Odds are that most of what regular Americans know about submarines comes from what we see in movies. Those subs always have a large mast that comes down in the middle of a room for the periscope. The person manning that periscope simply spins in a circle to look out and see what's going on above the surface of the water. However, most modern subs don't operate in this manner.
The sub in the image above is one of the U.S. Navy's newest submarines called the USS John Warner. Inside the advanced attack submarine are lot of high-resolution screens that show all manner of detail on the sub including images of what the periscope mast is seeing above the water with feeds from high-definition cameras.
Currently, those two photonics masts that pop out of the sub are controlled by a large hand grip and imaging control panel that costs about $38,000. The Navy and Lockheed Martin want to make this photonics mast easier for sailors and officers to use, and cheaper. To facilitate this, that fancy $38,000 hand grip and control panel will be replaced by a $30 Xbox controller.
"The Navy got together and they asked a bunch of J.O.s and junior guys, 'What can we do to make your life better?' " said Lt. j.g. Kyle Leonard, the USS John Warner's assistant weapons officer, referring to junior officers and sailors. "And one of the things that came out is the controls for the scope. It's kind of clunky in your hand; it's real heavy."
The Xbox controller that will be used is exactly like the on the sailors grew up playing video games with. Not only is it significantly cheaper, but it requires much less training to teach personnel how to operate. Lockheed Martin says that in the lab sailors were able to figure out how to operate the Xbox controller in minutes intuitively compared to the hours of training required to use the previous joystick.
"That joystick is by no means cheap, and it is only designed to fit on a Virginia-class submarine," said Senior Chief Mark Eichenlaub, the John Warner's assistant navigator. "I can go to any video game store and procure an Xbox controller anywhere in the world, so it makes a very easy replacement."
The new Xbox controller will be installed on other Virginia-class submarines via the normal modernization process. Xbox controllers aren't the only tech that the Navy and its shipbuilding contractors plan to integrate into current and future weapons of war; iPad-like devices with touch screens will also be installed.
"Ideally, what they want to see in 10 years down the road is, there's basically a glass panel display with windows, and you can just pull a window of information, review that, push it off, bring in the next window," added Eichenlaub.
Image via US Navy/Casey Hopkins