DARPA Parasail Improves Naval Vessels’ Radar and Sensor Effectiveness

A new parasail-like device extends sensor and radar ranges for U.S. Navy craft.

The TALONS system deployed and tethered to an ACTUV vessel. (Image courtesy of DARPA.)

The TALONS system deployed and tethered to an ACTUV vessel. (Image courtesy of DARPA.)

Anyone who’s ever been parasailing, or heck, even stood atop a high platform knows that the view is more all-encompassing than a similar view at sea level. Well, researchers at DARPA have taken that fact into account in the development of the newest sea-fairing surveillance technology: the Towed Airborne Lift Naval System (TALONS).

As part of its Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program, which is developing a new class of autonomous vessels, DARPA has developed a low-cost, sensor laden parasail, TALONS, to demonstrate that inexpensive systems can greatly augment the surveillance performance of ships.

In tests that have been underway since June, TALONS has demonstrated the ability to release itself from an ACTUV vessel, expand its parachute and soar to an altitude of 1000 feet. Once airborne, the TALONS’ systems suite of sensors are activated and data is beamed back to its autonomous mothership.

Aside from its mechanical prowess, the TALONS system shows that claiming high ground does lead to better results. Specifically, when at altitude, the sensors aboard TALONS were reported to extend the range of its leading vessel by 500 percent compared to the same performance at sea level.

“TALONS showed the advantages of using a low-cost add-on elevated sensor to extend the vision and connectivity of a surface asset and ACTUV demonstrated its ability as a flexible and robust payload truck,” said Dan Patt, DARPA program manager for TALONS. “This demonstration was an important milestone in showing how clever use of unmanned systems could cost-effectively provide improved capabilities.”

Though the military is hardly starved for funding, finding performance enhancements that double as cost saving measures is always a win.

As of yet, the TALONS system is still in its prototype phase. However, given the apparent simplicity of the system and its successful tests, one could imagine the high tech accessory being deployed relatively quickly wherever sub-hunting, off shore surveillance or carrier group reconnaissance is required.

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