Today the U.S. Navy announced that it successfully launched an unmanned aerial vehicle from a submerged submarine. Quite an impressive feat, no doubt. But it's far from a new idea. In fact, the Navy applied for a patent on a similar submarine drone-launcher in 1995.

The Navy was granted patent 5,615,847 in 1997, which is essentially a less advanced version of what they accomplished recently. But the general idea — that drones be deployed from undersea vehicles — was certainly a military dream as early as the mid-1990s.

The patent explained that their UAV would be launched from a submerged submarine and operate in the air for "four hours or more." The drone was supposed to fly at a speed of 150 knots, or about 170 mph. The patent also specifically says that these Navy-launched drones would be used for intelligence gathering.

From the patent abstract:

A submarine launched unmanned aerial vehicle comprises an elongated generally cylindrically-shaped body. Tail fins are stored in the body and are self-deployable to extend outwardly from the body. A booster motor is fixed to an aft end of the body and is self-releasable from the body. A propeller is disposed at the aft end of the body and is self-deployable to an exposed position at the aft end of the body after release of the booster motor. A propulsion motor is mounted in the body and is operative to drive the propeller. Rotors are stored in the body and are self-deployed to an exposed position wherein the rotors provide lift to the vehicle.


There appear to be some important differences to the 1995 patent application and the 2013 design. For instance, the fully realized concept includes an electrically-powered UAV. The 1995 design also used a rotor concept rather than wings. And the Navy's new deployment system also runs the drones for about 6 hours, compared with the 1995 patent which conservatively claims only four hours.

We often think of unmanned vehicles as being an incredibly new concept. But time and again we see that unmanned systems have been a huge priority for the U.S. military since at least the early 1990s. And, of course, unmanned vehicles are even much older than that.


The Navy's pride in achieving this new capability in just 6 years "from concept to fleet demonstration" is no doubt warranted. But as historians of the future well know, there's really nothing new under the UAV sun.

Images: Google Patents