Feeds

Underground mole-satnavs to work off lightning strikes

'Sferic' zap-sniff tech for future subterranean warriors

Build a business case: developing custom apps

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.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
prev story

Whitepapers

Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up distributed data
Eliminating the redundant use of bandwidth and storage capacity and application consolidation in the modern data center.
The essential guide to IT transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIOs automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.