DARPA considers unmanned submersible mothership designed to deploy UAVs and UUVs

Posted by John Keller

ARLINGTON, Va., 23 July 2013. Unmanned vehicles designers at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., will brief industry next month on a project 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 will conduct industry briefings on the Hydra program from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on 5 Aug. 2013 at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory – Kossiakoff Center in Laurel, Md. Briefings will precede release on a broad agency announcement (BAA) for the Hydra program, DARPA officials say.

The Hydra program will develop and demonstrate an unmanned undersea system with a new kine of unmanned-vehicle delivery system that inserts UAVs and UUVs. 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.

The Hydra industry briefings on 5 Aug. are to provide information on the Hydra program, address questions from potential proposers, and to provide a forum for potential proposers to present their capabilities and explore teaming opportunities. One-on-one discussions with the DARPA Hydra program manager will be available on a first, come first-served basis.

DARPA also is hosting a classified meeting for eligible attendees immediately after the main unclassified session, but prior to one-on-one discussions.

Companies interested should register for the Hydra industry briefings online no later than 29 July 2013 at https://www.SignUp4.net/Public/ap.aspx?EID=HYDR32E; Login: hydra; Password: hydra13.

Email questions or concerns to DARPA-SN-13-42@darpa.mil. The Hydra program manager is Scott Littlefield, and the contracting officer is Christopher Glista.

More information is online at https://www.fbo.gov/spg/ODA/DARPA/CMO/DARPA-SN-13-42/listing.html.

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