U.S. Submarines to Use Xbox Technology

file photo of USS Washington

By The Maritime Executive 2017-09-17 20:28:40

The U.S. Navy is starting to use Xbox 360 controllers to operate the periscopes on board its Virginia-class submarines.

These submarines don't have the traditional rotating tube periscope that only enable one person to see through. Rather they have two photonics masts that rotate 360 degrees. These feature high-resolution cameras, and the images are displayed so that everyone in the control room has 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, 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. The Navy is now replacing the old-style handgrips and imaging control panels (worth approximately $38,000) with an Xbox 360 controller. 

Lockheed Martin and U.S. Navy officials have been working to use commercial off-the-shelf technology to reduce costs and take advantage of the technological skills sailors grow up with. The integration of the video game console controller grew out of that effort.

The system has been tested over the past two years and will now be included as part of the integrated imaging system for the future USS Colorado, due to be commissioned by November this year. Other Virginia-class submarines will be retrofitted as part of their routine modernization process, says the Navy.