The funding initiative, which moved the $60 million from Navy destroyer modernization over to submarine research and development, was put in place during the 2016 defense bill mark up by Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee.
“The undersea domain has been an area of historical US advantage, from World War II to the Cold War. To ensure our dominance in the years ahead, we must begin investing in technologies that hold the potential to sustain American undersea power. As our potential competitors make significant investments in the undersea realm, the U.S. must continue researching and developing the undersea technologies of the future,” Forbes said.
The R&D submarine funding is specifically earmarked for particular projects, including the development and deployment of undersea underwater and aerial unmanned vehicles.
One of the programs is called Fleet Modular Autonomous Unmanned Vehicle — a rapid development program to provide the Navy with the capability to safely ship, stow, and deploy an autonomous undersea vehicle with lithium batteries from a submarine torpedo tube. This technology also provides the capability to download mission data without physically docking to the submarine, Congressional sources said.
In addition, the dollars are allocated toward engineering submarine-launched Unmanned Aerial Systems also designed to deploy from a submarine torpedo tube for over-the-horizon targeting.
Additional funding for this effort will accelerate the development of a militarized antenna as well as an electronic warfare and cyber payload for the platform.
About $5.5 million of the funding is slated for hardware and software upgrades to the MK48 Heavyweight Torpedo weapons system. Additional torpedo upgrades include an initiative called the Torpedo Advanced Processor Build designed to improve computer processing speeds for the weapon and improve its probability of destroying targets. These improvements impact the weapon’s navigation system, target motion analysis and improved payload ballistics, Congressional officials explained.
Other areas of undersea innovation specified by the funding initiative are referred to as submarine combat and weapons control modernization efforts. This program will develop commercial off-the-shelf based software and hardware upgrades to integrate improved weapons control technologies for several submarine classes. This includes a technology which enables a torpedo to prepare to fire in less than one minute.
Called “attack in a minute,” this new technology hinges upon new software prototypes and designs, officials explained.
The stepped up funding for submarine technology is not surprising in light of the increased attention to the pace of global undersea modernization. Russia and China, in particular, are known to be making great strides when it comes to undersea technologies.
A recent study said emerging submarine detection technologies, computer processing power and platforms such as underwater drones could quickly erode the U.S. military’s global undersea dominance and ability to operate in high-threat areas such as locations near enemy coastlines.
The U.S. military relies upon submarines and undersea technological superiority for critical underwater intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions, which place assets near the surface fleet or coastline of a potential adversary.
In coming years, the technological margin of difference separating the U.S from potential rivals is expected to get much smaller, requiring the U.S. the re-think the role of manned submarines and prioritize innovation in the realm of undersea warfare, according to a January report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments titled “The Emerging Era in Undersea Warfare.”
– Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com