Feeds

Germans develop submarine-launched UAV

Above us the drones

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

You have to do something special these days to make your flying robot stand out from the swarm - but remorselessly efficient German designers have done just that. They plan to offer small unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) which can be launched and controlled from a submerged submarine.

The UAV in question is called VOLANS (coVert OpticaL Airborne reconnaissance Naval adapted System), and is based on the existing German Aladin drone, a hand-launched job which has already seen service in Afghanistan. "At least three" small folding VOLANS machines can be packed in a pressure-tight tank along with a folding catapult launcher, and the whole thing is mounted on a telescoping submarine mast which works in the same way as a periscope. The multi-purpose mast system, which can alternatively be fitted with a remote-operated heavy machine gun or electronics packages, is called "Triple M".

In order to launch a VOLANS, the sub comes to periscope depth, pops up the Triple M mast above the surface, and fires off an aircraft. The launcher mast can then seal up and slip back below the waves, though if the submarine is to receive any data from the UAV (or change its pre-programmed flight plan) it needs to put up an antenna. Video recorded aboard the drone can be downloaded to the sub later at a prearranged time, however, so there's no need to stay at periscope depth with comms mast up throughout the flight.

If the VOLANS' performance is comparable to the ordinary Aladin, it will be able to stay airborne for up to an hour before its battery runs flat. The only way for the sub to recover drones would be to surface, so realistically the system will mostly be for one-shot use. The drones have a speed of "45 to 90" km/hour, so they could range quite far from their mother ship, though they will only be able to communicate with it from within line of sight - 30km or so.

This sort of thing could be quite handy for submarines, whose great Achilles heel is their lack of sensor range when submerged. Normally a submarine - especially a non-nuclear one, slowed to a crawl when underwater - finds it extremely difficult to find or intercept a target at sea while remaining submerged, unless it is receiving information from elsewhere. Drone reconnaissance could change all that, going some way perhaps towards making conventional subs the terrible threat that former Cold War subhunter navies like to paint them as.

Even if VOLANS doesn't get picked up on radar, however, its C-band video download transmission will localise its mother sub to within a fairly small area of sea. Modern sub-hunting helicopters are said to be able to sweep such areas almost at once* using their new dipping sonars, so a sub skipper launching a VOLANS when up against first-division opposition would probably be signing his own death warrant.

The system's makers say they see it more as a thing for everyday modern missions rather than full-scale maritime combat against big navies. They reckon it might be useful, for instance, to give a special-forces team deploying by submarine a look at their landing area or target before disembarkation.

There's more info on the Triple M from manufacturer Gabler here, and some nifty photos from a recent Berlin trade fair here. ®

* The Royal Navy claims that it would need only two of its Merlin HM1s to monitor the whole English Channel.

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
MARS NEEDS OCEANS to support life - and so do exoplanets
Just being in the Goldilocks zone doesn't mean there'll be anyone to eat the porridge
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.