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Navy Testing Use of Balloons and Subs to Covertly Deliver Drones
The balloon carries these drones to altitude then drops them. (Photo: NRL)

Navy Testing Use of Balloons and Subs to Covertly Deliver Drones

"Nope, that's not a typo"

The Navy is looking into and conducting tests to launch unmanned aerial vehicles that could be more stealthy than simply flying the drone to a set location or shipping it on a flatbed truck.

IEEE Spectrum reports that the Navy could soon be using high-altitude balloons or submarines to deliver drones.

According to Aviation Week, the Navy conducted a demonstration in September -- information from it was just released this month -- of autonomous deployment of Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft (CICADA) vehicles. The demonstration dropped eight balloons from as high as 57,000 feet that landed within 15 feet of their intended target.

Naval Research Laboratory has more:

The [Autonomous Deployment Demonstration] ADD concept is to enable small unmanned air vehicles (UAV) equipped with sensor payloads to be launched from aircraft (manned or unmanned), balloons, or precision guided munitions, and dispersed in selectable patterns around designated areas.

"The mission profile is straight forward," says Chris Bovais, aeronautical engineer and flight test coordinator, NRL Vehicle Research Section. "The CICADA is dropped from another airborne platform, flies to a single waypoint, and then enters an orbit. It descends in that orbit until it reaches the ground."

The NRL developed CICADA Mark III UAV is a glider; it has no propulsion source onboard, therefore. It requires another airborne platform to get it to an altitude such that it can glide to its destination. Its lack of a motor and small size, make it nearly undetectable in flight.

IEEE spectrum explains further that what NRL created is essentially "a high-altitude weather balloon with a drone stapled to it, with drones stapled to it:"

Nope, that's not a typo: The Naval Research Laboratory has been using weather balloons to carry a medium-sized Tempest UAV up to 60,000 feet, and the Tempest UAV itself is carrying a pair of tiny little CICADA (Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft ) drones underneath its wings.

In addition to balloon launches, according to Aviation Week, the Navy has also awarded a contract to Raytheon to deploy UAVs from a submarine. Raytheon developed a submerged launch vehicle that will bring the UAV out of the submarine's trash disposal and eject the drone into the air once it reaches the surface of the water.

Aviation Week reports that this method will be used to launch AeroVironment's Switchblade.

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