reach 100 knots with an object the size of the envisioned
express. Sensing and control issues would come later.
One solution to obstacle avoidance and control,
according to Ng, would be a “mother ship” monitoring
the water ahead of the express and controlling its movements. But that would mean that “the interface, the connectivity between the vehicle and the mother ship has to
be capable of identifying depths, detecting obstacles and
commanding the vehicle,” he said.
DARPA’s proposal for the express demonstration
said the vehicle should operate in waters as shallow as
20 feet but not greater than 100 feet and must not produce any detectable “surface signature” while traveling
at 100 knots.
Officials from the competing contractors expressed
confidence they had the expertise to meet the formidable challenges presented by the project.
John B. Padgett, vice president of business development at Electric Boat and a former Navy submarine commander, noted his company’s long history of supplying
the Navy submarines and undersea warfare systems.
And, he said, Electric Boat has a team of experts,
including Jennifer Panosky, principal engineer on the project, who, “over the last several decades, have been working on the supercavitating technology. So we probably
have a group that’s as well prepared to do that as anybody.”
Larry Lieberman, Northrop’s program manager, said
the firm has been studying supercavitation for years and
produced a number of undersea vehicles, including
remotely controlled mine-hunting systems.
Northrop also produced the 65-foot Advanced SEAL
Delivery System, a small submarine similar in size to
the proposed Underwater Express. But that program
was cancelled after years of technical problems and
On their Underwater Express teams, both contractors
have experts from Penn State University’s Applied
Physics Laboratory, which has worked on supercavitation for ONR for a decade.
The lab would not comment on its involvement, but
Panosky said it has “fire-walled” its experts working
for the competing contractors.
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