Ray Locker / USA TODAY – 2014-03-21 01:30:02
Pentagon Boosting Its Push for Underwater Drones
Ray Locker / USA TODAY
(March 13, 2014) — The Pentagon is proposing dramatic increases in spending for underwater pods to store drone submarines and a variety of other seaborne drones and surveillance technology, another example of the military’s shift toward the Pacific, newly released budget documents show.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is stepping up its research on several programs, including doubling its planned spending on the Hydra program, an underwater “truck” that would carry unmanned submarines and aerial drones. The DARPA budget released last week shows planned spending for Hydra would rise from $14.9 million in the current fiscal year to $29.9 million next year.
DARPA also wants a 59% increase in spending, from $11.9 million to almost $19 million, for its Upward Falling Payloads program, which “will develop forward-deployed (drones) that can provide non-lethal effects or situational awareness over large maritime areas.” DARPA is also convening a meeting of potential contractors later this month to discuss the second and third phases of the program, which started last year.
The Obama administration has shifted much of its military planning away from ground wars in the Middle East to the Pacific, where it hopes to counter China’s rising influence and threats over sea lanes used by other nations.
Complicating this efforts are China’s increased use of “anti-access, area-denial” weapons, such as long-range missiles, that make it difficult for U.S. and allied ships and aircraft to get too close to the Chinese mainland. “In the coming years, countries such as China will continue seeking to counter U.S. strengths using anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) approaches,” said the Pentagon’s latest Quadrennial Defense Review, a projection of future military needs released last week.
That’s one reason the Pentagon has called for more technology that will enable U.S. military to place assets closer to potential targets without attracting attention.
Hydra, budget documents show, would be based in shallower coastal waters “to create a disruptive capability. … The modular enclosures are deployed by various means, depending on the need for speed and stealth and remain deployed until awakened for deployment.”
The Upward Falling Payloads pods, DARPA records show, would be targeted for the almost 50% of global waters that are more than 4 kilometers deep. Those waters, DARPA notes, provide “vast areas for concealment and storage. … Concealment provided by the sea also provides the opportunity to quickly engage remote assets that may have been dormant and undetected for long periods of time, while its vastness allows simultaneous operation across great distances.
“Getting close to objects without warning, and (activating) distributed systems without delay,” DARPA records show, “are key attributes of UFP capability.”
Pentagon Developing Sub to Launch Air, Underwater Drones
Ray Locker / USA TODAY
(October 2, 2013) — The Pentagon’s high-tech research arm is trying to develop a submarine that would host unmanned underwater and airborne drones to help U.S. forces penetrate an adversary’s sophisticated defenses or cope with collapsed states and international piracy, Pentagon planning documents show.
Called Hydra by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the submarine would be an underwater “truck” that would host modules for unmanned submarines and aerial drones. When Hydra reaches a specific location to release the drones, the modules would open and the aerial drones would rise to the surface and fly to their missions. The underwater drones would also seek their targets.
“The rising number of ungoverned states, piracy, and proliferation of sophisticated defenses severely stretches current resources and impacts the nation’s ability to conduct special operations and contingency missions,” DARPA’s planning document says. “The Hydra program represents a cost effective way to add undersea capacity that can be tailored to support each mission.”
It’s another example of the Obama administration’s focus on the Pacific and ocean environments. In the last year, the Pentagon has expanded its undersea mapping of the area, developed ways to deposit military payloads underwater to have them in place for future action and expanded research into biological threats endemic in Asian environments. It has also moved a growing contingent of Marines into northern Australia.
Much of this stems from a perceived need to counter China’s growing influence in the region and to strengthen U.S. military ties with nations in the region.
A version of Hydra could be ready by late 2018, DARPA records show. Its development reflects the military’s focus on ways to save money and use fewer troops to perform its missions. Last month, DARPA asked researchers to help develop ways to use more drone aircraft that could be piloted automatically.
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