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Pentagon boosting its push for underwater drones

Mar. 14, 2014 - 09:26AM   |  
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The Pentagon is proposing dramatic increases in spending for underwater pods to store drone submarines and a variety of other seaborne drones and surveillance technology, another example of the military's shift toward the Pacific, newly released budget documents show.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is stepping up its research on several programs, including doubling its planned spending on the Hydra program, an underwater "truck" that would carry unmanned submarines and aerial drones. The DARPA budget released last week shows planned spending for Hydra would rise from $14.9 million in the current fiscal year to $29.9 million next year.

DARPA also wants a 59 percent increase in spending, from $11.9 million to almost $19 million, for its Upward Falling Payloads program, which "will develop forward-deployed (drones) that can provide non-lethal effects or situational awareness over large maritime areas." DARPA is also convening a meeting of potential contractors later this month to discuss the second and third phases of the program, which started last year.

The Obama administration has shifted much of its military planning away from ground wars in the Middle East to the Pacific, where it hopes to counter China's rising influence and threats over sea lanes used by other nations.

Complicating this efforts are China's increased use of "anti-access, area-denial" weapons, such as long-range missiles, that make it difficult for U.S. and allied ships and aircraft to get too close to the Chinese mainland. "In the coming years, countries such as China will continue seeking to counter U.S. strengths using anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) approaches," said the Pentagon's latest Quadrennial Defense Review, a projection of future military needs released last week.

That's one reason the Pentagon has called for more technology that will enable U.S. military to place assets closer to potential targets without attracting attention.

Hydra, budget documents show, would be based in shallower coastal waters "to create a disruptive capability. ... The modular enclosures are deployed by various means, depending on the need for speed and stealth and remain deployed until awakened for deployment."

The Upward Falling Payloads pods, DARPA records show, would be targeted for the almost 50 percent of global waters that are more than 4 kilometers deep. Those waters, DARPA notes, provide "vast areas for concealment and storage. ... Concealment provided by the sea also provides the opportunity to quickly engage remote assets that may have been dormant and undetected for long periods of time, while its vastness allows simultaneous operation across great distances.

"Getting close to objects without warning, and (activating) distributed systems without delay," DARPA records show, "are key attributes of UFP capability."

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