Updated 6:02 PM EDT, Wed, Apr 01, 2020

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DARPA Pushes Ahead with VTOL Project to Transform US Navy Warships into Aircraft Carriers


(Photo : DARPA) TERN prototype in flight.

The U.S. Navy's new warfighting concept called "distributed lethality" in which select surface warships will become small aircraft carriers is being supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) through a project called TERN.

TERN stands for the Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node program. It's also the name of the VTOL or Vertical Take-off and Landing drone that might one day equip Navy warships so as to put meat into distributed lethality.

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TERN is a proposed flying wing helicopter VTOL powered by two 10 feet long, counter-rotating rotors. This drone is triangular in shape and measures 40 feet on a side.

DARPA recently began funding a second demonstration TERN to support the third phase of the program. It said a second test vehicle will streamline the project's completion.

Funding a second test vehicle follows several milestones in the program, including wing fabrication, engine tests and software integration. DARPA researchers will also soon begin testing a one-fifth-scale version of the vehicle to develop a better understanding of its aerodynamic performance.

The TERN program's main objective is to develop new unmanned aerial vehicles for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps to deploy from small-deck forward ships such as destroyers and frigates.

"DARPA has been thinking about building a second Tern test vehicle for well over a year," said program manager Dan Patt.

"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."

DARPA reports substantial progress toward scheduled flight tests, with much of the hardware already fabricated and software development and integration in full swing.

"As we keep pressing into uncharted territory -- no one has flown a large unmanned tailsitter before -- we remain excited about the future capabilities a successful Tern demonstration could enable: organic, persistent, long-range reconnaissance, targeting, and strike support from most Navy ships," said DARPA Tactical Technology director Brad Tousley. 

TERN will initially be designed for reconnaissance missions but will ultimately be turned into a weapons system carrying the Navy's full range of air-to-ground missiles and guided bombs to support distributed lethality. 

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