DARPA Eyes Submersible Aircraft

DARPA wants to explore the feasibility of developing a single platform that is capable of flying through the air like a traditional aircraft and then submerging below the water to clandestinely insert small teams of special operators along coastlines. According to a broad agency announcement issued earlier this month, the agency intends to sponsor multiple studies of concepts that combine the speed and range of an aircraft with the loiter capabilities of a boat and the stealth of a submarine. Of particular interest are experiments that provide proof that an aircraft of this type could maneuver underwater, DARPA said. Envisioned is a platform capable of carrying eight operators and their equipment into theater, inserting them, and then extracting them. Notional design parameters are a total unrefueled range of 1,000 nautical miles airborne, 200 nm on the surface, and 24 nm subsurface. Creating such a platform is no easy task, DARPA acknowledged, since the design requirements for a submersible (heavy weight for submerging) and an aircraft (minimize weight) are “diametrically opposed.”