back to article US Navy plans self-building floating fortresses

Iconoclastic Pentagon paradigm-mangler boffins at DARPA have done it again, unveiling plans for cunning floating modules which could be tipped off cargo ships out at sea and then drive about and snap themselves together to form floating offshore bases. The new DARPA plan is called Tactically Expandable Maritime Platform (TEMP …


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  1. Mike 119


    Did'nt we think of that in the Second world war?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Floating airbases

      In that the British built floating airstrips out of pontoon like units I believe they did.

      1. Marcus Aurelius

        No floating airstrips

        But certainly Mulberry harbour units

    2. ian 22

      Yes, we did.

      I believe the floating base was called Britain.

      A 1:1 scale model of the British Isles was constructed and towed to a point several miles south of the actual British Isles. The actual Britain was camouflaged to blend in nicely with the North Sea, and the Jerrys never knew.

      1. Gilbert Wham

        did we?

        Well, can we all go back there now & get off this shithole?

    3. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
      Paris Hilton

      Prior Art 1 & 2

      I think Lord Mountbatten had a plan in WW2 to build giant ice aircraft carriers out of ice-crete (or some silly name like that). It was comprised of sawdust mixed with water and frozen and was a lot stronger than ice alone. So, aircraft carriers made from frozen chipboard.

      "Firstly, there will be a relatively normal effort to create a snap-together instant ISO-box kit which would turn the host ship into a useful platform"

      Then paint it green and call it Thunderbird 2.

      Paris, she’s a thunder bird too.

      1. Mike Richards


        Close, it was called Pykecrete after its inventor Geoffrey Pyke. It was a mixture of wood pulp and water which was then frozen into blocks that took ages to melt. The pulp not only made it harder to melt, but made it less brittle. There's even a story that Pyke demonstrated its durability by shooting a block of the stuff in front of some top brass. The bullet not only failed to penetrate the Pykecrete, it ricocheted off and injured an American officer.

        Churchill and Mountbatten were huge fans of the idea, and it even got a Codename - Habbakuk - which not only sounds like the noise you make when choking, but its even all Biblical and apocalyptic: "Behold ye among the heathen, and regard and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told to you.” Which as a mission statement, is pretty awesome.

        A small plant was set up in Canada (home not only of lots of trees, but truly ball-busting cold) and a demonstration pykecrete barge was built. It survived several summers before actually melting.

        Habbakuk itself was cancelled when long range bombers were available and the German Navy pretty much abandoned the Atlantic war.

      2. Chemist

        Re : Prior Art 1 & 2

        I think it was actually a guy called Geoff Pyke - there's a book about him called Pike, the Unknown Genius who proposed to Mountbatten the idea

        The water/woodpulp mix was called Pykrete

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      One can just imagine the fate of a special container washed overboard by accident. Wandering the ocean, desperately trying to mate with whales, icebergs and passing yachts. And really, do we need another excuse to drop stuff in the sea?

      1. Emilio Desalvo
        Thumb Down

        Lost containers.

        You cannot even start to imagine the number of containers lost at sea each year...

  2. Bilgepipe
    Thumb Up


    ....Lego boats, then?

  3. Paul 4

    Just the sort of thing for a Bond baddie

    that is all

  4. rpjs


    Floating fortresses are exactly what we need in the war against Eurasia, er I mean Eastasia comrade!

  5. lIsRT

    You can build anything, if you have the right bricks.

    It's Lego.

    With actual ships.

  6. Desk Jockey

    Yeah right!!

    A nice idea in theory, but apart from covert special forces usage, this is a far fetched pipe dream. Aircraft carriers are big for a reason, you need the height above the waves to launch jets/helis, enough space for fuel and even more space for the crews to service them. Low slung container made runways do not cut it!

    Parking that much expensive kit on an unprotected cargo ship which is worth considerably less than the kit itself is also a big no no. Now having an non-descript cargo ship sailing through a disputed strait, dropping off containers for those sneaky spec ops guys to go and launch some missions, hidden under the radar... Sounds like just the sort of thing they would want to do. The evidence would have to be sunk after the mission though.

    1. jackharrer


      It is actually wrong because of different reason. What's the point of shipping all those containers already in full shape? Flat pack them, IKEA style. Then add huge balloon inside and drop them to water. I don't really think propulsion and self-building capabilities are really so important. It's more about having some kind of machinery to haul them together so they can be joined.

      Then when you have first layer, add some cranes and build second one. It will be high enough over waves and stable enough. Then you can add customised parts like comms, weapon systems, etc. Also building from cheap containers will make it really hard to destroy. Fire the torpedoes and destroy side containers. Big deal, drop few more and attach where destroyed ones were. At the end of operation, just take expensive stuff with you and let cheap floaters go down.

      Generally brilliant idea, although needs little refinement. Maybe Blighty should start doing it?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        It's a distribution center not a combat base.

        Surely the point of this is, that its not meant for combat operations and its not expected to be fired on. It's for situations like Haiti where the airport was clogged up and the sea port damaged.

        Aircraft can't carry vast amounts of cargo and they needed to use shallow draft barges to get into the sea port which don't move fast enough at sea get there quickly. So deploy a floating port in deeper water that normal ships can use and use aircraft from there to ferry cargo the short distance inland. The temporary base doesn't need to provide full service maintenance for the aircraft they can be rotated out of the area as needed. Much easier and more efficient than deploying an aircraft carrier.

  7. Stephen Channell


    Where is the reference to the plucky British Mulberry harbour?

    1. Simon Cresswell

      The Americans didn't invent Mulberry


      1. Soul N6


        Britain Invented Everything

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lily was the name

    And there was also the Swiss Roll

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sort of.....

    Like nanobots..... only bigger

  10. Rogerborg

    So, you put these things on huge ships

    Sail the ships out to where you need them, then.... wait, what was the point of step 1 again?

    1. Gaius
      Thumb Up

      Surface area

      Because once you tip them overboard and they link up, you have something big and flat rather than something tall and narrow.

  11. Alan J. Wylie

    Pykrete and Mulberry Harbours

    Floating landing strips should be made from Pykrete, Modular Harbours[2] from concrete.



  12. FreeTard


    ...should lodge a patent infringement. :-)

    I wonder if it is still valid - could make the Danes a fortune!

  13. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


    Pods containing specific equipment that can be loaded and unloaded when needed.

    A floating Thunderbird 2 then!

  14. Vulch


    No Playmobil re-creation?

  15. Vulch
    Black Helicopters

    Thunderbirds Are Go!

    "Brains, a small island has been invaded, we need to send out a floating base immediately!"

    "Small I-i-island Mr T-tracy? That's Pod 6."

  16. Gary F

    Build ships from ice blocks

    During WWII the British had plans to build a massive aircraft carrier out of ice blocks because we were running out of steel. It's quite fascinating. The ice blocks are actually a composite material mashed up with wood. It's so tough that a bullet from a service pistol bounces straight off of it.

  17. Solomon Grundy

    Wait, What?

    I like the overall concept, save taxpayer money, reduce logistical challenges, hasten asset deployment, but there are a number of huge issues with the entire concept.

    Technical issues aside, my money says they won't be able to use OTS containers, they'll have to have specially designed units that cost 75x more than OTS parts.

    Plus it'll look really stupid.

  18. Solomon Grundy


    I just can't get the image of a bunch of special ops guys jumping out of floating garbage cans. Like a heavily armed Oscar the Grouch.

    Also, wouldn't it be funny if the containers were picked up as salvage or by pirates.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up


      I think that it would be a marvellous idea if the pirates had a go at a spec-ops floater. I'm sure the guys on board would love the idea too. No need to get wet to get at the bastards, just take 'em out as they come over the top.

    2. Andrew Culpeck
      Thumb Up

      I agree

      While we are still dropping of containers the pirates will brobably be nicking them for scrap. Look out for smart swiming containers poping up on ebay soon.

  19. DS 1


    The runway/ ski ramp - is not a very big problem. On a large vessel, you'd only need to hydrolic 'decks', or even one may be enough. Alternatively, if the main unit had a crane or lift deck, and a floating run way was added, this would be fine for harriers. All this assumes you have a stabel area and dock so still has limits.

  20. Graham Bartlett

    @Desk Jockey

    Aircraft carriers are big for a much more fundamental reason - namely that aircraft are big, so a ship carrying multiple aircraft needs to be large. They don't actually need to be that far above the water for the planes to take off and land.

    No, the reason this ain't such a good plan is a bit less technical. It's called waves. The average ISO container is 8ft high, and waves are often bigger than this. A lot bigger. Not only does that leave this lash-up with the problem of how to deal with waves crashing over the top (which won't do much for the airworthiness of aircraft on it), but there's the structural integrity problem. If your containers don't ride over the wave like a caterpillar (a workable solution, but one that won't give you a flat deck up top), you'd need your containers bolted firmly enough together that when a wave goes through, the containers in the middle can support the weight of all the containers outside them, and vice versa. On a real ship, this is done through proper structural engineering with big bits of steel. I can't see it working so well with bolted-together cargo containers, somehow.

    1. Pirate Dave Silver badge


      I was thinking the same thing. Can the welds and joints on a standard container withstand the force of a several-ton aircraft slamming into it at 120 mph? Especially the corners where they connect together? And can it withstand that force hundreds of times without breaking? And, um, where are most of the containers made nowadays?

      Seems like a big risk to take with aircraft that costs millions of dollars. But hey, we American taxpayers have tax money to burn nowadays...

  21. SlabMan

    ISO standard warfare

    I like the idea that non-ISO standards compliant warriors and weapons will be inelegible to take part in warfare. Somalian pirates will never get through the certification process. Job done. World peace ensues.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    A pointless waste of tax dollars...

    Unless these building blocks self-assemble into a giant robot with a glowing sword. Now THAT would scare some sea-going baddies crapless!!

  23. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Neat idea

    Providing they can find missions for this which are within its capability.

    No doubt one of these will be an elint container for a discrete monitoring of comms and radar signals.

    But remember standard ISO containers are *not* bullet resistant. They do have incredible strength to mass ratios (c 10:1 payload to empty weight is *not* uncommon).

  24. bexley

    I think that this is very cool

    If they can do this for much less money than building ships and aircraft carriers then this is good.

    Also they can be dismantled and put beyond use if no longer needed.

    It's just a shame that it's the septics doing it, as if the world need's more reach from america. I'd like to see some useful non-war usesfor this too. We could build a town in the middle of the ocean for enviromental research, tourism opertunities etc...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      ...offshore bases for disaster management. Quite a potential there IMO. Plus the very neat Mulberry idea. No harbor? No problem, we'll bring our own. I'm sure this would have been useful in Port-au-Prince.

  25. Jared Vanderbilt

    Then some scripting kiddie will write a virus ...

    and a large penis and scrotum will self-assemble off the coast of Iran.

  26. easyk

    It will go well until

    someone decides they need more disk space on the server and ends up deleting all the program files in the TEMP folder.

  27. Michael Dean

    Prior Art Again

    Hmmm modules should also contain pop-up weapon placements and com centers - sounds like M.A.S.K. to me

  28. Dave Bell

    Are you sure this is DARPA we're talking about?

    A few containers on top of a container ship would give it a useful bit of self-defence--something like a Phalanx system bolted on top of an ISO container. But what sort of war needs that sort of protection?

    Oh, it must be the whole thing about floating self-assembly. Now that's an idea that meets DARPA standards.

  29. TeeCee Gold badge

    Floating Fortresses?

    Doesn't Emperor Dornkirk of the Zaibach Empire have prior art there?

  30. Neill Mitchell

    Bomber Harris once said

    After sinking the Tirpitz:

    "There is no ship in the world that can stand up to two 12,000 bombs and you can tell your sailor friends to go stick it in their pipes and smoke it"


  31. Michael 28

    Playmobil reconstruction....

    or it won't happen.

  32. Tom 7 Silver badge

    ISO standard cubes?

    So when are Microsoft innovating they're MS standard blocks that dont quite fit the ISO ones, or any of their older ones come to that?

  33. Joe H.
    Big Brother


    First goodthink I had too.

  34. montyburns56
    Thumb Up

    It has already been done...

    ..well on a small scale anyway and it's called a Uniflote.

  35. Anonymous Coward

    I've a better idea

    Take a fraction of the money spent on this, give those "pirates", clean water, food and jobs and there will not be any more pirates left. (oh and stop overfishing and polluting their seas), but of course no body wants to get to the root of the problem. if they'd bothered to do a little research they'd find that the pirates in the horn of Africa originated from a self organized community coast guards tackling polluters and western fishing boats, but soon enough their seas became so polluted there we're no fish to get and they were left having to rob merchant ships, (and if you'd bother ask them they will all say they'd rather not be pirates but have no other choice).

    of course we only know how to deal with symptoms of social problems by using the military, and never the causes by using common sense.

  36. Wanda Lust


    Just maybe this isn't about ISO containers, runways, modern day Mulberries, no. It's about global mega shipping corps whose global mega container ships aren't shipping quite so much gubbins round the world no more. So they need alternate uses for the global mega container ships that are laying idle in so many calm, safe havens.

  37. Emilio Desalvo

    The Russians are coming!

    And they are putting other stuff in ISO containers...

  38. Pete 8

    Thunderbird 2

    The turtle-esque one, could launch in about 20ft off that short ramp, so a couple of spooning 20ft containers that 'kneel' is all you need. DARPA can send the chq to my usual address.

    Paris, cos she is on DARPA's payroll too.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just what we need.

    "The TEMP program will investigate and develop modular technologies and macroscopic modular systems that leverage ubiquitous International Organization for Standardization (ISO) containers and the intermodal transport system to deliver flexible operational capability from unmodified commercial containerships ..."

    We will using container-LEGO, plains, trains and automobiles to make machines of war because what the world needs now is war, sweet war: We've got no money, but a war will give us more, What the world needs now is war, sweet war, not just for some but for everyone.

  40. David McMahon


    I'm convinced we will see WW3 in my Lifetime

    1. Intractable Potsherd


      ... how old are you (just to get some idea of the time-scale you have in mind)? I'm of the same opinion as you, and my 50th birthday isn't too far away - am I more or less pessimistic than you?

      1. serviceWithASmile

        im 22

        and I agree.

        you are way more optimistic than me :D

      2. serviceWithASmile

        im 22

        and i meant to say "pessimistic".

        language fail.

  41. sw1sstopher

    .....a way to combat the Somali Pirates?

    ....the descriptions of Operation Prime Chance and Operation Nimble Archer making use of converted civilian Oilbarges for helicopter/gunboat bases for US Special Forces and Navy Seals in the 1980's, surely a way to stem the flow of pirate activity of the east africa coast and middle eastern waters is to ressurect one of these vessels.

  42. Charles King

    So is this the hot toy for next Christmas?

    "Anything can happen in the next half hour!"

    Da-daaah Da-dah! (doo-doo-dee doo-doo doo-doo)

  43. ARaybould

    A Century Ago

    Type your comment here — plain text only, no HTML

    Admiral Sir Percy Scott was one of the most most inventive and iconoclastic British naval officers in the decades leading to WW1, though overshadowed in history by Jackie Fisher. Early in that war he differered with Fisher over the value of battleships, saying that they were not cost-effective, being hugely expensive and too vulnerable to aircraft and submarines. Instead, he proposed developing aircraft carriers that could be used for commercial shipping in peacetime. Given the state of aviation at that time, his proposal looks impractical, but history proved his analysis to be correct. ( "Fifty Years in the Royal Navy" )

  44. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    That green picture

    I know it's completely off-topic... but the picture looks like fanciful box art for a 1990s ISA Graphics Card.

  45. John Sanders

    For a second...

    I thought I read "Flying Fortress" and got excited for half of a second, until I realized it is an over-sized carrier ship.

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