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The First Submarine-Launched Drone Can See Much Farther Than a Periscope

The quadcopter can be deployed from a submarine undetected, and take to the air hours later.

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The advantage to hiding a giant ship underwater is that it can sneak up on targets undetected. The disadvantage is that’s it’s hard to keep tabs on what’s going on above the water line: a problem a company called SpearUAV has potentially solved with a quadcopter that can be launched from a sub while it’s still submerged.

The earliest submarines mostly stayed near the surface of the water and would dive only to escape immediate threats, but the advent of nuclear-powered subs meant the ships could stay submerged for prolonged periods. It allows them to operate in stealth, but also limits their ability to communicate with the rest of a country’s navy and access modern military tools like GPS and satellite imagery. Wireless communications don’t work through salt water, or have a very limited range. So if a sub captain wants to do reconnaissance above the water line, they need to surface the ship to deploy tools like periscopes or wireless antenna: potentially revealing their position and putting the ship at risk.


SpearUAV’s Ninox 103 UW sub-to-air drone is a safer way for a submarine to peek out of the water, and takes advantage of the autonomous flying, obstacle avoidance, and navigation capabilities of modern quadcopters, which can often take to the skies for almost an hour, even while carrying camera equipment and other sensors.

The Ninox 103 UW launches from a submarine in a similar fashion to missiles and torpedoes, even while the ship is submerged, and makes its way to the water’s surface inside a self-contained capsule that can quietly float for up to 24 hours, giving the submarine time to distance itself in case the capsule is discovered.


After a pre-set amount of time, the capsule launches the quadcopter into the air, where its four propeller-driven arms deploy and the drone continues a pre-planned flight under its own power with a range of up to 10 kilometers and flight times of around 45 minutes. SpearUAV hasn’t divulged details about the range of the drone’s wireless communications as it relays video footage, imagery, and other info collected from a target, but the encrypted data could be easily accessed by a submarine from a safe distance using antennas stealthily deployed just below the surface of the water.

Unlike a periscope, where the imaging range is limited by its optical components and how long a captain is willing to keep a submarine surfaced, the drone can see for miles and miles from its elevated vantage point. And while we’re sure it’s no where near as cheap as consumer-grade drones from companies like DJI, given the military’s budget, the Navy probably isn’t going to lose much sleep should the Ninox 103 UW be detected and neutralized by an enemy before its mission is complete.