Acronym-happy DARPA has announced the Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) program to launch Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) fixed-wing unmanned aircraft (UAVs). So what is the TERN MALE UAV program? A fleet of long-range UAVs (flying robots or "drones" as the media like to call them) that can be launched from nearly any US Naval vessel. The UAVs could be recovered by any other TERN equipped vessel, not necessarily the same one that launched the vehicle. From the announcement:
“It’s like having a falcon return to the arm of any person equipped to receive it, instead of to the same static perch every time. About 98 percent of the world’s land area lies within 900 nautical miles of ocean coastlines. Enabling small ships to launch and retrieve long-endurance UAVs on demand would greatly expand our situational awareness and our ability to quickly and flexibly engage in hotspots over land or water.”
Among the technical challenges noted in the announcement for this type of flying robot launch and recovery system: launching from small ships in rough seas, designing a UAV comparable in range to existing models but meeting the requirement of a maritime environment, the system must require only reversible modifications to ship and minimal personnel. For more information, you can check out the TERN program notice from DARPA Tactical Technology Office.