The US Navy is to deploy a newly developed tube-launched unmanned air vehicle, able to launch from below or above the surface of the ocean from either a manned or unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV).
AeroVironment's Blackwing was developed for a USN and Special Operations Command joint capability technology demonstration (JCTD) contracted in 2013. The USN has now recommended its operational deployment on the back of a successful test effort.
Blackwing carries a miniature electro-optical/infrared payload and a selective availability anti-spoofing module. AeroVironment’s systems operate via a common ground control station, which allows for ease of transition between the family of systems.
In addition to submarines and UUVs, Blackwing can also be launched and controlled from surface vessels and ground vehicles to “provide rapid response reconnaissance” for forces, and control of the UAV can be integrated into the vehicle’s software.
The ability to launch UAVs from other host platforms has gained a great deal of interest in recent years, as operators have realised that a submarine's torpedo tubes, or flare dispensers on an aircraft, can be utilised to carry an intelligent surveillance system.
The US is taking a lead in this area, with the Naval Research Laboratory in 2013 announcing that it had successfully demonstrated the deployment of the XFC electric canister-launched UAV from a submarine’s torpedo tube.
And the Pentagon is also understood to be experimenting with Lockheed Martin F-16s and Boeing F/A-18s launching micro UAVs from their flare dispensers. Footage emerged of an F-16 deploying experimental unmanned systems during a flight test earlier this year.
In April, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded Phase I contracts to Composite Engineering, Dynetics, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, and Lockheed Martin for its Gremlins project, which seeks to launch groups of small UAVs from bombers, cargo aircraft or fighters, and recover them via a Lockheed Martin C-130 transport.