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US Navy Deploys Submarine-Launched Combat Drones

The drone capability will enable submarines to strike adversaries beyond visual range, allowing the aerial vehicles to gather real-time intelligence on enemy strength, movements, and communications.

The US Navy has developed and deployed a Submarine-Launched Unmanned Aerial System (SLUAS) to carry out reconnaissance and targeting missions, Seapower has reported.

The navy acquired the capability in September after testing the system through three rounds of demonstrations spanning 2019 and 2020, said Rear Adm. Dave Goggins, Program Executive Officer for US Navy Submarines, during a virtual symposium.

Goggins added that the drone capability will enable the submarines to strike adversaries beyond visual range, allowing the aerial vehicles to gather real-time intelligence on enemy strength, movements, and communications.

He further explained how, during a test, the system allowed a submarine “to target and conduct a rapid simulated torpedo attack against a participating surface ship … pretty much at near-maximum effective range of that torpedo, by flying [the drone] to obtain targeting lock] after gaining that initial sonar gain.”

Drones Allow Subs to Engage Multiple Targets Simultaneously

In submarine warfare, increased proximity to the target raises the risk of detection.

With the drone capability in place, submarines can now hit their targets from a safer distance.

Additionally, the SLUAS allows the submarine to simultaneously engage multiple targets during an engagement by deploying drones and torpedoes.

‘Flying Periscope’

Apart from the system’s offensive capabilities, the navy is also looking into using the drones as a safer alternative to periscope surveillance to increase the ability of the submarine crew to see.

Rear Adm. Blake Converse, commander of the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet submarine forces, stated “Consider a submarine-deployed unmanned aircraft as a flying periscope able to dramatically extend our submarines’ organic sensor range, provide target-quality sensor data back to the submarine, or to a joint force capability, and enable Harpoon and Maritime Strike Tomahawk missile engagements,” as reported by Business Insider. 

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