Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shock and Awe and Flying Submarines

by Jeff Huber

Last spring my dog Shady and I were walking across the bridge over Pleasure House Creek when I heard a disturbance in the water. I looked down and saw a Great Blue Heron breaking the water's surface. The heron flicked the water from its wings, flapped them, and went flying down the creek about two feet above the surface.

Impressive, I thought. Boy, wouldn't the weapons procurement nimrods at the Pentagon like to get their mitts on technology that could do that?

Thus it was that I reacted with both amusement and horror to an email notice I received in October from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) offering federal grant money for "a feasibility study and experiments to prove out the possibility of making an aircraft that can maneuver underwater."

In other words, DARPA wants to pay someone to come up with a phony baloney argument that says it's possible to make a flying submarine.

DARPA has a budget of $3 billion. According to the specifications, previous attempts to come up with a flying submarine failed because "the design requirements for a submersible and an aircraft are diametrically opposed."

Yeah, the design requirements for an airplane and a submarine would be diametrically opposed, but with $3 billion to spread around, DARPA is sure to find someone who will tell them the requirements are identical. For that kind of money, they can find someone who will tell them it's possible to make a soup sandwich that tastes like filet mignon and will get you forty miles a gallon if you pour it into the gas tank of a Hummer.

Shock and Awe and Gizmos

If the Pentagon is willing to pay some gee wizard big bucks just to think out loud about a flying submarine, one would anticipate they'd expect the finished product to be able to shoot down an airliner full of evildoers, bomb a Muslim wedding and sink a pirate ship all in the same sortie, but no. It's a proposed new and expensive way to make old and expensive weaponry relevant again.

Actually, the flying submarine concept isn't all that new. The Soviets tried unsuccessfully to develop one during World War II, and yes, one has to wonder how they imagined that a flying submarine might help keep Hitler's tanks from rolling into Moscow. A defense contractor named Donald Reid supposedly built a flying submarine in the 1960s that actually submerged and flew. The U.S. Navy was considering how it might use a flying submarine at around that time, and the 60s TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea featured a flying submarine that would launch from the mother ship Seaview and whisk Admiral Nelson to his favorite go-go bar in Thailand, or something like that.

Time passed. In 2003 DARPA began a feasibility study of an albatross called the "Cormorant," a multi-purpose unmanned aerial vehicle designed to be launched from the Trident missile tubes of Ohio class ballistic missile submarines that were once a cornerstone of the nuclear triad of the Cold War and are now looking for meaningful work. The Cormorant was envisioned to carry either short-range weapons or surveillance equipment.

DARPA calls the latest evolution of its flying submarine the Submersible Aircraft. The specs call for it to have a 1,000-nautical mile combat radius and to "be capable of transporting 8 operators, as well as all of their equipment, with a total cargo weight of 2000 pounds." We can safely assume the "8 operators" aren't expected to be Maryknoll missionaries delivering a ton of King James Bibles to a suburb of Tehran.

Crack Pottery

The Pentagon must stop its relentless pursuit of Jules Verne gizmology. The flying sub is one of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of crack pot weapons proposals that, once in the system, reemerge time and again to knock down the low hanging DARPA fruit.

Like nearly all of these humbug arms programs, the flying submarine offers nothing in the way of national security. It's Cub Scouts playing with G.I. Joe doll stuff, the kind of thing Fred and Robert Kagan might have fantasized about as kids when they took baths together: Wouldn’t it be neat-o if we could put a bunch of Navy frogmen wearing tight rubber suits into a flying submarine and shoot it out of a torpedo tube, and then have it fly to, like, Dr. No's secret island where the frogmen swim ashore and hook up with, like, Ursula Andress and her 7 twin sisters?

Like the vast majority of military industrial decoder ring programs, the flying submarine will most likely never come to fruition. It will simply resurface two or three times a decade and gobble up $3 billion here and $5 billion there until pretty soon it's gone through real money that nobody ever notices went missing.

If by some odd chance the flying submarine ever actually materializes, it will cost even more real money to produce and maintain, and it won't carry surveillance equipment or drop short-range ordnance or insert snake eaters into badlands appreciably better than anything we already have that serves those functions.

It won't win the war on terror, or deter a peer military competitor from emerging, or defeat Plan 9 from Outer Space.

It's time to take the flying submarine and parasite weapon legacies like it off life support and let them sink, crash, burn and die of natural causes.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Scott Horton's interview with Jeff at Antiwar Radio.


  1. wkmaier8:37 AM

    Dang, I wanna get me some of that easy money! You know, to replace the dust bunnies left in my 401K. ;-)

  2. Oh,you want a bail out too! ;-)

  3. Anonymous12:23 PM

    I think the answer is in Tom Swift and His Aerial Warship.

    Buzz Meeks

  4. I know how to put sirloin in one end and turn it out the other as a hot dog. How-about some of that 3 bil.?

  5. Hey, follow the link and put in for it, MandT! ;-)


  6. Commander,
    You reckon, if somebody comes up with something, they could use it to ward off the Pirates, who are hi-jacking oil tankers?

    Maybe if we gave some of it to the "Big Three" one of their engineers could come up with something.

    No doubt somebody eventually will get it off the drawing board. And, when they do, it will be more or less totally useless for anything.

    But, heck, it's only money.

    And, the taxpayers are a bottomless pit. To be continuously mined often, and deep.

  7. You have to keep the taxpayers feeling the pain so they stay numb to it.


  8. Anonymous10:59 AM

    I think after the last eight years I am all out of just gets exhausting living in the reality based community.

    Son of Neptune

  9. EdNSted2:54 PM


    Just FYI. I don't know enough about this guy to have any opinion...

    Marine general may head National Security Council

  10. SON,

    That's what scumbags like the neocons always count on--that the sane people just can't care anymore because they've been driven too crazy.


    I dont' know enough either. I'd be okay with Zinni.


  11. I think that when you start hearing about the revival of things like "flying submarines" is how you know there is a new James Bond movie out.

  12. wkmaier5:37 PM


    Over at Majikthise, apparently them sciencey guys can get the woolly mammoth genotype and bring yon furry giant back from extinction. This whole project might only cost $10mill! Can you imagine a division of woolly mammoths guarding our weak points like Daytona Beach and Laguna? I'm in for a fiver...

  13. Hmm... I'm thinking, Bond, Q, wooley mammoths...

  14. DARPA or somebody is presumably trying to develop vehicles that emulate the flight behavior of UFOs.
    UFOs have supposedly been spotted emerging from the ocean. Why not skip the flying subs and stick with flying saucer development?

  15. Anonymous9:58 PM

    Back in the 50s (yeah, I am THAT old), the Navy tested a jet powered sea plane that used rocket assisted take-off. It kept getting water in the intakes and crashing. Props underwater work really good on ships, but aircraft...? So if the flying sub has to be a rocket-powered machine, what do the crew do when the rockets burn out? The guv always like to spend someone else's money trying to keep friends and family members employed.

  16. Russ,

    I'm thinking they would develop UFOs secretly then use them to justify arming for an invasion from space.

    Hey, have they done that already?


    Like I've said, regional economies and political careers are wholly dependent on the MIC.


  17. OT Commander,

    I got curious about General Jones.

    Sounds like, besides having played basketball for Georgetown, he pretty much knows his stuff. Forty years in the Marines will do that.

    I'm taking bets: Which will come first in the White House after January 20th? - The basketball court or the puppy?

    My money is now on the basketball court.

  18. Just remember, Pete Pace had 40 years in the Marines too.

    Jones did, of course, turn down both the Centcom and CJCS jobs.


  19. Who da thunk, that at the end, Shock and Awe ended in "Hock and Paw"?

  20. Kerstin10:10 PM

    Are you sure? May be keeping the military industrial complex deeply occupide with an impossible task at home, such as building an effective flying submarine - instead of (bombing weddings for example), would protect USA much more effectively from terrorist attacs.

    I mean, after all, a lot of countries which are not involved in bombing, or in trying to control states in the Midle East, have, up till now, not been interesting goals for terrorists to attac.


  21. Unfortunately, Kerstin, it's a multi-task capable force. They can pursue the impossible and bomb weddings at the same time.

    They're doing it now.

  22. "The Pentagon must stop its relentless pursuit of Jules Verne gizmology."

    Yeah right. This is the (defense contractor run) Pentagon we're talking about, right? Since when does it do things that make sense for anyone other than shareholders?

  23. "Despite millions spent, weather satellites might not fly."

    Reads the headline in my local morning paper.

    Gizmos that were supposed to forecast all kinds of things, including tornadoes, way in advance of touchdown, are gathering dust in warehouses. One even drew the ire of the local fire marshall, because it was blocking a fire exit.

    "How can we further waste the money of the American taxpayer? -- Let me count the ways."

  24. Wait. Sorry.

    I read the headline before my first pot of coffee.

    Make that "billions" with a "B."

    Our taxdollars at work.

  25. Jeff Huber said:
    Unfortunately, Kerstin, it's a multi-task capable force. They can pursue the impossible and bomb weddings at the same time.
    They're doing it now.

    Didn't think about that. How stupid of me. But then, of course, there are at least a hundred Sweeds in Afghanistan to assist you Americans :-)."We" (our conservative government that is) are also eager to assist in Afghanistan by using our own technological wonder (so far it is only a threat), an attac plane, by some Sweeds (me among them) called the plough: here
    (What is shouted out in the film could best be translated with the English word starting with a f and ending with a k) and here, another occation (both pilots survived).

    So, we are trying too, as good as we can, a small country as we are, and with both tasks at the same time.

  26. I've always said I'd never own a Saab. '=)


  27. Let's not forget Howard Hughes' Flying Boat.

    Here is an interesting read about a Submersible Seaplane and Flying Submarines from the book: Cold War Submarines By Norman Polmar, Kenneth J. Moore.,M1

  28. Anonymous8:39 AM

    I dont know whether to laugh or cry. I just don't know what is wrong with these people any more. Your earlier commentator was right, its exhausting to have to deal with the unreal or the impossible by using reality-based facts and logic.

  29. And yet one can't roll over for the war fabulists. This one can't, anyway.


  30. Anonymous11:38 AM

    Something new to be scared of per the WSJ.

    An Iranian nuclear "EMP" attack...


  31. Brian T. Kennedy, oh my very God.

    What do I keep telling everybody about the neocons? They undead, they'll never go away.

    Vampire killing doesn't pay jack, but the work's steady.


  32. Anonymous2:00 PM

    Look out for that iranian navy...their missiles stink but all they would have to do is launch one missile from inside new york harbor...


  33. I'm trying to compute how low the odds are of an Iranian naval vessel making it from the Gulf to New York Harbor.

    I need a more powerful computer to run that many zeros, I think.


  34. Anonymous11:05 PM


    Long odds...but according to the neocons (and the movie "Dumb and Dumber") you are saying there is a chance!

    Better invade just to be safe.

  35. Sure, and to be even safer, let's not plan for the occupation.


  36. Anonymous2:20 PM

    Commander Dr. Haynes safely wraps up the summer Flying Sub testing program
    On his birthday Commander Dr. Haynes wraps up the summer aquatic and atmosphere Haynes Saucer water and flight testing program safely and efficiency. Underwater testing of the world's first submersible aircraft (USO) has validated the DOD DARPA project design concept while the DEHAS ram-rockets have now accumulated over 300 hours of flight time in both horizontal and vertical trusting operations. Thanks to God that our Blue Ridge Nebula Spaceline operation manual has been cleared by the AST FAA for final viewing while Dr. Haynes prepares the company for our the third “real time” Mars simulation flight plan starting in four months. As always God Bless you all this fall season.

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