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DARPA calls for help in designing submersible aircraft

Vehicle would be used to secretly drop military teams along coastal locations

October 9, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - It may sound like something out of a James Bond movie, but the U.S. military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is putting out the call for researchers to come up with a design for a submersible aircraft.

Yup, you read it right. DARPA, a research branch of the U.S. Department of Defense, is looking for someone to prove that a vehicle can be built that will fly, as well as maneuver underwater.

The call for research went out earlier this month, and initial proposals are due by 4 p.m. EST on Dec. 1.

As an agency, DARPA is no stranger to working on and putting out calls for forward-looking technology.

Late in July, the California Institute of Technology announced that researchers there had developed a high-resolution microscope, a project funded in part by DARPA, that is small enough to sit on a computer chip. The tiny microscope has the magnifying power of a top-quality optical microscope and is designed so scientists can use it in the field to analyze blood samples for malaria or to check water supplies for pathogens.

And DARPA is also behind the annual Urban Challenge, a 60-mile race among up to 20 driverless, self-guided vehicles. The DoD hopes the event -- and the research that goes into getting the cars ready -- will give them new technology to use on the battlefield.

In its latest call for technology, the agency said it is looking to "maintain its tactical advantage for future coastal insertion missions; DARPA is interested in exploring radical new technologies that can provide a game changing DoD capability for inserting small teams, clandestinely, along coastal locations."

In a statement, DARPA said that "prior attempts to demonstrate a vehicle with the maneuverability of both a submersible and an aircraft have primarily explored approaches that would endow flight capability to platforms that were largely optimized for underwater operations." Those efforts, the agency said, "have been unsuccessful largely because the design requirements for a submersible and an aircraft are diametrically opposed."

DARPA noted that a submersible aircraft requires the speed and range of an aircraft and the loiter capabilities of a boat; along with the stealth of a submarine.

The agency is first looking for conceptual design proposals. The proposals must also identify technical challenges and outline models or experiments that will show how those challenges can be overcome.

Read more about Government IT in Computerworld's Government IT Topic Center.

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