July 23, 2013 at 8:44 PM ET
Unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, are in the news constantly, but what about unmanned underwater vehicles? They could also be important in both war and peace, which is why the Defense Department's research arm, DARPA, is looking into a mobile submarine base from which to launch drones.
The project, still in the earliest stages, is called "Hydra," after the mythical beast whose heads multiplied upon being cut off. The idea is to create a sort of underwater version of an aircraft carrier.
"The rising number of ungoverned states, piracy, and proliferation of sophisticated defenses severely stretches current resources and impacts the nation’s ability to conduct special operations and contingency missions," reads the introduction to the program in a paper issued by DARPA (PDF). "The Hydra program represents a cost-effective way to add undersea capacity that can be tailored to support each mission."
The Hydra, itself an unmanned underwater vehicle, would be stocked with drones of various kinds and capacities, and could travel to wherever it's needed, deploying whatever is needed.
Whether you need a drone circling overhead, scouting underwater for mines, or listening on the surface for pirates or distress calls, the Hydra could have them all ready to launch with the tap of a button.
Of course, there are numerous technological challenges involved with putting something like this together, and the DARPA project is only at the stage where the agency is proposing the general shape of what it wants, and will let defense contractors worry about the details.
The "Proposer's Day" event, at which further details will be announced and initial ideas heard ahead of a broader announcement, will be held at Johns Hopkins University on Aug. 5.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.