Conclusions and Recommendations
On the basis of its review, the committee developed the following conclusions with regard to undersea vehicles.
Conclusion 1. The nation has vital economic and scientific needs to significantly advance its capabilities for working, monitoring, and measuring in the ocean. Those needs involve national security, environmental protection, resource exploitation, and science. Undersea vehicles can contribute strongly to these capabilities by giving human beings access to new kinds of information about little known areas of the ocean and the seabed—information that may have a major impact on the well-being of large populations.
Conclusion 2. Technical advances are needed if the nation is to realize this potential; the priorities for these technologies are ranked in Chapter 4. The nation needs the ability to carry out construction support tasks, inspection, and maintenance in deep sea oil and gas fields safely and efficiently using remote control. Autonomous undersea vehicles in synchrony with research vessels can help gather oceanographic and hydrographic data more accurately, quickly, and cheaply. Monitoring pollution and measuring the conditions that could lead to global climate changes will be easier with new chemical sensors. Surveying the bottom with the high-resolution offered by undersea vehicles is likely to reveal valuable mineral deposits and assist in the location and recovery of objects related to public safety and security.
Conclusion 3. The committee finds the technological advances most critical to these important missions are in the areas of ocean sensors, subsea communications, and mission and task-performance control systems.
Higher energy density power sources are also important but very costly. The undersea vehicle industry must rely heavily on research and development in the automobile, aerospace, mobile communications, and microcomputer industries, which have made large investments in this field of technical development.
Conclusion 4. The vehicle technologies are generally mature enough to place the emphasis of technology advancement programs appropriately on systems integration. These mature technologies will permit systems like the following to be built:
vehicles with endurance that can spend weeks on the bottom and are able to cover large areas of the bottom with high-resolution surveys, with sensor modules suited for varied missions
AUVs designed to work in parallel with survey vessels, increasing the efficiency and accuracy of oceanographic sections and hydrographic surveys
AUVs able to operate either under high-level human command or independent of human control for periods of months on data-gathering missions to provide detailed information about ocean dynamics, including physical, biological, and chemical processes
Conclusion 5. Other countries today, like the United States in the past, have mounted focused programs with sustained support in the service of well-defined national needs.
Conclusion 6. The United States has no concerted program; instead it has a number of informally coordinated programs and no disciplined mechanism for long-term planning. The financial disjunction between users and the federal providers of undersea vehicles in some cases impedes coordination.
Conclusion 7. Failure to address the deficiencies of federal programs will constrain scientific progress, limit the nation's ability to develop and manage its ocean resources, and compromise national security and law enforcement.
Recommendation 1. The nation should develop, maintain, and follow a long-term plan for federal undersea vehicle capabilities that takes into account all of the available facilities for undersea research.
The goals set out in the plan should be based on a still-to-be defined set of high-priority national needs in research and other federal missions. The specific capabilities of vehicles (deemed "national assets") should be measured against national needs to ensure that they are being met by public or private programs here and abroad. (The market will meet the needs of the private sector.)
The plan need not lead to a strictly coordinated program of funding for undersea research. The pluralism of today's varied programs allows for healthy short-term flexibility and individual initiative.
The plan should include provisions for a variety of projects, like those outlined in the focal projects (Chapter 3) based on agreed-upon national needs.
The planning body should include representatives of users, developers, and operators, inside and outside of government, including ocean and Earth scientists, national security officials of the U.S. Navy (which is responsible for building and maintaining most of the vehicles used for scientific research), the Navy Supervisor of Salvage, and liaison representatives of foreign undersea vehicle programs.
The planning body should have secure support from a single federal agency and should be limited in function to planning.
Recommendation 2. In developing undersea technology the nation should meet its needs through combining government programs, joint technology agreements with foreign programs, and cooperative industry-government programs. Maximum use should be made of programs outside the federal government. All decisions should be based on the long-term plan recommended in this report.
Recommendation 3. Capital investment programs should take advantage of partnerships—from leases of U.S.-certifiable foreign submersibles to joint development and use of new vehicles and support vessels with industry and foreign programs. The federal government should buy wholly new vehicles for civilian use only when other sources are not available and the national interest (as determined by the planning process recommended here) demands it.
Recommendation 4. In ensuring user access to undersea vehicles, the nation should maintain the pluralism of the present approach with a variety of funding agencies. The flexibility and local innovation of that approach are major strengths of the U.S. system of science and technology. At the same time, the agencies involved should be guided by a shared strategic view of future needs.
Recommendation 5. Stable funding should be provided for those undersea vehicle systems that are viewed as national assets.