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The US Navy will begin using Xbox controllers to control periscopes

by Eric Frederiksen | September 24, 2017September 24, 2017 6:00 am EST

When we imagine periscopes on submarines, it’s usually someone peering into a multi-mirrored pop-up tube. But that’s just as outdated as people using payphones. These days, it’s cameras and big screens and, soon, Xbox controllers.

The U.S. Navy is set to begin stocking its Virginia-class subs with Microsoft’s ubiquitous gaming controller, starting with the U.S.S. Colorado, according to the Navy Times and Virginian-Pilot.

The traditional tube periscope has been replaced with a photonic mast setup that can rotate 360 degrees and allow the user to view their target in different light spectra, as well as not requiring all the space and engineering and old-style periscope would need. Down in the control room of the submarine, the masts connect to large monitors visible to anyone in sight.

The decision came from the Navy talking to its junior officers and finding out how it can make their jobs easier.


The standard controller is a $38,000 joystick and control panel. Junior officers complained that these huge, expensive panels were clunky and heavy. Not only are the Xbox controllers about $37,970 cheaper than the standard option, they’re also a form factor that younger sailors are much more familiar with and thus are able to pick up almost instantly, saving hours of training. This isn’t just the Navy jerry-rigging a solution. The organization has been working with Lockheed Martin to find ways to use commercial technology to reduce costs and make on-boarding easier for new sailors. This is one of the results.

The controller is going to be an integrated part of the periscope system and will be added to other Virginia-class subs as they’re modernized. It’s small form factor means that it could potentially fit on other submarines as well, where the control panel currently in use is designed specifically for Virginia-class subs.

The Navy is envisioning a future with iPad style controls and video game controllers: a modern interface for modern sailors. This, apparently, is just the start.

Eric Frederiksen

Eric Frederiksen has been a gamer since someone made the mistake of letting him play their Nintendo many years ago, pushing him to beg for his own,...