US: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research have recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement on a joint programme called Tern, which seeks to build a prototype medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial system that can launch from a deck the size of an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, DARPA said in a release.
If successful, Tern would allow long-range ISR and other capabilities from a variety of forward-deployed ships. The programme builds on a project DARPA had already started, the similarly titled TERN, for Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (Both programmes are named for nature’s long-distance flight champs. The Arctic tern, which has the longest migration path, annually travels between the Arctic and Antarctic regions on a meandering path that in some can cases total more than 55,000 miles.) The goal is to make long-endurance ISR not only more available to ships at sea, but less expensive. DARPA said that Tern ideally won’t require extensive modifications to the ships that have the systems. Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have two helicopter hangars but nothing like a runway, which is part of the challenge. DARPA is experimenting with hybrid unmanned aircraft that can take off and land like a helicopter and fly at the speed of a plane, though whether such a plane could manage long distances might be questionable.
Five vendors are under contract for the first phase of the programme, and one or more could be chosen for Phase 2. Both of those phases focus on preliminary design and risk reduction. One will be selected for Phase 3, which will involve building a full-scale prototype for ground and at-sea demonstrations of launch and recovery, according to DARPA. “Having a signed agreement with a military service at the outset of a programme is an ideal approach to align objectives. Ideally, this collaboration with ONR could serve as a model for similar agreements with all the services for other DARPA programmes, and help create breakthrough capabilities for military users,” said Daniel Patt, DARPA’s Tern Programme Manager.