The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected AeroVironment and Northrop Grumman as the prime contracts for phase two of the tactically exploited reconnaissance node (TERN) programme.
Tern, a joint programme between DARPA and the US Navy's Office of Naval Research (ONR), is aimed to forward-deploy small ships as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial systems (UAS).
In the first and second phases of the programme, work will be focused on the preliminary design and risk reduction.
DARPA programme manager Dan Patt said: "To offer the equivalent of land-based UAS capabilities from small-deck ships, our phase two performers are each designing a new unmanned air system intended to enable two previously unavailable capabilities: one, the ability for a UAS to take off and land from very confined spaces in elevated sea states and two, the ability for such a UAS to transition to efficient long-duration cruise missions."
During the third phase, one performer will be contracted to build a full-scale demonstrator Tern system for initial ground-based testing.
This testing will later lead to a full-scale, at-sea demonstration of a prototype UAS on an at-sea platform with deck size similar to that of a destroyer or other surface combat vessel.
In October 2014, as part of Tern, DARPA awarded contracts to AeroVironment and Aurora for the development of a new class of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) and a SideArm launch and recovery system, respectively.
Image: Tern seeks to enable forward-deployed small ships to serve as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude, long-endurance UAS. Photo: courtesy of DARPA.