Lockheed Martin to design sea-deployed and -recovered unmanned air vehicle under DARPA contract

Lockheed Martin will complete preliminary design of its submarine-launched and -recovered multi-purpose unmanned air vehicle (MPUAV) under a two-year, $7.1 million US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contract.

DARPA's Cormorant programme is exploring concepts for a UAV to be launched from the sea surface and submarines to provide close air support for vessels such as the planned Littoral Combat Ship and the SSGN, a Trident ballistic-missile submarine modified for covert strike and special operations.

Under its DARPA contract, Lockheed will conduct risk-reduction demonstrations to mature the MPUAV design and related servicing and support concepts. The folding-wing MPUAV is intended to be housed in the Trident SSGN's 2.1m (7ft) -diameter ballistic-missile launch tubes (Flight International, 10-16 August 2004).

After release from the submerged submarine, the UAV will remain buoyant near the water's surface until launch, when it will be boosted out of the water by two expendable solid-rocket motors derived from the Tomahawk cruise-missile booster. The 3,000lb (13kN) -thrust turbofan will then be started using high-pressure nitrogen.

After a mission up to 1,100-1,300km (600-700nm) radius, carrying a reconnaissance and surveillance payload or weapons, the UAV will return to a designated retrieval point at sea, shut down its engine and splash down to be recovered by the submerged Trident using an unmanned underwater vehicle. The MPUAV will then be refuelled and reconfigured for the next mission.

DARPA says the technical challenges include "aircraft dynamics at the air/sea surface, engine technology to survive periodic immersion in salt water, and development of advanced composite materials to withstand sea-surface operations". The programme is budgeted at $21.7 million for FY2005-7.


Source: Flight International