DARPA mulls system-of-systems to network maritime operations

Distributed systems could act as a force multiplier, allowing naval forces to rapidly adapt to new challenges.

As military networks continue to grow technologically, new approaches will have to be created in order to optimize their use.

For networked maritime operations, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is considering the development of a system-of-systems architecture and critical components to support surface, above surface and undersea assets, according to a Request for Information posted on the FedBizOps website.

As the Navy expects to encounter increasingly contested environments, DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office is looking at the viability of a system-of-systems approach that would utilize distributed and disaggregated systems. The agency is hoping that the collection of these systems would act as a force multiplier for capital assets such as ships and submarines, while also providing stand-alone capabilities.  

The approach could also provide more efficient solutions for new threats and missions.

“The ability to rapidly and cost-effectively adapt to new missions and new threats is central to successful operations in an era of globally proliferated technology,” the announcement states. “Capacity enhancement through affordability and networked synergies will ensure the ability of the United States to maintain superiority in contested environments.”

The agency envisions such an approach to have several core attributes.

Networked maritime operations would require integration with existing assets, resulting in a mix of sensors, weapons, manned and unmanned platforms and their respective command and control systems. Commanders could then use the network to potentially improve tactics and procedures.

Meanwhile, the network for these operations would have to survive potential interference and be persistent across the air, sea and undersea domains. This capability could be achieved through the use of long-endurance off board assets that can operate autonomously across large operational areas. The delivery of these assets must be efficient and survivable, according to the announcement.

The agency is also looking to deter potential adversaries through cost. The network is envisioned to utilize assets that have a fielding cost lower than adversaries’ costs to find and destroy those assets.

DARPA is primarily looking for research on the viability, implementation and timeliness of novel system-of-systems approaches. Information received from the posting will be used to decide whether the agency goes forward with the project.

The final response date for the RFI is Sept. 19.

The agency is currently developing technologies that would fit into a distributed systems approach. For instance, the agency released a presolicitation for the second and third phases of its Upwards Falling Payloads program earlier this year, which is developing distributed sensors and drones that would hide on the ocean floor until called upon. Payloads could also include decoys, jammers, beacons and unmanned vehicles that could be adapted to certain missions.