Tuesday, June 3, 2008

First Launch

Yes, this has already popped up on a number of forums; i'm summarizing and extending a bit here.

Last week, IDAS was test-fired for the first time from a submarine.

The German submarine U33 launched the missile while submerged from a torpedo tube, which then unfolded its wings, started the rocket motor and surfaced to go into a controlled flight. After 1500 meters flight the missile picked up the signature of a target drone flying nearby, and on confirmation by the controlling WSO successfully intercepted and destroyed it.

IDAS is the first system worldwide that can maintain fibre-optic guidance while breaking through the surface. Introduction of the missile is planned for around 2014.

Unlike a number of other experimental systems, the missile does not employ a real autonomous seeker of its own; instead, it is "interactive". This means it has an IR sensor, whose image is piped through the fibre-optic cable to the controlling submarine. The submarine's staff and computers evaluate the picture received, and can control the missile based on this.

Also unlike other sub-launched missile systems, IDAS does not employ a container underwater. The missile is directly soft-launched from a torpedo tube (quad-packed in a 21-inch tube), activating its own rocket motor while still underwater. This - in theory - even gives it something of a "stealthing" capability, as the missile would not necessarily have to surface near the submarine. With a mission range stated somewhere around 12 nm (due to the small size of the missile) for standard missions, there are limits to that of course.

IDAS is intended to provide submerged submarines with a short-range fibre-optic guided all-aspect missile for surface, air and land targets. Through the above sensor/cable instead of an autonomous seeker, the missile could also to a limited extent be used as a recon drone surveying the theater before destroying a target found, allowing targets of opportunity, in-flight target reprioritization or mission termination.

The US Navy has called the IDAS development - and in particular potential future proliferation - "dangerous", as it gives submerged submarines an active counter to airborne ASW assets.

Germany already had a similar system planned back in the 90s - Triton, derived from the Polyphem fibre-optic missile. Both Polyphem and Triton died about 5 years ago, with Triton never making it off the drawing boards. That IDAS is now actually being tested like this spells some better fortune for this time around.