When Microsoft introduced the Xbox One in 2013, its predecessor the Xbox 360 began its gradual decline in prominence until being taken off retail in 2016. Now that the Xbox One X high-end console has entered the market, the 360 which first came out in 2005 is as close to being newly-retired as a video game console could be. But a recent development in, of all place the military, might just give the Microsoft gaming platform – or at least one of its components – a new lease on life. The latest in the Virginia-class line of submarines is looking to control its periscopes using a standard Xbox 360 controller.


It has to be said: How cool is that?

Gaming military

Microsoft’s Xbox consoles have been choice platforms for many a war simulation title, the “Battlefield” first-person shooter series from Electronic Arts is a prominent example. Nobody could ever have expected that now the controller of the Xbox 360, which had six “Battlefield” games on its library, will now be used to operate periscopes of the newest additions to the US Navy submarine fleet. The latest Virginia-class subs are equipped with two 360-degree photonic masts with high-resolution cameras that are not just viewable by one periscope operator but by everyone in the control room.

The original control scheme for these photonic masts was a joystick similar to that used in helicopters. But a significant number of submarine crewmen have expressed dissatisfaction with using a joystick to move the photonic periscopes. The matter has been passed on Lockheed Martin, which has been tasked by the US Navy to find new ways to incorporate off-the-shelf products and technology for military use. It is here that the concept of replacing the periscope joystick with an Xbox 360 controller was realized.

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Since many crewmen grew up using a game controller to move a first-person view like in a shooter game, they would find it easier maneuvering a periscope the same way.

Easier and cheaper

The US Navy-Lockheed Martin collaboration on finding military applications for off-the-shelf stuff was nicknamed “Area 51,” headquartered in a Navy research lab in Manassas, Virginia. Their method is simple: asking junior officers and sailors “What can we do to make your life better?" Thus Lt. j.g. Kyle Leonard was able to float the idea of using an Xbox 360 game controller in place of a joystick to operate a Virginia-class sub’s periscope sensors.

Since 2005 Microsoft has sold 25 million Xbox 360s in the US alone, and one controller from that console only costs $30 by itself. Compare that to the original joystick that costs $38,000 and there are just no contests. The Xbox 360 control scheme will first be introduced to the Virginia-class sub-USS Colorado, to launch this December.