The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has announce the successful test launch an all-electric, fuel cell-powered aerial drone from a submerged submarine.
The NRL says that the successful submerged launch of the remotely deployed the drone, formally known as an Unmanned Aerial System, offers a pathway to providing mission critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to the U.S. Navy’s submarine force, and is significant due to the short 6-year timeframe it took from concept to demonstration.
“Developing disruptive technologies and quickly getting them into the hands of our sailors is what our SwampWorks program is all about,” said Craig A. Hughes, Acting Director of Innovation at ONR. “This demonstration really underpins ONR’s dedication and ability to address emerging fleet priorities.”
The demonstration was carried out onboard the Los Angeles class USS Providence (SSN 719) submerine, where researchers launched an NRL-developed “eXperimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System” (XFC UAS) fired from the submarine’s torpedo tube using a ‘Sea Robin’ launch vehicle system, which was designed to fit within an empty canister used for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles.
Once deployed, the Sea Robin launch vehicle with UAS rose to the ocean surface where it appeared as a spar buoy and, upon command, the UAS then vertically launched from Sea Robin.
Once in the air, the UAS flew a successful several hour mission demonstrating live video capabilities streamed back to Providence, surface support vessels and Norfolk, before landing at the Naval Sea Systems Command base in Andros, Bahamas.
“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 NRL says the XFC UAS 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.