Navy launches drone from submerged sub

Small drone emerges from torpedo tube, unfolds, sends back video

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory said it has successfully launched an unmanned electric fuel cell aircraft from a submerged submarine.

The NRL said its unmanned system, known as eXperimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System, was fired from the USS Providence using the sub's torpedo tube and the Navy's 'Sea Robin' launch vehicle system. The Sea Robin launch system was designed to fit within an empty launch canister used for firing Tomahawk cruise missiles.

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According to the NRL:  "Once deployed from the TLC, the Sea Robin launch vehicle with integrated XFC rose to the ocean surface where it appeared as a spar buoy. Upon command of Providence Commanding Officer, the XFC then vertically launched from Sea Robin.  The XFC pops out of the canister then unfolds its X-wing shaped airfoil and after achieving a marginal altitude, assumes horizontal flight configuration.   The XFC flew a successful several hour mission demonstrating live video capabilities streamed back to Providence, surface support vessels and Norfolk before landing at a Navy base in Andros, Bahamas."

The XFC test was the culmination of six year project whose overarching goal was to develop an unmanned system that could help support  mission critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for the U.S. Navy's submarine force, the NRL stated.

The XFC comes from the Navy's SwampWorks group which develops all manner of advanced technologies.

The Navy, like other defense organizations and private institutions is hot on drones.  Earlier this year it successfully flew and landed a fighter jet-sized drone known as the X-47 onto an aircraft carrier at sea. On board launches and recovery testing is ongoing.

Other undersea research has been ongoing as well. You may recall in 2008 engineers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said they wanted to build an aircraft that's as capable of zipping through the sky as it is underwater. 

The agency's Submersible Aircraft research project explored the possibility of making an aircraft that can maneuver underwater with the  goal of revolutionizing the US Department of Defense's ability to, for example, bring warfighters and equipment to coastal locations or enhance rescue operations. DARPA said that the concept being evaluated was for a submersible aircraft, not a flying submarine. It is expected that the platform will spend the bulk of its time in the air and will only spend short periods of time submerged according to the agency.

According to DARPA: "The difficulty with developing such a craft come from the diametrically opposed requirements that exist for an airplane and a submarine. While the primary goal for airplane designers is to try and minimize weight, a submarine must be extremely heavy in order to submerge underwater. In addition, the flow conditions and the systems designed to control a submarine and an airplane are radically different, due to the order of magnitude difference in the densities of air and water."

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