Submarines have been part of America’s arsenal since the Civil War. But we still don’t have a very good idea about what lies below. Even the coastal, or littoral, waters remain something of a mystery — which is why the USS San Francisco ran aground in January. And trying to track the sneaky little diesel subs that Tehran and Beijing are stockpiling? That can be even harder still.
The Office of Naval Research’s solution: a semi-autonomous “network of fixed bottom and mobile sensors” that can track ships and subs along in the shallows. According to Defense Industry Daily, the Navy’s big thinkers have just handed Penn State a $27.7 million contract to put together this “Persistent Littoral Undersea Surveillance Network,” or PLUSNET.
Not to be outdone, the mad scientists at Darpa are working on their own undersea spy network, “a floating field of smart, long-term, station-keeping sensors capable of observing the ocean environment at a known location over an extended period of time.”
The program will exploit local environmental effects (wind, waves, solar energy, temperature differentials, etc.), and geo-location technologies to establish long-term, station keeping ocean environment sensors… capable of maintaining less than a 250m watch radius for 90% of the time and a 2,500 meter watch radius for 100% of the time over a four week period in currents as high as 2 knots…
DARPA is seeking concepts that will provide either an entirely new military capability or will enhance existing capability by orders of magnitude (based on demonstrable relevant metrics), rather than extensions to existing systems or minor improvements to present capability.
THERE’S MORE: Undersea authority Joe Buff tells Defense Tech…
The worldwide fleet of diesel subs, always at their best in their own littoral waters, will some year soon break a thousand. Getting the look-and-listen grid installed before adversary diesel subs can sortie from port, before access-preventing enemy minefields can be laid, and before the opponent can plant their own anti-incursion robotic sentries, would save lives, time, and potentially huge amounts of money. The U.S. Navy needs to establish dominance here, and get it right the first time. Call it “preemptive surveillance.”
To minimize casualties, this ought to be done with robotics. The question is, can the gadgets to do all this be developed, operationally tested, and pre-packaged in useable form, fast enough to be cost effective? I sure hope so. The Advanced Deployable System (ADS) is a portable mini-SOSUS which already exists, but it needs a land-based headquarters that’s forward deployed and thus vulnerable. The oceans are also becoming crowded with autonomous civilian research probes called Ocean Rovers, to the degree that hordes of these things could become counter-detection or collision hazards for military submarines.