DARPA's Upward Falling Payload Like Leinster's Wabbler

The Upward Falling Payloads program's concept centers on developing deployable, unmanned, distributed systems that lie on the deep-ocean floor in special containers for years at a time. These deep-sea nodes would then be woken up remotely when needed and recalled to the surface. In other words, they “fall upward.”

And yes, it's a DARPA program. One which was anticipated over seventy years ago by science fiction.


(A DARPA Upward Falling Payloads-view of the surface)

Cost and complexity limit the number of ships and weapon systems the Navy can support in forward operating areas. This concentration of force structure is magnified as areas of contested environments grow. A natural response is to develop lower-cost unmanned and distributed systems that can deliver effects and situation awareness at a distance. However, power and logistics to deliver these systems over vast ocean areas limit their utility. The Upward Falling Payload (UFP) program intends to overcome these barriers.

UFP will realize a new approach to enable forward deployed unmanned distributed systems that can provide non-lethal effects or situation awareness over large maritime areas. However, the intended approach averts solutions to deploy technology from legacy platforms, or grow the complexity and reach of unmanned systems. Rather, the UFP approach centers on pre-deploying deep-ocean nodes years in advance in forward areas which can be commanded from standoff to launch to the surface. Nearly 50% of the world’s oceans are deeper than 4 km which provides a vast area for concealment and storage. As a consequence, the cost to retrieve UFP nodes is asymmetric with the likely cost to produce and distribute them on the seafloor. The concealment of the sea also provides opportunity to surprise maritime targets from below, while its vastness provides opportunity to simultaneously operate across great distances. Getting close to targets without warning, and instantiating distributed systems without delay, are key attributes of UFP capability.

To succeed, the UFP program must be able to demonstrate a system that can: (a) Survive for years under extreme pressure, (b) Reliably be triggered from standoff commands, and (c) Rapidly rise through the water column and deploy a non-lethal payload. Section 1.2, and the limited distribution Metrics Addendum, quantify capability metrics. A multi-phase program is envisioned to design, develop, and demonstrate UFP nodes that overcome these hurdles.

Murray Leinster wrote about a very similar device, an autonomous robotic underwater munition, in his 1942 short story The Wabbler:

...The Wabbler lay in its place, with its ten foot tail coiled neatly above its lower end, and waited with a sort of deadly patience... It and all its brothers were pear-shaped, with absurdly huge and blunt-ended horns, and with small round holes where eyes might have been, and shielded vents where they might have had mouths...

Splash! The Wabbler plunged into the water with a flare of luminescence and a thirty-foot spout of spume and spray rising where it struck... It dived swiftly for twenty feet... Then its falling checked. It swung about, and its writhing tail settled down below it... and then slowly, it settled downward. Its ten-foot tail seemed to waver a little, as if groping.

Then it made small sounds from inside itself. More bubbles came from the round place like a mouth. It settled one foot, two feet, three...
(Read more about Leinster's Wabbler)

From Upward Falling Payloads (UFP) solicitation (pdf).

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