Battleships are so World War II. And while aircraft carriers have ruled since then, naval air power relying on them is primarily effective against targets that are decades behind. So while Raytheon is developing a missile killer to knock out China's DF-21D "carrier killer" cruise missile, DARPA is looking for ideas to replace aircraft carriers themselves, before they are obsolete.

Contrary to popular opinion, DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) doesn't actually create stuff - the programs are rotating groups of well-connected academics who head committees that pick projects and then they solicit proposals and write checks. It isn't a perfect process. If you do an analysis of groups populated by Stanford people, for example, you will be alarmed at how much money those groups give to groups in companies that have Stanford graduates. Stanford is the top science school in the country, the argument can be made, it still looks odd that for-profit companies are getting checks for tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money this way.

DARPA is often picking the same corporations everyone already knew about. The Motley Fool discusses the recent Proposer's Day for contractors (at Johns Hopkins - with a billion dollars per year just in NIH funding, they are pretty well connected also) and their solicitation of a new underwater weapon system known as the "Hydra" - a robotic underwater vessel capable of launching robotic unmanned undersea vehicles, unmanned surface vehicles, and even unmanned aerial vehicles using "modular payloads within a standardized enclosure to enable scalable, cost-effective deployment of rapid response assets."

DARPA wants an underwater aircraft carrier, a kind of mothership capable of deploying a robotic combined arms force (army, navy, air force) anywhere in the world and literally at the touch of a button.

Not any more, battleship. USS Birmingham (on right) fights fire on bomb-damaged USS Princeton. Source: Wikimedia Commons, link: Motley Fool

So by all means send a proposal, but unless you are already an executive at Ingalls or Boeing, you probably don't have plans or even a way to describe a roadmap for this. And if just a modern Navy Destroyer costs $6 billion each, it is hard to imagine what this futuristic aircraft carrier will clock in at. It's still cool to think about.

Is This the End of the Aircraft Carrier? By Rich Smith, Motley Fool