C4iSR: Maritime

DARPA's TUNA readies for next phase

11 January 2017

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has concluded the initial development phase of its Tactical Undersea Network Architectures (TUNA) programme following 15 months of development and testing.

DARPA's TUNA concept. (DARPA)DARPA's TUNA concept. (DARPA)

The TUNA effort was launched in April 2014 and aims to research credible communication networks that could be employed by naval platforms in the event of a disruption to existing communications.

DARPA's programme documents requested "innovative research proposals in the area of undersea fibre optic-based communications networks" and the conclusion of phase 1 has revealed the results of the agency's specification. Contractors worked on several technologies including the Wave Energy Buoy that Self-deploys (WEBS), which is designed to use wave motion as a source of power.

WEBS was developed by the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), along with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and makes use of specialised components developed by Columbia Power Technologies. The aim of WEBS is to provide a reliable power source for the fibre-optic communications network, which DARPA specified should be capable of functioning in the ocean for at least 30 days. WEBS uses wave motion to rotate floats around a central nacelle, and the current design would enable it to fit in a cylinder in order to be deployed from a ship or aircraft in a rapid fashion.

WEBS provides a power source for the fibre-optic network. (DARPA)WEBS provides a power source for the fibre-optic network. (DARPA)

DARPA also awarded a USD1.9 million contract to LGS Innovations LLC for the development of a neutrally buoyant undersea fibre-optic cable. LGS worked with partners Linden Photonics and Tethers Unlimited to provide the programme with designs, simulations, and a scaled demonstration.

One year into the initial phase, DARPA issued a proposal for Phase 2, calling for real-world testing of a scaled network; the ability to develop a larger network; and Link 16 connectivity or equivalent secure tactical communications. Scaled testing of Phase 2 hardware specifies a requirement that it be deployable from commercial vessels or unmanned vehicles, suggesting DARPA sees the system as independent, possibly being deployable in a modular fashion.

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