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Towed Airborne Life of Naval Systems (TALONS) Project

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US Navy commissioned Maritime Applied Physics Corporation (MAPC) to develop, build, and test a prototype system for the Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS) Project.

The TALONS Project is a system that enhances Naval disciplines including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) communications at an affordable cost. Cortland became a key part of the solution by supplying and testing multifunction cables for the sensor-carrying “virtual mast” system.

The Challenge
MAPC was contracted by DARPA to deliver a system to prove that TALONS could perform under a variety of harsh weather and sea conditions without adversely impacting operational capabilities.

The cabling had to transmit power and signals, be able to withstand high forces, and incorporate appropriate shielding to prevent interference from reaching the electrical signals. It had to safely and routinely operate from the deck of various vessels; to detect, track and classify contacts of interest during operational scenarios; and to expand communications networks.

The Solution
The Cortland team designed multiple hybrid electro/optical/mechanical cables to provide the critical link in the system for these demonstrations. The benefits of Cortland’s hybrid cables include a synthetic Vectran® strength member that brings high strength and high-modulus properties at light weight. When combined with the parasail it was deployed up to 1,000 ft in the air to extend the communications range many times further than possible using only a ship’s mast.

MAPC tested the entire system’s capabilities on a basic vessel to show it could fly and operate at sea before moving to the USNS Spearhead to test speed and headings capabilities for a week. The third test was onboard an autonomous capable vessel, demonstrating the system’s capabilities for DARPA and Office of Naval Research personnel, before performing a full demonstration with the Navy.

The crew of the combat vessel USS Zephyr rigorously tested the sensors, parasail, and cables over three days of demonstrations off the Eastern Seaboard. Led by a USN Lieutenant Commander, the test confirmed enhanced radar, optical sensing, and communications capabilities with minimal impediment to vessel operations or mobility.

The Results
The cable custom-designed by Cortland was considered compact and functional, allowing the parasail and sensors to reach sufficient altitude and maintain stability from the moment of launch. DARPA reported that expectations were exceeded during the deployment and recovery phases of the project, including a smooth transition to altitude and stable communications. The cables are strong, but lightweight, supplying all necessary power for the flight controls, radar, the electro-optical and infrared sensors, and communications equipment.

TALONS showed its capabilities to operate in a variety of sea states and wind conditions without impacting the ship’s operational capabilities. The testing proved that TALONS could enhance the US Navy’s surveillance abilities at longer ranges, providing greater awareness and security.

Kevin Silbert, TALONS Program Manager at MAPC, said: “We have worked with Cortland for several years and the product is amazing. We have reused the cables several times and they have been very durable, with high functionality. The challenges in producing these cables are often underestimated and we definitely appreciate the commitment and advice from the Cortland team.”

Cortland’s collaboration with MAPC and DARPA has become yet another example of its strong portfolio of designing and supplying cables for surveillance projects.

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PDF Document, 709.7 KB