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DARPA wants to hide naval assets on the sea bottom

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January 14, 2013

The DARPA project envisions deploying assets such as this earlier DARPA concept, the Corma...

The DARPA project envisions deploying assets such as this earlier DARPA concept, the Cormant underwater UAV

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has seen the future of naval warfare and it’s falling upward. As part of an effort to reduce the logistics of sending equipment into trouble areas, the agency’s Upward Falling Payloads project is aimed at developing storage capsules capable of remaining on the deep seabed for years. These would contain non-lethal military assets that could be deployed on the spot years in advance and rise to the surface as needed.

Forward deploying caches of military equipment isn't a new idea. For centuries, armies and navies have left supply dumps at strategic locations for future use, and even today the US military has equipment stored in friendly nations in case of a sudden crisis. DARPA wants to take this a step further by placing assets in the deep sea in capsules protected by ambient pressure and equipped with receivers, waiting for the signal to deploy and “fall upward” to the surface.

The purpose of these capsules is to provide the military with operational support and situational awareness by means of unmanned, distributed systems. Currently, laying down a sensor network in a remote part of the world or deploying a UAV is a major operation that can take weeks or even months to carry out – especially if the other side has started shooting. This makes underwater pre-deployment very attractive. DARPA is interested because the deep sea provides “cheap stealth.” A capsule sitting dormant on the sea bottom is extremely difficult to detect and even harder to recover, so it’s an ideal location to forward deploy assets such as sensor packs, communication relays, electronic intelligence monitors and even unmanned aircraft.

DARPA is looking at the experience of the scientific community and the telecommunications and oil-exploration industries, who have had over a century of dealing with deep-sea engineering. Laying down and repairing cables, installing drill heads and pumps – these all have provided industry with a huge library of knowledge and skills for working in the deep sea that DARPA hopes to tap in developing the capsules.

The challenges don't lie only in making capsules that can survive for years on the seabed, but also in communicating with them when it's time to deploy. The deep sea is a very complex region filled with layers of water of different levels of salinity, density, and temperature, and mixed in with this is the sea life that make a cacophony of noises. This makes communicating even with submarines loaded with state of the art gear difficult, but finding a reliable way to contact a dormant capsule after years of laying in the silt poses remarkable challenges whether by means of radio, sonar or lasers.

Because of the difficulty of retrieving the capsules, DARPA is concentrating on non-lethal assets, so there’s no conflict with treaties involving munitions and their disposal.

Source: DARPA

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
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11 Comments

It's too bad Gerry Anderson passed away recently. He would have gotten a real kick out of this story.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxNHMz5lSTA

Gadgeteer
14th January, 2013 @ 04:03 pm PST

Cool!!! THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!!!

Mark Dixon
14th January, 2013 @ 04:14 pm PST

I usually love DARPA, but I'm sorry this looks like a really bad idea.

The problem stated is the difficulty in deploying systems in times of trouble.

So instead of trying to create a process/technology that would make deploying the systems in a time and energy efficient way, they are looking to put systems in place before they need them. On the sea floor.

First of all, putting things on the sea floor is a bad idea. I will cost a lot of money to make a system that will be corrosion resistant and waterproof for years in the ocean.

Second, the military puts forwarded materials in place usually since these materials are very heavy and slow to deploy. Like tanks.

Third, if the military stations things on the sea floor, I am going to find them and steal them. Easier to find than a two hundred year old wreck.... Me and my Somali pirate friends....

Fourth, I just think it is a bad idea to put things that you might need in place years a head of time. For example, you put a huge amount of communication equipment in place in the Red Sea for a conflict in the Middle East. But war breaks out in South Korea. Boy that is helpful having all those supplies on the sea bed in the Red Sea....

I think they should focus on making faster ships that are cheap to build.

Or helping the new airships become a viable means of transporting heavy loads across great distances.

Or push Sikorsky to make really large version (think H53 size) of its X2 technology so off loading heavy equipment from a ship without a dock is viable.

I just think they are attacking the problem from the wrong side.....

PrometheusGoneWild.com
14th January, 2013 @ 06:46 pm PST

I agree with PGW.com...why use technology that is years old against current state of the art technologies? It just seems totally unrealistic. Also, they would need to continually update ways to keep the cache from being looted by pirates...fail.

Gerald Grey
15th January, 2013 @ 12:30 am PST

I like to think that it would involve more than just storage units under the sea. An operational outpost would be more useful, if combined with a supply depot. Also with todays advances in graphene, and carbon nano-tubes, I think the structures can be build to last a long time. Its a matter of thinking outside of traditional boxes, and utilizing the best tech you have now, not from last decade or three...I have thought about an underwater structure which would use the sea pressures to generate power with piezoelectric system, which would also generate air pressure and flow in the enclosed system, but I digress...

yinfu99
15th January, 2013 @ 08:49 am PST

The post says sending sensors and for operational support and situational awareness, with a specific situation of creating sensor networks and sending out UAV's taking weeks, no ones talking about sending tanks to the bottom of the seabed.

And good luck going and taking anything they put down there, we are talking deep sea here, first you would have to know where to look, and then good luck actualy pin pointing it, its one thing to scan the seabed for large geographical features, but a small 10'-20' capsule that has been specificaly designed to be stealthy will be near impossible. The ocean is a large place even in areas close to where we would need the supplies.

Next saying how stupid it would be to "place a large amount of communication equipment" in one place, is refuting a claim that was never even made, no one said anywhere that they were going to put "a large amount of equipment" of anytype, anywhere. I would really hope the military and government has enough supplies and equipment that they could stash some somewhere(cause they already do it) where it wouldnt cause us to lose a war that could potential take place somewhere else.

And also i think if it was possible to just simple focus on making ships faster so that it ends up being the same thing, for the same amount of resources, they would just do that... i have to believe darpa(even though i dont really like them that much) has enough highly qualified people to look at both situations and realize that stashing stuff on the seabed would be far greater value for resources spent then upgrading the ships to be faster, which may not be possible without a huge amount of money and research(larger then making capsules).

All that being said i think this idea is only good if its used in a limited way where it has a significant advantage do to the area its deployed in, where having some assets usable very quickly when they are needed would be very advantageous.

Also, not trying to be a dick, i just dont see how alot of what has been said against the article, really even related to what was said.

Nathaneal Blemings
15th January, 2013 @ 09:01 am PST

Why is DARPA so anxious to replace a system that already exists?

The new generation of submarines being built for the US are designed to have flexible cargo areas for just such items. Google "SSN-23".

The Japanese built submarines capable of launching aircraft and that was in 1941. Part of a failed plan to damage the Panama canal, if i recall.

Nothing new here.

toolman65
15th January, 2013 @ 10:07 am PST

Yes, another stupid idea from the military! Putting equipment full of hazardous materials on the bottom of the ocean where they will corrode and leak and no doubt be unrecoverable. Yes I know the military would never do such a thing!

Jerry Peavy
15th January, 2013 @ 10:50 am PST

saw on some Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea about similar project for Defense use in the then 60s era.

Love the idea but Navy would need subs, divers to service fixed capsules on seabed.

Or encase for protection

& use FBM style launch into the skies above

& Control center to coordinate launch IE no ship is moored overhead.

& Secure siting away from roving Chinese & Soviet subs.

Stephen N Russell
15th January, 2013 @ 05:32 pm PST

Nothing is more intimidating then a UAV covered in barnacles.

But in all seriousness, the actual flying vehicles may not have to actually make contact with water.

Tethering a floating water-proof cargo hanger to the sea floor, with a mechanism to raise and lower it as required makes much more sense.

Make the container roof or sides open up when floating to let in/out all the unmanned water and air vehicles. Then bob down again until required.

Such a platform can:

1.Be textured and shaped to look like an island/ coral reef/ boat wreck

2.Can stay either just below water level or on the sea floor as the mission requires.

3.Be big enough to also house onboard power generators (tidal, geothermal, nuclear)

4.Could actually be a storage/refuelling facility with living quarters

5.House a maintenance facility for submarines/boats

Subject to mechanism of tethering, it may even uproot and move elsewhere as the mission requires.

Nairda
16th January, 2013 @ 09:27 pm PST

The money would be better spent buying high speed transport assets such as airplanes.

Slowburn
16th January, 2013 @ 09:37 pm PST
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