Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Submerged UAV Launch

The Navy recently announced the launch of a small UAV from a submerged submarine under a U.S. Naval Research Laboratory development program.  The UAV, contained inside a Tomahawk launch canister, was launched from a torpedo tube and then subsequently vertically launched when the canister reached the surface.

The UAV was a small aircraft with a 6 hour endurance.  During the test, the UAV transmitted video images back to the submarine.  The size of the UAV is strictly limited by the size of the launch container so the UAV can’t grow.  The range and endurance will only ever be what it is now.

The announcement on the site (1) proudly proclaimed that the program took only 6 years from concept to demonstration.  As a minor side note, we’ve been vertically launching “things” from subs for years.  Taking six years to figure out how to launch a small UAV seems an excessively long time.

The larger issue is what is this program leading to?  Off the top of my head, I’m missing the usefulness of this.  A short endurance, short range UAV seems only marginally useful and risks announcing the presence of a sub in the area.  One possible use might be to provide video surveillance of a very small area of land although it would only be effective in a very permissive environment.

It’s an interesting demonstration of capability but I’m going to have to think about the tactical usefulness of this. 


  1. Hasn't the Navy been launching UAV's for years from Submarines? Called 'Tomahawks'? ;-)

    In all seriousness, how on earth does the UAV talk to the sub? I thought that communicating with a sub while it was submerged was a bear, unless it was close to the surface and had a mast extended, which, it seems, would make it more vulnerable to discovery.

  2. Pretty much rejoins the topic in the other thread about what is our strategy? Does it help? Is it needed? Or is it just a fancy toy looking for a reason to exist?

    I think US DoD "strategy" is to buy a bunch of "nice to have" capabilities because no one really in Washington cares or understands what really is needed....

    Just because we have the technology to design and build it means it is useful....

  3. The exact "how" it talks is not important, the fact that it can talk does. Nice to have??? How about revolutionary ... Organic ISR asset available to the submarine to use as they see fit and as mission dictates? How about I will remained submerged and launch this asset and have an ISR asset at my command any where in the world this sub may go? “The successful submerged launch of a remotely deployed UAV offers a pathway to providing mission critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to the U.S. Navy's submarine force, Navy officials say. In the future, U.S. military authorities envision a fleet of large unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) able to deploy smaller UUVs and UAVs for global reconnaissance and attack capability. The UAV-launch demonstration aboard the Providence is one of the first steps toward that goal.”

    Six hours endurance is pretty darn good, I would take it in a heartbeat.



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