Manchurian robots (ok, they're "non-lethal") rising from the ocean floor

The US Department of Defense is launching a research effort to develop underwater robots/sensor platforms that would hibernate on the ocean floor until they "wake up when commanded, and deploy to surface providing operational support and situational awareness." DARPA has dubbed the research effort the Upward Falling Payloads program. (The image below, from the DARPA press release, seems to be illustrating, um, a robot's-eye-view as it's surfacing.) From their announcement:
NewImageDepending on the specific payload, systems would provide a range of non-lethal but useful 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.


    1. Falling Up is obviously meant to imply pink balloons.  Like using them to float your house away.  What fun!

  1. It’s all just a cover for the war that’s about to begin with the things that live on the sea floor.  (And how did our oil get under Cthulhu’s soil, anyway?)

  2. The really funny part of this is that robots like this, combined with small underwater drones will basically make navies obsolete, particularly submarines.

    It only takes a few thousand little quiet robots – at a cost measured in millions, to take away a billion dollar submarine’s one big advantage (being hidden).  Put a little explosives on those robots and the subs are obsolete.  Ditto aircraft carriers and anything else.  Of course, try making that argument in a Pentagon budget committee meeting and see what happens.

    For that matter, airborne drones are very close to making fighter and bomber jets obsolete as well. 

    Though currently I’m sure militaries are drooling at the prospect of total situational awareness and yet more firepower, the end result (once the tech goes mainstream) will be that it will be possible to deny the oceans to ships and the air to planes.  This could be a good thing – if the goal is to prevent invasions and war.  It could be a bad thing for obvious reasons as well.

    1. Theoretically you’ll need those submarines to get in to deploy the mini submarines.  But otherwise, yeah.  But honestly, does anyone else other than Russia and the US even have submarines anymore?  I know China is working on some new nuke subs but still a few years out.

      1. Canada, UK, France, maybe a few others (India?).  The point is that they will all be obsolete in a few years.

        Canada just went through an absurdist rendering of a procurement process for the next fighter jets (they were going to be the F35s the US is planning).  Eventually the fix was exposed and the buy was cancelled (or at least put off for a while).  Heads rolled, careers suffered.  And all for a rapidly obsolescing conception of airpower and airborne militaries.

        Anyone who reads SF and pays attention to tech news must grasp that a thousand $1 million drones beats a single $1Billion jet in a fight.  Even if the jet can kill half of them (unlikely) the other half will surely kill the jet – and it is more likely to take much less than 1000:1.  Drones do not operate within human survival rules (max Gs etc).  The same applies to underwater drones.

        Drones are the end of modern militaries.  That could potentially be a good thing.

        1. Canada has submarines?  I had no idea.

          While I agree that drones are the end of the modern militaries, I’m not sure that what comes next will be better.  I get worried that this stuff will trickle down to police organizations who think drones in the sky is better than actual policemen interacting with the populace.

        2. Malaysia. They bought 2 Scorpene diesel-electric submarines from France in a very dubious deal, that some link to the murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Sharibuu, whose body was blown up by military-grade C4 explosives. The immigration entry records of her and accompanying friend into Malaysia were found to be erased, most possibly by the government itself. Her alleged lover, Razak Baginda, played a big part in the deal, and a close associate of the current Prime Minister.
          Sounds like some pulp novel, but google for Altantuya Sharibuu. May she rest in peace.

      2. Even comparatively middling operations can afford diesel/electric and/or AIP subs, if they simply must avoid public spending that improves quality of life. As long as you don’t insist on a nuke sub, you can pick something out in the hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars range.

        Nuclear submarines are considerably more expensive, and you need to be part of the nuclear fuel club to operate them, so that’s mostly superpowers-and-wannabes territory. Ballistic missile subs are even more specialized: not necessarily much more expensive than normal nuclear submarines; but unless you’ve got a big red safe full of nuclear launch codes and some sort of nuclear warfare strategy, they are about the most expensive way imaginable to launch missiles, so only nations with nontrivial nuclear arsenals would bother.

        One thing that would make automated subs radically easier and cheaper is being able to skip most or all of the pressure hull. With crewed subs, you have a fairly large area that needs to be kept at livable temperature and pressure, which makes for demanding naval architecture, expensive construction, and low crush depth(even crazy-expensive titanium-hulled military submarines crush at depths that make research subs smirk). If you don’t have a crew, though, just a CPU in an epoxy puck, you can start operating at previously impractical depths with drug-sub level engineering. You don’t necessarily even need a hard hull.

        Liquid fuels, say, being mostly incompressible, can simply be stored in bladders. Potential drag or buoyancy issue; but no pressure differences to worry about. 

    1. My thought exactly.  Autonomous drone-bots hiding where we can’t follow them – what could possibly go wrong?

      1. There’s a reason they’re building non-lethal ones. The Navy does remember how several submarines have been sunk by their own torpedos

  3. Undersea robotic weapons and logistics systems like the ones described were a major element in UK author David Mace’s 1986 book ‘Demon 4′.

    A great read and clearly ahead of its time.

    1. Just make sure that their control computers use a byte size of other than 8 bits. Confuses the hell out of the cephalopod menace every time…

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