Submarines: May 22, 2005

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Everyone wants in on the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) action, including U.S. submarines. Over fifteen million dollars has been allocated to determine the practicality of building a UAV that can be launched, and operated from, a submerged submarine. Not just any submarine, but specifically the two SSBN (ballistic missile subs) that have been converted to carry cruise missiles and commandoes. One of the sixteen ICBM launch tubes on these boats is to be converted to carry a UAV. The ICBM silo is seven feet in diameter, and the plan is to release the UAV while the sub is submerged. When the UAV is floating on the surface, the wings, one presumes, would be extended, and two small rockets would be used to get the UAV into the air. There, the propeller would kick in, taking the UAV on a preplanned flight to collect information. Its also possible for the sub to release a radio antenna buoy, via a cable, so the UAV can be guided from the sub. Once the UAV has completed its mission, it lands near the sub, sinks and is somehow recovered into its launch silo. There, it will be refueled, have new rocket motors installed, and get any needed repairs. The navy has paid Lockheed Martin $4.2 million to get working on a working prototype. 

Aircraft operating off submarines is nothing new. The Japanese did quite a lot of this sort of thing during World War II. This included a bombing mission on the U.S. west coast (Oregon in late 1942). The Japanese built 44 subs that could carry a small float plane for reconnaissance. This idea was fine in theory, but much less successful in practice. The U.S. Navys proposed submersible UAV is to be called the Cormorant, and is to enter service by 2010. But maybe not. Someone may read a history book before that, or remember that the United States has plenty of other satellite and long range UAVs that could provide air reconnaissance needs of U.S. subs. 

 


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