Taking maritime domain awareness to new depths
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the people who brought you the Internet, is seeking a different method of addressing the worldwide demands of maritime domain awareness in times of crises. While the US Navy is large, its vessels and aircraft are not sufficiently numerous to be in or above all ocean waters at all times. A crisis can arise anywhere, often without warning. DARPA has therefore been soliciting innovative research proposals for placing payloads on the ocean floor that can, on short notice, be released and rise to the surface (fall upwards) deploying sensors and other non-lethal instruments. The payloads would be placed in storage capsules that would be affixed to the ocean bottom in numerous locations around the world. Released upon radio command, possibly years after deployment, the payload would rise to the surface to provide the Navy with non-lethal operational support, such as surveillance, disruption, deception, or rescue. For example, one payload may consist of small unmanned aerial vehicles that could monitor potentially hostile foreign vessels, relaying information to US operational commanders far beyond the horizon. DARPA is looking for approaches to addressing three main challenges: long-range communications with the submerged objects; deep ocean “risers” to contain the payloads and bring them safely to the surface; and the actual payloads. There are no plans to deploy lethal payloads, which might fall into the wrong hands. Because the payloads are both small and non-lethal, the risk that might arise if a payload was acquired by an enemy is minimal. The technology developed by this DARPA project could potentially benefit the telecommunications, oil and gas exploration and exploitation, and oceanographic research sectors.