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Senior Editor

DARPA contemplates vast ocean network

Aug 13, 20144 mins

DARPA looks for ubiquitous, survivable, and persistent communications and networking across and under the oceans

Credit: Reuters

Probably one of the last and perhaps unforgiving areas of the world not truly “wired” is above and below the ocean.

Researchers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) want to explore the possibility of seriously changing that notion and develop what it calls “a system-of-systems architecture and critical components to support networked maritime operations, to include undersea, surface, and above surface domains.”

At this point it is only issuing a Request For Information to understand what would be involved in building such a system.

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DARPA said there would be some core principles to successful networked operations in the maritime environment including:

• Integration with current resources and operations, providing commanders with the potential to enhance tactics, techniques and procedures to ensure mission success. This implies a mix of high-end and low-end sensors, weapons and manned and unmanned platforms, and the tools to manage this mix effectively over a network.

• The cost to an adversary of finding and defeating the asset must be higher than the fielding cost.

• Ubiquitous, survivable, and persistent communications and networking throughout the undersea, surface and above surface domains.

• Long-endurance (months to years) off-ship assets capable of operating autonomously, or with minimal operator intervention.

• Cost-effective proliferation of assets to cover significant maritime operational areas and create a persistent operational footprint in areas of interest.

• Specialized, upgradeable assets to provide a rapidly adaptable capability that covers the complete mission area from surveillance to strike.

• Efficient, survivable methods of delivering off-board platforms, sensors and effects packages.

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 Some of the questions the agency is looking to answer include:

1. What standards, technologies and architecture elements are required to create a maritime network capable of supporting survivable, persistent, ubiquitous networked operations across the undersea, surface and above surface domains? 2. What critical functions reside in the network? 3. How can integration with current platforms and operations be addressed efficiently and adaptively when developing off-board networked sensors and platforms? 4. What design methodologies are critical to rapidly, reliably and cost-effectively adapting the network and network elements to emerging missions and threats? 5. What maritime platforms, sensors and effects packages create the greatest cost and mission leverage in contested environments? 6. What are the challenges to developing reliable, specialized autonomous unmanned systems? 7. How can off board systems be rapidly, survivably and cost-effectively delivered to contested areas? 8. What tools are available to manage distributed maritime systems and networks, and what tools need to be developed?

picture3b DARPA

DARPA last year talked about developing a system of submersible pods that could reside in the world’s oceans and be activated for any number of applications days, months or even years later.

The Upward Falling Payload (UFP) project, as DARPA called it, centers on pre-deploying deep-ocean nodes years in advance in forward areas which can be remotely commanded to launch to the surface. “The objective of the UFP program is to realize a new approach for enabling forward deployed unmanned distributed systems that can provide non-lethal effects or situation awareness over large maritime areas,” DARPA stated.

Depending on the specific application, DARPA said UFP systems would provide “a range of non-lethal but useful capabilities such as situational awareness, disruption, deception, networking, rescue, or any other mission that benefits from being pre-distributed and hidden. An example class of systems might be small unmanned aerial vehicles that launch to the surface in capsules, take off and provide aerial situational awareness, networking or decoy functions.”

“Almost half of the world’s oceans are more than four kilometers deep. This provides considerable opportunity for cheap stealth. The vastness and depth make retrieval costs prohibitive. Despite this, the UFP program is specifically not a weapons program, and the risks to losing any single node will be minimal,” DARPA said.

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