1 November 2016
Next year, General Dynamics' Mission Systems Maritime and Strategic Systems division will begin developing a new submarine detection sensor array for the U.S. Navy.
The Office of Naval Research project, code named DRAPES (Deep Reliable Acoustic Path Exploitation System), is part of the Future Naval Capabilities program. It will involve the construction and installation of three arrays of acoustic sensors. Sensor nodes within each array will transmit the signals they pick up to other nearby sensors and thence back to shore – avoiding the interference problems of wave noise near the surface. The Naval Ocean Processing Facility will gather and evaluate the sensors' results.
General Dynamics' Mission Systems division has been involved in submarine warfare for over five decades - including the design of the nuclear weapons system on the SSBN platform.
The arrays are part of a wide range of new experimental ASW technologies under investigation by the Navy - including the new unmanned surface vessel ACTUV, which is intended to deploy on extended patrols to locate and track enemy submarines.
The DRAPES project is also part of a Navy research push into enhanced subsea communications, which could be used for navigation purposes (comparable to GPS) and for coordination of manned/unmanned systems. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency put out a solicitation last year calling for proposals for something like an underwater wireless internet – a seamless communications system that would allow Navy assets to work together and share large amounts of data below the surface, without tethering to a cabled network. Existing products for wireless underwater comms are available, but only at low speeds (up to about 20 kbps for acoustic devices) or short distances (as much as 60 feet for 1 kHz radio waves, as little as six inches for the standard Wifi frequency of 2.4 GHz).