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The nuclear submarine that can remain underwater for 25 years

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In a Barrow-in-Furness shipyard, Stuart Godden, the director of engineering for BAE Systems’ submarines division in Cumbria, is narrating a slide show and comparing the UK’s latest submarines programme – the Astute class – to Nasa’s Space Shuttle programme. “They’ve got a crew of five to seven, we’ve got 97 or so,” he says. “They go out for a couple of weeks, we go out for 90 days.They typically went on 100 missions, we’ve got 25 years to operate.

“In terms of the environment, they’re 200 miles up, we’re hundreds of meters beneath the sea. It’s very benign up there, because there’s no pressure or corrosion, whereas it’s very high pressure and very corrosive under the sea.”

Eventually, he concedes some ground to the Shuttle programme: “Albeit, in getting there they have a very explosive force as they transit into outer space – clearly they’re a hell of a lot faster than we are.”

Godden’s mission is to communicate the scale of what’s been achieved with the delivery of Astute: the sub isn’t a more complicated ship, it’s a completely different realm of engineering. It will operate beneath the sea for months on end, during which time it may be attacked. Throughout its lifetime it will have a nuclear reactor onboard alongside missiles and close to 100 submariners.

Britain’s submarines could previously remain at sea for a maximum of 15 years before refueling. The new iteration will last for a quarter century – the only reason it will need to resurface is to take on food. But does Godden really think Astute was harder to build than a Space Shuttle? “They are two of the most challenging projects the world has ever undertaken,” he says. “It’s hard to be objective. All I’m trying to say is it’s at least as complex from my perspective.”

The Astute is the quietest submarine in the world. Almost every mission it will take part in will require stealth: eavesdropping in hostile waters, covertly delivering special forces (while submerged), tracking enemy vessels and aircraft, hunting enemy vessels and quietly hiding while waiting to launch its Tomahawk missiles (while submerged) at an onshore target that might be more than 1,500 kilometres away.

Although there are no definite dates, the seven Astute-class submarines are likely to be the Royal Navy’s only attack submersibles in the next decade, taking over from the Swiftsure class (all decommissioned) and Trafalgar class (decommissioned within ten years). The only other submarines the Royal Navy will operate are the four nuclear-powered Vanguard-class boats, which currently carry Britain’s nuclear weapons, and which will be superseded by the Successor class if the Government gives the go-ahead in 2016. Thirteen-hundred people are already working on Successor at Barrow’s shipyard.

Godden, 44, has been director of the engineering function, which supports the Successor and Astute programmes, since 2010. He joined the Barrow shipyard as a mechanical-engineering graduate 23 years ago, when it was owned by Vickers. The yard has built all the Swiftsure, Trafalgar and Vanguard class, as well as the Royal Navy’s first submarine, the HMS Holland 1, in 1901. Now it is owned by engineering firm BAE Systems. There are 3,500 people working on the Astute submarines, at a total cost of £10 billion. They have faced significant challenges. For instance, silencing a 97-metre-long, 7,400-tonne piece of metal with 100 people inside. Or equipping it with listening devices using arrays of hydrophones attached to all exterior surfaces of the submarine and some that trail behind when the sub is at sea (the loud pinging sonar you hear in films is rarely used because it reveals position).

“We created computer models of structures involved in the propulsion and pipework systems,” says Godden, “and then modelled how we thought noise would be transmitted through those structures and pipe systems to the hull, and then obviously we tried to damp those noise paths to make the boat as quiet as we possibly could.”

The full article can be found here.

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U.S. Commandos Want This Technology for Special Forces Raids

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For Dungeons & Dragons roleplayers, part of the fun of make-believe adventure is searching for hidden chambers where the monsters keep their treasure. For that matter, it’s a familiar theme in horror movies to have villains and vampires pop out from behind walls and bookcases.

But for U.S. commandos, hidden compartments are not entertainment. They are obstacles to a successful mission to capture fugitives, or seize documents and weapons. And on a house raid in hostile territory, there isn’t a lot of time to go tapping on walls to find a stash.

That’s why U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) wants a detector that can quickly spot where the loot is hidden. The goal of the research project is to develop a handheld device that can detect hidden chambers in an average-sized room (168 square feet) and at a range of about 6.5 feet during sensitive site exploitation, or SSE, operations.

The sensor should be able to penetrate to a depth of 2 feet and have enough battery power to run for forty to fifty minutes. However, while it needs to detect hidden spaces, it doesn’t need to scan the contents inside. “It doesn’t have to ‘see’ thru a metal surface/container; the presence of a metal chamber in a wall would be a suspicious indication,” SOCOM says.

Sensors that detect the presence of humans, such as infrared, acoustic or radar, already exist or are being developed. But current technology is either too bulky or too complicated, says SOCOM. But developing a handy device poses technical challenges. SOCOM emphasizes that the sensor must be able to distinguish between normal spaces in a wall, such as the gap between studs, and hidden compartments. It also must be able to function with a variety of building materials, including brick, cinder block, concrete, wood and sheet rock. “The system should be able to distinguish suspicious hidden cinder block openings vs normal cinder block voids in normal wall construction,” SOCOM adds.

And the device has to be easy to use and reliable. “For the operator to be willing to carry/operate an additional system, along with all of his other equipment, the system performance needs to be high; a system with low detection rates or high false detection rates will be left behind,” SOCOM points out.

SOCOM suggests that cutting-edge technologies such as modern radio frequency transmit/receive modules, advanced computer vision algorithms and modern computer processors may enable a solution to be found. The research proposal did contain links to a Wikipedia entry on ground-penetrating radar, and a Florida company called Ground Hound Detection Services that detects the presence of underground utilities before construction begins in an area.

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Persistent Systems unveils new Dual Channel Push-to-Talk (PTT) device for the MPU5

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Persistent Systems, LLC (“Persistent”) announced today that it is unveiling its new Dual Channel Push-to-Talk (“Dual PTT”) accessory for the MPU5. The Dual PTT, said company officials, will allow the MPU5’s audio capabilities to reach their full potential.

The Dual PTT allows the user to quickly and easily select between 16 talk groups as well as control volume levels for each talk group independently. When paired with a stereo headset, the two selected talk groups are heard in the left and right ears, and the volume level in each ear can be controlled independently.

Dual PTT will improve networked communications and eliminate extra legacy radios

With the MPU5 and Dual PTT, a single MPU5 can communicate on two talk groups either independently (by pressing a single PTT button) or simultaneously (by pressing both PTT buttons). In the past, when a user needed to communicate with two different groups (channels) of users, that user needed to carry two separate Land Mobile Radios (LMRs). Therefore, the MPU5 and Dual PTT significantly reduces size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) burdens on users.

This is possible because the MPU5 is an IP radio, where talk groups are multicast addresses, instead of an LMR radio, where channels are different RF frequencies.

Dual PTT will improve networked communications and eliminate extra legacy radios

“It used to be that a commander would have to carry a PRC-148 and a PRC-152,” said Brian Mcdonald, Field Operations Manager at Persistent. “Now the commander just carries the MPU5 and can use the Dual PTT to talk to both groups. Carrying one radio instead of two will both save money as well as reduce the load on the soldier, which is a major selling point with customers,” Mcdonald explained.

The Dual PTT also serves as the interface into the MPU5’s Radio over IP (RoIP) subsystem. Users can tether legacy LMR radio systems to the MPU5, and associate each of those radios with one of the 16 talk groups as a multicast address on the network. When an MPU5 user communicates on that talk group, the MPU5 “keys up” the LMR radio and transmits audio through it.

“For the warfighter, this means one can tether a TACSAT channel on a vehicle to the RoIP port on the MPU5 and talk on TACSAT from within a building or tunnel while carrying only an MPU5 and Dual PTT,” said Dr. Herbert Rubens, Founder and CEO of Persistent. “The MPU5’s RoIP capability is compatible with PRC-148s, PRC-152s, Tactical Satellite (TACSAT), Fires Net, Public Safety LMRs, or standard walkie-talkies, which means, for example, being able to talk to Command Net, Assault Net, Fires Net, etc. whenever it’s suddenly required by the mission.”

Persistent has begun accepting orders for the Dual PTT.

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