Applying Gaming Tech in US Navy Submarines


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The U.S. Navy plans to use Xbox 360 for operating periscopes on its newer submarines. The idea was proposed by defense contractor Lockheed Martin, which exposed some of the activity in its lab, named “Area 51”, a highly classified area which is part of the Edwards Air Force Base, the testing ground for some of the most security-sensitive projects of the U.S. military.

According to Lockheed’s website, this is where the Navy’s submarine community is experimenting with its own version of the futuristic technology in a small mock control room. Lockheed Martin and Navy researchers test how commercial software and hardware can be applied to Los Angeles and Virginia-class submarine control rooms and wardrooms.

Today’s submarines use photonic masts that rotate 360 degrees to provide operators with real-time situational awareness above the water.

The original mast handgrips were based on helicopter joysticks, which were expensive, heavy and cumbersome to operate and required hours of training. Based on sailors’ familiarity with gaming environments, Area 51 engineers programmed an Xbox controller to interface more seamlessly with the imaging control panel. The sailors who test drove the technology were able to intuitively control the periscope within minutes without any training. Thanks to a good idea and some formalized testing, the Navy is replacing the photonic mast handgrip and imaging control panel (approx. $38,000) with an Xbox 360 controller, that costs in the area of $30-40, and also requires less time to learn.

The controllers will be used in a new class of submarines, starting with the future USS Colorado.

Another consideration made by the US Navy related to the fact that millennials will simply be more comfortable operating a controller which resembles technology more familiar to them than a more sophisticated mast handgrip.

According to, basic training, the 8-week period in which new recruits in the U.S. military go through extremely rigorous physical, mental and psychological training to prepare them for future careers in the military, has been revamped due to the sedentary lifestyles many children in the country today have, in large part due to video games. Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling explains the extent of the changes we’ve been seeing:

“[They’re] advanced in terms of their use of technology, and maybe not as advanced in their physical capabilities or ability to go into a fight. So we’re taking that into consideration as well in doing this holistic review…It’s just a softer generation.” Though the physical limitations are there, there is also a much more confident approach to technology, meaning that the goal for today’s military is to strike a balance between the two.