ARLINGTON, Va., 23 July 2013. U.S. government researchers are choosing Sparton Electronics of De Leon Springs, Fla., to develop conceptual designs of a future system with the potential to launch a wave of distracting light strobes, blinding lasers, electronic warfare jammers, or other kinds of non-lethal weapons that pop up to the ocean's surface without warning in the middle of an adversary's naval battle group.
Scientists at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., awarded a $177,697 contract to Sparton last week for the first phase of the Upward Falling Payloads (UFP) program, which seeks to pre-deploy sensors or non-lethal weapons on the ocean floor sometimes years in advance for surprise deployment among the nation's naval adversaries during times of war or international tension.
Sparton, which is a longtime supplier of air-deployable sonobuoys for U.S. Navy anti-submarine warfare (ASW) fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, was chosen, among other factors, for its expertise in expendable marine systems, officials say.
The DARPA UFP program envisions a force of forward-deployed, non-lethal weapons and sensors armed with propellant that hide on the ocean floor and pop to the surface when needed. UFP payloads would have communications systems that enable their deployment at standoff ranges.
“The goal is to support the Navy with distributed technologies anywhere, anytime over large maritime areas. If we can do this rapidly, we can get close to the areas we need to affect, or become widely distributed without delay,” says Andy Coon, the DARPA UFP program manager. “To make this work, we need to address technical challenges like extended survival of nodes under extreme ocean pressure, communications to wake-up the nodes after years of sleep, and efficient launch of payloads to the surface.”
Sparton will participate in the first phase of the UFP program, which should lead to conceptual designs and feasibility assessments. UFP communications will be key, DARPA officials say. Additional contractors may be chosen for the UFP program's first phase.
Later, the UFP program will develop major subsystems, and demonstrate a UFP riser and communications subsystem, and eventually will integrate UFP communications and UFP subsystems to full depth and communications capability.
The primary reason for the UFP program is the high cost and logistical difficulty of deploying many Navy ships and weapons in forward operating areas of vast global ocean areas, DARPA officials explain. Its upward-falling unattended sensor or non-lethal weapon payloads would be pre-deployed for use at a moment's notice.
Concealment of the sea provides the opportunity to surprise maritime targets from below, as well as the ability to operate across great distances, DARPA researchers say. Getting close to targets without warning and deploying systems without delay are key attributes of anticipated UFP capability.
To succeed, the UFP program must be able to demonstrate a system that can survive for years under extreme pressure; be triggered from standoff commands; and rapidly rise through the water and deploy a non-lethal weapon or sensor payload.
Depending on the specific payload, systems would provide a range of non-lethal capabilities such as situational awareness, disruption, deception, networking, rescue, or any other mission that benefits from being pre-distributed and hidden.
An example class of systems might be small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that launch to the surface in capsules, take off, and provide aerial situational awareness, networking or decoy functions. Waterborne applications are sought as well.
“We are simply offering an alternative path to realize these missions without requiring legacy ships and aircraft to launch the technology, and without growing the reach and complexity of unmanned platforms,” says DARPA's Coon.
The UFP system is envisioned to consist of three key subsystems: the payload, which carries out ocean or air applications after deployment; the UFP riser, which launches the payload from the ocean floor to ocean's surface; and the UFP communications that trigger the UFP riser to launch.
For more information contact Sparton online at www.sparton.com, or DARPA at www.darpa.mil.