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Submerged Navy submarine successfully launches drone from missile tubes

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A US Navy submarine has managed to launch a reconnaissance drone without surfacing, a technique that could revolutionize the ability of submersibles to reconnoiter – or to wreak havoc.

Submarine drone launch

Attack sub pops one off (click to enlarge)

The drone, snappily entitled the eXperimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System (XFC UAS), was launched from the vertical missile tubes of a Los Angeles class attack submarine, the USS Providence. Coincidentally, the submarine – nicknamed "Mighty P" – was the first submarine of its type to be fitted with vertical launch tubes, originally designed for anti-ship missiles.

The fuel cell-powered drone was encased in a Sea Robin launch vehicle which fell away once the payload breached the surface, whereupon the drone's wings folded out for flight. During Thursday's test the drone flew for more than two hours while broadcasting video back to the submarine, but it has the endurance to fly for six hours at a time.

"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 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 propulsion and launch systems," Schultz said.

The drone launch is part of the Navy's plan to expand the capabilities of its submarine fleet. While subs can gather intelligence on their surroundings using sonar or acoustics, the ability to get a birds-eye view of the surrounding oceans could be very useful for combat or reconnaissance. ®

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