In 2018, DARPA will be releasing a working prototype of its Tern (Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node) drone system that could eventually provide persistent surveillance virtually anywhere in the world.
The Tern program would allow fully-autonomous drones to take off and land vertically from small-deck ships to the world. Once in flight, it will become the eyes and ears for ships for long periods of time.
Navy and Marines want to improve persistent surveillance capabilities that can cover greater range than a traditional helicopter. Once the Tern program is released, DARPA would provide the improvement the military is looking. Also, the drone would be able to gather signal intelligence from foreign adversaries, which is one of the main mission for US submarine forces.
This future program is a collaboration between the Office of Naval Research, DARPA, and the Pentagon's research and development arm. The agency just funded and second test vehicle for next year that is being built by Northrup Grumman.
“As we keep pressing into uncharted territory—no one has flown a large unmanned tailsitter before—we remain excited about the future capabilities a successful Tern demonstration could enable: organic, persistent, long-range reconnaissance, targeting, and strike support from most Navy ships,” Brad Tousley, director of DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, said.
If all goes to plan, Tern will move to ground-based testing in early 2018, before being tested at sea later in the year.