UPDATED: AeroVironment to Supply Blackwing Mini UAVs for Navy Attack, Guided Missile Submarines

May 16, 2016 12:27 PM - Updated: May 16, 2016 5:25 PM
Artist's concept of a U.S. Navy submarines launching a Blackwing UAV. AeroVironment Image
Artist’s concept of a U.S. Navy submarines launching a Blackwing UAV. AeroVironment Image

This post has been updated with additional information from AeroVironment.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Navy has selected the unmanned aerial vehicle manufacturer AeroVironment to supply miniature UAVs for the service’s fleet of attack and guided missile submarines and unmanned underwater vehicles, the company announced on Monday during the Sea-Air-Space 2016 Exposition.

The three-inch Blackwing 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,” read a March statement from the Navy to USNI News on the program.

AeroVironment Switchblade UAV. AeroVironment Image
AeroVironment Switchblade UAV. AeroVironment Image

“Blackwing employs an advanced, miniature electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) payload, Selective Availability Anti-spoofing Module (SASSM) GPS and AeroVironment’s secure Digital Data Link (DDL), all packaged into a vehicle that launches from manned and unmanned submarines,” read the statement from the company.

AeroVironment had begun developing Blackwing in 2006 using technology inherent in the company’s backpack transportable Switchblade design, David Sharpin, AeroVironment vice president of UAS business development told USNI News on Monday.

Sharpin would not release range or speed information on the 20-inch long, four pound Blackwing but said the endurance of the platform was about an hour.

The service recently decided to move from a test program to operationalize the program and start acquiring more units for the entire submarine fleet, the Navy’s director for undersea warfare Rear Adm. Charles Richard told USNI News in March.

“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.”

2013 PEO Subs Slide on AWESUM Program. NAVSEA Image
2013 PEO Subs Slide on AWESUM Program. NAVSEA Image

In a 2013 briefing on the AWESUM program, the Navy said the Blackwing could communicate with submarines antennas and provide targeting information to aircraft through Link 16 data links. The Blackwings can also be weaponized to provide additional protection to submarines operating closer to shore. The program was developed in conjunction with U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and could also provide information, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) for Special Operations Forces (SOF).

Shaprin said AeroVironment Blackwing could also be used from surface ships or ground vehicles.

“The basic platform can do ISR. It can do communication relay and so if you wanted to do… third party targeting, that’s possible,” he said.
“How they employ it in the future? We’ll see.”

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
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