Enhancing the Nation's Capacity for Undersea Work and Research
To take best advantage of the capabilities for meeting national needs, such as those identified in Chapter 3, the nation will need an orderly process for identifying requirements and making available the systems to meet them. This committee does not favor a single overarching policy governing development and use of undersea vehicles, however. The vehicles, their missions, and their users are too complex and varied for such a policy. Technology development, for example, is carried out in this country by various organizations—public and private, civilian and military—and in other countries, as well. Users are a similarly diverse lot, motivated by a tremendous variety of scientific, industrial, and governmental interests (summarized in Chapter 3). These organizations have evolved their roles and relationships over the years in efforts to solve short-term problems. A process of strategic planning, by which consensus can be reached on major long-term goals, can ensure that the needed resources will be available without degrading the healthy diversity and pluralism of the system.
In Chapter 2, the committee reviewed the opportunities presented by the evolving technology of undersea vehicle systems; national needs to which these vehicles could be applied were identified in Chapter 3. In Chapter 4, the committee built on these two assessments, proposing development priorities for each subsystem technology and each vehicle type, to improve the nation's ability to carry out missions addressing those needs.
The nation's undersea vehicle capabilities have three vital components:
technology development and technology transfer by the private and public sectors to ensure that vehicles are capable of performing the missions required
capital investment necessary to provide new vehicles and upgrade existing ones to meet identified national needs
availability of vehicles to scientific users, with effective scheduling and coordinating services, efficient and capable support vessels, and adequate operating funds
This chapter reviews current trends with respect to each of these components. It offers alternatives for the public and private sectors to address deficiencies by setting and pursuing long-term goals.
NEED FOR A STRATEGIC APPROACH
The scale of the Earth's oceans and their resources, and the complexity of the institutions for working in them and exploring them, argue strongly for a coherent strategic plan. Lacking such a plan, the agencies involved have no disciplined process for agreeing on their long-range goals. Instead, they have evolved effective but informal networks for the ad hoc discussion of problems in the short run. However, for federal applications of undersea vehicles, including science, various salvage tasks, and national security missions, the alternative to planning is inevitably a decline in capability. The market will provide for private sector needs.
An illustration of the mismatch among agency goals can be found in the variety of organizations that provide vehicles for research and work in the deep ocean. Three federal agencies—the National Science Foundation (NSF), NOAA's National Undersea Research Program (NURP), and ONR—evaluate and fund proposals for most scientific uses of undersea vehicles. The research funding agencies also provide some funds for developing sensors and other vehicle subsystems, as does DARPA.
Except for Alvin and the ROV Medea-Jason, which are U.S. Navy-owned but available full-time for science, most of the deep ocean vehicles are owned and operated by the Navy and made available part-time for scientific purposes, subject to the unpredictable operational requirements of the Navy. For reasons of cost and scheduling convenience, the Navy-operated vehicles do not always match the requirements of scientific users. However, they are being increasingly used by researchers, owing to improved, but still
informal, coordination between the U.S. Navy's Deep Submergence Office and NSF, NURP, and ONR (Dieter, 1996).
Other independent centers for undersea research and technology, private and public, have sprung up over the years, with the support of NURP, NSF, the U.S. Navy's Supervisor of Salvage, and others. The most notable of these include:
the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory, one of six NURP regional centers, which operates the 1,500-meter depth capability DSV Pisces V
the private, nonprofit Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, which operates the DSVs Sea-Link 1 and Sea-Link 2 (both with 800-meters depth range) and the 350-meters DSV Clelia, for lease to research funding agencies.
the private, nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, which operates the 1,850-meters ROV Ventana, with a 4,500-meters ROV, Tiburon, in development (Fox, 1994)
Thus, the research funding agencies have a variety of sources of vehicles, with different financial practices, scheduling systems, and constraints on availability. Because the organizations that use undersea vehicles are not those through which they are funded, maintaining adequate support is difficult, particularly in times of budget cuts. The personnel of all these organizations work together to accommodate each other's needs, but without formal agreement on goals they cannot effectively bring their priorities into harmony.
Finally, users of the national undersea capability must acknowledge the leadership of foreign programs, which have invested heavily in advanced undersea vehicle and subsystem technologies (Appendix B). The leader in deep submergence technology today is the well-funded Japanese program, which has the high-priority support of government and the core mission of helping understand seismic activity in nearby ocean trenches. Some U.S. researchers have used the deep-diving Japanese vehicles, under the auspices of National Undersea Research Program. NOAA has engaged in scientific information exchanges with France, through the U.S.-French Cooperative Program in Oceanography. NOAA also has a cooperative research agreement with JAMSTEC, through the U.S.-Japan Natural Resources Cooperative Program. This arrangement has given U.S. users access to the deep-diving Japanese vehicles. In AUV technology, Russia is probably the leader, with an array of operational deep submergence AUVs (Mooney et al., 1996). International cooperation in both technology and research are vital.
Planning without Central Control
A plan that took all of these varied assets into account would need to look ahead at least a decade, with goals based on high-priority national needs, such as those reviewed in Chapter 3. No such national needs have been enunciated as yet; this committee, lacking a statement of national policy, has not offered recommendations on that score. The plan would link those needs with specific vehicle capabilities and survey the public and private technology and capital investment programs, here and abroad, to ensure that they were being met.
The plan need not lead to a strictly coordinated program of funding for undersea research. A comprehensive national approach can build on the pluralism of today's varied programs, allowing for healthy short-term flexibility and individual initiative. At the same time, a consensus on future needs, embodied in a strategic plan, would provide guidance to the agencies responsible for making the necessary investments in technology and in new vehicles. The plan would afford U.S. scientific users, for example, the widest possible choice of undersea systems, both here and abroad, and allow the U.S. Navy and the research funding agencies to cooperate more fully on the next generations of vehicles. The planning body would act as a board of directors for all missions in the federal sphere. As such, it would need to include representatives from users, developers, and operators, both inside and outside of government. Ocean and Earth scientists, for example, would be prominently represented, as would the national security interests of the U.S. Navy, which is responsible for building and maintaining most of the vehicles used for scientific research; the Supervisor of Salvage; and liaison representatives of foreign undersea vehicle programs.
The planning body would have secure support from a single federal agency and would be given statutory authority and a small, but sufficient, administrative budget. The body would be limited in function to planning, with no technology or research programs or capital assets, to avoid conflicts of interest with the various mission agencies it serves.
Two existing organizations offer models that could be built on to establish such a body:
Joint Oceanographic Institutions, Inc. (JOI). JOI is a private, nonprofit consortium of 10 U.S. academic institutions with the mission of managing and planning research programs in the ocean sciences. Among its tasks is carrying out U.S. elements of the international Ocean Drilling Program and the Nansen Arctic Drilling Program; coordinating the global Ocean Seismic Network; and promoting the integration and networking of computers and communications in ocean research. JOI's consortium for oceanographic research and education (CORE) promotes partnerships of government, industry, and academia. The international liaison function of JOI is of particular interest.
Deep Submergence Science Committee (DESSC). The nucleus of a fully governmental planning function for undersea vehicles is available in DESSC, a joint program of NOAA, NSF, and the U.S. Navy, under the umbrella of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS). DESSC promotes the most effective use of undersea vehicles, mainly through scheduling scientific use. DESSC oversees the use of Alvin and the U.S. Navy-owned ROV Medea-Jason and helps review proposals for academic use of the Navy's other deep submergence assets under a Navy-NOAA agreement (UNOLS DESSC, 1993). The committee also advises research funding agencies (NSF, NOAA/NURP, and ONR) on the state of vehicle technology and applications. But today DESSC is restricted to scheduling research use of the Navy's deep submergence vehicles (Alvin and Medea-Jason at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the two Navy-operated DSVs, Turtle, and Sea Cliff). Beyond its own self-initiated studies (e.g., Fox, 1994), DESSC has no long-term planning role. In addition, its charter is too narrow—covering only a fraction of research activities and with no voice in decisions bearing on technology development or capital investment.
The committee has not assessed the relative strengths and weaknesses of these models. It simply stresses the need for a competent planning body.
TRENDS AND POLICY ALTERNATIVES
Inefficiencies can be found in each of the three aspects of the national capability considered by the committee (technology development, capital investment, and availability and access). There is a lack of coordination between user and operator agencies, and they lack a strategic approach to their requirements. As a result, too little federal investment in technology, inadequate capital investment (with aging and increasingly obsolete facilities), and undue constraint on operating funds. The committee has identified policy options for addressing these deficiencies in the context of strategic planning.
Chapters 2 and 3 reviewed the key technology issues for the various types of undersea vehicles. The highest priority technologies, in general, are in three areas: sensors, communications, and control. Policy makers should recognize that advanced undersea vehicle and subsystem technology programs can be found in a number of nations throughout the world and that the United States should be alert to opportunities to share the costs and benefits of its technology investments internationally. The oceans, after all, are global in scope, and the scientific and industrial problems of their waters and the seabed are likely to be of wide and abiding interest.
Deep Submersible Vehicles
With few exceptions, the technology of human-occupied submersibles has been developed by governments or by industries with government support. In the United States, the U.S. Navy has assumed this role as an offshoot of the national security applications of DSVs. Declines in Navy spending, however, have left the DSV fleet of the United States obsolete in many ways. Alvin (operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, 4,500-meter depth range) and Turtle (operated by the Navy, 3,000 meters), are the mainstays of the nation's deep ocean research. They were built in 1964 and 1968, respectively (and last modified in 1974 and 1984, respectively). The 6,000-meter Sea Cliff, operated by the U.S. Navy and also available part-time for research purposes, was built in 1968 and modified in 1985. The two Johnson Sea-Links and Clelia (developed and owned by the private Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution) date from the mid-1970s (see Appendix E).
While the Navy has the main responsibility for developing DSV technology, the associated technologies of sensors and some other payload systems have been advanced to some degree by agencies oriented toward academic users, notably NSF, NURP, and ONR.
Many other nations have strong DSV technology programs (Appendix B). The well-funded and ambitious undersea vehicle program of JAMSTEC operates a 6,500-meter DSV, Shinkai 6500, in its undersea research. Shinkai 6500 is the deepest-diving DSV in the world today and, with further development, is expected to go deeper still, to the very bottom of the deep ocean trenches near Japan. Russia and the Ukraine have sizable, capable fleets of deep-diving DSVs, including the Finnish-built MIR class (with a depth range of 6,000 meters), and have developed new techniques for fabricating high-strength hull materials. The French DSV Nautile also has a 6,000-meter depth range.
Remotely Operated Vehicles
ROV technology was first developed by the U.S. Navy in the 1960s, but it has been advanced mainly by the private sector since the 1970s. The offshore oil and gas industry and its service organizations led the way, followed by the cable laying operations of the telecommunications industry. ROV technologies are now mature; further development will be driven by the market demands of those industries and others, notably the salvage and treasure-hunting industries. Some commercial ROVs have been adapted to carry out scientific missions, with specialized sensor suites: a notable example is the ROV Ventana, operated by the private, nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (Newman and Robison, 1993).
An important exception to the private sector ROV rule is the technology of deep-diving ROVs for research. In the late 1970s the U.S. Navy developed an ROV called the Advanced Tethered Vehicle (ATV), with a depth range of about 6,000 meters. This vehicle, developed for national security purposes, is used for scientific missions in conjunction with the DSV Turtle. The ATV was recently used in NOAA studies of
the petrology and hydrothermal process at the Blanco Transform Fault Zone.
In Japan, JAMSTEC has built a deep-diving ROV, Kaiko, with which it reached the bottom of the deepest point in the world's oceans, in the Mariana Trench, in early 1995.
Autonomous Undersea Vehicles
AUVs are still largely developmental systems, although they have seen some limited operational use in national security and scientific missions. The U.S. Navy's 6,000-meters AUSS, is operational and available for scientific missions, but is generally considered too big and costly for such uses (Fox, 1994). As noted in Chapter 4, AUVs have greater potential than other vehicle types for benefiting from research and development. The U.S. Navy, NURP, NSF, and DARPA have all sponsored the development of AUVs and AUV subsystems. NSF, for example, spends about $700,000 annually on the development vehicle autonomous benthic explorer (ABE), which will be used for unattended missions of up to a year (Clark, 1996).
Development of AUV technologies has benefited from a vigorous informal network of engineers and scientists representing oceanographic organizations, government agencies, and contractors for the U.S. and Canadian governments. In the next decade or so, with foreseeable advances in sensors, communications, and control, and energy supplies, as well as more efficient energy use, these vehicles will become fully capable scientific research vehicles. Because further development of AUV technology depends on public investment, the expected reductions in government research and development funding are likely to slow AUV development.
Some foreign AUV programs are quite successful (Appendix B). The Russian Institute for Oceanological Problems in Vladivostok, established in 1988, with a scientific staff of about 90, has developed a small fleet of highly capable AUVs (depth ranges down to 6,000 meters) and used them in deep ocean search and recovery operations. These AUVs have made several hundred operational dives deeper than 4,200 meters (Mooney et al., 1996). Both the French and Russian programs have 6,000-meter AUVs. The United Kingdom National Environment Research Council, with aid from the European Union, is spending £700,000 (about $1 million) per year on designs for an AUV to be known as "Autosub." It is intended to cross the Atlantic Ocean, diving to the bottom for periodic core samples and other measurements, then surfacing to transmit data via satellite (Seymour et al., 1994). The system is expected to be operational by 1998 (Griffiths, 1996).
Policy Options and Technology Transfer
In technology development the nation can meet its needs either by its own efforts or by cooperating or entering into partnerships with others. The goals must be clear, however, with guidance from the strategic planning body described in this chapter. Three approaches can be taken, separately or in combination, to improve the technology of undersea vehicles:
Continue to maintain or enhance national development of technology through the U.S. Navy, NSF, NOAA, and DARPA, emphasizing technologies that are critical to improving of vehicle capabilities but not likely to be developed in response to commercial demand. Wait for foreign development of the technology and invest in adaptations of that technology.
Establish joint technology development agreements with foreign programs, such as those in Japan, Russia, and France (Appendix B).
Develop cooperative industry-government programs to improve technology development and transfer.
Complete reliance on the first option is not realistic in today's federal budget circumstances. In any case, it would be an inefficient use of resources to rely solely on government-developed technology and the opportunities for technology transfer from industry in critical subsystem technologies such as energy supplies, sensors, navigation, and control. Guided by the goals of an agreed-upon strategic plan, U.S. technology developers and users can identify needs and the technologies to meet them, working jointly or singly, as circumstances dictate.
If the United States is to retain the ability to do meaningful work under the sea, it must pay constant attention to the capital assets embodied in both undersea vehicles and their supporting systems. These assets today are a highly capable and varied fleet of DSVs, ROVs, and AUVs. They are supplemented by a wealth of foreign systems, including the deepest-diving DSVs and ROVs in the world at JAMSTEC. Strategic planning must confront issues of priorities in identifying which systems to retain as national assets, which to invest in, which to mothball, and which to decommission.
The U.S. fleet of DSVs is aging. Alvin dates from 1964. Although it was rebuilt with a new titanium hull in 1973, extending its depth rating to 3,658 meters, its design still places fundamental limits on payload, power, maneuverability, and observational capabilities (Fox, 1994). The youngest U.S. Navy-owned vehicles, Turtle and Sea Cliff, were launched in 1968. The Hawaii-based Pisces V, built in 1973, is limited in depth to 2,000 meters. The committee found no compelling scientific rationale for federal investment in a new DSV system for use in the deepest ocean, especially in view of the active Japanese programs, which welcome participation by scientists and engineers from the United States and elsewhere. As time goes on, results from Japan and elsewhere could provide such a justification.
Most new scientific ROVs are adaptations of commercial systems, which are freely available on the open market. These systems, and the few more specialized government-developed vehicles, such as ATV and Medea-Jason , are seeing increasing use in scientific research as the technologies of sensors, communications, and control improve. In general, private industry can be relied on to continue providing ROV systems.
The federal government, on the other hand, is responsible for providing AUVs to users. The U.S. Navy's large, complex AUSS is the only operational AUV in service. NSF's ABE is nearing operational status, having undergone sea trials for the past few years. The small developmental AUV Odyssey saw its first operational tests in 1995. The potential of AUVs is very important, but the systems are not yet mature enough to be of interest to industry, so further federal investments will be necessary.
There are two alternatives for bringing capabilities into line with future needs:
Develop or buy the necessary systems and supporting vessels and provide them with the necessary operating funds.
Meet as many needs as possible through partnerships with foreign programs and with the private sector. These partnerships might range from simple leases of U.S.-certifiable foreign submersibles to joint development and use of new vehicles and support vessels. It should be noted that most foreign DSVs are not U.S.-certifiable.
It is likely that both measures will be needed, particularly in today's strained budget circumstances. The large investments necessary for undersea vehicles cry out for sharing costs and benefits as widely as possible.
Access to Undersea Vehicles
For the commercial uses to which undersea vehicles are put, the market provides access to the desired systems. For purposes in the public interest, such as science and national security, various federal agencies have assumed responsibility for making available the necessary vehicles and support systems. Again, the need for a strategic approach is conspicuous.
Several federal agencies and private foundations share the responsibility for providing undersea vehicles for research. Most prominent are the DSV Alvin and the ROV Medea-Jason, owned by the U.S. Navy but operated by a joint venture of NSF, NURP, and ONR at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; the DSVs Turtle and Sea Cliff and the ROV ATV, operated by the Navy's Submarine Development Group One; the DSV Pisces V, operated by NURP's Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory; and several DSVs operated by the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution for lease to researchers and others. ROVs for research in relatively shallow water are owned and operated by universities, including NURP centers, and private foundations.
Academic research using undersea vehicles is funded by NSF, NURP, and ONR through standard academic peer review arrangements. U.S. Navy-owned vehicles are available to the funding agencies for the cost of fuel and other consumable vehicle supplies; others are leased at full cost, without subsidy. The DESSC of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System, a joint venture of NSF, NURP, and ONR, provides scientific coordination for Alvin and Medea-Jason and, through a 1993 agreement with the Navy's Deep Submergence Office, assists with scheduling scientific use of Turtle and Sea Cliff, NR-1 , and ATV. Coordination for other vehicles is done by the particular funding agencies.
Funds for operating and maintaining the Navy's vehicles are under strong budget pressure, illustrating the mismatch between users and funders. The U.S. Navy Deep Submergence Office budget for engineering support has decline by more than 55 percent since 1987, and its vehicle operating funds by more than 20 percent (Lancaster, 1996). These cuts suggest that the parent agency, the Submarine Force, has placed a higher priority on building and maintaining its attack and strategic submarines. The Submarine Force derives little benefit from the undersea vehicles discussed in this report, although it funds them. Loss of Navy support of these vehicles, which could be considered national assets (essential to the national interest in national security, ocean research, or search and salvage), would dramatically increase the unit costs of the research to funding agencies because the Navy's operating cost subsidy would no longer be available. It would also raise costs of other users, such as the Navy's air forces and the U.S. Navy's Supervisor of Salvage. Maintaining the appropriate national asset facilities would be easier with a long-term plan, through which agencies and users could establish requirements based on agreed-upon national needs. A more stable funding scheme for undersea vehicles that are determined to be national assets needs to be developed. ONR's contributions to the National Deep Submergence Facility at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have decreased substantially, too, but NSF funds have risen to compensate, so the overall recent trend is steady, although uncertain (Dieter, 1996).
Research funding is also declining. NURP's budget, for example, has fallen from an all-time high of $18.1 in 1994 to $14.4 million in 1995, and only $12 million under the 1996 congressional continuing budget resolution (Kalvaitis, 1996). NURP's very existence is in doubt; only last-minute congressional action prevented its shutdown in fiscal year 1995, and similar rescues occurred in several previous years.
Coordination of these assets is obviously growing more important. Caught between declining military budgets and expanding scientific frontiers, the community must make better use of all its resources.
The committee believes that there are several alternatives for coordinating access—from the joint strategic planning described in this chapter to full consolidation of undersea vehicle support in a single federal agency. Options include:
establishing an interagency coordination body for strategic planning, without administrative responsibilities
consolidating support for the scientific use of undersea vehicles in a single agency, with a consistent approach to users and a capability for strategic planning with an eye to the funds available for investment in capital assets and technology development
establishing leadership within a single agency to ensure not only access to vehicles, but also the necessary capital investments and technology development, in accord with a long-range plan that balances asset development, support requirements, research requirements, and available funding. (An approach much like this, but restricted to deep ocean vehicles, has been proposed by UNOLS DESSC [Fox, 1994]).
These three approaches are arranged in ascending order of centralization and control. Central control has the advantages of certainty and simplicity, but it entails a sacrifice of flexibility and local innovation, which are major strengths of the U.S. system of science and technology. A central authority would inevitably assume the problem of adjudicating among conflicting interests in different areas of research (for example, fisheries and geochemistry) and among agencies and institutions. The priorities of existing agencies should be respected. At the same time, a shared strategic view of future needs—developed through a disciplined planning mechanism—would be more effective in making the desired vehicles and support services available.
Finding. Technology development, capital investment, and access to vehicles are the three components of a well-balanced national capability to work under the sea. An effort to coordinate the scientific and public interest applications of undersea vehicles must take account of all three.
Finding. The government-operated systems for undersea science and salvage are not optimally supported, especially for science.
Finding. Future requirements for such systems have not been given systematic attention. A strategic plan to meet national needs would identify appropriate roles for the private and public sectors in meeting those needs.
Clark, L. 1996. Personal communication to D.M. Brown, March 20, 1996.
Dieter, E.R. 1996. Personal communication to D.M. Brown, March 20, 1996.
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Griffiths, G. 1996. Personal communication to Donald W. Perkins, April 23, 1996.
Kalvaitis, A. 1996. Personal communication to D.M. Brown, March 25, 1996.
Lancaster, E.L. 1996. Personal communication to Donald W. Perkins, March 25, 1996.
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