Home » Sea » Undersea pods to hold US war supplies

Undersea pods to hold US war supplies

by Mike Hoffman on January 16, 2013

The Navy wants to build unmanned platforms that it can place in the depths of the the world’s oceans to  have them float to the surface when the military needs the supplies or equipment stored within them.

It sounds almost like the plot from a movie like the Transformers. Machines rising from the bottoms of the oceans to attack the world’s citizens. However, this effort isn’t science fiction.

Engineers with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have begun researching how these platforms could sustain the pressure caused by the depths of the ocean, and then respond to controllers after what could be years or decades without any activity. DARPA calls it “falling up” or “just-in-time payloads.”

“To make this work, we need to address technical challenges like extended survival of nodes under extreme ocean pressure, communications to wake-up the nodes after years of sleep, and efficient launch of payloads to the surface,” said Andy Coon, the DARPA program manager, in a statement.

The U.S. military is transitioning to a Pacific-centric defense strategy that will see units operating in the expansive Pacific region that is often a logistical nightmare. Much of the time and money to operate in the Pacific is spent transporting supplies and equipment throughout the region.

“The goal is to support the Navy with distributed technologies anywhere, anytime over large maritime areas. If we can do this rapidly, we can get close to the areas we need to affect or become widely distributed without delay,” Coon said.

Navy leaders want to use the international waters to their advantage. Navy officials want to keep the supplies and equipment at an arms reach and then summon it when it is needed. Of course, there are plenty of challenges to it, not just technical challenges but political ones. Would the international community allow the U.S. to store their war supplies throughout international waters?

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{ 95 comments… read them below or add one }

IKnowIT January 16, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Big stealthy objects suspended in the ocean? Or. would these things be able to move? Tons of technical issues here, and making something big enough to be of value while not to have other issues (like undersea nav) is going to be tough.. But cool idea

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RIC HEIVILIN January 17, 2013 at 9:35 am

Isn't that called a nuclear submarine.

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cptjohnpaul January 24, 2013 at 1:31 am

In my day we called them Submarines! Submarines with crews, or crew-less! Please remember that before World War One, the German Navy had cargo Submarines, with crews, during World Two, the largest cargo Submarines were Italians, with crews, and sailed to Japan!

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cbn February 21, 2013 at 1:21 am

Guess what its in operation somewhere classified

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JamalTheBanker January 16, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Will the International community allow the US to do it? …No
Should we do it anyway? …Yea!

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ltkitty January 16, 2013 at 6:19 pm

*manly tear* 'MERICA!

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Yellow Devil January 17, 2013 at 11:33 am

USA! USA! USA!

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desert dweller January 24, 2013 at 11:18 am

screw the international community…we OWN THEM! We have saved the asses of 90% of the international community!

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Thomas L. Nielsen January 24, 2013 at 11:39 am

The international community called. They'd like to see how you arrived at that 90% figure….

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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Thomas L. Nielsen January 24, 2013 at 11:37 am

I don't really see how the "international community" (whatever that is) could have a say in the matter. Or why they would even bother to complain about it (except those nations that always complain, of course. You know who you are!). As long as these pre-positioning pods are in international waters, why would they be different from, e.g. a US Navy supply vessel?

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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Matt January 16, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Any nation trying to prevent us from building these should be reminded of us saving them from Imperial Japan and asked if they really think China won't repeat that aggression.
Seriously though; considering international waters allow ships of all kind, why should what is essentially an unmanned submarine be any different? And why should the international community even have a say?

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Mitt January 16, 2013 at 6:43 pm

It's going to be some bad press when one of these blows and a tanker's worth of oil leaks into the ocean.

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crackedlenses January 17, 2013 at 12:25 am

It happens to oil tankers; you don't see the world universally condemning oil tankers, or even oil transportation as a whole.

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Menzie January 17, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Actually the public does condemn them, at least while it is in the media coverage.

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crackedlenses January 17, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Just wait for the media to stop covering these pods, and the public won't know they exist….

blight_ January 16, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Leaning towards this replacing the land BM deterrent force. Hide siloes in submersible barges, move them around at night or tow by submarine. Let float to surface and fire BMs upon signal receipt.

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guest January 16, 2013 at 6:07 pm

We already have that, They're called Ohio-class submarines.

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ohwilleke January 16, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Why not go one step further and develop a fleet of submarine transport/tanker ships for missions like getting supplies through to allies whose seaways have hostile forces ready to strike in them?

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Kim January 17, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Because submarines are hideously expensive, even if they're not warships. During WW2 Germany used some for transporting stategic materials back to the Fatherland, and lately smaller ones have been used for smuggling drugs to the USA. But using them for regular payloads makes no sense at all.

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ohwilleke January 22, 2013 at 8:31 pm

I was thinking that they'd probably be cheaper than a Berlin airlift style operation and would be used in that kind of situation, or for example, to get hundreds of orphans out of a war zone where the air space wasn't secure. These wouldn't be "regular payloads".

A submarine like this could carry perhaps 50-100 C-17 loads in each round, and if you had an over the horizon/out of theater conventional ship to load and unload the transport submarine in the open ocean so that it could operate as a shuttle rather than an entire trip transport, you could get in a lot of shuttle loads. You could also handle deliveries of cargo too heavy to move by air (e.g. a 200 ton portable FOB module).

blight_ January 17, 2013 at 10:38 am

Barges are cheaper than a boomer.

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Menzie January 17, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Not when corporate America gets involved. These barges would in the end cost nearly as much as a boomer I am sure. Cost overruns, etc. They will milk it for its worth.

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majr0d January 17, 2013 at 11:33 pm

Something about having an unguarded nuke floating out there in the ocean makes me nervous…

Not a good idea blight and you usually have plenty. :)

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blight_ January 18, 2013 at 12:15 am

It was a brainstorming moment. Sometimes you get Titanic, sometimes you get John Carter.

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majr0d January 18, 2013 at 1:23 am
Simple Man January 16, 2013 at 6:53 pm

I can see the movie!

"Pod Pirates"….

A rogue band of international misfits plans to seize a hidden cache of millions of MRE's; personal sanitary kits, and reflective belts in order to embarrass the Pentagon into releasing Bradley Manning and the guys doing time at Leavenworth who drained the snake on the tollybons.

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Sean Connery and a team of cardiac and gerontology specialists.

Rock'em sock'em kisses you never got. It's combat engineers charging side by side with Greek hand bags. Showing the world a new way to fight as they use bulldozers like bazookas, bayonnets like bullets. That is all.

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randomantic January 24, 2013 at 2:52 am

And the 2013 Academy Award for Best Use of Sampling in a Message Board goes to… Simple Man! For his use of the PA announcement from M*A*S*H!

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Ripley January 16, 2013 at 7:37 pm
ohwilleke January 16, 2013 at 8:01 pm

It makes more sense than developing supersonic transports to deliver socks, MREs and diesel to troops around the world.

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Warrior7 January 23, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Air transport is utilized for the initial, first 30 – 45 days, delivery of Army supplies. After 45 days the transport transitions to the MSC. The air transport sub-sonic and is mostly comprised of munitions and sustenance. ohwilleke you are such a civilian landcrab, you probably think zero dark thirty is a reality flick. BTW we say O-dark-thirty vice the holleywood version.

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randomantic January 24, 2013 at 2:57 am

my navspecwar unit used "zero dark thirty." different from you and being from hollywood don't make it wrong.

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Rhys F January 31, 2013 at 5:35 pm
Jason January 16, 2013 at 8:23 pm

So – Maritime Prepositioning Ships that are water-tight, sinkable and re-floatable?

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Musson January 17, 2013 at 10:13 am

Actually – if one of those ageing vessels sinks accidentally – we can just say it was part of the Submerged Prepositioning Initiative.

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lordofthegadflies January 23, 2013 at 2:47 am

"Aging vessels"? The Bob Hope and Watson-class LMSRs are about 15 y/o. I've sailed on both types, and prefer the Bob Hope-class. If you're thinking of all the old crappy break-bulk steamships run by MARAD, they have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

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majr0d January 17, 2013 at 11:36 pm

I'm not so sure submerged loads are better than floating ones that just need a crew or maybe some kind of ocean going barge? These floating supplies will have to be towed or reloaded on supply ships.

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stephen russell January 16, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Saw similar idea on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, placing ICBMs undersea fixed for defense, but tha was 60s Sci Fic then.

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Richard Jean January 18, 2013 at 3:47 am

what was scifi then is real now

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Tiger January 18, 2013 at 12:26 pm
Dean January 16, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Hm. Interesting. It seems reasonable to suppose the Navy must be thinking about a MASSIVE amount of material to store, that is pretty much the only way it would be worth it. There are technical issues, those seem somewhat surmountable in time. There is likely a depth limit, which thus places limits on locations, which thus makes it harder to keep secret. What would keep an adversary from hacking the wake signal and/or sabotaging an unsecured pod? Or worse taking it all for themselves? Would the plan be to keep an attack sub on station indefinitely? Surround it with hydrophones? I'm not sure I'm a fan.

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NathanS January 17, 2013 at 12:22 am

The facts are we have better maps of the far side of the moon than we do of the ocean floor. And people quickly forget that our planet is made up of 70% ocean. Even if there were a depth limit (likely to be thousands of feet deep), that's still a massive area.

There are still quite a few World War II warships where we know approximately where they were sunk, and yet we are yet to find them 70 years later. So even if you knew the area a cache would be, finding it would still be very much a needle in a haystack.

I can think of lots of ways to get around potential sabotage if an adversary did discover a cache. Did you know that even what we consider to be old civilian encryption (128 bit AES) would take the worlds current fastest super-computer 1 billion-billion years to crack via a brute force attack? Military encryption is far stronger and uses rolling codes, so even if you could eavesdrop on the release signal in one place, the signal would be different just seconds later.

Further to this you could add a self-destruct mechanism that would prevent manual tampering – and even then the pressure from ocean depths makes this excessively difficult.

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Jayson January 17, 2013 at 4:49 pm

I'm sure a nation with advanced tracking such as Russia could find somethings up in a spot where one of these are getting installed. They can go in later, do a few snips or toss a tow cable on it and take it back then a couple little c4 to pop it open and they get a fine cache of stuff graciously donated by the US.

I'm sure ceramics can handle the storage underwater for a period of time, I just don't believe it's securable from foreign thefts of the pods. You can't trust those Canadians you know.

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Hunter76 January 16, 2013 at 10:31 pm

I see the new pirate business, too.

In any event, a great way to spend taxdollars.

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jake January 16, 2013 at 10:49 pm

What?? Just more wasteful spending of the taxpayer dollars. It will never end….

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ed schwab January 23, 2013 at 11:43 pm

The military budget is less than 10% of our 'FAILED WELFARE BUDGET'! Since 1967 [the beginning of Pres. Johnson's "Great Society"] the various welfare programs have only created a greater percentage of Americans living below the poverty line. Our military has several times saved the world from someone's plan for world domination!

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Uncle Bill January 16, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Misinformation.

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jamesb January 17, 2013 at 12:16 am

Please tell me this is a joke….Right?

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tmb2 January 17, 2013 at 1:53 am

It's a DARPA project. Borderline looney ideas is their business.

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Nadnerbus January 17, 2013 at 1:50 am

If you put one of these every five hundred miles or so, you could keep an LCS fully supplied and at sea for weeks!

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lordofthegadflies January 23, 2013 at 2:51 am

"If you put one of these every hundred miles or so, fully stocked with loads of repair parts and s**t-tons of fuel, you could keep an LCS at sea for days!"
There, fixed it for ya.

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BlackOwl18E January 17, 2013 at 6:46 am

Autopods, transform and roll out!

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Benjamin January 17, 2013 at 6:55 am

Bad Idea, how are we going to prevent them from being used against us? If someone figures out how we retrieve them and copies it, how will we even know until to late.

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TonyC January 17, 2013 at 7:12 am

In world war 2 the US Army developed Pigeon Guided Bombs and they actually worked, but it was such a strange concept that they never used it in combat. This may be one of those strange ideas. if nothing else, it may get new technologies for long term storage of perishables.

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SJE January 17, 2013 at 10:41 am

I am no expert in laws of the sea, but what distinguishes these from abandoned wrecks etc that can be salvaged by anyone?

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MLH January 17, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Exactly! And what's to stop some random person or other military from getting them.

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Bryan January 23, 2013 at 8:54 pm

A small crew.
Possibly submariners, or former submariners. 6 mo watch, DSRV crew exchange via sub.
Motivation: high pay, perdiem, hazard pay, select future assignments, etc.
LA class on patrol within sprinting distance, on board defenses, and escape vessel to provide security. After all, you're not leaving a $100B+ vault unguarded!

But who holds the reins? Obviously China will pay for it.

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JRL January 17, 2013 at 11:03 am

Clearly such a major investment in the American taxpayers' money, materiel, and intellectual property rights must be vigilantly defended 24/7 from both the Commies and the 47%/OW terrorists.

IOW, USN spec sharks with LASERS!

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johnvarry January 17, 2013 at 1:11 pm

ON THEIR HEADS!

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A. Nonymous January 17, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Due to sequestration-driven budget cuts, ill-tempered sea bass will be substituted for sharks with laser beams on their heads.

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Hunter76 January 18, 2013 at 7:26 pm

By federally paid NRAers!

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A. Nonymous January 17, 2013 at 11:17 am

Since we are apparently using the logistics playbook of old Bond villains, I assume we are also investigating dormant volcano and orbiting space stations as basing options.

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One Otherguy January 17, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Um… is it just me, are aren't we facing sequestration and a massive deficit?

How much, and who pays for it? (We already know the answer to this)

What is next? Burying supplies underground for the Army to use? We have excellent case studies (i.e., your local landfill) from which to draw expertise.

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lordofthegadflies January 23, 2013 at 2:57 am

<What is next? Burying supplies underground for the Army to use?>

Actually, there is historical precedent for exactly that. Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery buried supplies along their route to the Pacific, to be used during their return voyage.

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blight_ January 23, 2013 at 3:18 am

The Corps of Discovery's needs are far smaller than say, an infantry division.

That said, supply burial assumes no spoilage, no looting and the ability to precisely return to the site-the latter is helped immensely by GPS, but hindered by geopolitics.

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Mark January 17, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Simply use the sea to regulate internal pressures. Outside sea ( first layer of water ( next lower pressure of water ( and on till you get to the stuff you want sent up) water) water) open sea. Have check valve set to various psi highest on outermost encapsulated barrier. Once you let extend to surface tethered to bottom to a fixed location drop the outer shell till it surfaces.

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Tiger January 18, 2013 at 4:00 pm
Navbm7 January 17, 2013 at 1:33 pm

This sounds like a good use for our mothballed subs. Gut the crew quarters for material storage, modify the controls for remote activation and then hide them where there are no fishing trawlers.

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Rhys F January 23, 2013 at 10:31 pm
Joe_Sovereign January 17, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Since China makes all of our supplies anyway couldn't we live off our own supplies from their warehouses during any land war in China?

I am confused as to what we are prepositioning. Is it fuel for Navy ships? I can't imagine we are prepositioning food for use decades later. Ammunition? Missles? Main Battle Tanks?

In 15 years won't we be using 3D printers to spot manufacture most of our replacement items. Why would you want 10 year old boots from the bottom of the ocean when you can print custom boots designed for your feet in 10 minutes.

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Mark C January 17, 2013 at 4:12 pm

I wonder what happens when after several years someone (not subject to our laws) decides to salvage the treasure we've left in international waters…

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Tiger January 17, 2013 at 6:14 pm

This is stupid……….

We have plenty of US flagged islands & atolls to store things. MIdway, Wake, Johnson, Guam, Howland, American Samoa The whole Aleutian chain, The Pacific missile Range……………. All belong to us. Are above the sea, are scattered geographically. Building some crazy underwater fuel & ammo dump is just dumb as the Death Star idea.

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A. Nonymous January 17, 2013 at 6:59 pm

I think it is time we demonstrated the full power of this undersea storage pod. Set course for Alderaan.

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Max January 17, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Hey enemies! We're putting WEAPONS and AMMUNITION and other COOL STUFF in these PODS, and we're going to leave them all by themselves out here in the great big ocean, ok? Please don't come and take them, ok? (Al-queda): Ahem, sure, we would never do that (he, he, nudge, nudge)

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Tanker Chief January 17, 2013 at 8:20 pm

Underwater Weapons Storage Depot = SUBMARINE

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JSCS January 17, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Isn't the Glomar Explorer still with us? How big a container do you want to place?

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jon January 18, 2013 at 10:53 am

Darpa is full of crackpot dumbasses that shovel taxpayer money into incinerators. This has to be the most retarded idea since the darpa twats dreamt up the IED evading flying humvees.

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Simple Man January 18, 2013 at 3:30 pm

aren't those called heliocopters?

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tiger January 18, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Are they hiring? I can sit in a cubicle and come up with daydreams all day.

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red2429 January 19, 2013 at 10:24 pm

I see a bigger problems with security. If someone finds it I think it would be more difficult in keeping positive control of it then designing something that could withstand the depths. We have hard enough problems with security on land much less on something that would be hard to get to in a hurry. It would also have to be linked up to some kind of network to get it to initiate what ever start up mechanism. The only way to protect anything from hackers to not connect it to a network of any kind. Even if you made a separate network all it would take is time to locate the landline and connect to it. Cool idea though. I would wander if it would really be less be less expensive than traditional means.

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Bryan January 23, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Extreme depth security is fairly strong. Mostly ROV work. You wont pull up a 8'x8' pallet with it. Especially with the tonnage doors closed.
Acoustics are amazing, sensors could alert of any unscheduled approaches, and blowing the dead weight to surface will alert acoustic arrays and seismologists throughout the hemisphere. You will be captured before it surfaces!

I suspect it will be manned, and a submerged patrol within strike distance.
Routine crew exchange on semi annual rotation,,, probably sign up myself.

My question is, I thought we were building towards peace, this looks like shock and awe 2 buildup. And for who? And why?

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Robert C January 20, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I agree with comments above regarding the security and legalize of doing this in international waters. I respect DARPA throughing out these idea. It be better if they kept them OUT FROM THE PUBLIC. God, what happen to secrets. It works when NO ONE KNOWS.

Its still stupid idea, were still exploring the ocean. Its not a dead space, its aliving environment. Storing mundane supplies like food, ammunition, etc undersea is risky in shape tidal forces could move it around, bury it etc. Never mind fact people could simply salvage it while their looking for a wreck. It could be on map on a reservation, but it have to be ocean water we own. Too risky. US Martime fleet is better choice for this.

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old peter January 22, 2013 at 2:32 am

why not use the mothball fleet ships as storage? They could man and maintain them like a floating island system.

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tiger January 23, 2013 at 9:25 am

Why do I need floating Islands when we have real ones? See post above…..

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Forefronts January 23, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Resupply? Obsolete? Test viability? Just some of the downside.
Interesting concept, needs work

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Sea Dog January 24, 2013 at 6:33 am

So what happens when equip becomes obsolete? I mean imagine if one was full of digicams. You'd have to float the pod every 12-18 months to rotate out the old stock and put in place the next set of fire excellerate clothing. Hey how about putting the whole uniform board down there?

Now seriously. Imagine the cost and quantity of whatever you put there. How would it be serviced? Don't put too much scratch behind this one. The politics, science and finances just aren't there

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Marvo76 January 24, 2013 at 9:44 am

Bad Idea, all it will take is some depth charges to rupture the container, and suddenly no more supplies since they won't float back up, and deep enough they can't recover them with out significant expenditures of time and resources….during wartime….smoke another one guys….

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SwabJockey January 24, 2013 at 11:24 am

The Navy will be able to do this because with the manpower cuts there will be extra money available for stupidity projects. When you deduct the cost of food, clothing, electricity, etc. for one swabby, multiplied by ??? that's a lot of beans, toiletpaper and 2 Kilo's that can be "pre-positioned" for future use. If you can't dazzle em with brilliance then you baffle them with BS. Sounds about right.

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Marine Dad January 24, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Maybe they will house enemy combatants there…

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PaulDavis46 January 24, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Very interesting concept. A lot has to be worked out. What would prevent China, North Korea or any other country that hates America from locating and getting our defense supplies. Sense we have proven the space station can stay up without falling to the ground, why not bring the shuttle out of moth balls use them for transportation and put up a few more stations for storage of defense materials? Either way it goes, sea or space, it means jobs for out of work Americans. Go for it.

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Gene January 31, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Smart, lets give the bad guys even easier access to materiel and see what happens.

Next will be a program to make sure all the materiel can float, that way they big boys can just sprinkle it and wait for it to wash up on the beaches.

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MAB February 21, 2013 at 9:19 am

all it will take is some strategicly placed depth charges and the whole thing disappears unrecvoverable, into the abyss….epic fail!

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