The U.S. Navy and General Atomics (GA) used sonobuoys dropped from an MQ-9A Block V Reaper drone as part of a new submarine-hunting technology test in November, Defence News reports.
The tests were the first showcase of an aerial drone deploying a self-contained anti-submarine warfare system, GA explains.
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The Reaper drone dropped 10 sonobuoys — used to measure water conditions and monitor for targets — before collecting data from the objects in real-time.
The U.S. Navy and GA carried out the test as part of their development efforts for the MQ-9B SeaGuardian drone. The developers of the technology aim to make submarine-hunting easier and more cost-effective than it is using current technology.
Using General Dynamics UYS-505 acoustic processing software, the Reaper was able to find and track an expendable anti-submarine warfare training target for three hours.
“This demonstration is a first for airborne ASW. The successful completion of this testing paves the way for future development of more Anti-Submarine Warfare capabilities from our MQ-9s,” said General Atomics Aeronautical Systems President David Alexander in a statement. “We look forward to continuing collaboration with the U.S. Navy as they explore innovative options for distributed maritime operations in the undersea domain.”
The U.S. Navy’s growing UAV fleet
Using drones for anti-submarine warfare is a cheaper method than the standard use of P-8As, as these cost significantly more per flight hour. However, P-8As do have a larger capacity for carrying sonobuoys, meaning that they will most likely be used in conjunction with drones to expand operations.
A General Atomics readout of the test explains that the MQ-9B SeaGuardian will have four wing stations available for carrying up to four sonobuoy dispenser system pods, each of which holds up to 40 ‘A’ size or 80 ‘G’ size sonobuoys.
The development adds to the U.S. Navy’s growing fleet of unmanned vehicles used to take on the riskiest missions at a fraction of the cost of older military technologies.