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NEWS | Oct. 5, 2023

NUWC Division Newport displays unmanned aerial system at Defense Innovation Days, International Seapower Symposium

By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs

An emerging U.S. Navy technology that provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and surface warfare targeting capabilities was on display recently at Defense Innovation Days and was highlighted during the International Seapower Symposium held Sept. 19-22 at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

The Submarine Launched Unmanned Aerial System (SLUAS), developed by the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport, was examined by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, and other dignitaries when they visited Division Newport’s booth at Defense Innovation Days, an event hosted by the Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance at the Newport Marriott from Aug. 28-30.

“I gave [Senator Reed] the general overview of how the system works, how it’s deployed, what the benefit is for the submarine fleet,” said Greg Walsh, a technical project manager for the SLUAS program in Division Newport’s Undersea Warfare Combat Systems Department. “It was a quick interaction, but he was interested in the unmanned aspect and it was interesting to get his take.”

SLUAS, created through a Joint Capability Technology Development (JCTD) initiative in 2012, transitioned into the Navy program of record via a middle-tiered acquisition in 2019, Walsh said. The technology is currently being used in the fleet, and Walsh said his team is collecting feedback for subsequent modifications.

“The high-level purpose of the program is really to bring that extension of onboard sensors into the submarine,” Walsh said. “Specifically with this program, it was looking at bringing a visual sensor onboard. The strength of the submarines is really in our sonar, our electronic warfare, but we can’t typically see a lot. We really only have the periscope and that’s about it.”

The drone-like SLUAS weighs just four pounds, is 19 inches in length with a 27-inch wingspan. It’s launched below the surface inside a canister via a three-inch signal ejector, while a built-in digital data link delivers cross-domain command and control (C2).

“We saw the technology of these small unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] with the capability to having these small optical sensors onboard that really helps with the ISR mission. That’s where the efforts were pushed. It was kind of like, ‘Can we package these in such a way that they could be deployed off of submarines and then get those sensor feeds, those optical feeds back onto the platform, where they can be used and leveraged by the fleet and the Sailors onboard there?’

“Unmanned systems are going to play a vital role in our future fleet,” he said. “They are going to be the means by which we expand our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance advantage in the air, on the surface and undersea. We hear a lot about the growing number of platforms and assets being produced by adversaries. By continuing to advance development in smaller unmanned platforms, exploiting the use of autonomy and growing advances in artificial intelligence, our naval forces can leverage unmanned technologies to support a future distributed force.”

The SLUAS was also on display at the 25th International Seapower Symposium, a forum for world maritime leaders to discuss, promote and bolster maritime security through collaboration. The event’s theme was “Security through Partnership” and more information is available here.

“It’s important for NUWC and the Navy to continue to demonstrate our emerging technologies at events like SENEDIA and the International Seapower Symposium,” Walsh said. “It provides a showcase for the Navy to highlight that while the exponential growth of these capabilities may still be a few years into the future, the technology is being fielded now. Our forces today are learning how to operate with these new systems and maturing the vision for future distributed maritime operations.”

NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.

Join our team! NUWC Division Newport, one of the 20 largest employers in Rhode Island, employs a diverse, highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, and other STEM professionals, as well as talented business, finance, logistics and other support experts who wish to be at the forefront of undersea research and development. Please connect with NUWC Division Newport Recruiting at this site- and follow us on LinkedIn @NUWC-Newport and on Facebook @NUWCNewport.