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Underwater satellites and autonomous robots help the hunt for enemy submarines

Underwater satellites, mini-robot sub trackers and an open invitation to join the hunt for submarines in dangerous waters – all US projects underway to defeat the growing threat of enemy submarines.

Submarines may sound like a bit of an old school Hunt for Red October style threat, but Anti-Submarine Warfare planning is still vital.

Diesel-electric submarines are a growing threat for four primary reasons. They can be built a relatively low cost in comparison to traditional platforms and have therefore proliferated in numbers- arguably in numbers that exceed our maritime platforms.

Additionally, the lethality of these diesel electric subs has also grown while their acoustic signatures are lower making them harder to detect.

SATELLITES IN THE OCEAN - DASH

DARPA’s Distributed Agile Submarine Hunting or DASH program will detect and locate submarines over vast areas in both deep and shallow water.

DASH is a sort of an underwater version of a satellite capable of operating at extreme depths in open ocean. Known as “subullites,” these are being developed for deployment on deep sea enemy sub stake outs.

The underwater satellites will be mobile, quiet and unmanned.

Just like a satellite in the sky, it will have a large field of view- but in this case of the water overhead so that it can scan upwards and from great depths detect the quiet diesel electric subs.

To hunt submarines in the more shallow continental shelf waters, state of the art mobile sensors will hunt from above rather than from below the threat. For this area, non-acoustic sensing will be deployed.

In January of this year, DARPA awarded their third industry contract to develop technologies for submarine detection in shallow coastal waters and harbors without using traditional acoustic submarine-hunting technologies like sonar.

Cortana Corp. was awarded a $496,500 contract for the Shallow Water Agile Submarine Hunting (SWASH) programme aiming to develop non-traditional submarine surveillance that is lightweight, small and requires low power.

DARPA also awarded a $249,735.48 to SRC Inc. last October, and a $367,507 contract last September to Applied Physical Sciences Corp.

If successful, the DASH program will develop breakthrough technology to overcome a range of current challenges from detection and classification over such long ranges through to sustaining energy and communications in the extremely tough operating conditions of deep sea.

Ultimately, DASH will be transitioned to the Navy.

ENEMY SUBMARINE ROBOT TRACKERS

Once an enemy sub is detected by DASH, a small autonomous vessel or “X-ship” will be deployed to stay on the trail of submarines that may pose a threat.

This fleet of submarine surveillance vessels is being developed by DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel or ACTUV.

The goal is for ACTUV to have the capability to detect and continuously track even the most silent diesel electric submarine threats throughout its movements on global range operations.

ACTUV will be autonomous meaning it will be like a seaworthy robot that can independently carry on submarine tracking missions across thousands of miles over a period of months without a human ever stepping on board and with minimal remote supervision.

Being autonomous, DARPA will be taking steps to ensure that ACTUV is smart enough to independently interact with a submarine directed by thinking humans and has enough situational awareness to comply with maritime laws particularly the “rules of the road” out at sea when it comes to safe navigation.

The program has four phases: Phase 1 is now complete and Phase II that will complete the prototype hunter design kicking off last month on the first of July.

The objective of Phase II will be a design that outstrips the propulsive capability of diesel electric submarines so that the little tracker can keep up with its target, but at a fraction of the size and cost of these far larger subs- to do so will mean exceeding state of the art technology.

In February, Bluefin Robotics, a leader in the design and manufacturing of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), was awarded a Phase II subcontract from Applied Physical Sciences Corp.

Phase 3 will involve building the ACTUV and Phase 4 will test it.

Although the ACTUV program concentrates on tracking in anti-submarine warfare, the technologies developed will have far wider applications for a range of unmanned naval vessels and a far wider spectrum of missions.  

INVITE TO JOIN THE HUNT

DARPA deployed crowd sourcing to help identify the best ways to tackle the threat of these super quiet diesel-electric subs.

It through down the gauntlet to Americans issuing an open invitation to join the fight and hunt enemy submarines asking “Can you best an enemy submarine commander so he can’t escape into the ocean depths?“

By simply downloading the free Dangerous Waters, DARPA’s ACTUV Tactics Simulator, gamers not only had the opportunity to track an enemy sub using ACTUV, but to have the tactics they used to defeat the sub deployed in real life.

To be successful autonomously, ACTUV will need software that gives it the very best methods to achieve its missions- that’s where American gamers come in.

Dangerous Waters was programmed with genuine evasion techniques that enemy submarines use. DARPA will take the best solutions players came up with to defeat enemy evasion and use them to increase ACTUVs smarts.

For successfully completing missions and deploying effective tactics, gamers were given points and could keep an eye on their rankings with the official leader board like an underwater version of Top Gun.

After gamers completed each of the simulation tactical trainer scenarios, they submitted their tracking tactics to DARPA for analysis.  DARPA will now choose the best tactics it received and build them into the ACTUV prototype.

Enemy submarines will soon have not just DASH and ACTUV technology to face, but the very best of US gamers tactics to counter as well.