The Navy’s Amazing Ocean-Powered Underwater Drone

If Santa can harness reindeer to fly the globe, the Navy can use "hydraulic buoyancy" to wage underwater war

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NATO

Putting a Slocum Glider into the sea during a NATO exercise.

While you were out shopping Sunday for those last-minute holiday gifts, the Navy pushed ahead with its own vision of an underwater sugar plum: a fleet of “long endurance, transoceanic gliders harvesting all energy from the ocean thermocline.”

And you thought Jules Verne died in 1905.

Fact is, the Navy has been seeking—pretty much under the surface—a way to do underwater what the Air Force has been doing in the sky: prowl stealthily for long periods of time, and gather the kind of data that could turn the tide in war.

The Navy’s goal is to send an underwater drone, which it calls a “glider,” on a roller-coaster-like path for up to five years. A fleet of them could swarm an enemy coastline, helping the Navy hunt down minefields and target enemy submarines.

Unlike their airborne cousins, Navy gliders are not powered by aviation fuel. Instead, they draw energy from the ocean’s thermocline, a pair of layers of warm water near the surface and chillier water below.

The glider changes its density, relative to the outside water, causing the 5-foot (1.5m)-long torpedo-like vehicle to either rise or sink—a process called hydraulic buoyancy. Its stubby wings translate some of that up-and-down motion into a forward speed of about a mile (1.6 km) an hour in a sawtooth pattern. As it regularly approaches the surface, an air bladder in the tail inflates to stick an antenna out of the water so it can transmit what it has learned to whatever Captain Nemo dispatched it to the depths.

Much of the work such gliders do is oceanographic in nature, collecting data about the water’s temperature, salinity, clarity, currents and eddies. Such information is critical for calibrating sonar to ensure it provides the most accurate underwater picture possible. But there are additional efforts underway to convert such data into militarily-handy information.

slocum schematic

Webb Research

Slocum Gliders rise and fall as they traverse the ocean’s depths, transmitting what they learn via tail-mounted antennas that periodically break through the water’s surface.

The Navy’s Sunday contract announcement added a scant $203,731 to a contract it has with Teledyne Benthos, Inc., for continued “research efforts” into its Slocum Gliders (named for Captain Joshua Slocum, who sailed alone around the world in a 37-foot sloop between 1895 and 1898). “Carrying a wide variety of sensors, they can be programmed to patrol for weeks at a time, surfacing to transmit their data to shore while downloading new instructions at regular intervals, realizing a substantial cost savings compared to traditional surface ships,” the company’s Webb Research division says. The Webb unit is located in East Falmouth, Mass., and its Slocum Glider is the brainchild of Douglas Webb, a former researcher at the nearby Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

In 2009, the Navy issued a $56.2 million contract for up to 150 of the “Littoral Battlespace-Sensing” gliders to be delivered by 2014. The Navy has said it is investing in the field because such information could prove vital “for mine countermeasures and other tasks important to expeditionary warfare. . .ultimately reducing or eliminating the need for sailors and Marines to enter the dangerous shallow waters just off shore in order to clear mines in preparation for expeditionary operations.”

A NATO report last year examined the feasibility of launching Slocum Gliders from torpedo tubes instead of T-AGS oceanographic surveillance ships. “Operating gliders from submarines represents a step forward to embedding this technology into naval operations,” it said. “Unlike surface ships, submarines are stealth platforms that could transit denied areas while releasing a glider fleet.”

Navy Captain Walt Luthiger, a submariner, said an exercise using such gliders proved their mettle in yet another arena. “The environmental information provided by the gliders has proved valuable,” he told NATO public affairs in 2011, “and helped everyone in that very difficult job of finding submarines that don’t want to be found.”

74 comments
RDFinOP
RDFinOP

Astronaut Scott Carpenter wrote a book a long time ago called, "The Steel Albatross" that featured a military stealth submarine that was propelled by gliding.  They would alternately fill and blow the ballast tank and use the wings to fly the sub.  With minimal thrusters there were no prop noises.

cart2424
cart2424

End all social services (that’s socialism) and put all the money into the military and prepare for mob control, have a nice day.

hooja.rajat
hooja.rajat

OMG, really?!?!?!? seaQuest DSV?!?!?!?!?

dutchbuoy
dutchbuoy

When wars begin they are usually a surprise and then are conducted with the latest in obsolete technology and tactics. Right now there are researchers looking for vulnerabilities in our carriers, submarines and stealth aircraft, some of it by allies.

Part of the dream of Socialism was that the solidarity of workers would end war, the World Court would arbitrate conflicts away and for a while the interlocking dynasties of Victoria's children supposedly secured peace. After WW1 we tried The League of Nations, men of good faith negotiated with Hitler for peace in our time, while men of ill will negotiated the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,and after WW2 we tried the UN.

War will always be with us, better minds than ours have struggled to end it, limit it and civilize it, yet war remains Hell. No one ever wins a war, but there are losers, it is better to do everything in your power  not to be a loser.

EdFrizzell
EdFrizzell

Soon there will be nowhere to hide from the man, including the open sea.  I think I read this in a book once and it doesn't end well.  

m0m0tar0san
m0m0tar0san

This is nothing new.  The only news is new funding from the Navy.


Buoyancy driven Slocum Gliders were a vision of Douglas Webb, which Henry Stommel championed in a futuristic vision published in 1989.

MikeElliott
MikeElliott

How long will it take before the Chinese hack this splendid piece of military engineering from the America's? If it's blueprints are stored online somewhere, kiss them already gone.

JimGoolsby
JimGoolsby

Intent.  A knife can be use to cut meat, bread, or your veggies.  Or it can cut a man’s throat.

An airplane can carry mail, cargo, donated organs, or your loved ones for a visit.  It can drop bombs.

A motor vehicle can do so many good things or - -  become a bomb.

Intent is an exclusive human trait.  Objects have no ‘intent’ unless ‘intended’ for it. 

And even than, someone has to push the start button.

JoeLucido
JoeLucido

Why is it we feel the need to let everyone on the planet know what we are doing militarily? It just doesn't make sense to let our enemies know what we have, and what we are working on to defend ourselves.

  As an American citizen, would I like to know? Sure I would, but it is not necessary to know every little advancement we come up with, some things are just better left alone, and not publicized for the good of all of us.


Sometimes I think we have lost all of our marbles.

RicBov
RicBov

The Chinese are actively patrolling our shores and this is a brilliant use of taxpayer money unlike the stupid Obamacare.

ChristopherBowen
ChristopherBowen

Just who the hell do we need this crap for?  There is nobody to go to war with these.  But now that they have them they will invent an enemy so that they can try them out.

tadchem
tadchem

The statement "they draw energy from the ocean’s thermocline, a pair of layers of warm water near the surface and chillier water below" is incorrect.  There is no energy thermodynamically available at the thermocline, which is in thermodynamic equilibrium.  

The energy that 'propels' the device is the energy which changes its density, which must compress a gas-filled chamber on board the glider.  The energy running the compressor must be carried on the device. Gravity does the rest through Archimedes' Principle.


Dragonstalon1001
Dragonstalon1001

I consider myself a Constitutional Conservative (not a Republican, nor a Democrat) and even I think this $56.2 Million could have been spent in better ways.

LeisureForeigner
LeisureForeigner

As kiddies, we used to "fly" the little Styrofoam dart gliders upside-down in the pool and swim behind them from bottom of deep end to shallow end wall. Sadly, no air bladder, antenna or warhead.

mn69813
mn69813

Fish, Americas's next big threat.

auntester3
auntester3

So .....tell me again ...how many mooslimes live under water ??

LeviStrauss
LeviStrauss

Smart, real smart. First they come to the surface to transmit which makes them a navigation hazard and having been on a boat that came to periscope depth only to crash dive because there was a yacht with wide eyed people dead ahead, it could be a real problem and then secondly, the big one, the current speeds along most coast line is far in excess of the one mile per hour speed.   Guess they are only a one way ticket.  I can see it now a huge recovery program in the arctic or antarctic.  Maybe we could train penguins to recover them. ';-)

PedroGonzales
PedroGonzales

This is old news.  Read about it in magazines years ago.  Saw it on the History Channel in the last year too...it is interesting though...no telling what they are really doing now.  Skunk works for the oceans?

D.Dan.Westeman
D.Dan.Westeman

Wait till the U.S. starts selling them to the islamist countries and then subsequently fall into the hands of terrorists. Next target: cruise ships.

CrystalMartinez
CrystalMartinez

Rev 6:14 and 6:15


14And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every slave, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 16And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:

faithcoleridge33
faithcoleridge33

I remember when I was little, every now and then, while watching the news my 80+ grandmother used to say "I'm glad I'm going to die soon.".  I used to scold her for wishing to leave me.  Well now, many years later.  Hmmmphhh. 

BrianAstby
BrianAstby

So can the Navy tell the difference between a fish and a submarine yet?

JimBunion
JimBunion

The War Culture will not end until we are all destroyed by these insanity.

Freedom12
Freedom12

Anytime the military shows the public what they have you can bet that they are much more advanced then shown........

ron@pentex.com
ron@pentex.com

I've never figured out why we tell our potential enemies all  about our latest technology, they surely need no spies, we give it all away. 

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

IN CAPS FOR THE ELDERLY.....DEFEND THE WEAK.....KNIGHT TEMPLARS///


FORGET ABOUT GUARD DOGS.......GIVE ME A PACK OF THESE CYBER DROIDS.....WITH LASERS....STUNNERS......INFRARED SENSORS...THE WORKS........


THE JEDI KNIGHTS AND MASTERS MADE A HUGH MISTAKE/...........FIGHTING DROIDS.....WITH HUMANS.......YOU  CAN MAKE .MILLIONS OF DROIDS AND CLONES......FASTER THAN YOU CAN GROW A HUMAN !!!!!


VALENTINE.....COMEDIAN......LOL

UncleAl
UncleAl

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wE3fmFTtP9g


Add a muffler, Hellfire misslies, and 4(pi) steradian retina-melting Nd:glass or Nd:YAG  lasers.  Teach them how to parachute from a  Lockheed C-5M Super Galaxy.  Navy?  Less than one knot net on a good day? "ACK! THBBFT!"  Where is the paint locker?


Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@dutchbuoy  

"Right now there are researchers looking for vulnerabilities in our carriers, submarines and stealth aircraft"

Don't be naive,everything has been already found. I would say otherwise, scientist continue to improve the means of destruction your carriers, submarines and stealth aircraft.

JohnRobinson
JohnRobinson

@JoeLucido  The problem. of course, are those pesky fishing/trawling nets.  It only takes one.

sensi
sensi

@RicBov Oh yeah , the now more than half a trillion of dollars wasted every year on the most dangerously bloated and over-sized military in the world is a "brilliant use of taxpayer money" according to some. Ah delusion. Meanwhile the US is the most unequal country among all developed nations and have the most costly while poorly ranked healthcare system. But hey life is question of priorities.

guydea
guydea

If they are actively patrolling our shores, then they are actively wasting their money.   You know, the Soviets used to bring factory fishing vessels within a few miles from US shores, draining our fish stocks.  THAT was a problem, and resulted in the Magnusson-Stevens Act, which extended our sovereign waters from just a couple miles to like 30 miles out from US shores, I believe.  That was a good solution to a material problem.  Anyway, you're beating the war drums about China spying on us.  Perhaps I'm being naive here, but suppose China were patrolling US waters, like 29 miles out - so freaking what?  As long as our Coast Guard and our military is doing its job, and so long as China isn't attacking us or depleting our resources, and so long as it can't gather valuable intel on us dozens of miles out as see, then what exactly is the problem?   I suppose if China were a material threat, these drones would be useful, but really the drones seem better for fisheries monitoring, for oceanographic study, or even for LNG or hydrocarbon prospecting.  It seems like their immediate uses would be mostly nonmilitary.

JoeLucido
JoeLucido

@Freedom12You sure would like to think so, but I have my reservations that they are smart enough to be that cunning. Remember that the Navy is still part of the Government, and they do almost nothing right. 

There is no need for anyone outside the U.S. Navy to know anything about a program like this, it just boggles the mind to know they use our taxpayers dollars to come up with weapons of war like this, and then turn around and give all their secrets away.

 I for one do not like my tax dollars spent this way. have they ever heard of that old saying "Only on a need to know basis"

Freedom12
Freedom12

@UncleAl 


I was yelling at it come back, come back.....I didn't mean it......just saying......

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@JoeLucido@Freedom12  

to save your tax dollar, much better would be to stop fighting against the "dictators" and the hunt for terrorists from other continents.