The US Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have joined forces on the tactically exploited reconnaissance node programme (TERN).
The deal involves further development in the DARPA's existing efforts on TERN, which has been exploring concepts for a long-endurance and long-range aircraft that is capable of operating a range of navy vessels.
DARPA TERN programme manager Daniel Patt said having an agreement with a military service is a suitable approach to align objectives.
"Ideally, this collaboration with [the] ONR (Office of Naval Research) could serve as a model for similar agreements with all the services for other DARPA programmes, and help create breakthrough capabilities for military users," Patt said.
The TERN programme aims to deploy smaller ships as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial systems (UAS).
In addition, the long-endurance UAS will be designed to operate from small ships to provide persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities with payloads of 600lb.
The programme also involves the development of economical, large-scale TERN prototype vehicle phases, which will demonstrate the automatic launch and recovery and key technologies necessary for a TERN objective system.
The three development phases involve concept definition, technology maturation and system demonstration.
Office of Naval Research deputy TERN programme manager Gil Graff said: "This represents a new approach to providing long-range, long-endurance aircraft based off navy ships."
Last year, AeroVironment and Aurora won separate contracts to support the project.
Image: An artistic depiction of TERN unmanned aircraft (UAV). Photo: courtesy of the US Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA).