Latest Naval Technology Includes Blackwing Drones
By Julia Bergman
August 18, 2016
NEWPORT — Some of the latest innovations in undersea technology were on display here Thursday, including an unmanned aerial vehicle that can be launched into the air from a submarine or from unmanned underwater vehicle.
The Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport on Thursday wrapped up its second annual naval technology exercise, which brings together representatives from industry, academia and the Navy’s laboratories.
Demonstrated technologies ranged from cutting-edge research to products that have already been acquired by the Navy.
Take the Blackwing, a 20-inch-long, 4-pound unmanned aircraft that folds up into a 3-inch-wide canister. Once the canister is launched from a submarine, for example, and hits the surface, the Blackwing comes out and opens its wings. Its flight time is about an hour.
The Navy is set to acquire 150 Blackwings to be used on its attack and guided missile submarines and unmanned underwater vehicles.
Developed by AeroVironment, the Blackwing is designed primarily for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
The Blackwing embodies what Navy officials mean when they talk about developing “longer arms” for submarines to increase their capabilities.
“The submarine force has wanted flying-periscope capability, if you want to think about it that way, for a long time,” Jeffrey G Morrison, a program officer with the Office of Naval Research, said.
The Navy will begin installing the software on submarines in the 2019 time frame, and every submarine from that point on will have it “as part of its baseline, so they can use it when they need to,” Morrison said.
The technology was derived from the Switchblade, which AeroVironment officials call “a weapons system.” The Switchblade, which is designed to take out small targets without causing a lot of collateral damage, is being used by the Army and Marine Corps. About 1,500 Switchblades have been produced.
There are various possibilities for how the technology could be used in the future.
The Senate’s version of the 2017 defense budget includes $127 million for undersea warfare technologies, U.S. Sen. Murphy, D-Conn., noted in addressing Thursday’s crowd. That’s $7 million more than what President Barack Obama requested in his budget.
The Senate and House, which are in recess, still need to work out the differences between their two defense bills and vote on a finalized version.
Murphy cited two recent experiences that underscore the relevance of the technology being shown Thursday.
On a trip aboard the USS Hartford to the Arctic this spring, Murphy “saw firsthand all of the new capabilities that we will need as we head into a decade, as we head into a quarter century in which the Arctic is going to be up for grabs, in which there is going to be more navigation.”
Earlier in the summer, Murphy went on a congressional visit to Asia, where he talked “nonstop” with officials in Japan, the Philippines and Korea about “the activity of the Chinese to try to build and take control of enough territory in the South China Sea, to be able to cast a detection net for U.S. submarines that is unprecedented.”
“As our adversaries and our competitors .... rapidly advance their technologies to try and catch up with us, it provides a mandate for us to get much better not only in our means to figure out what they’re doing as they try to exert more control over places like the South China and East China Sea but also our ability to be able to conduct our activities and missions that we have become accustomed to,” Murphy said.