Navy launches unmanned drone from submerged submarine

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Time-lapse photo of the XFC's launch. (Naval Sea System Command / NAVSEA-AUTEC)

Time-lapse photo of the XFC’s launch. (Naval Sea System Command / NAVSEA-AUTEC)

Norfolk, Va. – The Navy has marked another milestone in unmanned flight, this time launching an unmanned aerial vehicle from a submerged submarine for the first time.

The eXperimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System (XFC UAS) was fired from the USS Providence’s torpedo tube using a Sea Robin launch vehicle system. The Sea Robin launch system was designed to fit within an empty Tomahawk launch canister used for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles already familiar to submarine sailors.

After launching from the Providence, the Sea Robin system rose to the ocean surface where it appeared as a spar buoy. Upon command of Providence’s commanding officer, the XFC then vertically launched from the Sea Robin and flew a successful several hour long mission streaming live video back to the Providence, surface support vessels and Norfolk before landing at the Naval Sea Systems Command Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) in the Bahamas.

Navy tests the X-47B aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt

The XFC is a fully autonomous, all electric fuel cell powered folding wing UAS with an endurance of greater than six hours.

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory developed the XFC with funding from SwampWorks at the Office of Naval Research and the Department of Defense Rapid Reaction Technology Office.

“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 developer and manager, NRL. “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.”

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