Arguing it is costly and complex to send large numbers of warships to forward operating areas - and that the energy and logistics needed to deploy lower-cost unmanned systems over oceanic distances limits their usefulness - DARPA has come with another idea.
That idea is to pre-deploy "deep-ocean nodes" in forward areas years in advance. These would be commanded from a safe stand-off distance to launch to the surface and release waterborne or airborne unmanned systems to disperse and provide ISR or "non-lethal effects" over a wide area in contested environments.
Concept: Lockheed Martin
The program is called Upward Falling Payload (UFP), and DARPA plans to brief industry at a proposers' day on Jan 25 in Washington, DC.
The UFP system would, the notice says, comprise three elements: "The ‘payload' which executes waterborne or airborne applications after being deployed to the surface; the UFP ‘riser' which provides pressure-tolerant encapsulation and launch (ascent) of the payload; and the communications which triggers the UFP riser to launch."
DARPA plans a multi-phase effort to demonstrate the UFP systems. Details are sparse, but the program sounds like it could build on previous efforts such as Lockheed Martin Skunk Work's Cormorant submarine-launched UAV (pictured above), which was cancelled in 2008. Cormorant was to be a high-performance UAV, but there has been other work on the encapsulated, underwater launch of small UAVs.
The research agency has looked at other ways of forward-deploying unmanned systems. One was Rapid Eye, which was a concept to deploy the UAV a long distance at short notice by rocket, releasing it to unfold and power up in the upper atmosphere. Another was Vulture, a large solar-electric UAV designed to stay aloft and ready in the stratosphere almost indefinitely, Neither got to the flying stage.