Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The U.S. Navy is going full-steam ahead with a game-changing program that will transform most of its surface warships into “small aircraft carriers” carrying a long-range aerial drone capable of attacking Russian and Chinese warships 300 kilometers distant.
The Navy has a force of 282 surface warships, of which 11 are Nimitz-class nuclear powered supercarriers. Added to this number are more than 20 so called “small carriers,” which are warships with large flight decks for helicopters such as the America-class Amphibious Assault Ships and Wasp-class Amphibious Assault Ships. The USS Wasp recently became the first Navy warship to operationally deploy the Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter flown by the U.S. Marines.
Apart from warships with full-length flight decks, most of the Navy’s 282 warships are built with stern flight decks capable of launching and retrieving helicopters such as the Sikorsky SH-60/MH-60 Seahawk.
The U.S. Navy’s new warfighting concept called “distributed lethality” in which select surface warships will become small aircraft carriers is being supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) through a project called TERN.
The Navy’s new warfighting concept called “distributed lethality” in which select surface warships will become small aircraft carriers is being supported by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) through a project called TERN.
TERN stands for the Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node program. It’s also the name of the VTOL or Vertical Take-off and Landing drone that will one day equip Navy warships so as to put meat into distributed lethality. TERN is a proposed flying wing helicopter VTOL powered by two 10 feet long, counter-rotating rotors. This drone is triangular in shape and measures 40 feet on a side.
DARPA in 2016 began funding a second demonstration TERN to support the third phase of the program. It said a second test vehicle will streamline the project’s completion. Funding a second test vehicle followed several milestones in the program, including wing fabrication, engine tests and software integration. The TERN program’s main objective is to develop new unmanned aerial vehicles for the Navy and Marine Corps to deploy from small-deck forward ships such as destroyers and frigates.
DARPA reports substantial progress toward scheduled flight tests, with much of the hardware already fabricated and software development and integration in full swing.
TERN will initially be designed for reconnaissance missions but will ultimately be turned into a weapons system carrying the Navy’s full range of air-to-ground missiles and guided bombs to support distributed lethality.
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