DARPA Plans Hydra Mothership for Underwater Attacks
July 24, 2013 3:10 PM
(Source: Marvel Comics)
It's big, it's fast, it's sneaky, it's deadly, and it's unmanned. The
U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
's (DARPA) proposed "
(also know as an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV)).
The U.S. Navy currently deploys
smaller UUVs or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)
from surface ships or submarines for a variety roles, including removing line of sight limitations,
remote attacks on targets
of potential targets.
But flying and diving drones are limited by their range to within a certain radius of the manned fleet. And the drones could hypothetically attract attention back to the manned fleet, tipping the enemy off on their location. Last, but not least, the use of larger manned ships greatly increases the cost of an operation.
The new unmanned mothership shares it name with both the monster of Greek mythology, and the Marvel Comics supervillain/terrorist organization led by the Red Skull.
[Image Source: Comics Vine/Marvel]
The rising number of ungoverned states, piracy, and proliferation of sophisticated defenses severely stretches current resources and influences U.S. military capability to conduct special operations and contingency missions.
Hydra looks to eliminate that, serving as a
mini underwater carrier for both UUVs and UAVs
. Like naval submarines, it would be able to travel days on end, allowing remote operations with smaller drones in areas where there are no nearby manned vessels. The new Hydra craft will be designed to perform missions (via its UAV payloads) in three arenas -- underwater, on the surface, and in the air.
DARPA will officially kick off the effort to build Hydra at an Aug. 5 event at
Johns Hopkins University
in Laurel, Mary.
The government agency is seeking private sector contract bids to first design components, build those components, integrate them into subsystems, and finally merge those subsystems into a working prototype. Among the necessary subsystems include the ballast system, energy, communications, command and control, propulsion, a modular UAV/UUV carrier-style storage assembly to accommodate different drone payloads, and measures for long-duration submerged operations.
An artist's depiction of the Hydra submersible mothership. [Image Source: DARPA]
The mothership must be able to dock with returning drones to recharge/refuel them and to pool their collected data. The craft must be able to operate independently in shallow coastal waters and harbors for extended periods, maintaining constant secure communication with distant operators. It must be able to deploy all of its drone payloads without surfacing, and be able to maintain communication with the drones -- including aerial units -- while staying underwater. And ideally it needs to be able to retrieve the drones for reuse.
Currently Raytheon Comp. (
), one of America's largest defense contractors, and AeroVironment, Inc. (
), one of the largest dedicated drone makers, have developed prototypes of
a "Switchblade" launching system
, which deploys a UAV which takes off out of a launcher payload which floats to the surface after being deployed from a submarine. Retrieving data (communicating with) that flier and possibly retrieving it for later reuse will be tricky to accomplish, though.
Raytheon and Aerovironment have a drone launch system for subs. [Image Source: Raytheon]
The U.S. Navy Research Lab
has been developing a similar aerial "mothership" drone called "Tempest", which
launches smaller mini-drones call "Cicadas"
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