Defense Advanced Research Projects AgencyTagged Content List

Air Systems

Manned and unmanned aerial systems, including fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft and supporting technologies

Showing 77 results for Air + Unmanned RSS
Effective 21st-century warfare requires the ability to conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike mobile targets anywhere, around the clock. Current technologies, however, have their limitations. Helicopters are relatively limited in their distance and flight time. Fixed-wing manned and unmanned aircraft can fly farther and longer but require either aircraft carriers or large, fixed land bases with runways often longer than a mile. Moreover, establishing these bases or deploying carriers requires substantial financial, diplomatic and security commitments that are incompatible with rapid response.
U.S. military experience has shown that rugged terrain and threats such as ambushes and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) can make ground-based transportation to and from the front lines a dangerous challenge. Combat outposts require on average 100,000 pounds of material a week, and high elevation and impassable mountain roads often restrict access. Helicopters are one solution, but the supply of available helicopters can’t meet the demand for their services, which cover diverse operational needs including resupply, tactical insertion and extraction, and casualty evacuation.
Military aircraft today have evolved over a period of decades to have ever more automated capabilities, improving mission success and safety. At the same time, these aircraft still present challenging and complex interfaces to operators, and despite demanding training regimens, operators can experience extreme workload during emergencies and other unexpected situations. Avionics and software upgrades can help, but can cost tens of millions of dollars per aircraft, which limits the rate of developing, testing and fielding new automation capabilities for those aircraft.
DARPA and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on a joint DARPA/Navy research and development program called “Tern.” This joint effort builds upon the existing work of DARPA’s Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node program, or “TERN,” which has been exploring concepts for a long-endurance and long-range aircraft that would operate from a variety of Navy ships.
Military air operations typically rely on large, manned, robust aircraft, but such missions put these expensive assets—and their pilots—at risk. While small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) can reduce or eliminate such risks, they lack the speed, range and endurance of larger aircraft. These complementary traits suggest potential benefits in a blended approach—one in which larger aircraft would carry, launch and recover multiple small UAS. Such an approach could greatly extend the range of UAS operations, enhance overall safety, and cost-effectively enable groundbreaking capabilities for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and other missions.