Simple but effective: How TALONS extends ships' ISR


DARPA and ONR tested TALONS along the East Coast in May and June.

Military researchers have successfully tested a low-cost, fairly simple way to extend the communications reach of ships at sea—a parafoil containing communications equipment towed behind a ship at altitudes of 500 to 1,500 feet.

That height is considerably higher that the tip of a ship’s mast, giving greater range to its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said in a release.

The project, called Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS), is an offshoot of DARPA’s Tern program, which is looking to extend the ISR capabilities of ships smaller than aircraft carriers by developing unmanned aircraft that don’t need a runway to take off.

While working on Tern, researchers came up with TALONS, along with another extra project, the SideArm, a relatively small crane system for quick set-up, launch and recovery of UAS from ships, trucks or fixed ground facilities. SideArm would be portable and capable of launching and retrieving UAS weighing up to 900 pounds.

TALONS, being developed jointly by DARPA and the Office of Naval Research, was field-tested during more than 20 flights in May and June near Baltimore and Virginia Beach. The parafoil can be launched by hand from smaller boats or from the masts of larger ships. In the tests, hand-launched TALONS systems reached altitudes of 500 feet; systems flown from masts reached 1,000 feet. The flights including testing of TALONS’ automatic launch-and-recovery and autopilot systems, DARPA said.

TALONS might not be a major technological breakthrough, but it’s a practical advancement of at-sea ISR that was put together in a matter of months. DARPA said that, as a result of the successful tests, the system could soon be transitioned to the Navy.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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