This small prototype submarine could fly through the water for covert missions

The Kronos prototype submarine.

The Kronos is pitched as a vehicle for military, rescue, and underwater engineering work. Highland Systems

In the marina at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center, in the United Arab Emirates, floated a prototype submersible that looked like it might have been part of a GI Joe playset. With wide wings that dipped below the water line and a feature suggesting a bubble dome cockpit, the operational Kronos Submarine concept seemed as much spacecraft as submersible. The vessel was on display as part of the NAVDEX naval exhibition that ran from February 19 to 24.

Built by Desert Power Designs and Highland Systems in the UAE, the Kronos is pitched as a vehicle for military, rescue, and underwater engineering work. A brochure of the Kronos, available online, shows the 30-feet-long and 24-feet-wide submersible as capable of carrying six Italian-made Black Scorpion small torpedoes, aimed forward. (The resemblance to a toy submarine playset is uncanny.) With just one driver needed to operate the vessel, the Kronos has room for 10 passengers inside, making it potentially a useful transport for covert missions, needing to move special forces discreetly and under the surface.

“The ‘Kronos’ is the first world’s gliding submarine as it has wings/fins with ailerons and two shunting engines on each wing, which allows it to maneuver underwater like an airplane in the sky,” Khalit Khabibullin, director of Highland Systems, said in an email. Kronos “also has two maneuvering engines on each wing which allows for the sub to stay idle underwater at one place or make an instant U turn, also folding wings are made for easy transportation while onshore.”

Underwater glider design is primarily the domain of uncrewed vehicles, where the technology has been explored for decades. Wings lets gliders toggle buoyancy like lift on an airplane, leading to descents and ascents that look more like flights than dives.

A full view of Kronos. Highland Systems

With underwater speeds of over 30 mph and surface speeds of 50 mph, the Kronos offers a fast way through the water. Its promised speed is comparable to that of nuclear-powered attack submarines, and much faster than existing underwater-launched delivery craft for special forces.

Powering the Kronos is an electric engine, giving it up to 18 hours of power on batteries alone. The submarine also has a diesel generator, and the brochure lists the vehicle as being able to run on both diesel generated and stored electricity for over 50 hours. The vehicle promises an air supply that can last 36 hours, and a range of over 600 miles on a single fuel tank for the diesel generator. It is built to operate at 328 feet below the surface, though it can reach a maximum depth of 820 feet.

[Related: In the depths of this Idaho lake, the US Navy is testing out its submarine tech]

“Typical missions are military special operations as it could carry in the military version up to 10 men and one captain,” says Khabibullin. “Search and rescue, services for oil and gas companies to check underwater pipes, luxury ones that could be only for 6 people with all facilities inside.”

Various mock-ups and display images of the submarine interior promise something akin to a modest yacht or perhaps an update of the spacefaring shuttles common to Star Trek. The mock-ups also show a clear bubble cockpit, which the display model lacked. A video, shared by Khabibullin, offered a glimpse into the interior of the Kronos as it floated in the marina.

A slew of LCD screens, familiar in shape and possibly origin as computer monitors, are spread at eye level around the cabin. A curved display is visible on top of a navigational console, and in three distinct angles it shows the surface outside the craft. Spectators and visitors can be seen idling on the deck.

Kronos has an electronic periscope with 360 view with day and IR night cameras, and at least for the monitors that were working, that appears to be the case. The vessel very much gives the appearance of a work in progress, from the monitors displaying error messages to the exposed wires and cramped back of the vessel.

“The Kronos submarine on display at NAVDEX in Abu Dhabi was a full size operational prototype of the electric self charging submarine which was built in Dubai, UAE by a team of 7 engineers in 8 months from scratch,” says Khabibullin.

It remains to be seen if the prototype will move to a production version, though the promise is certainly present in the vehicle. At a minimum, if it does not find a buyer among the militaries of the world, it seems like a shoo-in a prop for the next James Bond film.