautical miles (19 to 28 km; 12 to 17 mi) using SOFAR hydrophones off Point Sur. By the end of that year, they had expanded that range to several hundred miles. During the early period of the Cold War, the Soviet submarine fleet became the largest in the world.[1][2][3]


The Point Sur facility was constructed in 1957 and commissioned on 8 January 1958. NAVFAC Point Sur, located adjacent to the Point Sur Lighthouse, was 25 miles (40 km) south of Monterey, California along Highway 1. Most other SOSUS facilities were parts of larger military complexes, while Point Sur was established as a stand-alone, self-sufficient base.[2] Point Sur was chosen in part because of its proximity to a deep submarine canyon that cuts into the shelf near the Big Sur coast. The Sur Submarine Canyon reaches a depth of 3,000 ft (910 m) just 8 mi (13 km) south of Point Sur,[4] which allowed the facility to acquire deep ocean acoustic data closer to shore.[5] At the time, cable lengths were limited to less than 150 miles (241 kilometers). The Navy located NAVFACs at coastal sites where the shelf break was closest to land.[6]

Secret operations[edit]

The U.S. Navy placed arrays of hydrophones on the ocean floor. They were connected by underwater cables to processing centers located on shore generically called "Naval Facilities" (NAVFACs). The early SOSUS arrays were positioned at the edge of the continental shelf at a depth of about 650 feet (200 meters) pointed into the deep ocean.[6][7]

NAVFAC Point Sur was part of the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS), a worldwide network of 30 defensive listening stations that tracked the movement of Soviet submarines. It provided continuous support to undersea surveillance. The facility was manned by ten officers, 96 enlisted personnel, and 18 civilians.[5][3][8] The personnel at the station were responsible for, among other things, to "support antisubmarine warfare command and tactical forces by detecting, classifying, and providing timely reporting" of Soviet submarines.[1]

To explain IUSS Naval Facility stations' activities, an official cover story was written that described their mission of oceanographic surveys and research.[9] Locally, the sign at the NAVFAC Point Sur entrance indicated the station was engaged in oceanographic research.[10][11]


Base facilities included an administration building, gym, bowling alley, enlisted men's club, theater, wardroom, Navy Exchange, Chief Petty Officers' club, family and single-men's housing, and operations facilities.[12]


During its twenty-six years of operation, The command was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation in 1969, the Efficiency "E" in both 1977 and 1983, and was also rated as the top Naval Facility in 1983 by Commander Oceanographic Systems Pacific (COSP), achieving the system’s first "clean sweep" of operations, maintenance, and efficiency awards given by the task group commander.

Recovery of K-129[edit]

The Point Sur facility played a key role in locating the wreck of Soviet submarine K-129. On March 8, 1968, the boat sank without a trace in the ocean northwest of Hawaii. After months of searching, the Soviet navy was unable to locate the wreck. Naval Facility Point Sur was asked to review its acoustic data. The staff was able to isolate a sonic signature on its Low Frequency Analysis and Recording (LOFAR) recordings of an implosion event on that date. Using NAVFAC Point Sur's date and time of the event, NAVFAC Adak and the U.S. West Coast NAVFAC were also able to isolate the acoustic event. This led to a top-secret recovery program and eventually to Project Azorian, which resulted in the United States Central Intelligence Agency recovering a portion of the submarine. The CIA considered the project to be one of the greatest intelligence coups of the Cold War.[13][14]

Demise of SOSUS[edit]

US Navy Chief Warrant Officer and communications specialist John Anthony Walker began spying for the Soviet Union in 1968. Before he was arrested in 1985, he gave them SOSUS operational information which compromised its effectiveness.[15] The Soviets likely knew the location of every U.S. submarine as a result of Walker's spying, and may have rendered the SOSUS technology in use at Point Sur functionally obsolete.[5]


Technology advanced so that acoustic data could be relayed elsewhere. To save money, personnel were eliminated.[16] NAVFAC Point Sur was decommissioned on 1 October 1984, when its operations were computerized and the data received there transmitted to NAVFAC Centerville Beach on the California coast 260 miles (420 km) north of San Francisco.[17][8] In 1993, data from the Centerville Beach location was transmitted to NAVFAC Whidbey Island, Washington.[1]

Possible research use[edit]

When the Cold War gradually ended, the U.S. Navy allowed scientists increased access to the SOSUS system for basic research.[6] In 2007, oceanographers at the Naval Postgraduate School attempted to persuade the Navy that commanders would benefit from the ability to train on the SOSUS system at Point Sur. The Naval Postgraduate School staff believed commanders' knowledge of the ocean environment, underwater acoustics, and active and passive sonar would help them make effective decisions during combat. The oceanographers also believed geologists could benefit from their ability to research underwater earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Marine biologists could listen to whales and other sea mammals as they migrate, and determine environmental conditions in their habitat. They estimated the cost to build new labs and renew use of the SOSUS system at $10 million, but the U.S. Navy did not accept their recommendation.[1]

Current disposition[edit]

Except for one building retained by the U. S. Navy, the entire facility was transferred to the California State Park system in 2000. It became part of Point Sur State Historic Park. The state park is no longer using the facility's housing. As of October 2019, the facility is open to the public for limited, guided tours on Saturdays and Sundays.[3]

On February 3, 2017, the California Historical Resources Commission nominated Naval Facility Point Sur for the National Register of Historic Places. It was chosen in part because Point Sur NAVFAC is one of the last remaining Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) facilities, and the only one remaining on the West Coast.[5][2]


  1. ^ a b c d "Naval Facility (NAVFAC) Station History". 1 June 2008. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "Point Sur State Historic Park" (PDF). California State Parks.
  3. ^ a b c "Point Sur SHP". CA State Parks.
  4. ^ Henson, Paul; Donald J. Usner (1993). "The Natural History of Big Sur" (PDF). University Of California Press. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 17, 2010. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d Mart, Greta. "Halcyon, Pt. Sur Naval Facility found worthy of preservation". Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  6. ^ a b c Knowlton, Chris (31 May 2017). "The Cold War: History of the SOund SUrveillance System (SOSUS)". Discovery of Sound in the Sea. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  7. ^ "Continental Shelf". SIMoN. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  8. ^ a b "Pages - NAVFAC_Point_Sur".
  9. ^ "SOSUS Cover Story". Retrieved 3 January 2019.
  10. ^ "NAVFAC Pt Sur". Retrieved 3 January 2019.
  11. ^ Lussier, Tomi Kay (1 January 1979). "Big Sur: A Complete History & Guide". Big Sur Publications. p. 18. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  12. ^ "NAVFAC Point Sur Photo Library and Upload Center". Retrieved 3 January 2019.
  13. ^ Michael White (February 8, 2011). Azorian: The Raising of the K-129 (DVD). Michael White Films. ISBN 978-1-59114-690-2. ASIN B0047H7PYQ. Archived from the original on February 5, 2009.
  14. ^ "Project AZORIAN". CIA. November 21, 2012. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  15. ^ Keller, Bill (1985). "Spy Case is Called Threat to Finding Soviet Submarines". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Maskell, Dawn M. (12 Apr 2001). "The Navy'S Best-Kept Secret: Is IUSS Becoming a Lost Art?" (PDF). Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  17. ^ "Pages - COMUNDERSEASURVPAC". Retrieved 1 January 2019.

This article includes content from state and federal government sources that is in the public domain.

External links[edit]