On Saturday, the USS Colorado, the US Navy’s latest Virginia-class attack submarine, went into service from the Naval Submarine Base New London in Connecticut. It comes with an unconventional piece of equipment: an XBox controller, according to USA Today.
The Navy said in September that the new submarines would come equipped with a pair of photonics masts, which replace the previously-used periscope. The masts feature high-resolution cameras that can rotate 360 degrees and feeds their imagery to monitors in the ship’s control room. Initially, the masts were controlled with a “helicopter-style stick,” but those were described as heavy and clunky, and were swapped out with an Xbox 360 controller.
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According to the Colorado’s commanding officer, Commander Reed Koepp, using off-the-shelf technology saves the Navy money, while the controller is already intuitive for the submarine’s sailors.
The Navy isn’t the first to adapt their controls to what their users are familiar with. Wired for War author P.W. Singer told PBS in 2009 that the military has taken cues from the video game industry, with controllers that closely mimic the ones that control consoles: “we already have this generation that’s already trained up in their use. So why would we try to use different systems that we’d have to train them how to utilize?”
The Colorado is the first attack submarine where sailors use an Xbox controller to maneuver the photonics masts, which replaced periscopes, Koepp said. Other submarines have joysticks. Using commercial off-the-shelf technology saves money, and young sailors report to the submarine knowing how to use it, Koepp said.
Koepp leads 130 men, including crew members from Brighton, Denver and Littleton, Colorado. Women serve on submarines but they haven’t been assigned to the Colorado. One-fifth of submarine crews are integrated.