The US Army wants something we have already seen in literature: to enlist an “army” of sea creatures to help them track enemy submarines in the sea. The Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors program could also modify existing species to make them better spies.
To be more specific, behind this controversial program that has already encountered strong opposition from activist groups, DARPA, currently the research and development wing of the Pentagon, is located. The agency explained a few days ago through its website what PALS was about:
It is a program that will study natural and modified organisms to determine which can better support the sensor systems that detect the movement of unmanned and unmanned submarine vehicles.
Therefore, the idea is to record marine life, from bacteria, plankton and coral, to fish and mammals, which react in some way to the presence of nearby boats or targets. For DARPA, those reactions represent valuable data. ” The program simply plans to observe the natural and unique behaviors of marine organisms in the presence of targets of interest, and process that data to provide an alert.”
If the military can develop a system to detect the reactions of marine life to passing ships, in theory it could monitor all the world’s oceans in search of enemy activity, and do it more economically and effectively than with purely artificial sensors. According to DARPA.
Beyond pure ubiquity, sensor systems built around living organisms would offer a number of advantages over hardware alone.
What they mean is that life at sea self-replicates and is self-sufficient, so the military would not have to maintain the possible hardware that is broken down or oxidized. In addition, marine life perceives its environment in different ways, which gives military analysts a fuller view of the oceans:
Evolution has given marine organisms the ability to detect stimuli through domains: tactile, electrical, acoustic, magnetic, chemical and optical. Even extreme low light is not an obstacle for organisms that have evolved to hunt and evade in the dark.
Anyway, from the agency explain that PALS is now just a “research” program, one that is not free of controversy. Organizations like Greenpeace have already censored the intention of the program, since ” now they also want to really involve marine mammals in their plans, instead of turning them into victims.”
For its part, DARPA has explained to Motherboard that they do not intend to include endangered species and “intelligent mammals” in the PALS program, although it is not clear what the agency refers to as “intelligent”. It is known that the Navy already has trained dolphins and sea lions to find underwater mines and other objects.
Finally, the agency proposes to modify some species to optimize their senses and detect artificial objects, and the resulting breeds would be essentially genetically modified organisms that could interrupt or even collapse existing ecosystems.