NAVSEA-AUTEC

Navy Launches a Drone from a Submerged Submarine

The Naval Research Lab just launched a drone from a submerged submarine – giving a huge edge to the future of special operations.

It took six years to develop and launch an all-electric, fuel cell-powered, folding-wing drone aircraft from a submerged submarine. The eXperimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System, or XFC UAS, was fired from the submarine’s torpedo tube using a “Sea Robin” launch system, which is designed to fit within an empty Tomahawk launch canister used for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The XFC UAS uses an electrically assisted take-off system which lifts the plane vertically out of its container. Once deployed from the submarine, the Sea Robin launch vehicle rose to the ocean surface where it appeared as a spar buoy. The drone then vertically launched and flew a “successful several hour mission demonstrating live video capabilities streamed back to Providence [R.I.], surface support vessels and Norfolk [Va.]” before landing at the Naval Sea Systems Command Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center in the Bahamas.

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“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.”

The project was funded by SwampWorks at the Office of Naval Research and the Department of Defense Rapid Reaction Technology Office.

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