What DARPA wants out of the project is an unmanned drone that can launch from a ship, deliver weapons, and return, using the kind of space devoted to helicopters rather than needing an aircraft carrier.
The first deployments of TERN would be for reconnaissance, but eventually DARPA wants the craft to be able to carry 600 pounds’ worth of ordnance with a range of about 900nm (1,670km). TERN must be able to land vertically on a rolling deck in Sea State 5 conditions, meaning waves between 2.5m to 4m tall.
It would decrease the US military’s reliance on expensive land-based air strips. A capacity to launch and retrieve aircraft on small ships would reduce the need for ground-based airstrips, which require significant dedicated infrastructure and resources. Land-based airstrips are also more vulnerable to enemy missiles, and frequently create tension with local populations.