US Navy Submarines Using Xbox Controllers to Run Digital Periscope Systems

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The Navy has implemented a new cost-saving measure designed to replace a portion of the $38,000 helicopter-style joystick and control panel in use on the USS Virginia. Instead of the most expensive components, sailors about the nuclear-power submarine are using Microsoft’s Xbox 360 controllers, which cost around $30 a piece.

As reported by Fox Business, the US Navy tested the use of Xbox controllers in place of the standard photonic mast handgrip for the operation of digital periscopes over the course of two years.

After the tests were deemed successful, the replacement controllers were added to the USS Virginia and plans formed to equip other Virginia-class submarines with the Xbox technology, including the USS Colorado which is set to be commissioned by November.

Active submarines, including the USS John Warner, are also scheduled to receive updates that will allow the use of the Xbox 360 controllers with their periscope systems.

According to the US Navy, sailors involved in the Xbox controller testing were able to quickly adapt to the new system based on the familiarity of the designs.

The controllers are said to have simplified the operation of the high-tech digital periscopes which display digital images on monitors within the submarine’s control room.

This isn’t the first time the US military has looked to gaming controllers as a method for operating sophisticated equipment. As reported by Wired, a high-energy laser cannon, being developed by Boeing, also used the Xbox controller during testing phases.

Reportedly, the US Navy and Lockheed Martin, the developer behind the original controls, are exploring other off-the-shelf options that can reduce costs and potentially make the operation of complex systems simpler to learn and manage.