The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Navy‘s Office of Naval Research aim to commence ground-based and at-sea flight tests of a Northrop Grumman-built prototype unmanned air system in 2018 as part of the Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node program.
DARPA said Thursday its joint Tern project with ONR seeks to utilize forward-deployed small-deck ships such as destroyers and frigates as mobile launch and recovery sites for UAS.
Northrop was awarded an initial $93.1 million “other transaction” agreement in December 2015 to build a UAS demonstrator under the third phase of the Tern project and another $17.8 million OTA modification in June 2016 to develop a second demonstrator platform.
The program has completed the wing fabrication of UAS for small-deck ships, tests on a General Electric-made engine and software integration of simulation tools that will support rapid testing of aircraft control.
“We’re making substantial progress toward our scheduled flight tests, with much of the hardware already fabricated and software development and integration in full swing,” said Brad Tousley, director of DARPA’s tactical technology office.
DARPA and ONR plan to test Tern’s integrated propulsion system next year, then proceed with a series of ground and flight tests sometime in 2018.