US Navy launches drone from submerged submarine


December 5, 2013

Sequence photo of the launch of the XFC (Photo: NAVSEA-AUTEC)

Sequence photo of the launch of the XFC (Photo: NAVSEA-AUTEC)

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

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

While this is interesting, IMO it is not as interesting as the (re)discovery of the Japanese Sen Toku I-400 class submarine found off the coast of Hawaii recently. It was one of the largest non-nuclear subs ever built, it had an astonishing range, and it carried and launched 3 manned aircraft which could drop bombs (which made it a submarine aircraft carrier!). All of this was achieved in WWII.

It was apparently scuttled to keep the design and technology away from Russian hands.


I see this as very bad news about a tragic perversion of technological innovation. Just what we need, more drones.


I think this is way cool. It will allow a submarine to check out an area before surfacing to make sure it is safe. Since it is electric / fuel cell powered, it will make less noise and less likely to be noticed as it checks out the area it is going to.


I think it would be more cost effective to just put a different payload on proven submarine launched cruise missile designs.


Hm, so it pops up to the surface..then launches? now very efficient is it? why not make it go up straight like the missile? Full power from under the waves? With a fall off nose tip? Booster to get it up and out of the water then it takes over.

But yea, nice invention to start with, tho not sure the world needs more drones about.

Toffe Kaal

i'm all for saving the lives on the submarines, but am wondering how secure the communications are between drone and sub. also wondering if the drone is hackable and retrievable...does it float?


we should be worried about it if this were the landing photo.


Impressed and freaked out at the same time. With further development, it will likely possess kill capabilities as well as surveillance. Drones have killed and created much hate and more terrorism. This death wish is counter productive, unless that is precisely the objective...


EEEEK!! AAAAAK! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! ITS A DRONE!!!! you know people when they say there will be 50,000 drones operating in the NAS in a few years they are not going to have guns on them or be interested in what freaky things you are doing in bed. they will be looking at wheat crops, rivers where fish live, monitoring pollution, looking for lost hikers, dropping life rings to drowning swimmers, helping fight forest fires, making maps, monitoring power lines, looking at the radiation from damaged reactors like fukushima, taking medical supply's to people stranded in remote areas after natural disasters, and on and on and on. if all you can see is the negative side of these thing than you need to get some help. because these "drones" have many uses beyond that if you only look for them.


Uncle, what sneaky drones you have.

All the better to spy on you, my pretty.

Don Duncan

Whew, thank goodness! Now we can defend ourselves from giant robotic killer bees!

People neglect the value of drones. For example with drones about drive by shootings might be tracked back so easily that they cease to exist. Districts prone to armed robberies would also be greatly secured as the robbers would be followed until captured. Large apartment complexes could have drones above 24/7 thus replacing human security guards who often fail to prevent crimes. And for protecting our borders drones could hunt down violators and either detain or kill them with ease. Drones hold the potential to cure many social issues. Jim Sadler

Not very useful, IMO. The main objective of a submarine is to remain undetected. Period. This completely defeats that. We never ever did anything to intentionally signal we were around unless it was on the ASW training range. RM2(SS)


And given the limited range, if you can spot one, the sub has to be close by. Depth charges away. Dumb.

Matthew Persico

did same thing in Voyage Bottom of the Sea episode, or implied it could be done Thenhen

Stephen Russell

Jim Sadler is right. Within a few years, the capital and operating costs of surveillance drones is going to plummet, and if your city has one or a few service choppers today, it will have several dozen manned drones very soon. High speed chases will become obsolete, same as drive-by shootings, all kind of crimes. Imagine having a panic button in your pocket and the assurance of having your emergency attended to within 60 seconds, that's pretty powerful. The panic button could be a cellphone app!

Why not?


Wish I held everyone else's optimism on drones usuage's. Rescue, fire etc etc. Sure, we will have a profileration of drones but I think they will be used to crack down on the make sure they have an insurance card. No card?Off to the lion's den you go.

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