The Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the wing of the U.S. Department of Defense that develops future military technology, has announced plans to place unmanned military pods at the bottom of the ocean.
The idea is to use hide unmanned “risers” in deep-sea capsules for years before they will be needed. Once activated, the hibernating systems will rise (or “fall upward” as agency terminology puts it) to fill gaps in U.S. Military ocean oversight and “deliver action at a distance.”
“The goal is to support the Navy with distributed technologies anywhere, anytime over large maritime areas,” said Andy Coon, DARPA program manager. “If we can do this rapidly, we can get close to the areas we need to affect, or become widely distributed without delay. To make this work, we need to address technical challenges like extended survival of nodes under extreme ocean pressure, communications to wake-up the nodes after years of sleep, and efficient launch of payloads to the surface.”
DARPA is currently seeking design proposals for the “risers,” the payloads they will contain, and the communications technology to them. The agency is hoping to work with deep-ocean engineering communities to develop the technology. It is looking for experts in unmanned platforms, distributed sensors, networking, sensor packaging, information operations, electronic warfare, and anti-submarine warfare.
According to DARPA, the four-kilometer or more depth of over half of the world’s oceans will provide these new installations with “cheap stealth.” However, the agency also stressed that the program will not specifically be a weapons program, as the great depths also make retrieval costs expensive. Instead of weapons, the “riser” would hold “a range of non-lethal but useful capabilities such as situational awareness, disruption, deception, networking, rescue, or any other mission that benefits from being pre-distributed and hidden.” One example they cite is unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly called drones, which could sit in the ocean until called to rise to the surface and deploy for aerial reconnaissance.
“We are simply offering an alternative path to realize these missions without requiring legacy ships and aircraft to launch the technology, and without growing the reach and complexity of unmanned platforms,” said Coon.