The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an advanced weapons research organization commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense, has announced the second phase tests of its new sea-based drone.
Dubbed “Tern,” or Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node,” the project is a joint collaboration between DARPA and the Office of Naval Research, with the two organizations performing the first work on the project back in 2014. Since then, they’ve been working to turn the vision of a sea-based drone into a reality — and they are coming quite close to achieving it.
Once developed, Tern would provide a new tactical advantage for the U.S. Navy, allowing it to conduct reconnaissance and attack strikes well beyond the normal range of its helicopters. Of course, the real benefit of a sea-based drone is the ability to perform these tasks without jeopardizing the safety of soldiers. Helicopters provide a similar form of sea-based reconnaissance and attack strike capabilities, but being that they require manned pilots and crew, they pose a sizable risk — a risk that military officials are hoping to avoid when the creation of Tern.
How exactly does it work? Tern is basically a flying wing aircraft equipped with dual counter-rotating, nose-mounted propellers. It’s designed to take off vertically from the same naval decks used for helicopters. And it flies much like a traditional airplane, with the only difference being the way it takes off and lands. Tern is small enough to fit into naval hangars, according to DARPA officials.
When discussing the new round of tests, Tern program manager Dan Patt explained that it enhances the “robustness” of the flight demonstration while also enabling military partners to assist in the developing of Tern.
“Adding the second technology demonstrator enhances the robustness of the flight demonstration program and enables military partners to work with us on maturation, including testing different payloads and experimenting with different approaches to operational usage,” said program manager Dan Patt.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that the U.S. military has expressed interest in a sea-based drone. Back in the 1950s, a piloted version of Tern was proposed. Dubbed Convair XFY Pogo, the project was ultimately abandoned when officials labeled it impractical. But more than half a century later, it looks like the project is back on track — well, a similar project at least. Tern is currently underway, with the military conducting the second round of tests. It’s unclear when Tern will actually be ready for use, however.