New Navy Missile Launcher Tested, So Conventional Missiles Work In Submarines

The Navy is developing a new type of missile launcher that would permit using conventional missiles including Army weapons on submarines, instead of having to use missiles specially designed for undersea craft.

It could create new demand for some existing conventional missiles.

Navy scientists and engineers joined the first successful test launch of a test article from a Water Piercing Missile Launcher (WPML).

The test by the Crane (Ind.) Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC Crane) was executed at the Glendora Lake Facility 50 miles from NSWC Crane Sept. 25.

Scientists from NSWC Dahlgren, NSWC Indian Head, Naval Sea Systems Command and Virginia Tech were also involved in the launch.

The WPML is an underwater missile launcher that creates its own path to the water’s surface.

Researchers anticipate this design will save the Navy money, reduce complexity for future submarines and could be used as a backfit on existing submarines.

“Underwater launch is used primarily in offensive strike systems, but also supports special missions operations,” said Jerry McKamey, Joint Mission Office Director of NSWC Crane’s Global Deterrence & Defense Department. “NSWC Crane personnel are providing extensive support to those two sets of customers in the strategic missions and special missions focus areas.”

In the past, missiles would launch from submarines and make their way to the surface through the water. A missile in the WPML missile launcher works differently, using its own exhaust to create an atmosphere for the missile to enter, almost like its own tunnel to the surface.

According to Jon Yagla of NSWC Dahlgren, designer and patent holder of WPML, “the exhaust gas path provides the missile with a higher ejection velocity and a lower drag as it moves away from the submarine.”

He said in the past compressed air, water turbines and propellant gas generating systems have been used to eject missiles from submarines.

“The problem is the subsystems for these approaches are pretty complicated, which adds cost, weight, and noise to the submarine. There are safety issues with the gas generators that have to be addressed.”

Yagla added that the WPML concept eliminates all these subsystems, reducing the space needed on submarines and saving the Navy money. The rocket motor provides the energy and the ship and launch control system is greatly simplified.

How the WPML works: the missile is housed within a Concentric Canister Launcher (CCL). This inner cylinder guides the weapon while in the launcher. The missile exhaust moves up between the inner and outer cylinders and pierces the water, creating a path for the missile to egress.

If WPML continues to work, the Navy won’t have to make missiles specifically designed for submarines, but will be able to use existing missiles designed for aircraft or helicopters.

Yagla added that anti-aircraft warfare missiles like Sidewinders “would allow the submarines to spend more time in shallow water supporting special operations missions ashore.”

Another missile that can be used is the Army Future Combat Systems Non-Line of Sight, or NLOS, missile. “They are small surface-to-surface missiles that can be fired at distant targets such as tanks, armored personnel carriers and buildings,” said Yagla. As with the Sidewinder, this missile would assist Navy Special Operations Forces to obtain fire support from submarines.

“Underwater launch is not a Crane technical capability. What NSWC Crane provides to this is a unique facility with the flexibility to support multiple customers,” McKamey said. “In addition NSWC Crane is willing to make it available to our sister activities to support their technical capabilities.”

The next generation of strategic submarines is about 13 years away, but with the testing being done on WPML, NSWC Crane and NSWC Dahlgren scientists are leading the way, according to the Navy.

Launch Schedule


Dec. 6 + STS-122

STS-122 will deliver the Columbus European Laboratory Module and will be the twenty-fourth mission to the International Space Station.

Launch Time: 4:34 p.m. EST


Feb. 5 *GLAST

An heir to its successful predecessor — the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory — the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope will have the ability to detect gamma rays in a range of energies from thousands to hundreds of billions of times more energetic than the light visible to the human eye. Radiation of such magnitude can only be generated under the most extreme conditions, thus GLAST will focus on studying the most energetic objects and phenomena in the universe.

Feb. 14 + STS-123

Mission STS-123 on Space Shuttle Endeavour will deliver the pressurized section of the Kibo Japanese Experiment Logistics Module (ELM-PS) on the twenty-fifth mission to the International Space Station.

Launch Time: 11:57 a.m. EST

April 1 *STSS Demo

STSS Demo is a midcourse tracking technology demonstrator and is part of an evolving ballistic missile defense system. STSS is capable of tracking objects after boost phase and provides trajectory information to other sensors and interceptors.

To be launched by NASA for the MDA.

April 17 *STSS ATRR

STSS ATRR serves as a pathfinder for future launch and mission technology for the Missile Defense Agency.

To be launched by NASA for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

April 21 *GOES-O

NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are actively engaged in a cooperative program, the multimission Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite series N-P. This series will be a vital contributor to weather, solar and space operations, and science. GOES-O is a NASA/NOAA mission that will launch off a ULA Delta IV launch vehicle from Launch Complex 37.

April 24 + STS-124

Space Shuttle Discovery on mission STS-124 will transport the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module – Pressurized Module (JEM-PM) and the Japanese Remote Manipulator System (JEM RMS) to the International Space Station.

Launch Time: 8:26 a.m. EDT

June 15 OSTM/Jason 2

The Ocean Surface Topography Mission on the Jason-2 satellite will be a follow-on to the Jason mission. It will launch on a Delta II launch vehicle from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

June 15 IBEX

The Interstellar Boundary Explorer will launch from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll and Wake Island from an Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket.

June 25 + TacSat-3

NASA will support the Air Force launch of the TacSat-3 satellite, managed by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate. TacSat-3 will demonstrate the capability to furnish real-time data to the combatant commander. NASA Ames will fly a microsat and NASA Wallops will fly the CubeSats on this flight in addition to providing the launch range.

Aug. 7 *STS-125

Space Shuttle Atlantis will fly seven astronauts into space for the fifth and final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. During the 11-day flight, the crew will repair and improve the observatory’s capabilities through 2013.

Launch Time: 8:24 a.m. EDT

Sept. 18 + STS-126

Mission STS-126 on Space Shuttle Endeavour on assembly flight ULF2, will deliver a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module to the International Space Station.

Launch Time: 8:08 p.m. EDT


The mission objectives of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite are to advance the Vision for Space Exploration by confirming the presence or absence of water ice in a permanently shadowed crater at either the Moon’s North or South Pole.

Dec. 1 SDO

The first Space Weather Research Network mission in the Living With a Star (LWS) Program of NASA.

Dec. 15 OCO

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory is a new Earth orbiting mission sponsored by NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder Program.


Feb. 16 Kepler

The Kepler Mission, a NASA Discovery mission, is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to detect and characterize hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone.