The US Navy is set to use a radical new drone that can be launched from a submarine.
The Blackwing drone is stored in a three inch tube, and uses existing systems submarines use for acoustic countermeasures.
Once airborne, the shell falls apart and the drone unfurls its wings.
The Blackwing drones are launched from a three-inch canister aboard submarines or unmanned underwater vehicles.
'AeroVironment's new Blackwing unmanned aircraft system is a valuable new capability that resulted from our team's close collaboration with, and responsiveness to, the U.S. Navy's undersea warfare community and the Special Operations community,' said Kirk Flittie, AeroVironment vice president and general manager of its Unmanned Aircraft Systems business segment.
'Delivering innovative solutions that enhance our customers' capabilities benefits the US Navy and USSOCOM, and creates new business opportunities for us.
'In addition to operating from undersea vehicles, Blackwing can also be integrated with and deployed from a wide variety of surface vessels and mobile ground vehicles to provide rapid response reconnaissance capabilities that help our customers operate more safely and effectively.'
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.'
Navy bosses also recently revealed plans for stealth pods on the seabed that could also launch drones.
They could spend months on the seabed, hibernating in special pods before emerging and flying into battle.
US defence chiefs have revealed radical plans for 'pods' to hold naval drones on the sea bed for years at a time.
If a threat emerged nearby, the pods are simply released remotely, and float to the surface to open and unleash the drone within.
The Darpa 'Upward Falling Payloads' concept consists of 'pods' to hold naval drones on the sea bed for years at a time. If a threat emerges nearby, the pods are simply released remotely, and float to the surface to open and unleash the drone within.
The UFP concept centers on developing deployable, unmanned, nonlethal distributed systems that lie on the deep-ocean floor in special containers for years at a time.
These deep-sea nodes could be remotely activated when needed and recalled to the surface.
The pods could launch surveillance drones in the air or at sea or provide a communications link when American forces are facing electronic jamming, said Jared Adams, spokesman for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
'The motivation is to enable timely deployment of unmanned distributed systems to distant locations by pre-deploying the assets years in advance and then triggering their release for rapid effects at future times of our choosing,' Adams told AFP.
The program has been dubbed 'Upward Falling Payloads,' or UFP.
And officials said the robot pods floating to the water's surface to release various payloads could perform some roles now carried out by submarines, which are much more expensive to operate.
'These deep-sea nodes could be remotely activated when needed and recalled to the surface. In other words, they 'fall upward,' Darpa said.
'Nearly 50% of the world's oceans are deeper than 4 km, which provides vast areas for concealment and storage.'
The UFP system is envisioned to consist of three key subsystems.
A 'payload' which executes waterborne or airborne applications after being deployed to the surface; the UFP 'riser' which provides pressure tolerant encapsulation and launch of the payload; and the UFP communications, which triggers the UFP riser to launch.
Officials said the robot pods floating to the water's surface to release various payloads could perform some roles now carried out by submarines, which are much more expensive to operate.
'Getting close to objects without warning, and instantiating distributed systems without delay, are key attributes of UFP capability.
DARPA Deputy Director Steven Walker said the agency is 'rethinking how we develop new military systems' to be more agile and 'cost-effective.'
'Some of our systems today are extremely capable, the most capable in the world, but they are very complex, they are costly.
'They take a long time to develop and field,' he said.
The UFP program of undersea pods poses serious technological challenges, including how to trigger the launchers, how to make them rise to the surface and how to secure a power supply deep under the ocean for more than a year at a time, Walker said.
The UFP program of undersea pods poses serious technological challenges, including how to trigger the launchers, how to make them rise to the surface and how to secure a power supply deep under the ocean for more than a year at a time.
DARPA, known for breakthrough experiments over the years that helped create the Internet, stealth aircraft, drones, 'smart' bombs and micro-technologies, is also keen on some other maritime research.
One program envisages spying 'eyes' on the ocean floor, including mobile and fixed systems, that would act as satellites or 'sub-ulites,' allowing the US military to spot other countries' submarines.
Researchers with the Distributed Agile Submarine Hunting (DASH) expect the 'sub-ulites' would have 'a detection envelope that's pretty broad,' Walker said.
DARPA's scientists also are working on passive sonars deep under sea that would listen out for the 'acoustic signatures' of submarines.
Another maritime program at DARPA is moving closer to reality, potentially revolutionizing submarine warfare.
The project would deploy unmanned vessels on the ocean's surface to track enemy submarines, a 'ghost ship' that could free up naval warships for other tasks.
Sub-hunting is a notoriously time-consuming and expensive task, particularly diesel submarines that have extremely quiet engines.
If the project succeeds, it could prove a 'game-changer' for the navy, officials said.
- Robot 'Sea Hunter' -
The program, known as ACTUV or Anti-submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel, is developing a 132-foot (40-meter) robotic boat dubbed the 'Sea Hunter.'
A smaller experimental vessel recently passed a key six-week test in waters off Mississippi without crashing and the next test with a full-sized prototype will reportedly attempt to follow another boat at a 0.6-mile (one-kilometer) distance.
'The navy is working with us to do a sea trial in the fall,' Walker said.
The system is relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of a modern submarine, but offers a potentially effective way to track an enemy's sub.
'It's basically turning the cost equation on its head,' Walker added.