The US Navy operates few unmanned aerial vehicles, using the handful at its disposal for reconnaissance duties. However, it has plans for a vast expansion of unmanned forces above, on, and below the waves.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA ASI) announced on Tuesday that in a test late last year, one of its MQ-9A Block 5 Reaper drones successfully hunted and tracked a submarine using sonobuoys.
“The successful completion of this testing paves the way for future development of more Anti-Submarine Warfare capabilities from our MQ-9s. We look forward to continuing collaboration with the U.S. Navy as they explore innovative options for distributed maritime operations in the undersea domain,” General Atomics President David R. Alexander said in a news release.
The test saw the drone deploy 10 sonobuoys of several different types in order to ascertain the sea conditions in a US Navy test range off the California coast, then search the area for targets, finding an expendable training target and tracking it for three hours before transmitting the information to Laguna Flight Operations Facility Arizona’s Yuma Proving Ground.
According to the release, the research will go toward General Atomics’ version of the Reaper adapted for naval patrol, dubbed the MQ-9B SeaGuardian. The firm has already built small numbers of the drone for the British Royal Air Force and the Indian Navy, and is considering selling them to Taiwan.
Presently, airborne anti-submarine warfare duties in the US Navy are the purview of specialized helicopters like the SH-60 Seahawk, which have limited range, or massive airliner-size patrol aircraft like the P-8 Poseidon.