The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has tested its anti-submarine warfare (ASW) continuous trail unmanned vessel (ACTUV) with a prototype of a low-cost, elevated sensor mast, Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS) payload.

During the demonstration, the TALONS prototype was launched from the back of the ACTUV vehicle which then rose to a height of 1,000ft employing a parachute.

While in the air, the prototype tested its onboard sensors and communications equipment with the ACTUV vessel that was sailing at operationally realistic speeds.

TALONS exhibited improvements in the range of sensors and radios it carried when compared to mounting the equipment directly on a surface vessel.

DARPA programme manager for TALONS Dan Patt said: “TALONS showed the advantages of using a low-cost add-on elevated sensor to extend the vision and connectivity of a surface asset and ACTUV demonstrated its ability as a flexible and robust payload truck.

“This demonstration was an important milestone in showing how clever use of unmanned systems could cost-effectively provide improved capabilities.”

DARPA’s TALONS can be deployed for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), and communications payloads of up to 150lb between 500 and 1,500ft in altitude.

It is a part of DARPA’s Phase I research for Tern, which is a joint programme with the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The ACTUV programme is aimed at developing a new class of unmanned vessels, which can travel thousands of miles across the open seas to carry out various missions such as submarine tracking and countermine operations.

"Where it is a good fit, joint testing provides the opportunity to show the robustness and interoperability of each programme’s research."

DARPA Tactical Technology Office (TTO) overseeing ACTUV and TALONS director Brad Tousley said: “This ACTUV / TALONS demonstration is the latest in DARPA’s history of cross-programme collaboration to develop breakthrough technologies for national security.

“Where it is a good fit, joint testing provides the opportunity to show the robustness and interoperability of each programme’s research, as well to explore potential future uses that would not be evident by testing each programme separately.”

With the completion of the at-sea demonstration of the TALONS prototype, DARPA is planning to transition TALONS to the US Navy.

Image: DARPA’s ACTUV successfully sailed with its first TALONS prototype payload. Photo: courtesy of DARPA.