Navy demonstrates ability to launch surveillance UAVs stealthily from submerged submarines

WASHINGTON, 6 Dec. 2013. U.S. Navy researchers have demonstrated a long-sought-after capability to launch unmanned surveillance aircraft stealthily from submerged submarines, which vastly extends the reach of the Navy's submarine force as a long-range reconnaissance asset.

Officials of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington on Thursday announced they have demonstrated the launch of an all-electric, fuel cell-powered, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from the fast attack submarine USS Providence ((SSN 719) while the submarine was underwater.

The drone involved was the NRL-developed Experimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System (XFC UAS), a folding-wing UAV launched vertically from a Sea Robin launch vehicle, which itself was launched from a Tomahawk cruise missile launch cannister inside a torpedo tube aboard the Providence, a Los Angeles-class attack submarine -- one of the smallest submarines in the U.S. subsurface forces.

This configuration of the Sea Robin launch vehicle and Tomahawk launch canister launched from a torpedo tube also could be employed aboard Navy Virginia-class attack submarines, Seawolf attack submarine, and Ohio-class ballistic-missile and cruise-missile submarines.

During the test aboard the Providence off the U.S. East Coast, the Sea Robin launch vehicle containing the XFC UAS rose to the ocean surface after discharging from the torpedo tube. When the package reached the surface, it appeared as a spar buoy.

On command from the Providence's commanding officer, the XFC UAS vertically launched from surfaced Sea Robin and flew for several hours demonstrating live video capabilities streamed back to the submarine, as well as to surface support vessels and naval command authorities in Norfolk, Va., before landing at a Navy base Andros, Bahamas. The folding-wing UAV autonomously deploys its X-wing airfoil after launch and flies horizontally.

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.

The NRL team responsible for the test includes the design-builder of the Sea Robin, Oceaneering International Inc. in Hanover, Md.; and the fuel cell developer Protonex Technology Corp. in Southborough, Mass.

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

The XFC UAS first flew in June 2009, when it was airborne for more than six hours. NRL's Chemistry and Tactical Electronic Warfare Divisions developed the XFC UAS as an expendable, long endurance ISR UAV.

Compared to internal-combustion-powered UAVs, battery powered unmanned aircraft are inherently stealthy because they are relatively free of noise and thermal signature, and are easy to start, operate, and maintain.

Their weakness, however, involves their relatively poor payload capacity and endurance. The electrically powered UAV could have more tactical utility if endurance could be increased, Navy officials say. The XFC UAS program is addressing these issues with a hydrogen fuel cell power plant.

For more information contact the Naval Research Laboratory online at

Get All the Military Aerospace Electronics News Delivered to Your Inbox or Your Mailbox

Subscribe to Military Aerospace Electronics Magazine or email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • C4ISR
  • Cyber Security
  • Embedded Computing
  • Unmanned Vehicles

Military & Aerospace Photos

Most Popular Articles

Related Products

XPedite7575 | 5th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 Broadwell-H Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 3U VPX-REDI Module

The XPedite7575 is a high-performance, 3U VPX-REDI, single board computer based on the 5th genera...

XTend7103 | COM Express® Carrier for COM Express® Type 10 Mezzanine Modules

The XTend7103 is a COM Express® carrier card designed to provide a low-cost and compact platform ...

XPort6173 | 3U VPX Carrier for Two 2.5 in. Solid-State Drives (SSDs)

The XPort6173 supports two, standard, 2.5 in. Solid-State Drives (SSDs) in a single 0.8 in. or 1....

XCalibur4640 | Intel® Xeon® D Processor-Based 6U VPX Module with Quad 10GbE and Dual XMC/PMC Sites

The XCalibur4640 is a high-performance, 6U OpenVPX™, multiprocessing, single board computer that ...

XPedite7472 | Intel® Core™ i7 Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 3U VPX-REDI SBC with SecureCOTS™

The XPedite7472 is a secure and high-performance, 3U VPX-REDI, single board computer based on the...

XCalibur4440 | Intel® Core™ i7 Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 6U VPX Module

The XCalibur4440 is a high-performance, 6U VPX, multiprocessing, single board computer that is id...

XCalibur4444 | Intel® Core™ i7 Processor-Based Conduction-Cooled 6U VPX Module

The XCalibur4444 is a high-performance, multiprocessing, 6U VPX, single board computer that is id...

XCalibur1840 | Freescale Twelve-Core T4240 Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 6U VPX Module

The XCalibur1840 is a high-performance, 6U VPX, single board computer supporting Freescale QorIQ ...

XPedite7572 | 5th Gen Intel® Core™ i7 Broadwell-H Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 3U VPX-REDI Module with SecureCOTS™

The XPedite7572 is a secure and high-performance, 3U VPX-REDI, single board computer based on the...

XPm2010 |3U cPCI PICMG 2.11 Power Supply with Integrated MIL-STD-461E

The XPm2010 is a PICMG 2.11 power supply that takes in a MIL-STD-704 28 VDC input voltage and pro...

Related Companies

Southwest Antennas

Designs and manufactures high-performance RF and Microwave antennas and accessories designed for today’s communicatio...

Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions

About Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions (CWDS) is a long established techno...


Mil Spec EMC/NEMP/ filters and EMC product solutions for military applications.


Spectracom supports mission-critical communications systems with precise and reliable time and frequency synchronizat...

Premier Polymers

Provides seamless epoxy flooring and industrial resinous coatings

CORWIL Technology Corp

CORWIL Technology, the premier US based, IC assembly and test services subcontractor, offering full back-end assembly...


IndustryARC primarily focuses on Cutting Edge Technologies and Newer Applications of the Market. Our Custom Research ...

DiCon Fiberoptics Inc

Offers fiber optic switches, tunable filters, and VOAs. Founded in 1986, the company is a US based, AS9100 certified,...

Harris Corporation

Harris provides advanced, technology-based solutions that solve government and commercial customers' mission critical...

GE Intelligent Platforms

Provides software, hardware and services with expertise in automation and embedded computing. We offer a unique found...


The Intel Xeon-D processor and its role in high-performance embedded computing (HPEC)

The rugged Intel Xeon-D server-class multicore microprocessor is set to revolutionize high-performance embedded computing. By itself, the processor will bring unprecedented power to embedded computing applic...

Harsh Environment Protection for Advanced Electronics and Components

This webinar will offer an opportunity to learn more about ultra-thin Parylene conformal coatings – how they are applied, applications they protect today, and the properties and benefits they offer, includin...

Press Releases


Curtiss-Wright Corporation today announced that its Defense Solutions division has received a contract from Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) to supply its small form factor ...

Innovative Integration Announces the FMC-Servo

Camarillo, CA June 19, 2015, Innovative Integration, a trusted supplier of signal processing and data acquisition hardware and software solutions, today announced the FMC-S...


Curtiss-Wright Corporation today announced that its Defense Solutions division has further enhanced its innovative VRD1 high definition (HD) video management system (VMS) w...

All Access Sponsors

Mil & Aero Magazine

August 2015
Volume 26, Issue 8

Download Our Apps




Follow Us On...


Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information

Cyber Security

Monthly newsletter covering cyber warfare, cyber security, information warfare, and information security technologies, products, contracts, and procurement opportunities

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers

Electronic Warfare

Quarterly newsletter covering technologies and applications in electronic warfare, cyber warfare, optical warfare, and spectrum warfare.

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles