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.)