Because normal aircraft carriers are immense ships that lack maneuverability and speed, DARPA will build drones capable of landing on small ships, effectively turning frigates and destroyers into Unmanned Air System carriers. These small deck ships will benefit from an increased efficiency and ISR, intelligence surveillance reconnaissance.
The TERN project, an acronym for Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node, revolves around creating a plane-like drone that will surveil an area around the clock. After that, they will return to the main ship for refueling, just like normal planes do on aircraft carriers. Although these drones will be used as intelligence gatherers primarily, they can also be outfitted with weapons.
In order to provide a better space efficiency and area of deployment, the TERN drone will take off from the deck like a helicopter, although it will fly like a plane once it is airborne. It has two counter-rotating propellers on the nose, allowing for better thrust and lift capabilities.
The drone is entering its third phase, consisting of a full prototype construction and demonstration. The first phase is designing the concept while the second is about risk reduction. The first tests will be conducted from land, with further testing being made from ships and carriers.
This project is not the first of its kind. Unmanned air drones have been already used by the US military in the past, but only from large aircraft carriers, because they require a runway in order to lift off, just like normal planes. By having a vertical take off, a higher number of drones will be housed on smaller ships, without sacrificing the ship’s maneuverability.
TERN is a project created by the partnership between DARPA and Northrop Grumman, with a cost of $93 million in regards to the drone prototype’s construction. The latter company has already created weaponry for the military, but this attempt at building a drone will most assuredly bring it to even higher levels in the military sector of the market.
The reason why this concept of UAS planes was approached in the first place was the fact that the current US fleet has only 10 carriers out of the 273 ships it has. By making all of these ships effective aircraft carriers, their military potential improves exponentially without any major sacrifice apart from the investment of monetary funds.
Just the idea of seeing a small ship in the distance before being swarmed by dozens of unmanned drones will most assuredly strike fear into any enemy. If these drones will eventually drop their ISR main goal in order to house more weapon systems like guided missiles or air-to-surface rockets, they will become veritable nightmare-inducing machines of war.
Considering that DARPA will build drones capable of landing on small ships, US’ navy will get a massive boost from both offensive and defensive points of view. But this is entirely dependent on the third phase of the project. An efficient cost-to-benefit balance will also be extremely important in regards to this drone’s eventual mass production.