The U.S. Navy Plans to Use Xbox 360 Controllers for Its Most Advanced Submarines

In an announcement that its classic submarine technology will be replaced with Xbox 360 game controllers, the U.S. Navy acknowledged the role that changing technology and generational outlook have on the U.S. armed forces.

The U.S. Navy Plans to Use Xbox 360 Controllers for Its Most Advanced Submarines
U.S. Naval officer trying out the Xbox 360 controller US Navy/Lockheed Martin

With a move that has gamers and perhaps some members of the armed forces scratching their heads, the U.S. Navy announced that it plans to use Xbox 360 for operating periscopes on its newer submarines. Engineers have essentially programmed the controller so that it would work correctly with the interface, the aim is to replace it with the photonic mast handgrip that is usually used aboard the submarines.

The U.S. Navy Plans to Use Xbox 360 Controllers for Its Most Advanced Submarines
Source: US Navy/Lockheed Martin

The idea was proposed by defense contractor Lockheed Martin, which captured the majority of the images from the lab, named “Area 51”, a highly classified area which is part of the Edwards Air Force Base, the testing ground for some of the most security-sensitive projects of the U.S. military. The company released the photos perhaps to add legitimacy to the decision, perhaps in part because the imaging control panel and handgrip run upwards of $38,000, while the controller costs in the area of $30-40, and also requires less time to learn.

The U.S. Navy Plans to Use Xbox 360 Controllers for Its Most Advanced Submarines
Source: US Navy/Lockheed Martin

The controllers will be used in a new class of submarines, starting with the future USS Colorado. Senior Chief and assistant navigator of the USS John Warner, who works aboard one of the submarines which has already made the transition, explains, “I can go to any video game store and procure an Xbox controller anywhere in the world, so it makes a very easy replacement.”

The Millennial Effect

Besides the logistical considerations and obvious price differences, another consideration made by the US Navy related to the fact that millennials will simply be more comfortable operating a controller which resembles technology more familiar to them than a more sophisticated mast handgrip. In all branches of the U.S. military, not only the equipment being used but also the rigors of training and expectations from new recruits and soldiers have been undergoing changes in the last 10-15 years, the product of changing priorities seen with the millennial generation.

Basic training, the 8-week period in which new recruits in the U.S. military go through extremely rigorous physical, mental and psychological training to prepare them for future careers in the military, has been revamped due to the sedentary lifestyles many children in the country today have, in large part due to video games. Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling explains the extent of the changes we’ve been seeing:

“[They're] advanced in terms of their use of technology, and maybe not as advanced in their physical capabilities or ability to go into a fight. So we're taking that into consideration as well in doing this holistic review…We are seeing a decline across the board in America…This isn't a decline in our recruits; this is a decline in our American society in terms of their physical capacity. It's just a softer generation.”

Though the physical limitations are there, there is also a much more confident approach to technology, meaning that the goal for today’s military is to strike a balance between the two. Hertling adds, "They're different. They have a technology edge. I think they're smarter than any generation we've ever had before…they certainly ask a lot more difficult questions."

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