Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS)

DARPA’s Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS) effort seeks to develop a low-cost, fully automated parafoil system to extend small ships’ long-distance communications and improve their maritime domain awareness. DARPA developed TALONS as part of Tern, a joint program between DARPA and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research that seeks to enable forward-deployed small ships to serve as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial systems.

Navy Recognition reports on two initiatives that are part of the TERN,  “a joint program between DARPA and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research that seeks to enable forward-deployed small ships to serve as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial systems.”

We have talked about TERN before, it is intended to allow the LCS and similar sized ships to have persistent overhead surveillance by Unmanned Air Systems (UAS). The post talks about a launch and recovery system for fixed wing UAS, “SideArm,” but there is also this discussion of a towed system that looks like it might be applicable to units as small as WPBs and give them many of the advantages of a UAS with far less overhead.

DARPA’s TALONS effort seeks to develop a low-cost, fully automated parafoil system to extend small ships’ long-distance communications and improve their maritime domain awareness. Towed behind boats or ships, TALONS could carry ISR and communications payloads of up to 150 pounds between 500 and 1,500 feet in altitude—many times higher than current ships’ masts—and greatly extend the equipment’s range and effectiveness. Following successful ground-based tests, DARPA will conduct at-sea testing this year and potentially transition the technology to the U.S. Navy.

Why is this important? With a mast head height of say 36 feet the horizon distance is only about 7 nautical miles. Go to 500 feet and it is over 26 miles. Go to 1500 feet and it is over 45 miles. Effectively search widths could be multiplied several times over.

It doesn’t take much power to keep a parafoil up. In my neighborhood, there is a good sized man who flies a powered foot launched version out of our local open space. He has the engine and prop on his back, launches into the wind with just a short walk or run. Landings are frequently at walking speeds. That people (admittedly braver than I) are willing to entrust their lives to these things has to say something about their reliability.

(Historical note: During WWII, the Germans used an manned unpowered autogyro, the Focke-Achgelis FA-330, that was towed behind U-boats in an effort to extend their visible horizon.)

12 thoughts on “Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS)

  1. Very interesting. I’d be interested to see what they’ve planned for recovery, particularly in off-design conditions.

    Seems like waterproofing / cushioning would be required to protect the sensors in case of a hard landing or ditching…

    • For small ships, I also wonder about the shrouds getting twisted, getting in the water, and perhaps getting in the props. A gyrocopter might be easier launch and recover.

  2. Interesting concept.

    I’ve often wondered why the RN didn’t adapt the Search Water radar from the SeaKings to a similar system. Would give all the ships a much increased horizon.

    I guess on the flip side the radar would be seen by opponents who could then figure out roughly where the ship is.

  3. Another limitation of this sort of system is that unless the wind is blowing very hard the ship will probably only be able to deploy it when the wind is forward of the beam.

    On the other hand it would probably be possible for a pair of units to steam in a race track an keep a unit up continuously.

  4. Funny but the Irish navy has actually been planning a similar system for the P60s, being developed as a joint project with the national maritime college. Don’t know when it’s planned for testing though.

  5. If I remember the German autogyro correctly, the Uboat captains hated them because they gave away their position. They didn’t get much use and only in the Indian Ocean.

    • I think the problem with them was that the U-boats did not want to be tied to the surface, when an allied aircraft might appear at any time. They would have only been effective in the day time, and U-boats definitely did not want to be on the surface during daylight.

  6. Pingback: Kites for Energy Savings and Maritime Domain Awareness | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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