Today, the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) announced that it had successfully launched a drone from a submerged submarine. The all-electric eXperimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System (XFC) was launched in the Bahamas from the Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Providence (SSN 719) using a system that allowed the drone to be deployed without modifications to the boat, or requiring it to surface.

The XFC unmanned aircraft was developed by the NRL in less than six years from initial concept to current stage. It’s all electric and powered by a fuel cell that allows it to stay aloft for more than six hours. According the the NRL, the UAV is relatively low cost, flies at low altitude, and is designed for Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions. The craft has folding wings and is designed to be launched from a pickup truck or small surface vessel.

For the submarine test, the XFC was placed inside of a “Sea Robin” launch vehicle. The Sea Robin fits inside of a standard vertical Tomahawk missile launch tube, such as those aboard the USS Providence. After launching, the Sea Robin rose to the surface and took on the appearance of a spar buoy.

After the Sea Robin opened, the XFC used its electrically-assisted take-off system to raise itself vertically out of the container, and after reaching operating speed and altitude unfolded its wings for horizontal flight. The XFC flew for several hours as it beamed back a video feed to the Providence.

It then returned to the submarine and its surface support vessels before landing at the Naval Sea Systems Command Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC), on Andros Island in the Bahamas.

Source: US Naval Research Laboratory