WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – The Navy is looking into  long-range reconnaissance drones that would launch from ships, reports Live Science.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has contracted with the Navy to expand  an existing program called TERN, short for Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node.

The idea is to outfit smaller ships with unmanned aircraft that could search a wide area of the sea.

Helicopters have a very limited range because of fuel needs. Current surveillance drones have fixed-wings and must be launched either from an aircraft carrier or a land base.

When the first stage is completed, DARPA says it will test a prototype at sea on a ship roughly the same size as Arleigh Burke-class destroyer (505 feet).

Five drone makers will compete to build the aircraft.

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