Written by Dabney B. on Wednesday, September 19th, 2012
It looks like drone pilots are going to need swimming lessons.
The US Navy is currently experimenting with a new breed of drone submarines in the waters next to Newport, Rhode Island. Their hope is that these drones will take the first steps (or the first doggy paddle, if you will) into a future of autonomous submarines.
These drones, which are technically known as Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (of course) could be a “game changer” for the Navy, said Christoper Egan, a program manager at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. Every single thing that makes aerial drones so effective can just as easily be applied to submarines.
One of the biggest advantages is size — if you have a pilot in a submarine, then you automatically have a minimum size requirement. You need a control system, air, and a supply of food and water if you expect the submarine to remain submerged for days at a time. Once you remove a person from a submarine, you can shrink the submersible down to the size of, say, an adult tuna or a torpedo. That makes for more efficient, stealthier submarines that cost only a fraction of the cost of a conventional one-man submersible.
These drones could be used to map the ocean floor, detect enemy mines, gather surveillance, or assist in anti-submarine warfare. For example, one clever little drone is the Razor, which uses stealthy, flipper-like devices to drift through the ocean, kind of like a sea turtle. The Navy hopes that the Razor would be virtually undetectable by enemy systems.
This is a perfect example of how advancements in one branch of the Department of Defense can help other branches. The US Air Force typically doesn’t care that much about exploring the depths of the ocean, but the years of experience logged by Air Force commanders, pilots, and technicians could drastically speed up the Navy’s research. Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. specializes in aviation, but other organizations like the Navy, Army, or Coast Guard could benefit from their expertise.
Data management is a pretty good example. Naval engineers probably won’t be able to learn a lot from UAV aeronautics, but they’re still going to need to filter through the influx of digital data. The Air Force has been dealing with that issue ever since the first drone took to the skies, so the Navy could learn techniques or strategies for organizing the new drone data.
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