U.S. Navy successfully launched a surveillance drone from a submerged submarine

The U.S. Navy has successfully launched an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) from a submerged submarine, the first step to “providing mission intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to the U.S. Navy’s submarine force.”

The all-electric, fuel cell-powered XFC UAS was launched from a “Sea Robin” launch vehicle deployed from the submerged “Los Angeles class USS Providence (SSN 719) submarine. The drone, developed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), is first fired from the sub’s torped tube using the launch vehicle system designed to fit an empty Tomahawk launch canister (TLC) from the submerged submarine.

Then the Sea Robin launch vehicle with integrated XFC reaches to the ocean surface where it appears as a spar buoy.

Upon command of the submarine, it is then vertically launched from Sea Robin to a marginal altitude where it assumes horizontal/conventional flight configuration thanks to the its X-wing airfoil autonomously deployed by the folding-wing XFC.

During the first launch, the drone flew for several hour mission “demonstrating live video capabilities streamed back to Providence, surface support vessels and Norfolk before landing at the Naval Sea Systems Command Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC), Andros, Bahamas.”

The XFC is a fully autonomous, all electric fuel cell powered folding wing UAS with an endurance of greater than six hours. The non-hybridized power plant supports the propulsion system and payload for a flight endurance that enables relatively low cost, low altitude, ISR missions. The XFC UAS uses an electrically assisted take off system which lifts the plane vertically out of its container and therefore, enables a very small footprint launch such as from a pickup truck or small surface vessel.

Image credit: U.S. Navy

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About David Cenciotti 4453 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

5 Comments

  1. how will this machine return to its home base after a launch from a submarine on an overseas mission? is it disposable?

  2. Really cool technology, but I wonder why the Air Force couldn’t just stream video to the sub from one of their much more capable drones that’s already in the air.

  3. I knew it! The Navy wants its’ own air wing. Probably a crash program initiated in the past few days since the discovery of the scuttled Japanese I400 Super Carrier WWII Submarine off the cost of Hawaii recently. I want to see the technology employed in getting it back into the cigar tube from whence it was born. I wonder if this new piece of work violates our “salt” and pepper agreements with the Soviets from the end of the cold war?
    Best to all

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