The spectacular recent exploration of the interior of the Titanic by a self- propelled robot camera 3,700 meters below the surface of the Atlantic was only one, relatively minor technological side-show accompanying an awesome long- term program for the militarization of the deep oceans.
Funded by the U. S. Navy, the program is aimed at the conquest of the ocean trenches, which comprise perhaps half the seabed. They would be used as permanent hiding places for missile-bearing submarines and listening devices tracking the movement of shipping.The wreck of the luxury liner was found last year off Newfoundland by Argo, the remotely controlled, high-sensitivity submersible TV camera platform developed for the U.S. Navy by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. It cost $2 million.
France's Institute for Oceanographic Research was involved in the original discovery in a joint venture with Woods Hole. But it has now withdrawn from participation. Only the United States and France possess the technology for exploring the deep ocean trenches. Japan is catching up fast.
The U.S. Navy insists that its interest in the Titanic is limited to its intention of developing the technology needed for the placement, discovery and investigation of objects on the deep seabed. That describes the military use of the deep ocean trenches, which are still inaccessible to most submarines. The program would complete the militarization of the planet.
Argo was developed for secret missions, equipped with sidescan solar and low-light video cameras designed for service on the deep seafloor. The discovery of the Titanic 74 years after the loss of the big ship was made during the first full-scale sea trial of the submersible.
It is just one of a whole class of craft developed at Woods Hole for the U.S. Navy, capable of undertaking lengthy missions under great water pressures that would crush lesser vessels. The latest survey yielding a grand inside view of the wreck was undertaken by Jason Jr., a tethered robot video camera capable of scanning 170 degrees, powered by four small thruster jets.
The robot was remotely operated by a three-member crew in Alvin, the research submersible of the Woods Hole institution. It had been guided to the wreck by means of four acoustic transponder beacons placed on the ocean floor by the mother ship Atlantis II.
Military funding is not a prerequisite for deep ocean research.
A manned submersible capable of diving to depths of 6,500 meters is being designed by Japan's Deep Sea Survey. The $750 million vessel will be built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries over the next three years. It will carry a set of advanced manipulator arms and color TV cameras, and navigate by sonar.
The craft is intended to study the ocean beds for faults in order to help scientists to predict earthquakes which periodically hit Japan. It will also seek untapped natural resources.