PHOTO CAPTION: NRL's underwater launched XFC reconnaissance drone.

US Navy Launches Fuel Cell UAS from Underwater

The first fuel cell reconnaissance drone is successfully launched from underwater, opening up a new pathway for the U.S. Navy to extend its intelligence gathering.

Published: 06-Dec-2013

As the nuclear submarine 'USS Providence' (SSN 719) stealthily loitered below the surface of the Caribbean off Andros in the Bahamas, it successfully launched the very first fuel cell unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, the all-electric XFC UAS, Navy-speak for eXperimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System.

The electric plane and its folding wings fit inside the launch tube of a Tomahawk cruise missile. On reaching the surface, the wings unfold (see image insert above) and the aircraft quickly moves to level flight to perform its mission. Developed by the Naval Research Lab with fund from with the "SwampWorks" at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) as well as the Department of Defense Rapid Reaction Technology Office (DoD/RRTO), the program took some six year from concept to flight.

The XFC UAS has an flight endurance of longer than six hours and can feed live video and other information back to the submarine. Says Marinelink, "the successful submerged launch of a remotely deployed UAS offers a pathway to providing mission critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to the U.S. Navy's submarine force."

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