AeroVironment, Northrop Grumman Develop Naval Drones


The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) has selected AeroVironment and Northrop Grumman as prime contractors for the second phase of a program to design an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) capable of operating from small naval ships. The agency will choose one of the two contractors for the program’s third phase to build a full-scale demonstrator, initially for ground testing.

Darpa and the Office of Naval Research are sponsoring the Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) program to develop a medium-altitude long-endurance UAS capable of being launched and recovered by small ships. The TERN vehicle would provide long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and other capabilities over greater distances and time frames than currently possible with manned and unmanned helicopters. The agency has said that a flight demonstration could be conducted in 2017.

Darpa originally awarded contracts to five companies to conduct conceptual design trade studies under the first phase of the TERN program. Last September, the Department of Defense announced that Darpa had awarded $19 million contract modifications to both AeroVironment and Northrop Grumman “adding (the) Phase II base period” within the scope of their cost-plus-fixed fee contracts. The agency expected the second phase of the TERN program to be completed by this September.

In a press release on March 23, Darpa announced that the two companies have been selected as prime contractors for the TERN program’s second phase. “To offer the equivalent of land-based UAS capabilities from small-deck ships, our Phase 2 performers are each designing a new unmanned air system intended to enable two  previously unavailable capabilities: one, the ability for a UAS to take off and land from very confined spaces in elevated sea states and two, the ability for such a UAS to transition to efficient long-duration cruise missions,” stated Dan Patt, Darpa program manager.

For the program’s third phase, one contractor will build a full-scale demonstrator for initial ground testing. That would lead to a “full-scale, at-sea demonstration of a prototype UAS on an at-sea platform with deck size similar to that of a destroyer or other surface combat vessel,” Darpa said.

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