DARPA’s wave-powered TUNA preparing for sea demo

DARPA’s TUNA program that uses a low-power wave energy system to improve the US defense communication networks is getting ready to demonstrate the system prototype at sea.

US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a temporary underwater fiber-optics communications networks to ensure connectivity when tactical networks are unavailable known as the Tactical Undersea Network Architecture (TUNA) program.

Having completed the initial phase which resulted in the development and sea-trials of a fiber-cable, and a novel wave energy generation concept known as the Wave Energy Buoy that Self-deploys (WEBS), the project has now entered its final phase, DARPA informed.

The program is advancing to design and implement an integrated end-to-end system, and to test and evaluate this system in laboratory and at-sea demonstrations. As a test case for the TUNA concept, teams are using Link 16, a common tactical data network used by US and allied forces’ aircraft, ships, and ground vehicles.

John Kamp, Program Manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office, said: “Phase 1 of the program included successful modeling, simulation, and at-sea tests of unique fiber-cable and buoy-component technologies needed to make such an undersea architecture work. Teams were able to design strong, hair-thin, buoyant fiber-optic cables able to withstand the pressure, saltwater, and currents of the ocean, as well as develop novel power generation concepts.”

Artist’s Impression – TUNA concept (Image: DARPA)

The sea trials of the WEBS device in the first phase of the projects were conducted by Columbia Power Technologies and the University of Washington. WEBS device exploits a differential and rotary motion of its two floats to produce electricity.

The TUNA concept involves deploying radio frequency network node buoys, that can be dropped from aircraft or ships, and connected via thin underwater fiber-optic cables. The very-small-diameter fiber-optic cables being developed are designed to last 30 days in the rough ocean environment, which is long enough to provide essential connectivity until primary methods of communications are restored, according to DARPA.