DARPA's new TERN program aims for eyes in the sky from the sea

Mar 04, 2013
Artist's concept.

Effective 21st-century warfare requires the ability to conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike mobile targets anywhere, around the clock. Current technologies, however, have their limitations. Helicopters are relatively limited in the distance and flight time. Fixed-wing manned and unmanned aircraft can fly farther and longer but require either aircraft carriers or large, fixed land bases with runways often longer than a mile. Moreover, establishing these bases or deploying carriers requires substantial financial, diplomatic and security commitments that are incompatible with rapid response.

To help overcome these challenges and expand DoD options, DARPA has launched the Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) program. Seeking to combine the strengths of both land- and sea-based approaches to supporting airborne assets, TERN envisions using smaller ships as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) fixed-wing unmanned aircraft (UAVs). Named after the family of known for flight endurance – many species migrate thousands of miles each year – TERN aims to make it much easier, quicker and less expensive for DoD to deploy ISR and strike capabilities almost anywhere in the world.

"It's like having a falcon return to the arm of any person equipped to receive it, instead of to the same static perch every time," said Daniel Patt, DARPA program manager. "About 98 percent of the world's land area lies within 900 nautical miles of ocean coastlines. Enabling small ships to launch and retrieve long-endurance UAVs on demand would greatly expand our and our ability to quickly and flexibly engage in hotspots over land or water."

To familiarize potential participants with the technical objectives of TERN, DARPA will host a Proposers' Day on Tuesday, March 20, 2013, in the DARPA Conference Center. For details, visit: go.usa.gov/2gxJ. Registration closes on Wednesday, March 18 at 12 p.m. ET.

DARPA seeks proposals that would design, develop and demonstrate a MALE UAV and an associated automated launch and recovery system. The UAV would have to carry a 600-pound payload and have an operational radius of 600 to 900 nautical miles from its host vessel. The launch and recovery system would have to fit Littoral Combat Ship 2 (LCS-2)-class ships and other surface combat vessels as feasible.

Key technical challenges include: 

  • Devising a reliable launch and recovery technique that enables large aircraft operations from smaller ships, even in rough seas;
  • Designing an aircraft with range, endurance and payload comparable to emerging land-based , while still meeting the demands of the maritime environment;
  • Ensuring the entire system can operate with minimal, and preferably reversible, ship modifications and minimal personnel requirements for operations and maintenance; and
  • Packaging the system to fit into the limited space aboard ships.
DARPA plans to roll out TERN in three phases over approximately 40 months, culminating in a full-scale launch and recovery demonstration.

"We're trying to rethink how the ship, UAV and launch and recovery domains – which have traditionally worked in parallel – can synergistically collaborate to help achieve the vision of base-independent operations for maritime or overland missions," Patt said. 

Explore further: WSU innovation improves drowsy driver detection

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

45,000 feet: Future UAVs may fuel up in flight

Oct 08, 2012

Currently global military aviation relies on a key enabler – aerial refueling. Fighters, bombers, reconnaissance and transport aircraft use "flying gas stations" to go the extra mile. Increasingly, UAVs ...

DARPA develops technologies for aiding disaster relief

Jun 27, 2012

During natural or man-made disasters, the U.S. armed forces' rapidly deployable airlift, sealift, communication, and medical evacuation and care capabilities can supplement lead relief agencies in providing ...

Recommended for you

A smart prosthetic knee with in-vivo diagnoses

Apr 22, 2014

The task was to develop intelligent prosthetic joints that, via sensors, are capable of detecting early failure long before a patient suffers. EPFL researchers have taken up the challenge.

Old tires become material for new and improved roads

Apr 22, 2014

(Phys.org) —Americans generate nearly 300 million scrap tires every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Historically, these worn tires often end up in landfills or, when illegally ...

Students take clot-buster for a spin

Apr 21, 2014

(Phys.org) —In the hands of some Rice University senior engineering students, a fishing rod is more than what it seems. For them, it's a way to help destroy blood clots that threaten lives.

User comments : 0

More news stories

SK Hynix posts Q1 surge in net profit

South Korea's SK Hynix Inc said Thursday its first-quarter net profit surged nearly 350 percent from the previous year on a spike in sales of PC memory chips.

FCC to propose pay-for-priority Internet standards

The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose new open Internet rules that would allow content companies to pay for faster delivery over the so-called "last mile" connection to people's homes.

Brazil enacts Internet 'Bill of Rights'

Brazil's president signed into law on Wednesday a "Bill of Rights" for the digital age that aims to protect online privacy and promote the Internet as a public utility by barring telecommunications companies ...

Phase transiting to a new quantum universe

(Phys.org) —Recent insight and discovery of a new class of quantum transition opens the way for a whole new subfield of materials physics and quantum technologies.

Imaging turns a corner

(Phys.org) —Scientists have developed a new microscope which enables a dramatically improved view of biological cells.

Fresh hope for preventing pneumonia in the elderly

There are calls for the frail and elderly not be be overlooked for vaccines against pneumonia this winter, with UNSW research challenging conventional wisdom on immunisation effectiveness in older patients.