Feeds

Underground mole-satnavs to work off lightning strikes

'Sferic' zap-sniff tech for future subterranean warriors

High performance access to file storage

News has emerged of a secret US military programme intended to let troops navigate about inside huge underground enemy tunnel complexes by measuring energy pulses given off by lightning bolts.

The project is known as "Sferics-Based Underground Geolocation", or S-BUG, and is focused on building "a mapping and navigation system that provides Global Positioning System (GPS) equivalent accuracy in underground environments".

GPS signals from US military satellites are used in millions of smartphones, car sat navs and other gadgets worldwide, but they don't work without clear line-of-sight to the satellites - in other words without an unobstructed view of the sky.

Meanwhile, it seems, other US satellites - the vast fleet of sky spies operated by the American intelligence and military communities - have driven more and more people and things of interest to disappear underground. Unfortunately for the US spooks, tunnelling and subterranean engineering in general have become much cheaper in recent times, making this easier to do.

Not only does a deep tunnel complex shield an organisation from the prying orbital eyes, it is also good protection against a sudden bombing raid of the sort which destroyed Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981 or smashed a possible nuclear facility of some kind in Syria during 2006.

Thus the world's superweapon projects, secret bases, command and control HQs etc have tended to move underground more and more: and thus the US military/spook/special-ops community has tended to ponder subterranean operations more and more.

Naturally, when wondering how to navigate deep below the Earth's surface in a hollowed-out lair where a secret superweapon is being fashioned for the purpose of holding the world to ransom, there's only one federal agency to call: DARPA, the maverick Pentagon gadgeteers who among other things created the most successful vehicle for the distribution of pornography the world has ever known*.

DARPA boffins have noted that one of the few kinds of wireless signal which can penetrate underground is low-frequency radio. Unfortunately such signals are quite hard to generate at the required power levels. A network of lo-freq RF nav stations widespread enough to offer decent accuracy would probably be impossible to deploy.

But the right kind of signals are generated naturally by lightning strikes, which cause the emission of "atmospheric" ("sferic" or "spheric") radio pulses. An underground receiver could perhaps be built capable of detecting sferics from lightning bolts hitting the surface hundreds of miles away. It could be informed of the positions of the strikes over LF comms by a single specialised surface base station, similarly far off, and thus calculate its own position from sferic data coming in from several directions.

Hence S-BUG, which was reportedly the subject of a small DARPA feasibility investigation last year. Evidently this indicated that S-BUG might just possibly be feasible, as the agency is now to hold a conference (mostly classified SECRET) for tech firms interested in taking the project forward.

Doubtless it's merely a coincidence that DARPA has lately started up another project, NIMBUS, aimed at triggering artificial lightning. ®

*The internet.

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Fancy joining Reg hack on quid-a-day challenge?
Recruiting now for charity starvation diet
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.