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Could the Navy use parasailing to improve surveillance? DARPA thinks so

From the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency: DARPA’s Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS) research effort recently demonstrated a prototype of a low-cost, fully automated parafoil system designed to extend maritime vessels’ long-distance communications and improve their domain awareness. (Video: DARPA)

Communicating at sea has always been a challenge. For hundreds of years tall ships used signal flags and lamps. In the early 20th century, radios helped the wandering seafarer talk across the waves.

But now there is TALONS. Known as Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems and designed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), TALONS is basically a big antenna that knows how to parasail.

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DARPA recently demonstrated a working prototype of TALONS, according to a release from the research agency.

TALONS is fully-automated and launched off the back of smaller boats or by mast from larger ships and could carry “intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communication payloads” up to 1,500 feet in the air.

That means TALONS could give radios more range, radars a further scan area and maybe even allow cameras to see enemy ships beyond the curvature of the earth.

According to DARPA, TALONS was first tested on land in Tuscon, Ariz., in June 2014. Field testing on the water began off the Maryland and Virginia coasts in May 2015 and continued into June. During that time 20 TALONS were launched into various weather conditions, according to DARPA.

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TALONS is a part of the first phase of DARPA’s Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN). It began in 2014 and is basically DARPA’s effort to design and field systems that would allow the military to deploy surveillance and intelligence assets – such as unmanned aerial vehicles — faster and cheaper and without significant modification to current systems.