Northrop Grumman has been awarded the third phase of the Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) unmanned aerial systems program contract by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research.
Tern seeks to develop an autonomous, unmanned, long-range, global, persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and strike system intended to safely and dependably deploy and recover from small-deck naval vessels with minimal ship modifications.
The program aims to give small-deck ships such as destroyers and frigates, their own unmanned air systems (UASs) to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and other capabilities at long range around the clock.
Northrop Grumman, world leader in unmanned maritime surveillance platforms will leverage experience, expertise, and lessons from development of its MQ-8B/C Fire Scout, MQ-4C Triton, X-47A Pegasus and X-47B UCAS unmanned platforms.
DARPA plans to build a full-scale demonstrator system of a medium-altitude, long-endurance UAS in this phase. The first two phases successfully focused on preliminary design and risk reduction.
Initial ground-based testing, if successful, would lead to an at-sea demonstration of takeoff, transition to and from horizontal flight, and landing—all from a test platform with a deck size similar to that of a destroyer or other small surface-combat vessel.
The Tern Phase 3 design envisions a tailsitting, flying-wing aircraft with twin counter-rotating, nose-mounted propellers. The propellers would lift the aircraft from a ship deck, orient it for horizontal flight and provide propulsion to complete a mission.
They would then reorient the craft upon its return and lower it to the ship deck. The system would fit securely inside the ship when not in use.
The Tern demonstrator will bear some resemblance to the Convair XFY-1 Pogo, an experimental ship-based VTOL fighter designed by the Navy in the 1950s to provide air support for fleets.
Despite numerous successful demonstrations, the XFY-1 never advanced beyond the prototype stage, in part because the Navy at the time was focusing on faster jet aircraft and determined that pilots would have needed too much training to land on moving ships in rough seas.
The Northrop Grumman Tern team includes its wholly owned subsidiary Scaled Composites, as well as General Electric (GE) Aviation, AVX Aircraft Company and Moog.