The U.S. Navy plans to deploy unmanned aerial systems (UAS) on board submarines, to provide covert intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition to support special operations and full-scale warfare, on sub-surface and surface operations. According to the Navy’s plans, attack and guided missile submarine will be equipped with a miniature UAS known as ‘Blackwing,’ produced by Aerovironment Inc. The Navy plans to buy 150 such systems. The company introduced the new unmanned vehicle at the Sea Air Space event in Washington DC.
Typical operation will see the Blacking deployed in the vicinity of targets in contested or denied airspace, where activities of other manned or unmanned platforms would be too risky. From its forward position, the Blackwing will provide target acquisition and battle damage assessment, in support of strikes performed from stand-off range.
Blackwing is believed to be a derivative of Aerovironment’s Switchblade Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile System (LMAMS), redesigned to fit the submarine’s 3” torpedo decoy launcher. It was developed under the Navy’s Advanced Weapons Enhanced by Submarine UAS against Mobile targets (AWESUM) Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) launched in 2013. During the demonstration phase (2013-2015) the AWESUM “demonstrates submarine launch, data sharing and control across naval, special operations and air-force units,” the Navy announcement. This JCTD ended in September 2015 with a strong recommendation to transition the capability into the fleet.
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The Navy also plans to evolve the submarine-launched drone concept with larger vehicles, launched through 21” torpedo tubes. In 2013, the Navy Research Lab (NRL) demonstrated a submerged launch of the Sea Robin UAV, from a modified Tomahawk cruise missile canister.
According to Aerovironment, The Blackwing drone is not limited to a submarine platform, and can also be integrated with and deployed from a variety of surface vessels and mobile ground vehicles to provide rapid response reconnaissance capabilities.