The DARPA program, called Hydra, envisions an undersea network of unmanned payloads and platforms that Navy vessels could access readily and use to store provisions in strategic locations. Hydra platforms and payloads, which could include communications and other emergency equipment, could be delivered when needed to shallow international waters near coastlines by ships, submarines or airplanes.
The program follows a similar announcement in January when the agency held a proposers' day to explore the concept of upward falling payloads (UFPs), waterproof containers stored on ocean floors that could hold a wide range of materiel, from supplies to drones.
A DARPA spokesman told InformationWeek the UFP and Hydra programs are separate projects. "The basic difference is that UFP involves systems deployed at the bottom of the deep sea for years at a time, while Hydra plans for modules in shallower water that are submerged for weeks or months at a time," the spokesman said in an email.
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"The climate of budget austerity runs up against an uncertain security environment," said Hydra program manager Scott Littlefield in a media release. "An unmanned technology infrastructure staged below the oceans' surface could relieve some of that resource strain and expand military capabilities in this increasingly challenging space."
The rising number of ungoverned states, piracy and the proliferation of sophisticated defenses are severely stretching current resources, DARPA noted. That is impacting the nation's ability to conduct special operations and contingency missions. The Hydra program represents a cost-effective way to add undersea capacity that can be tailored to support each mission, said DARPA officials.
The central concept in Hydra, as in UFP, is the separation of platform and capability. DARPA wants to develop a standardized container that could securely house, deliver and launch different payloads. The payloads, each of which would have standardized plug-ins for the platform, could include a communications suite that could work with manned platforms or "allow remote control from over the horizon," according to the agency's Broad Agency Announcement released Aug. 22. Other possible payloads could address everything from intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) to underwater mine countermeasures.
Hydra also could enable new capabilities not currently handled by manned platforms, such as forward-deployed airborne ISR with expendable platforms or recharging hubs for ISR-capable undersea vehicles.
Responses to the Broad Agency Announcement are due by Oct. 22.