The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency last week issued a solicitation for proposals for long endurance, vertical takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) unmanned air systems deployed from Navy surface combatants and forward deployed Marine Corps locations for the purposes of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting (ISR/T).

Multiple awards are planned for the four-year AdvaNced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY (ANCILLARY) X-Plane program, with abstracts due by Jan. 6, 2023, and oral presentations expected to be made in late March or early April.

DARPA isn’t looking to evolve current capabilities but rather for “leap-ahead” technologies for the development and flight testing of the experimental UAS that could operate in bad weather, up to sea state 3, and around-the-clock. The solicitation also says that no additional infrastructure equipment is necessary for launch and recovery to that the X-Plane can be used in expeditionary deployments.

Technologies developed under ANCILLARY would be put toward future UAS.

“Leveraging technologies demonstrated within ANCILLARY, future operational vehicles will complement strategic assets while providing a low-cost emitter network for land and air-based receivers,” DARPA says in the Dec. 1 solicitation posted on the government site “Enabled by long endurance, networked UASs can collectively increase the probability of mission success by providing redundant sensors on location. The Navy, Marine, and Special Forces have a high demand signal for a UAS that supports extended range missions and can also provide Multi-Int ISR/T capabilities to distributed maritime surface ships or forward deployed small team forces.”

The research and development breakthroughs that DARPA is hoping for under the new program include lightweight VTOL systems, advanced control concepts, advanced propulsion, automated take-off-and-landing sensors and software, and low size, weight, and power mission payloads.

Awards for Phase Ia would occur in fiscal year 2023, providing selectees with $750,000 for a 26-week conceptual design effort. The Phase Ib would continue for about six months to get to a preliminary design review.

Phase IIa, lasting about nine months, would continue work on detailed X-Plane design and potentially initial tooling and long lead procurement funding. A Phase IIb would be fabrication and flight demonstration of a vehicle. The optional final phase, slated to begin during the second quarter of FY ’26, would require technical and cost proposals for at-sea operational flight testing.