Terns are a family of shorebirds that can nest in marginal conditions and thrive everywhere from beaches to wetlands to rivers to inlets. TERN, or the Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node, is a drone developed by Northrop Grumman for both the DARPA and the Office of Naval Research, with the goal of giving the Navy and Marine Corps a versatile flying scout that can support ships and troops almost anywhere they may be. Today, DARPA announced funding for Phase III of the project, which aims to take it from a mere concept to a working, flying, fighting robot by 2018.
So what, exactly, does TERN do? It perches on ships, even small ships without runways, and then takes off vertically like a helicopter, before transitioning to plane-like horizontal flight in midair.
That transition provides the flexibility of landing in small spaces, while also the efficiency of flying efficiently for long distances. With a planned range of 690 miles, TERN will greatly expand what the Navy can see at sea, as the autonomous drone observes and relays what it films via satellite link.