Undersea pods to hold US war supplies

The Navy wants to build unmanned platforms that it can place in the depths of the the world’s oceans to  have them float to the surface when the military needs the supplies or equipment stored within them.

It sounds almost like the plot from a movie like the Transformers. Machines rising from the bottoms of the oceans to attack the world’s citizens. However, this effort isn’t science fiction.

Engineers with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have begun researching how these platforms could sustain the pressure caused by the depths of the ocean, and then respond to controllers after what could be years or decades without any activity. DARPA calls it “falling up” or “just-in-time payloads.”

“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,” said Andy Coon, the DARPA program manager, in a statement.

The U.S. military is transitioning to a Pacific-centric defense strategy that will see units operating in the expansive Pacific region that is often a logistical nightmare. Much of the time and money to operate in the Pacific is spent transporting supplies and equipment throughout the region.

“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,” Coon said.

Navy leaders want to use the international waters to their advantage. Navy officials want to keep the supplies and equipment at an arms reach and then summon it when it is needed. Of course, there are plenty of challenges to it, not just technical challenges but political ones. Would the international community allow the U.S. to store their war supplies throughout international waters?

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • IKnowIT

    Big stealthy objects suspended in the ocean? Or. would these things be able to move? Tons of technical issues here, and making something big enough to be of value while not to have other issues (like undersea nav) is going to be tough.. But cool idea


      Isn’t that called a nuclear submarine.

    • cptjohnpaul

      In my day we called them Submarines! Submarines with crews, or crew-less! Please remember that before World War One, the German Navy had cargo Submarines, with crews, during World Two, the largest cargo Submarines were Italians, with crews, and sailed to Japan!

    • cbn

      Guess what its in operation somewhere classified

  • JamalTheBanker

    Will the International community allow the US to do it? …No
    Should we do it anyway? …Yea!

    • ltkitty

      *manly tear* ‘MERICA!

    • USA! USA! USA!

    • desert dweller

      screw the international community…we OWN THEM! We have saved the asses of 90% of the international community!

      • Thomas L. Nielsen

        The international community called. They’d like to see how you arrived at that 90% figure….

        Regards & all,

        Thomas L. Nielsen

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      I don’t really see how the “international community” (whatever that is) could have a say in the matter. Or why they would even bother to complain about it (except those nations that always complain, of course. You know who you are!). As long as these pre-positioning pods are in international waters, why would they be different from, e.g. a US Navy supply vessel?

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen

  • Matt

    Any nation trying to prevent us from building these should be reminded of us saving them from Imperial Japan and asked if they really think China won’t repeat that aggression.
    Seriously though; considering international waters allow ships of all kind, why should what is essentially an unmanned submarine be any different? And why should the international community even have a say?

    • Mitt

      It’s going to be some bad press when one of these blows and a tanker’s worth of oil leaks into the ocean.

      • crackedlenses

        It happens to oil tankers; you don’t see the world universally condemning oil tankers, or even oil transportation as a whole.

        • Menzie

          Actually the public does condemn them, at least while it is in the media coverage.

          • crackedlenses

            Just wait for the media to stop covering these pods, and the public won’t know they exist….

  • blight_

    Leaning towards this replacing the land BM deterrent force. Hide siloes in submersible barges, move them around at night or tow by submarine. Let float to surface and fire BMs upon signal receipt.

    • guest

      We already have that, They’re called Ohio-class submarines.

      • ohwilleke

        Why not go one step further and develop a fleet of submarine transport/tanker ships for missions like getting supplies through to allies whose seaways have hostile forces ready to strike in them?

        • Kim

          Because submarines are hideously expensive, even if they’re not warships. During WW2 Germany used some for transporting stategic materials back to the Fatherland, and lately smaller ones have been used for smuggling drugs to the USA. But using them for regular payloads makes no sense at all.

          • ohwilleke

            I was thinking that they’d probably be cheaper than a Berlin airlift style operation and would be used in that kind of situation, or for example, to get hundreds of orphans out of a war zone where the air space wasn’t secure. These wouldn’t be “regular payloads”.

            A submarine like this could carry perhaps 50-100 C-17 loads in each round, and if you had an over the horizon/out of theater conventional ship to load and unload the transport submarine in the open ocean so that it could operate as a shuttle rather than an entire trip transport, you could get in a lot of shuttle loads. You could also handle deliveries of cargo too heavy to move by air (e.g. a 200 ton portable FOB module).

      • blight_

        Barges are cheaper than a boomer.

        • Menzie

          Not when corporate America gets involved. These barges would in the end cost nearly as much as a boomer I am sure. Cost overruns, etc. They will milk it for its worth.

    • majr0d

      Something about having an unguarded nuke floating out there in the ocean makes me nervous…

      Not a good idea blight and you usually have plenty. :)

      • blight_

        It was a brainstorming moment. Sometimes you get Titanic, sometimes you get John Carter.

        • majr0d


  • Simple Man

    I can see the movie!

    “Pod Pirates”….

    A rogue band of international misfits plans to seize a hidden cache of millions of MRE’s; personal sanitary kits, and reflective belts in order to embarrass the Pentagon into releasing Bradley Manning and the guys doing time at Leavenworth who drained the snake on the tollybons.

    Starring Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Sean Connery and a team of cardiac and gerontology specialists.

    Rock’em sock’em kisses you never got. It’s combat engineers charging side by side with Greek hand bags. Showing the world a new way to fight as they use bulldozers like bazookas, bayonnets like bullets. That is all.

    • randomantic

      And the 2013 Academy Award for Best Use of Sampling in a Message Board goes to… Simple Man! For his use of the PA announcement from M*A*S*H!

  • Ripley
  • ohwilleke

    It makes more sense than developing supersonic transports to deliver socks, MREs and diesel to troops around the world.

    • Warrior7

      Air transport is utilized for the initial, first 30 – 45 days, delivery of Army supplies. After 45 days the transport transitions to the MSC. The air transport sub-sonic and is mostly comprised of munitions and sustenance. ohwilleke you are such a civilian landcrab, you probably think zero dark thirty is a reality flick. BTW we say O-dark-thirty vice the holleywood version.

      • randomantic

        my navspecwar unit used “zero dark thirty.” different from you and being from hollywood don’t make it wrong.

        • Rhys F
  • Jason

    So – Maritime Prepositioning Ships that are water-tight, sinkable and re-floatable?

    • Musson

      Actually – if one of those ageing vessels sinks accidentally – we can just say it was part of the Submerged Prepositioning Initiative.

      • lordofthegadflies

        “Aging vessels”? The Bob Hope and Watson-class LMSRs are about 15 y/o. I’ve sailed on both types, and prefer the Bob Hope-class. If you’re thinking of all the old crappy break-bulk steamships run by MARAD, they have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

    • majr0d

      I’m not so sure submerged loads are better than floating ones that just need a crew or maybe some kind of ocean going barge? These floating supplies will have to be towed or reloaded on supply ships.

  • stephen russell

    Saw similar idea on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, placing ICBMs undersea fixed for defense, but tha was 60s Sci Fic then.

    • Richard Jean

      what was scifi then is real now

      • Tiger
  • Dean

    Hm. Interesting. It seems reasonable to suppose the Navy must be thinking about a MASSIVE amount of material to store, that is pretty much the only way it would be worth it. There are technical issues, those seem somewhat surmountable in time. There is likely a depth limit, which thus places limits on locations, which thus makes it harder to keep secret. What would keep an adversary from hacking the wake signal and/or sabotaging an unsecured pod? Or worse taking it all for themselves? Would the plan be to keep an attack sub on station indefinitely? Surround it with hydrophones? I’m not sure I’m a fan.

    • NathanS

      The facts are we have better maps of the far side of the moon than we do of the ocean floor. And people quickly forget that our planet is made up of 70% ocean. Even if there were a depth limit (likely to be thousands of feet deep), that’s still a massive area.

      There are still quite a few World War II warships where we know approximately where they were sunk, and yet we are yet to find them 70 years later. So even if you knew the area a cache would be, finding it would still be very much a needle in a haystack.

      I can think of lots of ways to get around potential sabotage if an adversary did discover a cache. Did you know that even what we consider to be old civilian encryption (128 bit AES) would take the worlds current fastest super-computer 1 billion-billion years to crack via a brute force attack? Military encryption is far stronger and uses rolling codes, so even if you could eavesdrop on the release signal in one place, the signal would be different just seconds later.

      Further to this you could add a self-destruct mechanism that would prevent manual tampering – and even then the pressure from ocean depths makes this excessively difficult.

    • Jayson

      I’m sure a nation with advanced tracking such as Russia could find somethings up in a spot where one of these are getting installed. They can go in later, do a few snips or toss a tow cable on it and take it back then a couple little c4 to pop it open and they get a fine cache of stuff graciously donated by the US.

      I’m sure ceramics can handle the storage underwater for a period of time, I just don’t believe it’s securable from foreign thefts of the pods. You can’t trust those Canadians you know.

  • Hunter76

    I see the new pirate business, too.

    In any event, a great way to spend taxdollars.

  • jake

    What?? Just more wasteful spending of the taxpayer dollars. It will never end….

    • ed schwab

      The military budget is less than 10% of our ‘FAILED WELFARE BUDGET’! Since 1967 [the beginning of Pres. Johnson’s “Great Society”] the various welfare programs have only created a greater percentage of Americans living below the poverty line. Our military has several times saved the world from someone’s plan for world domination!

  • Uncle Bill


  • jamesb

    Please tell me this is a joke….Right?

    • tmb2

      It’s a DARPA project. Borderline looney ideas is their business.

  • Nadnerbus

    If you put one of these every five hundred miles or so, you could keep an LCS fully supplied and at sea for weeks!

    • lordofthegadflies

      “If you put one of these every hundred miles or so, fully stocked with loads of repair parts and s**t-tons of fuel, you could keep an LCS at sea for days!”
      There, fixed it for ya.

  • BlackOwl18E

    Autopods, transform and roll out!

  • Benjamin

    Bad Idea, how are we going to prevent them from being used against us? If someone figures out how we retrieve them and copies it, how will we even know until to late.

  • TonyC

    In world war 2 the US Army developed Pigeon Guided Bombs and they actually worked, but it was such a strange concept that they never used it in combat. This may be one of those strange ideas. if nothing else, it may get new technologies for long term storage of perishables.

  • SJE

    I am no expert in laws of the sea, but what distinguishes these from abandoned wrecks etc that can be salvaged by anyone?

    • MLH

      Exactly! And what’s to stop some random person or other military from getting them.

    • Bryan

      A small crew.
      Possibly submariners, or former submariners. 6 mo watch, DSRV crew exchange via sub.
      Motivation: high pay, perdiem, hazard pay, select future assignments, etc.
      LA class on patrol within sprinting distance, on board defenses, and escape vessel to provide security. After all, you’re not leaving a $100B+ vault unguarded!

      But who holds the reins? Obviously China will pay for it.

  • JRL

    Clearly such a major investment in the American taxpayers’ money, materiel, and intellectual property rights must be vigilantly defended 24/7 from both the Commies and the 47%/OW terrorists.

    IOW, USN spec sharks with LASERS!

    • johnvarry


    • A. Nonymous

      Due to sequestration-driven budget cuts, ill-tempered sea bass will be substituted for sharks with laser beams on their heads.

    • Hunter76

      By federally paid NRAers!

  • A. Nonymous

    Since we are apparently using the logistics playbook of old Bond villains, I assume we are also investigating dormant volcano and orbiting space stations as basing options.

  • One Otherguy

    Um… is it just me, are aren’t we facing sequestration and a massive deficit?

    How much, and who pays for it? (We already know the answer to this)

    What is next? Burying supplies underground for the Army to use? We have excellent case studies (i.e., your local landfill) from which to draw expertise.

    • lordofthegadflies

      Actually, there is historical precedent for exactly that. Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery buried supplies along their route to the Pacific, to be used during their return voyage.

      • blight_

        The Corps of Discovery’s needs are far smaller than say, an infantry division.

        That said, supply burial assumes no spoilage, no looting and the ability to precisely return to the site-the latter is helped immensely by GPS, but hindered by geopolitics.

  • Mark

    Simply use the sea to regulate internal pressures. Outside sea ( first layer of water ( next lower pressure of water ( and on till you get to the stuff you want sent up) water) water) open sea. Have check valve set to various psi highest on outermost encapsulated barrier. Once you let extend to surface tethered to bottom to a fixed location drop the outer shell till it surfaces.

    • Tiger
  • Navbm7

    This sounds like a good use for our mothballed subs. Gut the crew quarters for material storage, modify the controls for remote activation and then hide them where there are no fishing trawlers.

    • Rhys F
  • Joe_Sovereign

    Since China makes all of our supplies anyway couldn’t we live off our own supplies from their warehouses during any land war in China?

    I am confused as to what we are prepositioning. Is it fuel for Navy ships? I can’t imagine we are prepositioning food for use decades later. Ammunition? Missles? Main Battle Tanks?

    In 15 years won’t we be using 3D printers to spot manufacture most of our replacement items. Why would you want 10 year old boots from the bottom of the ocean when you can print custom boots designed for your feet in 10 minutes.

  • Mark C

    I wonder what happens when after several years someone (not subject to our laws) decides to salvage the treasure we’ve left in international waters…

  • Tiger

    This is stupid……….

    We have plenty of US flagged islands & atolls to store things. MIdway, Wake, Johnson, Guam, Howland, American Samoa The whole Aleutian chain, The Pacific missile Range……………. All belong to us. Are above the sea, are scattered geographically. Building some crazy underwater fuel & ammo dump is just dumb as the Death Star idea.

    • A. Nonymous

      I think it is time we demonstrated the full power of this undersea storage pod. Set course for Alderaan.

  • Max

    Hey enemies! We’re putting WEAPONS and AMMUNITION and other COOL STUFF in these PODS, and we’re going to leave them all by themselves out here in the great big ocean, ok? Please don’t come and take them, ok? (Al-queda): Ahem, sure, we would never do that (he, he, nudge, nudge)

  • Tanker Chief

    Underwater Weapons Storage Depot = SUBMARINE

  • JSCS

    Isn’t the Glomar Explorer still with us? How big a container do you want to place?

  • jon

    Darpa is full of crackpot dumbasses that shovel taxpayer money into incinerators. This has to be the most retarded idea since the darpa twats dreamt up the IED evading flying humvees.

    • Simple Man

      aren’t those called heliocopters?

    • tiger

      Are they hiring? I can sit in a cubicle and come up with daydreams all day.

  • red2429

    I see a bigger problems with security. If someone finds it I think it would be more difficult in keeping positive control of it then designing something that could withstand the depths. We have hard enough problems with security on land much less on something that would be hard to get to in a hurry. It would also have to be linked up to some kind of network to get it to initiate what ever start up mechanism. The only way to protect anything from hackers to not connect it to a network of any kind. Even if you made a separate network all it would take is time to locate the landline and connect to it. Cool idea though. I would wander if it would really be less be less expensive than traditional means.

    • Bryan

      Extreme depth security is fairly strong. Mostly ROV work. You wont pull up a 8’x8′ pallet with it. Especially with the tonnage doors closed.
      Acoustics are amazing, sensors could alert of any unscheduled approaches, and blowing the dead weight to surface will alert acoustic arrays and seismologists throughout the hemisphere. You will be captured before it surfaces!

      I suspect it will be manned, and a submerged patrol within strike distance.
      Routine crew exchange on semi annual rotation,,, probably sign up myself.

      My question is, I thought we were building towards peace, this looks like shock and awe 2 buildup. And for who? And why?

  • Robert C

    I agree with comments above regarding the security and legalize of doing this in international waters. I respect DARPA throughing out these idea. It be better if they kept them OUT FROM THE PUBLIC. God, what happen to secrets. It works when NO ONE KNOWS.

    Its still stupid idea, were still exploring the ocean. Its not a dead space, its aliving environment. Storing mundane supplies like food, ammunition, etc undersea is risky in shape tidal forces could move it around, bury it etc. Never mind fact people could simply salvage it while their looking for a wreck. It could be on map on a reservation, but it have to be ocean water we own. Too risky. US Martime fleet is better choice for this.

  • old peter

    why not use the mothball fleet ships as storage? They could man and maintain them like a floating island system.

    • tiger

      Why do I need floating Islands when we have real ones? See post above…..

  • Forefronts

    Resupply? Obsolete? Test viability? Just some of the downside.
    Interesting concept, needs work

  • Sea Dog

    So what happens when equip becomes obsolete? I mean imagine if one was full of digicams. You’d have to float the pod every 12-18 months to rotate out the old stock and put in place the next set of fire excellerate clothing. Hey how about putting the whole uniform board down there?

    Now seriously. Imagine the cost and quantity of whatever you put there. How would it be serviced? Don’t put too much scratch behind this one. The politics, science and finances just aren’t there

  • Marvo76

    Bad Idea, all it will take is some depth charges to rupture the container, and suddenly no more supplies since they won’t float back up, and deep enough they can’t recover them with out significant expenditures of time and resources….during wartime….smoke another one guys….

  • SwabJockey

    The Navy will be able to do this because with the manpower cuts there will be extra money available for stupidity projects. When you deduct the cost of food, clothing, electricity, etc. for one swabby, multiplied by ??? that’s a lot of beans, toiletpaper and 2 Kilo’s that can be “pre-positioned” for future use. If you can’t dazzle em with brilliance then you baffle them with BS. Sounds about right.

  • Marine Dad

    Maybe they will house enemy combatants there…

  • PaulDavis46

    Very interesting concept. A lot has to be worked out. What would prevent China, North Korea or any other country that hates America from locating and getting our defense supplies. Sense we have proven the space station can stay up without falling to the ground, why not bring the shuttle out of moth balls use them for transportation and put up a few more stations for storage of defense materials? Either way it goes, sea or space, it means jobs for out of work Americans. Go for it.

  • Gene

    Smart, lets give the bad guys even easier access to materiel and see what happens.

    Next will be a program to make sure all the materiel can float, that way they big boys can just sprinkle it and wait for it to wash up on the beaches.

  • MAB

    all it will take is some strategicly placed depth charges and the whole thing disappears unrecvoverable, into the abyss….epic fail!

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