Darpa looks to use small ships as drone bases

Drone with military ship

The US military is planning to use fleets of small ships as platforms for unmanned aircraft to land and take off.

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) said it needed to increase its airborne "surveillance and reconnaissance".

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), known as drones, are commonly launched on land - but deploying them at sea is harder because they need to refuel.

They currently require large aircraft carriers with long runways.

The new project has been dubbed Tern (Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node) after a sea-bird known for its endurance.

Darpa programme manager Daniel Patt, said: "Enabling small ships to launch and retrieve long-endurance UAVs on demand would greatly expand our situational awareness and our ability to quickly and flexibly engage in hotspots over land or water."

He added: "It is like having a falcon return to the arm of any person equipped to receive it, instead of to the same static perch every time."

About 98% of the world's land area lies within 900 nautical miles of ocean coastlines, and Darpa increasingly sees conflicts being fought out at sea.

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