Today’s naval forces rely primarily on highly capable multifunctional manned platforms, such as ships and submarines. Even the most advanced vessel, however, can only be in one place at a time, making the ability to respond increasingly dependent on being ready at the right place at the right time. With the number of U.S. Navy vessels continuing to shrink due to planned force reductions and fiscal constraints, naval assets are increasingly stretched thin trying to cover vast regions of interest around the globe. To maintain advantage over adversaries, U.S. naval forces need a way to project key capabilities in multiple locations at once, without the time and expense of building new vessels to deliver those capabilities.
DARPA launched the Hydra program in 2013 to help address these challenges. Named for the multi-headed creature from Greek mythology, Hydra aims to develop a distributed undersea network of unmanned payloads and platforms to complement manned vessels. The Hydra would allow the U.S. Navy to deploy drones anywhere in the world without the need for either ground bases, or aircraft carriers. One such drone that would be compatible is Raytheon’s minature Switchblade “kamikaze” drone, which could conceivably launched from ports on the side of the Hydra
The Hydra program will develop and demonstrate an unmanned undersea system, providing a novel delivery mechanism for insertion of unmanned air and underwater vehicles into operational environments. Situated underwater, Hydra will use modular payloads within a standardized enclosure to enable scalable, cost-effective deployment of rapid response assets and will integrate existing and emerging technologies in new ways to create an alternate means of delivering a variety of payloads close to the point of use.
The goal is to create a force multiplier that enables rapid, scalable and cost-effective deployment of assets close to the point of use. The Hydra program seeks to develop and demonstrate initial examples of air and undersea payloads while leaving open the potential for accommodating additional payloads in the future. Technologies are intended to be adaptable to multiple delivery options, including airborne, surface, and subsurface. The Hydra program will enable other new capabilities not currently performed from undersea.
Hydra’s enclosures “are deployed by various means, depending on the need for speed and stealth and remain deployed until awakened for employment,” according to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s budget proposal. Hydra would “create a disruptive capability” in coastal waters, the budget proposal stated.
“The climate of budget austerity runs up against an uncertain security environment that includes natural disasters, piracy, ungoverned states and the proliferation of sophisticated defense technologies,” said Scott Littlefield, DARPA program manager. “An unmanned technology infrastructure staged below the oceans’ surface could relieve some of that resource strain and expand military capabilities in this increasingly challenging space.”
Key to the effort is the development of modular payloads that would provide key capabilities, including Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Mine Counter-Measures (MCM). Each payload module would plug into a standardized enclosure that would securely transport, house and launch various payloads, while sustaining payload functionality for weeks to months. The Hydra system would emphasize scalability, rapid reconfiguration and maximization of payload. Ships, submarines or airplanes could deliver the Hydra system to littoral ocean zones (shallow international waters near shorelines).
Hydra’s communications suite would work synergistically with manned platforms, increasing their effectiveness. It would also enable remote control from over-the-horizon significantly increasing operational reach. Additionally, Hydra would enable other new capabilities not currently performed by manned platforms, such as forward-deployed airborne ISR with expendable platforms or recharging hubs for ISR-capable undersea vehicles.
“By separating capabilities from the platforms that deliver them, Hydra would enable naval forces to deliver those capabilities much faster and more cost-effectively wherever needed,” Littlefield said. “It is envisioned to work across air, underwater and surface operations, enabling all three to perform their missions better.”
The DARPA Hydra program seeks to leverage mature and emerging component technologies to cost-effectively develop a new undersea launch platform with modular payloads, including air vehicle and undersea vehicle payloads.
DARPA seeks innovative proposals in the following areas of interest:
Technical Area 1: Modular Enclosure
DARPA seeks innovative proposals under this area to design and develop a modular enclosure suitable for hosting Hydra payloads. The modular enclosure will provide the means to transport, house and launch various payloads and will serve as a payload agnostic “mission truck” that will provide basic services and support to the payload module and individual payloads.
The modular enclosure is desired to operate in the littorals for extended periods of time. The internal components shall be modular and able to be reconfigured to enable rapid integration of multiple types of payloads and maximize the space available for emerging payloads. The service and support should be scalable based on the mission with standard interfaces established to accommodate different payloads requirements.
Key sub-components are expected to include the modular enclosure structure, ballast system, energy, communications, command and control, propulsion, internal modularity suitable to accommodate different payload requirements, and measures for long-duration submerged persistence. The modular enclosure will have a ballast system for controlled descent and ascent and sufficient energy on board to enable all modular enclosure support operations, including a limited ability for self-propulsion to maneuver and position itself for increased deployment flexibility.
It is desired to execute the associated payload missions without surfacing and be able to operate undersea for the entire mission while maintaining command and control connectivity via flexible, multi-modal communications. The modular enclosure is also expected to operate with a high degree of autonomy, managing control for all internal modular enclosure functions and preparation of the payloads for mission execution.
Technical Area 1 will also oversee development of interface control specifications and documentation to ensure compatibility with internal payloads and external delivery systems.
Technical Area 2: Air Vehicle Payload
DARPA seeks innovative proposals under this area to design and develop an above-water payload suitable for launch from the modular enclosure while demonstrating the military utility of the Hydra concept. The Air Vehicle Payload is envisioned to consist of individually encapsulated air vehicles within a module that fits into the standard Hydra modular enclosure.
The Air Vehicle Payload relies on the Hydra modular enclosure to provide a stable undersea platform, communications while submerged, and buoyancy. The air vehicle payload module would house, maintain, initialize and release individual encapsulated air vehicles upon external cueing. The encapsulated air vehicles are expected to be ejected from the modular enclosure, float to the surface, launch, fly a minimum range and conduct one or more of the missions described in the classified and export controlled annexes.
DARPA seeks Technical Area 2 proposals that reduce cost and risk by leveraging an existing air vehicle, modifying an existing air vehicle or otherwise maximizing the use of existing components. Additional innovative air vehicle payloads not described in the classified and export controlled annexes will be considered under this technical area.
Technical Area 3: Undersea Payload
DARPA seeks innovative proposals under this area to design and develop a below-water payload suitable for use from the DARPA-funded modular enclosure while demonstrating the military utility of the Hydra concept. The Undersea Payload is envisioned to consist of an undersea payload module that fits into the modular enclosure with a small number of standard undersea vehicles suitable for one or more of the missions described in the export controlled annex.
In contrast to the air vehicle payload, less emphasis is placed on individual missions for the undersea vehicle. Rather, the Hydra focus will be on safely transporting existing undersea vehicles, providing the required energy for long endurance, efficiently transferring energy, transferring and transmitting collected information, and launching and docking the vehicles.
The modular enclosure is expected to provide a stable undersea platform, communications, and buoyancy. Key elements of the undersea payload are expected to include providing onboard air-independent energy for recharging undersea vehicles, launching and docking vehicles, downloading vehicle data, and transmitting required information to a command and control center via the modular enclosure. DARPA seeks Technical Area 3 proposals that reduce cost and risk by leveraging an existing vehicle, modifying an existing vehicle, or otherwise maximizing the use of existing components.
The first phase of the DARPA Hydra project focused on design and technology demonstration of modular submersible enclosures; deployable UAVs; deployable UUVs; deployment and retrieval of using a variety of platforms; and related technologies.
The second phase is concentrating on building a complete modular enclosure; a complete air vehicle payload module; a complete undersea payload module with several undersea vehicles and interfaces with the modular enclosure module; and demonstrating these modules in a realistic environment.
Boeing moves forward in unmanned submersible mothership project to deploy unmanned surveillance
Unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) designers at the Boeing Co. are continuing their work to develop enabling technologies for a large unmanned submersible mothership able to transport and deploy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs and UUVs stealthily close to enemy operations.
The DARPA Hydra large UUV program involves the Boeing Co. Defense, Space & Security segment in Huntington Beach, Calif., and Hydroid Inc. in Pocasset, Mass. Independently, Boeing has developed the Echo Voyager, a 51-foot large UUV that can reach depths of 11,000 feet and can operate independently for months underwater. Boeing unveiled the Echo Voyager in 2016 and began sea trials of the unmanned undersea craft in 2017.
Hydra aims to develop a distributed undersea network of UUVs and UAVs able to operate independently for weeks or months at a time to complement manned ships, submarines, and aircraft as an alternate means of delivering various capabilities above, on, and below the ocean’s surface.
Key to the Hydra project is developing modular payloads for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); mine counter-measures (MCM); and other important capabilities.
The Hydra large UUV is to use modular payloads inside a standardized enclosure to deploy a mix of UAVs and UUVs, depending on the military situation. Hydra will integrate existing and emerging technologies in new ways to create an alternate means of delivering a variety of payloads close to where they’re needed, DARPA officials say.
The Hydra program aims at demonstrating not only the unmanned vehicle mothership, but also examples of the UAVs and UUVs that could be carried into battle covertly.
The rising number of ungoverned states, piracy, and proliferation of sophisticated defenses severely stretches current resources and influences U.S. military capability to conduct special operations and contingency missions, DARPA scientists say.
The Hydra program may represent a way to add undersea capacity that can be tailored to support each mission. Technologies are to be adaptable to several different delivery options, including airborne, surface, and subsurface. The Hydra program could enable other new capabilities not currently performed from undersea, DARPA officials say.
Modular enclosure subsystems include ballast system, energy, communications, command and control, propulsion, the ability to accommodate different payloads, and measures for long-duration submerged operations.
The deployable UAV portion features encapsulated air vehicles that fit into the standard Hydra modular enclosure. The air vehicle payload will eject from the mothership, float to the surface, launch, fly a minimum range, and conduct several different types of missions.
Undersea payloads will launch, dock, and recharge from the mothership and collect intelligence information. After their missions they will download information to the mothership, which will communicate it to command authorities.
On this contract modification Boeing will do the work in Huntington Beach, Santa Fe Springs, Anaheim, Long Beach, Placentia, and Garden Grove, Calif., as well as in Attleboro, Mass., and should be finished by January 2019.