At $2.6 billion, you would think there is nothing cheap about the Virginia-class submarines of the U.S. Navy. The massive subs are 114.9 meters (377 feet) long and displace 7,800 tons of water. They are armed with four 21-inch torpedo tubes, and two Virginia Payload Tubes, capable of holding 6 Tomahawk missiles each, for a total of 38 weapons of extreme firepower. Everything about that sounds massively complicated and expensive — except for one thing that might be in your home right now.
Submarine periscopes are complicated instruments. The old telescope-style has been replaced by a pair if photonics masts. The masts feature high-resolution cameras that can rotate 360 degrees, giving crystal-clear imagery to the submarine’s officers. These high-tech masts required high-tech controls. Originally, the Navy used custom-made controllers that resembled those used to navigate helicopters. These devices were difficult to master. Considering that they cost nearly $40,000 apiece, the Navy looked long and hard for a way to make the controllers easier to learn and operate.
The result was impressive. Mastery of the new periscope controllers can be gained after just a few minutes of training, as opposed to the hours needed to learn the previous system. The cost savings are equally impressive, with the price dropping from nearly $40,000 to about $20. Ease of access to replacement equipment is noteworthy, as well. Instead of custom ordering each replacement set of controllers, sailors can readily pick up what they need at virtually any port.
The amazing advancement in technology that makes U.S. submarines even more effective and deadly is a simple Xbox 360 controller.
Navy researchers concluded that incoming sailors were already well trained on the use of video game controllers. Rather than create new ones, they decided to adopt their technology to fit the devices the sailors already knew how to use. P.W. Singer says that all branches of the military are looking to the video game industry for ways to modernize weapons. “We already have this generation that’s already trained up in their use,” said Singer, “So why would we try to use different systems that we’d have to train them how to utilize?”
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