The military's next killer drone could be launched and landed aboard small surface warships, extending the reach of America's robotic arsenal to more remote battlegrounds than ever before.
That is, if an ambitious new effort by Darpa, the Pentagon's fringe-science wing, can overcome a technical challenge dating back to the 1980s. Namely: how to boost a drone to flight velocity without the benefit of a five-acre aircraft carrier deck, and without resorting to a speed- and range-limiting helicopter design.
The new Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node program, or Tern, "envisions using smaller ships as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude long-endurance fixed-wing unmanned aircraft," Darpa announced on Friday. That's for unarmed spy drones as well as those armed for "strike" missions. The blue-sky researchers want to launch a prototype within 40 months.