Special operators may soon have a new unmanned aerial system (UAS) capability to call on, thanks to the successful launch of a UAS from a submerged submarine, according to the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). The NRL conducted the test with funding from SwampWorks, which is part of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the Department of Defense Rapid Reaction Technology Office. The test took less than six years to produce results, from initial concept to fleet demonstration.
“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.”
The all-electric, fuel-cell-powered, XFC UAS – eXPerimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System – was launched from a torpedo tube aboard USS Providence (SSN 719) via a Sea Robin launch vehicle system. The Sea Robin is designed to fit inside an empty Tomahawk launch canister.
Once the Sea Robin was launched from the Tomahawk launch canister, the Sea Robin with the integrated UAS rose to the ocean surface and appeared as an ordinary spar buoy. When the Providence’s commanding officer gave the go-ahead, the UAS launched from the Sea Robin and flew a mission lasting several hours. The airborne portion of the mission saw the UAS demonstrate live video capabilities that streamed to the Providence, surface support vessels, and Norfolk, Va. The UAS landed at the Naval Sea Systems Command Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center, Andros, Bahamas.
The quick turnaround of six years was credited to the collaboration between the Navy and industry. “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,” added Schultz.
The launch of the UAS from a submerged submarine provides a potentially feasible pathway for mission critical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities to be deployed from the U.S. Navy submarine fleet. “This demonstration really underpins ONR’s dedication and ability to address emerging fleet priorities.”