The Navy is well on its way toward expanding ships’ intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities beyond the tips of ships’ masts. During a recent demonstration at Mayport Naval Station, Fla., the Cyclone-class patrol ship Zephyr towed a Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS) prototype.
Under development by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), TALONS employs what appears to be a rectangular parachute – closely resembling a recreational parasail – capable of carrying payloads up to 150 pounds as high as 500 to 1,500 feet above sea level.
The tests “showed that a future system based on TALONS could provide operational benefits for even small Navy vessels,” said Scott Littlefield of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, which oversees the program.
Buoyed by the test’s success, DARPA and the Navy plan to work together to automate launch and recovery of TALONS – sparing manpower and enhancing compatibility with both manned and unmanned surface vessels.
The Mayport test followed another successful one, conducted a year earlier with DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel program. During that demonstration, which was conducted off the California coast, engineers and researchers proved that TALONS could operate in open waters.
“Expectations were really exceeded with ease of not only deployment, but the recovery of the system. Beyond the initial launch, [TALONS] immediately stabilized, and it had a very smooth transition all the way up to altitude. I was very impressed with how stable it was,” said Lt. Cmdr. Cameron Ingram, Zephyr’s skipper.
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) is working in tandem with DARPA on the development and testing of TALONS as part of the Tern (Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node) program, which focuses upon developing ISR systems and platforms that can identify and hit targets anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day.