DARPA HYDRA Unmanned Subs

To Deploy Aerial and Underwater Drones


Unmanned vehicles designers at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., are working on a project called Hydra to develop an unmanned submersible designed to transport and deploy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) stealthily close to enemy operations.

Darpa Hydra SubmarineThe Hydra program will develop and demonstrate an unmanned undersea system with a new kind of unmanned-vehicle delivery system that inserts UAVs and UUVs (underwater unmanned vehicles stealthily into operational environments to respond quickly to situations around the world without putting U.S. military personnel at risk.

The Hydra large UUV is to use modular payloads inside a standardized enclosure to deploy a mix of UAVs and UUVs, depending on the military situation. Hydra will integrate existing and emerging technologies in new ways to create an alternate means of delivering a variety of payloads close to where they’re needed, DARPA officials say.

The Hydra program also will seek to develop and demonstrate not only the unmanned vehicle mothership, but also examples of the UAVs and UUVs that could be carried into battle covertly.

The rising number of ungoverned states, piracy, and proliferation of sophisticated defenses severely stretches current resources and influences U.S. military capability to conduct special operations and contingency missions, DARPA scientists say.

The Hydra program represents a way to add undersea capacity that can be tailored to support each mission. Technologies are to be adaptable to several different delivery options, including airborne, surface, and subsurface. The Hydra program could enable other new capabilities not currently performed from undersea, DARPA officials explain.

The program will demonstrate individual high-risk components and systems before the military commits to a specific full-system approach, and refine technologies prior to operational demonstrations of the UAV and UUV payloads.

Hydra will have three phases. First, the program will define concepts, develop component capabilities, and reduce subsystem risks with one or more contracts in several technical areas. Later, the program will develop and test a full system. Technical areas involve modular enclosures, air vehicle payloads, undersea payloads, concepts of operation, and supporting technologies.

Modular enclosures will host Hydra payloads and provide a means to transport, house, and launch them. It will be a payload-agnostic “mission truck” that will provide basic services and support to individual payloads. It will operate in shallow coastal waters and harbors for extended periods.

Subsystems will include ballast system, energy, communications, command and control, propulsion, the ability to accommodate different payloads, and measures for long-duration submerged operations. It will deploy its UAVs and UUVs without surfacing, and maintain communications throughout its mission.

The air vehicle payload will feature encapsulated air vehicles that fit into the standard Hydra modular enclosure. The air vehicle payload that will be ejected from the mothership, float to the surface, launch, fly a minimum range, and conduct several different types of missions.

Undersea payloads will launch, dock, and recharge from the mothership and collect intelligence information. After their missions they will download information to the mothership, which will communicate it to command authorities.

Concepts of operation will involve Hydra deployment and retrieval using submarines and transport aircraft; command, control, and communications architectures, and the potential effectiveness of Hydra UAV and UUV payloads.

Switchblade DeploymentIn a related story, Raytheon has been given the contract to ready the AV Switchblade airframe to be launched from submarine waste disposal units. the Switchblade is designed to provide the warfighter with a back-packable, non-line-of-sight precision strike solution with minimal collateral effects. It can rapidly provide a powerful, but expendable miniature flying Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) package on a Beyond Line-of-Sight (BLOS) target within minutes. This miniature, remotely-piloted or autonomous platform can either glide or propel itself via quiet electric propulsion, providing real-time GPS coordinates and Switchblade Dronevideo for information gathering, targeting, or feature/object recognition. The vehicle’s small size and quiet motor make it difficult to detect, recognize, and track even at very close range. The Switchblade is fully scalable and can be launched from a variety of air and ground platforms.


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