Since August 2013 the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded several contracts for concept evaluations of the ship-based Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) – a low-cost, Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle program aimed to explore an innovative vertical takeoff and landing UAS suitable for vessels with limited deck space. These contracts are the first element in a three phase development and demonstration program, aimed to demonstrate the system design and technology maturation, culminating in actual flight demonstrations taking place in 2017.
Over the course of three development phases that would demonstrate automatic launch and recovery and key technologies required by a TERN objective system. The mission performance goals for the operational TERN system are comparable to emerging land-based MALE UAV capabilities.
According to the agency, the ultimate goal for a TERN objective system air vehicle is to enable persistent ISR capabilities with payloads of 600 pounds while operating up to 900 nautical miles from a host vessel. The TERN objective system is intended to operate from multiple ship types, including Littoral Combat Ship 2 (LCS-2) class ships, and in elevated sea states.