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Drone from beneath the sea — reality beyond even Jules Verne’s imagination

6 January 2014

Drone from beneath the sea — reality beyond even Jules Verne’s imagination

The U.S. Navy, through the Naval Research Lab (NRL) has developed a novel unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which can be launched from a submerged submarine. The Naval Research Lab (NRL) uses unfamiliar acronyms such as XFC UAS (eXperimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System) to describe the drone proper and Sea Robin for the launch system. It would be more convenient if the UAV was named Sea Robin but that is not the Navy way.

Several remarkable technical achievements were reached with the successful launch and flight of XFC UAS late in 2013:

  • The deployment of the drone from the a torpedo tube of the USS Providence (SSN-719) while submerged using a Tomahawk missile launch canister
  • An electric system (no further description given) launch of the UAV once at the sea’s surface
  • Deployment of the folded wings and autonomous fuel cell powered flight — while streaming live video — for several hours before landing at a surface installation
Sea Robin XFC launches from the submerged Los Angeles class nuclear submarine SSN 719 USS Providence — US Navy digital sequential composite image

XFC UAS goes into flight with the aid of  the Sea Robin XFC launch system after deployment from a torpedo tube of the submerged USS Providence (SSN 719, Los Angeles class) nuclear submarine — US Navy digital sequential composite image

This event marks a significant technical achievement but what good is it? Is there a need to deploy surveillance drones from a submarine especially when such a launch would likely give away the “hole in the ocean” where that submarine is hiding? More than initially may be thought since the U.S. Navy is operating, even designing, their submarines to operate closer to shore due to threats from non national militant organizations. Should reconnaissance for an action too distant from conventional UAV bases, or aerially unrefueled UAVs, the U.S. Navy may now have an option — also lessening U.S. Navy dependency on U.S. Air Force as well as CIA assets given how the U.S. Navy often sails where others do not fly.

The image, above, is a digital composite of approximately 16 images which shows the entire XFC UAS launch sequence from the surfaced Sea Robin launch system Tomahawk missile launch canister. Deployment, wing unfolding and departure can easily be seen with increasing distance between the XFC UAS instances indicating acceleration of its speed over the water.

Information for this post came from this USNI News article.

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