U.S. Navy periscope operators will soon have a new way of steering their sights. Beginning in November, some Navy submarine periscopes will be operated via Xbox controllers.
For those with a The Hunt for Red October-era knowledge of submarine technology, today’s periscopes are not the binocular-style systems you’re familiar with. Periscope viewing is now performed via high-resolution cameras that relay their video to big-screen displays. Anyone in the control room can view these displays. The periscope operators themselves use a glorified joystick to control the rig. This system (which consists of a photonic mast handgrip and imaging control panel, according to the Navy Times) was designed by Lockheed Martin and cost $38,000 to develop.
Times are changing though, and today’s sailors are already familiar with various technologies. Why re-engineer the wheel?
So the Navy, in conjunction with contractor Lockheed Martin, chatted with some of its junior officers and sailors to figure out how they could improve this system. After testing things out at a classified research lab for the past two years, they concluded that Xbox controllers could be a more cost effective, lighter, and less clunky alternative to the joystick. It also only typically took sailors a few minutes to figure out how to use the $30 Xbox controller-based system on their own. In contrast, it took sailors hours to learn how to use the previously developed helicopter-style stick.
Senior Chief Mark Eichenlaub, the assistant navigator aboard the U.S.S. John Warner, told Pilot Online that the Navy plans to bring other familiar technologies to Navy craft as well. This includes electronic touchscreen technology such as iPads, and working in “virtual environments.” (This seems like a stark about-face from the days when the Navy paid $9 million to keep using Windows XP.)
The Navy’s Xbox controllers will make their debut in November when the U.S.S. Colorado is commissioned, but will be implemented in other Virginia-class subs in the future.