Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Good Idea? Not So Much...

DARPA has come up with some pretty good ideas in their time; the Internet is just one of them, and I'm sure there are others -- I'm just too lazy to do the research right now. Their job is to think "outside the box"; sometimes, though, they're so far outside of the box that they're not even in the same zip code.

CDR Salamander brings our attention to one of those times. Meet the "Cormorant", a hypothetical SSGN-launched UAV. Here's how it's described:

"The MPUAV concept envisions the immersible MPUAVs being housed and serviced in the ballistic missile launch tubes of the SSGN. They would be released from the submerged submarine and remain buoyant at the water’s surface until launched using two Tomahawk missile-derived solid rocket boosters. Upon mission completion, the turbofan engine-powered MPUAVs return to a designated retrieval point at sea, initiate engine shut down, and splash down to await recovery. During recovery, the submerged SSGN would deploy a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to secure an in-haul cable from the SSGN to the recovery tether deployed by the MPUAV. The SSGN would then haul the MPUAV to its designated launch tube saddle mechanism, where it would be docked and retracted into the missile tube."

Now, I'm sure that something like this might be useful; intel from the air is a good thing. Despite what many people would think, the launching part isn't that bad -- since it will "remain buoyant at the water's surface" until launched into the air, the launching submarine would be able to clear datum before the rocket launch attracted the attention of every semi-alert military asset in the area. The big problem comes from the recovery: Assuming that an alerted enemy has been tracking the MPUAV, they would know where it had landed, and could reasonably assume that the submarine would come to that point at some time in the future to retrieve it. Since a submarine's stealth depends a lot on a potential hunter not being able to figure out where a submarine will be at some future time, it seems like this retrieval plan would be "Bad" on the Good/Bad scale from the standpoint of not getting shot at.

Remember, there are no stupid questions... only stupid people who ask questions.

Going deep...


Blogger Vigilis said...

BH, targets of the moment are al-Qaeda related "activities". Qaeda certainly has not yet shown much of a capability to pinpoint and launch on a submerged sub that your sound logic correctly forewarns. Even China, still seems slightly limited in that regard.

When and if such capabilities become formidable, targeted adversaries would still have to contend with self-destruct mechanisms and false bait scenarios.

We both applaud DARPA's undertakings to keep our adversaries on their toes and discourage their irrational exuberances about world domination.

12/30/2005 2:00 AM

Anonymous Byron Audler said...

Here's my objection: The whole purpose of the submarine is to stay unobserved till the moment of the kill. Completely. This moonbat idea violates this idea in far too many ways to overcome any possible gains. Come up with a way for the sub to get better and quicker offboard targeting intel, that would be a hell of a lot more useful

12/30/2005 2:51 AM

Anonymous rebootinit said...

Hmm, I tend to agree, the possibilities are there for a potential system, but I see no retrieval system that would not cause undue counterdetection. A freeking Trident can be seen for many miles on the surface. (and in my mind, I still see fireman joe shit the ragman hooking and pulling it to the boat).
Now if they could land it at another base (range supported), remain submerged during deployment and launch? That's a different scenario and more friendly to living to the end of your tour, LOL.

12/30/2005 3:11 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A stealthy posture is not an ABSOLUTE. It is VARIABLE, SCALABLE and controlled by the submarine operator at the time and place of his/her choosing. It can be compromised and recovered with time, positioning, and environmentals but the risk must be managed. The submarine strike mission and some current SOF employment options speak to this. Open your minds to new possibilities - this is exciting stuff. Offboard vehicles and payloads will be a big part of our future as our skimmer brethren are pushed out of the littorals by anti-access technologies.

12/30/2005 11:49 PM

Blogger Chap said...

Mister Anon makes an outstanding point. Stealth is not an absolute and can occasionally be spent. For instance, a submarine launching Tomahawks after going into position needed stealth to sit there for a while without provoking the other guy; when the missiles go the other guy might not have time to reposition.

It's also useful to pull your head up to the bigger viewpoint and look at the use of stealthy units in various situation. The information gathered or capability gained might even be more important than the life of the ship and crew.

This DARPA equipment list is all over the map. There are hundreds of such programs (30,000 total connected to DARPA last I looked), particularly where UAVs and UUVs are concerned. For UAVs look to the P-3 guys in San Diego, who are trying to build a development roadmap for them. It's kinda like the early automotive industry circa 1903. Power density is still kicking their ass more than anything else, although comms at speed and depth are still needed for a sub to be more useful.

This technical risk prioritization was part of the reasoning behind Silent Hammer and Giant Shadow; take what's on the shelf ready to go in some capacity, put it on a boat, and try the concept out. The prioritization happens when the NAVSEA guy looks at his pot of money and sees the bottom on the bucket--so most of the year was spent ensuring whatever went on the boat for the test was useful.

Phibian has a useful point, but I would caveat that there are many, many such sexy ideas in various stages of technical immaturity. I spent some time fending off well connected contractors who were hired partially for their rolodexes and wanted a piece of the boss' time to sell their gadget.

Many, many, many sexy ideas.


12/31/2005 10:45 PM


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