(NaturalNews) What the U.S. Air Force and the CIA are doing in the skies around the world, the U.S. Navy wants to do under the seas: patrol them with weaponized drones.
Over the holiday season, the Navy recently pushed forward with a plan to build a fleet of "long endurance, transoceanic gliders harvesting all energy from the ocean thermocline," according to a dispatch from the sea service.
In other words, underwater drones that derive their power from the ocean itself. As reported by Time:
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.
Weaponized and undersea, these 'gliders' will be valuable - and lethal
Now, the Navy's not calling its vehicles "drones." Rather, as noted by the service's dispatch, they will be called "gliders," and they will be sent on roller-coaster-like paths for up to five years at a time. The Navy envisions a fleet of them being capable of swarming an enemy's coastline during times of conflict, helping surface ships and other combatants locate mines and enemy subs.
And one of the best innovations is that the gliders won't be powered by traditional energy sources - that is, fossil fuels. "Instead, they draw energy from the ocean's thermocline, a pair of layers of warm water near the surface and chillier water below," Time reports.
Here is how the gliders will work:
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.
A great deal of the work that the gliders will likely perform will be oceanic in nature, the Navy says. That means collecting data about water temperature, salinity, currents, eddies and clarity.
That kind of information is crucial for calibrating sonar, so that it can provide the best and most accurate underwater portrait possible. And there are already efforts to develop ways in which that data can be incorporated into information that will be handy for military purposes.
Early testing looks promising
When announcing its contract recently, the Navy added only a couple hundred thousand dollars to an existing contract it has with Teledyne Benthos, Inc., for additional "research efforts" into its Slocum Gliders, so named for Capt. Joshua Slocum, who sailed around the world by himself 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.
In 2009, Time reported, the Navy issued a $56.2 million contract for up to 150 of the "Littoral Battlespace-sensing" undersea gliders to be delivered beginning in 2014. The Navy wants to invest in undersea drone technology, because the information that such craft can gather will be 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."
Navy officials have said the gliders have already proved viable in sea trials.