by Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Spinner, USN
On July 20, 2005 the first-ever launch of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) from a surfaced submarine was a great success – proving the expanded utility of a technology already in use by United States Marines.
Despite its small size, the UAV has the potential to expand the role of the Submarine Force in the Global War on Terrorism significantly, according to USS Albany (SSN-753) Executive Officer, Lt. Cmdr. Rob Jezek. “It’s exciting to be a part of this launch,” said Jezek. “This technology extends the submarine’s reach. We already pride ourselves on being stealthy, and the Advanced Tactical Recce (ATR) capability within the UAV adds to our range of senses. It has many implications, including the ability to gather intelligence and perform advanced reconnaissance for Special Operations Forces (SOF) insertion.”
The UAV was launched from Albany while the submarine was operating on the surface. The UAV is similar to the “Dragon Eye” Advanced Tactical Recce Monitoring Platform (DE-ATR) used by U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. DE-ATR offers a great deal of power and flexibility to operators. Weighing in at approximately five pounds, the Dragon Eye carries two color cameras and can be outfitted with chemical and biological sensors in the nose cone. The UAV also offers night-vision capabilities that are especially valuable for force protection and SOF operations.
“In today’s demonstration, USS Albany had complete control of the UAV, utilizing systems within the Type 18 periscope,” said Dr. Warren Schultz, Associate Superintendent of the Chemistry Division at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). “In a real-life scenario, a submarine could launch the UAV 20 miles off the coast while inserting Special Operations Forces. The boat could maintain control of the plane and then hand it off to the Special Forces before they landed on shore. Control of the UAV is easily transferred from one operator to another.”
That ease of operation is one of the key selling points for UAV technology. According to Schultz, the UAV has a payload capacity of 12 ounces and researchers are developing lightweight zoom lenses to further improve the vehicle’s value and utility. The aircraft can fly at altitudes up to 10,000 feet, over a range of 40 kilometers, for approximately one hour – all on a single battery charge.
“It’s quick, quiet and stealthy,” said Christopher Povloski, NRL program analyst and flight technician. “During a demonstration in Yuma, AZ, no one could see or hear Dragon Eye until it was right on top of us.”
The Albany launch followed a successful demonstration in February of the UAV’s capabilities at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay. A prototype UAV was launched and controlled by force protection personnel ashore to search out the waters ahead of a submarine as it entered port.
Although the modular UAV is designed to be a “throw-away” item, some have been flown and recovered successfully more than 30 times. The new UAV design is ideal for stealth, due to its ultra-quiet electric motor and small size. It is only one example of future Submarine Force capabilities in delivering varied payloads for joint warfighting in the Global War on Terrorism.Petty Officer 1st Class Spinner is assigned to the SUBGRU-10 Public Affairs Office.