French partners develop water-launched naval UAV

French UAV water

Two French companies are getting closer to perfecting an asset that will allow naval forces to launch small UAVs from the surface of – or beneath – the bodies of water they’re patrolling.

The French maritime defense company, Naval Group, has teamed up with the Toulouse-based drone startup Diodon to adapt a specialized, compact UAV for water deployment by navy, coast guard, and other forces policing the seas. The partners have already worked together in use scenarios with a current version of the craft, and plan on testing the next-generation upgrade of the vehicle next year. 

There have, of course, been several projects initiated elsewhere to develop drones capable of making the transition from water to air (and in some cases, back into the drink again and again).  The Naval Group-Diodon tandem, however, is close to deploying a specialized UAV that can be launched from submarines or boats, and almost immediately begin performing airborne missions with all the tech and flight capacities of exclusively aerial high-performance quadcopters.

A major difference between Diodon’s new HP30 iteration and other liquid-to-air craft under development is its expandable components. The body and foldable wings are surrounded by a tough but collapsible skin that is inflated before deployment. That approach makes the craft lighter and more compact in storage, and far more buoyant when rising to or floating on surfaces of water. The encasing is also highly puncture-resistance and entirely air-tight.

Diodon’s drones are intended for detection, patrol, reconnaissance, surveillance, and engagement with criminal or hostile targets under watch by official forces in France and the 18 other nations Naval Drone works with. The HP30 has a range of 8 km, maximum flight time of 30 minutes at top speeds of 55 km/h, and resists winds of up to 25 knots per hour. Setup to launch time is a minute or less.

Diodon officials say ongoing tests of the earlier model HP20 have been successful at depths of several meters under water, with trials of the HP30 intending to launch the craft farther down from submarines.

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