21 September 2008

Remote Control submarines?

Ok, so in the spirit of my new status as a "submariner" blog, thought I would share this article my dad sent me.

Date: September 1, 2008

The advantages of unmanned vehicles present major opportunities for the future submarine force, and the Navy is dealing with several technology hurdles as it seeks to make unmanned systems more compatible with subs, according to Vice Adm. Jay Donnelly, commander of submarine forces.

An unmanned system “gives us that extra sensor capability,” Donnelly said while discussing current technology efforts in an Aug. 21 interview with Inside the Navy. He added that submerged launch of both undersea and aerial unmanned vehicles was the next step for the submarine force, and the Navy is working toward that end.

The “eventual goal” is to make current and future submarines capable of launching an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) while submerged, and research and development funding is being spent on that project, Donnelly said. Also, the Navy is deciding whether it will launch 21-inch unmanned undersea vehicles (UUV) from torpedo tubes or a large-diameter UUV that could be deployed from large-diameter tubes on Ohio-class ballistic missile subs, the admiral added.

Currently, submarines can launch UAVs, but they must surface to do so, although it can be done in less than an hour, he said. Two subs have been deployed with the Buster UAV, a portable surveillance aircraft that takes infrared images. The Los Angeles-class submarine Montpelier (SSN-765) was the first sub to get Buster, a UAV that is currently used by the Army.

“We modified some of our antennas to enable us to do command and control and receive the video downlink,” the admiral said, adding that sailors were being trained to fly Buster -- built by Mission Technologies Inc. -- remotely. “It’s a baby step to see, ‘What is the utility of extending our sensors to off-board sensors?’”

The ability to launch UAVs without surfacing would be an even larger boon, though that remains a far-off goal, he said.

Another option is to hand off a UAV that is already in the air to a sub, Donnelly said.

“You don’t always have to launch your own,” he said. “If there’s another UAV in the area, as long as we can use this antenna to get the downlink and maybe even control it,” a launch of the sub’s own UAV would be unnecessary.

The admiral said he sees a “similar future” with UUVs, but there are issues that need to be resolved in the meantime.

“We have to decide whether we want to go with a 21-inch that goes out the torpedo tube, or with a large-diameter that could go out one of the large-diameter tubes on the SSGN” Ohio-class subs, he said. The large-diameter tube could be incorporated on the third production block of Virginia-class attack subs, he added.

“That’s the future,” he said. “I don’t have a program for this, but that’s an option.”

Late last year, Naval Sea Systems Command successfully demonstrated the first underwater launch and recovery of two UUVs from the Los Angeles-class attack sub Hartford (SSN-768).

Another sub technology currently under development is the photonics mast. The Navy has put in place a technology insertion program to enhance the mast -- a non-penetrating periscope -- in order to improve the resolution that would match high-definition televisions, Donnelly said. -- Dan Taylor

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