THE MIL & AERO VIDEO BLOG, 22 Jan. 2013. The whole notion of air-delivered weapons is pretty clear: aircraft release bombs that fall downward toward their targets. Now take that idea and flip it upside-down. Yes, I'm talking about weapons and sensor payloads that fall UP -- except they don't fall from the ground up into the air, but instead fall UP from the ocean floor to targets on the surface.
I know it sounds a little wild, but that's what the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is in business for. DARPA's latest idea is called the Upward Falling Payloads program, or UFP, and it envisions non-lethal weapons like distracting light strobes, blinding lasers, and electronic warfare jammers that are forward-deployed beneath the ocean and launched into the middle of an adversary's naval battle group to cause surprise, confusion, and more.
Some of the envisioned UFPs might not put on such a dramatic show. In fact, they will be designed to be stealthy situational-awareness sensors that could launch undetected amid groups of enemy ships to eavesdrop on opposing forces ... stealthy, that is, IF the UFP's propulsion system that shoots it to the surface is quiet enough to hide from sonar.
It all sounds interesting, but the UFP program is fraught with technological challenges.
Upward falling payloads -- be they non-lethal weapons or surveillance sensors -- could be placed on the ocean floor YEARS before their use. That means their sensitive electronics and electro-optics must be able to withstand long-term exposure to cold temperatures, corrosive saltwater, underwater earthquakes, extreme pressure, and ocean muck. They have to work when activated by underwater radio link from long standoff ranges.
And what if UFP technology CAN work? This capability could enable U.S. and allied naval forces to cover vast areas of the world's oceans with a minimum of forward-deployed ships and aircraft. That means military coverage on-the-cheap, and it's something the U.S. military has to do more often in the future as defense budgets shrink.
The UFP system will consist of three key subsystems: the payload, which is a non-lethal weapon or sensor; the UFP riser, which launches the payload from the ocean floor to ocean's surface; and the UFP communications system that triggers the payload's riser to launch when needed.
DARPA will brief industry this week on details of the UFP program. Briefings are Friday, January twenty-fifth, in Arlington, Virginia. If you're bidding, you need to have abstracts in to DARPA no later than February fifth, and final proposals in no later than March twelfth.