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Navy wants drones stashed on the seafloor

Image of water, looking up.
The military envisions a time when capsules are deployed throughout the oceans, ready to deploy intelligence gathering technologies on command.DARPA

The U.S. Navy wants to pack aerial drones and other intelligence-gathering technology into special containers built to withstand deep ocean pressures and distribute them around the world’s seas. The containers will rise to the surface when called into service from a remote location.

These “upward falling payloads” are seen as readying the Navy to address conflicts in corners of the world where it is too expensive or complex to establish a forward operating area, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) explained in a call for proposals

The containers would be stealthily deployed well ahead of time and designed to stay put on the seafloor for years. The Pentagon said the capsules would be free of actual weapons, limiting the risk of losing any single package. Given the vastness and depth of the ocean, they would not be retrieved once deployed.

“Depending on the specific payload, the systems would provide a range of non-lethal but useful capabilities such as situational awareness, disruption, deception, networking, rescue, or any other mission that benefits from being pre-distributed and hidden,” DARPA explained in a press release

One example provided is a capsule packed with an aerial drone that launches to the sea surface in the capsule and then takes off to provide situational awareness, networking or decoy functions.

To make this a reality, DARPA is reaching out to the technical research community for expertise in deep ocean engineering. Challenges include reliable remote communication with capsules on the seafloor and determining what type of sensors and tools to package.

“Almost half of the world’s oceans are more than four kilometers deep,” DARPA noted. “This provides considerable opportunity for cheap stealth.”

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.