Hello Down There!?

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I had an interesting chat yesterday at the Navy Leagues Sea Air Space symposium in Washington with an official from Raytheon who was pitching a new system aimed at communicating with submarines more quickly than previous methods.

The funny thing about it is how simple the system really is. And I kept wondering, Why hadnt anyone thought of this before?

Its called Deep Siren, and its a first step in providing real-time communications with submarines operating far below the ocean surface. It all started back in late 2004, when at a Navy/industry symposium the services then chief of nuclear reactor programs told an audience that industry should get off its duff and develop a way to talk to subs in a timelier manner.

In the past, subs had to come to the surface to communicate, using antennas that received pre-recorded messages from home base. A sub commander read down the list to see which messages he already had and took in the ones he didnt. He then fired off his message, and slinked back to the murky deep. Not exactly a good way to have a timely conversation with your commander, admitted William Matzelevich, electronic systems sales executive for Raytheon.

So, what Matzelevichs team did, is they took a standard Navy sono-buoy, rejiggered the guts a bit, tweaked the algorithms and acoustics and set up a secret decoder ring housed in a laptop that can translate the messages into comprehensible language. Sound strange? It isnt.

Basically, the system Raytheons developed allows a sub commander, or a surface commander, to send a message or data through a commercial Iridium satellite phone connection to one of these communications sono-buoys. The buoy then transmits the message through a series of boinks and bings to the sub, which can receive the signal up to 150 miles away from the buoy. The computer onboard the sub translates the boinks and bings into language: Reposition to coordinates, etc., etc., etc The sub captain can then respond to the message sending his own series of boinks and bings that then rings the ship captains Iridium phone.

It remains to be seen how far this initiative gets. So far, the program is suckling off Pentagon and Navy experimental program dollars that are never very consistent its still not a program of record for the Navy. But the Navy is moving ahead to fund an overall communications architecture for its fleet that will include real-time or near-real-time communications with subs. Hopefully something like this will become standard, especially since todays subs have become an integral part of joint operations where speed is key.

-- Christian

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