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DARPA underwater capsule would store sensors on ocean’s floor

In the middle of the vast ocean, an unmanned craft lays on the surface of the seabed, prepared to deploy non-lethal weapons against enemy watercraft and sensors with the ability to communicate certain conditions to recipients in faraway locations. These don’t exist, but they could, if the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) proceeds on its Upward Falling Payloads (UFP) program.

This project, details of which DARPA will announce in a January 25 briefing, would allow the U.S. Navy to send capsules to strategic positions across the ocean’s floor. These craft would rest at the bottom of the sea for months or even years, ready to burst from the depths whenever called upon. Ultimately, the objective would be to surprise enemy naval forces with non-lethal attacks – such as lasers or strobe lights – while communicating key information to friendly combatants via sensors.

It’s not an easy project to consider. Constructing a cache that would be able to withstand years of steady ocean pressure and resist corrosive deterioration is a significant challenge. It could be an expensive endeavor, though the benefits are important. With unmanned craft providing reconnaissance and critical resources, the U.S. Navy might be better prepared for the unexpected.

A report from Gizmag notes that DARPA has the benefit of years of deep sea work conducted by the telecommunications and the oil and gas exploration industries, which for years have had to engineer underwater infrastructure. However, the undersea capsules – and the sensors stored within – would need to find a way to communicate across significant expanses of ocean, with the high risk of interference, in unusual conditions. Those challenges are a steep mountain to climb for DARPA’s researchers, and it will be interesting to see if they deliver on these efforts.

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