The Atom-class Microsubmarine

INTRODUCTION

Since the early days of the Cold War, the United States and its adversaries have engaged in a high-stakes undersea game of cat and mouse, a game which, though fraught with danger, serves to keep the peace in a world seemingly bent on war. While the barriers to gameplay are great - financial, material, and the political will to risk human life in pursuit of naval power - so too is the responsibility to play within well-established, if unwritten, rules of engagement.

But that is about to change.

In early 2010, U.S. intelligence agencies began receiving information indicating the existence of highly secretive unmanned weapons programs within both the Russian Navy and the PLAN. These deep black programs, staffed by a relative handful of scientists working in state naval research labs, were happening in parallel with private sector AUV research, the fruits of which were on display regularly in academic journals, trade shows, and social media, serving to obscure more ominous efforts that could potentially blunt or even neutralize U.S. naval power. More than ever, it was imperative that the United States out-innovate its adversaries, and development of the Atom-class microsubmarine began.

After years of painstaking analysis and speculation, IC suspicions were confirmed when, in early 2016, a disabled Russian Istina-class microsubmarine was recovered off the coast of Cape Charles, Maryland. The Chesapeake Bay Incident, as it came to be known, was a stark warning of things to come, as only ten months later, with crowds descending on Baltimore Harbor for Fleet Week and the commissioning of the U.S. Navy's newest destroyer, USS Zumwalt, Istinas and Atoms would square off under the surface in what would be the first autonomous combat engagement, the Battle of Locust Point.

The micronaval era had begun.

SMALL IS POWERFUL

The Atom-class microsubmarine is a highly advanced micro autonomous undersea vehicle leveraging state of the art undersea microtechnologies.

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Concept Art: Dhimas Afihandarin

Stats:

Length: 114 cm (3.75 ft)
Beam: 13 cm (5.1 in)
Weight: 11 kg (25 lbs)
Speed: 25 kts
Test Depth: 200 m (656 ft)

Power and Propulsion:
The Atom-class is powered by the revolutionary MS1X micro reactor, a first generation micro nuclear reactor providing 100 SHP, 20 knots submerged, 12 surfaced, and unlimited endurance.

Sensor Pack:
A suite of cutting edge acoustic, magnetic, and visual sensors provides the Atom with unparalleled situational awareness.

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Concept Art: Dhimas Afihandarin

Communications:

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Concept Art: Dhimas Afihandarin

CPU:

System operations, signal processing, integrated data management, and machine learning are provided by an NVIDIA Jetson Tx-2 embedded AI supercomputer.

Embedded Remora Module:

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Concept Art: Dhimas Afihandarin

AN AUTONOMOUS UNDERSEA STRIKE GROUP

Atoms operate in Strikepods, distributed networks of m-AUVs programmed to execute missions of varying scale and complexity, such as anti-submarine warfare (ASW), intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), mine countermeasures (MCM), and time-critical strike (TCS).

Working within a broader grid composed of base ships, stationary sensors, and AUVs, Strikepods provide near-complete undersea situational awareness, persistent access to denied areas, and wide operating coverage.

There are three variants or "modes" of the Atom-class:

Each vessel is mode-configured prior to deployment, but is capable of dynamically reconfiguring at a moment's notice, providing a highly adaptive, redundant platform to ensure mission success.

Strikepods can be comprised of any number of vessels depending on the nature and complexity of the mission at hand. For example, a routine, low-risk survey or ISR mission may necessitate only a handful of vessels - a single Rogue and two Relays, perhaps. Whereas a more complex, covert ASW mission working within a wide operating grid may involve two or more Rogues and Remoras (for localization and tracking) and several Relays (to ensure uninterrupted communications and data integrity).

A COMBAT-READY PLATFORM

What has come to differentiate undersea warfare in the micronaval era from the cat-and-mouse missions of the manned era is the nature and frequency of combat.

The development of unmanned undersea craft has been, until now, largely driven by non-combat requirements. AUVs have assumed roles in oceanographic research, deep sea recovery, ISR, and other roles deemed too risky for human involvement, but have not been weaponized due to the myriad technological challenges, as well as ethical concerns, surrounding autonomy. But with those challenges now overcome, and advancements in adversary programs continuing unabated, the need for an autonomous, unmanned, combat-capable platform is critical.

Microcombat, or combat between m-AUVs, is markedly different from conventional submarine combat. There are no projectiles (i.e. microtorpedos, etc.). Rather, a vessel maneuvers to within striking range, at which point it detonates its explosive payload, destroying or disabling the enemy vessel, but also destroying itself in the process.

Because Atom-class submarines operate collaboratively in Strikepods, adversary vessels are at a distinct disadvantage. While both the Istina and the Shāyú appear to incorporate network functionality, they appear not to be designed to operate within a distributed network, but rather as solo actors.

A VISION WHOSE TIME HAS COME

The unmanned era is upon us, and more than ever it is critical that the United States "out-innovate" its adversaries in order to remain ahead of the strategic curve. At Strikepod Systems we have made it our mission to envision the coming era of unmanned undersea conflict, and to provide warfighters and policymakers with the innovative thinking they need to navigate the challenges and opportunities micronaval warfare will present. The Atom-class microsubmarine will ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of innovation, and is uniquely positioned to dictate the conditions of global security as we move into the unmanned era.