The U.S. Navy has demonstrated the ability to launch unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from a submerged submarine, according to a report from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) on Thursday, Dec. 5.
Deployed from the submerged submarine USS Providence, the NRL developed XFC unmanned aircraft is vertically launched from a 'Sea Robin' launch vehicle (bottom right). The folding wing UAS autonomously deploys its X-wing airfoil and after achieving a marginal altitude, assumes horizontal flight configuration. Photo, courtesy of NAVSEA-AUTEC.
According to NRL, the launch featured the fuel cell-powered, all-electric experimental Fuel Cell (XFC) UAV, and was launched from an underwater submarine's torpedo tube using a Sea Robin launch vehicle system. NRL is developing the technology to give sailors increased maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.
The Sea Robin launch system is designed to fit within an empty Tomahawk launch canister (TLC), which is currently used for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles from submarines. XFC was integrated with the Sea Robin as it left the submerged submarine and traveled to the ocean surface, where it appeared as a "spar buoy," NRL said. A Providence commanding officer then used a ground control station to launch the XFC from the Sea Robin to fly a short mission demonstrating live video surveillance capabilities streamed back to Providence and surface support vessels.
While the exact data and location of the launch war not disclosed, the launch occurred using the USS Providence submarine earlier this year, and the UAV flew for several hours before landing at the Naval Sea Systems Command Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center in the Bahamas. Funding for the project, which took less than six years from concept to fleet demonstration, was partially provided by SwampWorks at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Department of Defense Rapid Reaction Technology Office (DoD/RRTO).
"This six-year effort represents the best in collaboration of a Navy laboratory and industry to produce a technology that meets the needs of the special operations community," said Dr. Warren Schultz, program developer and manager, NRL. "The creativity and resourcefulness brought to this project by a unique team of scientists and engineers represents an unprecedented paradigm shift in UAV propulsion and launch systems."