The military has just taken satellite backup underwater

Contributed by
Jan 23, 2017, 5:02 PM EST (Updated)

What if you have one of the most advanced and bulletproof military communications networks in the world but your satellites (like the one above) are still vulnerable to enemy operatives jamming or hacking your system?

You go deep. Really deep.

Even with a complex communication spiderweb that employs everything from Nixon-era radios to satellites to wireless so encrypted they would be all but impossible for even a civilian -- let alone agents of the Dark Side -- to translate, anything transmitted through thin air is still exposed to potential interference. Radio frequencies and messages sent via satellite can be easily disrupted.

However, there still is a place that enemy fingers can't extend to so easily ... and that place is hundreds of feet beneath the ocean's surface.  

Tactical Undersea Network Architecures, aka TUNA (because everything in the military has an acronym and/or code name), is a new project that employs an undersea fiber-optic backup method. Fiber-optic cables are used to string together a system of radio buoys that convey information through those cables. The Department of Defense is hoping to wield this Plan B against anyone who could possibly interfere with our satellites and radio waves.

Currently in its test phase, TUNA was conceived by DARPA, the tentacle of the DOD responsible for the research and development of upcoming military technologies and operations designed to deflect the opposition.

Concept drawing for the TUNA system. 

Fiber-optic cables — thin enough to disappear into the murky depths — transmit classified communications by converting electronic signals into near-infrared light. This light forms waves that transmit the information through the cables until it reaches its destination. Principal engineer Andre Stewart explained why this system could be indispensable to us in the near future. "As opposed to typical wave energy conversion devices, which are anchored to the seafloor and generate large amounts of power for sustaining on-shore needs," said Stuart. "This is all about having energy available in an off-shore environment."

Stuart and his engineering colleagues from the Applied Physics Lab at the University of Washington, one of the research centers affiliated with DARPA, dreamed up WEBS (Wave Energy Buoy that Self-deploys) and built a batwing prototype powered by the energy of ocean waves. WEBS has two wings that absorb kinetic energy, floating on either side of a central tube stabilized by a 'heave plate' suspended about 200 feet underwater. Onboard generators make it possible for WEBS to convert the kinetic energy it collects into electricity.

Engineers also needed to develop fiber-optic cables that would be able to withstand the rough waters and high-pressure environment of the deep ocean, not to mention monstrous things with teeth, for 30 days. Specially constructed cables are still no guarantee there won’t be a glitch. DARPA continues reaching out to researchers for fast solutions to a severed cable, even if the culprit isn't an enemy deep-sea diver with a pocket knife. There are going to be creatures with mouthfuls of knives lurking in those treacherous waters.

Even though the TUNA network is only supposed to serve as a backup until military engineers can restore any airborne communications that were tampered with, Phase Two will be a $20 million endeavor to produce a no-fail prototype of the entire system. Hold your breath underwater that it defies the enemy — unless the enemy happens to be a shark.