New Navy contract aims to equip hundreds of ships with drones

Artist rendering of Tern drone

Story highlights

  • Drones have become critical to the military's effort to combat terrorist activity globally
  • The new seaborne drone system would combine vertical takeoff and landing with the ability to fly long distances

Washington (CNN)The Pentagon is hoping a multimillion-dollar investment in new technology will enable drones on hundreds of Navy ships to provide air support to operations around the globe.

The goal of the "launch and recovery" system, as it has been dubbed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is to provide airborne surveillance and drone strikes from the decks of "forward-deployed small ships" without having to deploy aircraft carriers or large, fixed land bases.
    The $93.1 million contract was awarded to defense contractor Northrop Grumman on December 24 as part of DARPA's Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node program, which aims to enable drones to operate from smaller ships, according to a Pentagon press release.
    Fixed-wing unmanned aircraft require bases and large aircraft carriers, which in turn require "substantial financial, diplomatic and security commitments," DARPA noted. The U.S. Navy lists 10 conventional aircraft carriers in the U.S. fleet.