An all-electric, fuel cell-powered, unmanned aerial system (UAS) aircraft has been successfully launched from the submerged 'USS Providence' (SSN 719) & flew a several hour mission demonstrating live video capabilities streamed back to the submarine, surface support vessels and Norfolk base before landing at the Naval Sea Systems Command Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC), Andros, Bahamas.
From concept to fleet demonstration, the Navy says this idea took less than six years to produce in a collaboration between the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) with funding from SwampWorks at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Department of Defense Rapid Reaction Technology Office (DoD/RRTO).
The successful submerged launch of a remotely deployed UAS offers a pathway to providing mission critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to the U.S. Navy's submarine force.
The NRL developed aircraft XFC UAS - eXperimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System - was fired from the submarine'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 (TLC) used for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles already familiar to submarine sailors.
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 aircraft is a fully autonomous, all electric fuel cell powered folding wing UAS with an endurance of greater than six hours. The non-hybridized power plant supports the propulsion system and payload for a flight endurance that enables relatively low cost, low altitude, ISR missions. The XFC UAS uses an electrically assisted take off system which lifts the plane vertically out of its container and therefore, enables a very small footprint launch such as from a pickup truck or small surface vessel.