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US Navy's newest attack submarine includes an Xbox 360 controller

By Cal Jeffrey · 12 replies
Mar 19, 2018
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  1. The US Navy launched its latest attack submarine on Saturday. The USS Colorado is a Virginia-class vessel based at the Naval Submarine Base New London in Connecticut. As just another military vehicle it probably would not warrant much attention. However, the Colorado comes with a piece of unconventional hardware that is making headlines — an Xbox 360 controller.

    Modern submarines no longer use periscopes. They now come equipped with “photonics masts.” These are long telescoping masts equipped with HD imaging sensors that provide a 360-degree view. The image from the sensor array is viewed on monitors within the ship.

    Previous vessels used joysticks to control the masts. The joysticks are bulky and expensive. The Colorado is the first sub to use an off-the-shelf video game controller as a piece of standard equipment.

    According to USA Today, Commander Reed Koepp, the Colorado’s commanding officer says that in addition to saving money, “young sailors report to the submarine knowing how to use it.”

    Considering that most kids grow up with these controllers in their hands, it is not surprising that recruits can step right in and control the photonics masts with little or no training.

    This is not the first time the US military has used video gaming equipment for practical applications. Back in 2010, the Air Force Research Laboratory linked 1,760 PlayStation 3 units in a parallel array creating a supercomputer capable of 500 TFLOPS. The computer was used to analyze satellite imagery.

    My only question is, did the Navy actually use a $20 off-the-shelf Xbox 360 controller, or was this a “specially-made” version that Microsoft charged the taxpayer $1.3 million to “build?”

    Permalink to story.

  2. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 2,177   +1,596

    I am going to say it was an actual off the shelf Xbox controller since it is probably just plugged into the computer that controls the photonics mast.
  3. andy06shake

    andy06shake TS Evangelist Posts: 491   +161

    Is it wired or not? ;)
  4. Scshadow

    Scshadow TS Evangelist Posts: 562   +199

    But a joystick would be built into the console. What if an attack jars the whole ship and the controller flies out of your hands? Is it waterproofed? I've got soo ma... well, a few questions.
  5. andy06shake

    andy06shake TS Evangelist Posts: 491   +161

    The real Elephant in the room is whether these "photonics masts” can handle 4K at 60fps. ;)
    merikafyeah, killmess and Cal Jeffrey like this.
  6. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 5,311   +3,715

    Who says the military hasn't figured out how to attract those young people into the service!!!
    Cal Jeffrey likes this.
  7. viperfl

    viperfl TS Enthusiast Posts: 34   +13

    As a veteran of the submarine service, don't know anytime enlisted personnel was allowed to operate the periscope on their own. It was always the officer of the deck, captain or executive officer.

    But that was 33 years ago. Navy could of changed policy but highly doubt it.
  8. mbrowne5061

    mbrowne5061 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,183   +651

    The control is COTS - completely unchanged from its consumer version. They've probably stashed some spares on board. The real cost savings isn't in the hardware, but the training hours. Its probably wired, so they don't need to worry about swapping batteries. You - ideally - wouldn't be in a battle at periscope depth, so it all would be stowed in the case of an attack.
  9. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 12,818   +1,518

    FYI: The Navy is S T I L L primarily vested in XP due to all the 3rd party contractor software actively deployed. There has been an on-going effort to update these antiquated systems but it will take time.
    wiyosaya likes this.
  10. Capaill

    Capaill TS Evangelist Posts: 881   +485

    If the photonic mast offers a 360 degree view, why do they need a controller? Zoom? Target acquisition? I'd think a touch screen would be better in all cases.
  11. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 3,879   +2,208

    As long as it is not connected to the internet. ;)
    andy06shake likes this.
  12. andy06shake

    andy06shake TS Evangelist Posts: 491   +161

    An Oculus Rift would seem to be the perfect peripheral to take advantage of the photonic masts 360 degree view. ;)
  13. PcePce

    PcePce TS Enthusiast Posts: 79   +25

    I'll buy one of those controllers off them.

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