Navy Drone Launched From Submarine
December 6, 2013

Navy Launches Sophisticated New Drone From Submerged Submarine

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

The US military has stepped up its use of drones over the past decade, and the Navy has just announced the successful testing of another new drone, which was launched from an underwater submarine.

The drone, dubbed “XFC” after its eXperimental Fuel Cell, is an all-electric, fuel cell-powered, unmanned aerial system (UAS), according to a Navy press release. The drone was developed through the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) SwampWorks program.

"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 launch system for the drone was designed to fit inside a container used for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles from a submarine. Once it was released from the container, the launch vehicle rose to the ocean surface where it appeared as a buoy. The launch vehicle then released the drone, which took flight for several hours.

Launched from the USS Providence, the XFC drone transmitted live video back to the submarine, other vessels and Navy officials before landing at a Navy facility in the 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 Warren Schultz, program developer and manager at the Naval Research Laboratory. "The creativity and resourcefulness brought to this project by a unique team of scientists and engineers represents an unprecedented paradigm shift in UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] propulsion and launch systems."

The Navy said the new drone "offers a pathway to providing mission critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to the US Navy's submarine force. “

The debut of the new drone comes after the successful landing of an unmanned drone on the deck of the USS George H. W. Bush, an aircraft carrier, back in July. The drone used GPS and navigation software to land on the aircraft carrier, compensating for turbulence and air currents without direct assistance from a human pilot, according to Capt. Jaime Engdahl, program manager of the Navy Unmanned Combat System.

“Landing on a carrier’s flight deck is one of the most challenging tasks for a naval aviator – one that takes extensive training and regular practice to perfect,” Engdahl wrote in a blog post.

The successful landing came after months of simulations and “carrier-style” landings at land-based facilities. Dubbed the X-47B, the drone is said to contain some of the most sophisticated autonomous programming of any unmanned vehicle in operation. The plane is also specially modified for use on a carrier. Although its wingspan measures 59 feet, the wing tips fold up to make the drone more compact.

“The revolutionary technologies that we have developed and proven in the harsh carrier environment including aerodynamics of a tailless aircraft, autonomous aircraft behavior, precision GPS navigation, and digitization of the aircraft carrier air traffic control procedures will truly impact the way we integrate manned and unmanned aircraft on carrier flight decks in the future,” Engdahl added.