THE PENTAGON — U.S. attack and guided missile submarine are set to field miniature unmanned aerial vehicles that will act as the eyes and ears not only for the boats below water but also help special operations forces and strike aircraft target weapons, the Navy’s Director of Undersea Warfare told USNI News last week.
As part of the Fiscal Year 2017 budget submission to Congress, the Navy is asking for small Blackwing UAVs to be launched from attack and guided missile submarines, the Navy’s director for undersea warfare Rear Adm. Charles Richard told USNI News.
“So there’s 150 small unmanned aerial systems coming in on submarines, so we’re now buying them,” Richard said.
“It’s not something that you would [just] see on a PowerPoint presentation. These are fully integrated they’ll go in talk back to the ship, talk to the combat control system and additionally we’ll have 12 of a 21-inch torpedo tube launched vehicles with much longer launched duration.”
According to a follow-on statement provided by the Navy, “the three-inch canister launched UAVs are part of Advanced Weapons Enhanced by Submarine UAS against Mobile targets (AWESUM) demonstrates submarine launch, data sharing and control across the Joint Force.”
The current year budget move is set to further operationalize a years-long program to use small UAVs from attack and guided missile boats.
Naval Sea Systems Command Program Executive Officer Subs briefed the AWESUM program publically in late 2013 and outlined the work with U.S. special operations forces (SOF) and the U.S Air Force.
The briefing slides from late 2013 indicated the Blackwings would communicate with a submarines antennas and could provide third party targeting information to aircraft through Link 16 data links. In addition to the targeting function, the UAVs could also possibly be weaponized as a defensive measure for submarines operating in the littorals.
The miniature UAVs are launched through the boats’ existing systems it uses for acoustic countermeasures and have a flight endurance of less than an hour, according to the 2013 presentation.
In 2013, the Navy Research Lab (NRL) also tested larger Sea Robin UAV, powered by fuel-cell technology and launched from a modified Tomahawk Land Attack Missile canister.