DARPA to hide drones at the bottom of the ocean

DARPA is planning to build drones that would hibernate in deep-sea capsules for years before waking up when commanded and releasing their payloads into the sky.

The Upward Falling Payloads program envisages the use of deployable, unmanned, distributed systems that lie on the deep-ocean floor at strategic locations before releasing, say, small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for reconnaissance.

“The goal is to support the Navy with distributed technologies anywhere, anytime over large maritime areas. If we can do this rapidly, we can get close to the areas we need to affect, or become widely distributed without delay,” says DARPA program manager Andy Coon.

“To make this work, we need to address technical challenges like extended survival of nodes under extreme ocean pressure, communications to wake up the nodes after years of sleep, and efficient launch of payloads to the surface.”

DARPA’s looking for proposals in communications and deep ocean ‘risers’ to contain the payloads, as well as the actual payloads themselves. It’s hoping for submissions from organizations that conduct deep-ocean engineering: the telecom and oil-exploration industries, for example, or the scientific community, with insights into signal propagation in the water and on the seafloor.

Almost half of the world’s oceans are more than four kilometers deep which, says DARPA, provides ‘considerable opportunity for cheap stealth’. But this isn’t, stresses DARPA, a weapons program.

Instead, applications would include situational awareness, disruption, deception, networking, rescue, or any other mission that benefits from being pre-distributed and hidden.

“We are simply offering an alternative path to realize these missions without requiring legacy ships and aircraft to launch the technology, and without growing the reach and complexity of unmanned platforms,” says Coon.