Home Americas US Navy tests ASW concept with drone-launched sonobuoys to sniff out submarines

US Navy tests ASW concept with drone-launched sonobuoys to sniff out submarines

MQ-9A with a pneumatic sonobuoy dispenser system
Photo: GA-ASI

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) recently tested the capability of one of its MQ-9A Block 5 unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to carry and deploy sonobuoys for anti-submarine warfare tasks.

The test took place in November last year on a US Navy Pacific test range and saw an MQ-9A deploy an ‘A’ size sonobuoy to accurately generate a target track in real time from the Laguna Flight Operations Facility located at Yuma Proving Grounds.

The employed systems included the directional frequency analysis and recording (DIFAR-AN/SSQ-53G), directional command activated sonobuoy system (DICASS-AN/SSQ-62F) and bathythermograph (BT-AN/SSQ-36B) sonobuoys.

GA-ASI says the capability is the world’s first self-contained anti-submarine sarfare (ASW) capability for an UAS.

The MQ-9A Block 5 successfully deployed one BT, seven DIFAR, and two DICASS buoys to initiate prosecution and continuously track a MK-39 EMATT (expendable mobile ASW training target) over a three-hour period.

Target track was generated using General Dynamics Mission Systems-Canada’s UYS-505 Sonobuoy Processing Systems.

GA-ASI is developing this capability for the new MQ-9B SeaGuardian UAS in partnership with the US Navy under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md.

“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 GA-ASI president David R. Alexander. “We look forward to continuing collaboration with the US Navy as they explore innovative options for distributed maritime operations in the undersea domain.”

GA-ASI first demonstrated a sonobuoy remote processing capability in 2017 from an MQ-9A. Since then, the company has added a sonobuoy management & control system (SMCS) to monitor and control deployed sonobuoys, and developed a pneumatic sonobuoy dispenser system (SDS) capable of safely carrying and deploying 10 US Navy compliant ‘A’ size or 20 ‘G’ size sonobuoys per pod. The MQ-9B SeaGuardian has four wing stations available to carry up to four SDS pods, allowing it to carry and dispense up to 40 ‘A’ size or 80 ‘G’ size sonobuoys, and remotely perform ASW.

In a standard maritime ISR and ASW configuration, SeaGuardian’s endurance exceeds 18 hours, encompassing a mission radius of 1,200 nautical miles with eight hours of on-station time for submarine prosecution, providing a low-cost complement to manned aircraft for manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) operations. GA-ASI added it has already received orders for this MQ-9B SeaGuardian ASW capability from two separate foreign customers.