Difficult terrain and threats, such as ambushes and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) can make ground-based transportation to and from the frontline a dangerous challenge. While helicopters can easily bypass those problems, they often present logistical challenges of their own and can subject flight crews to different types of threats. Additionally, they are expensive to operate and the supply of available helicopters cannot always meet the demand for their diverse operational services.
To help overcome these challenges, DARPA unveiled the Transformer (TX) program in 2009. Transformer aimed to develop and demonstrate a prototype system that could provide flexible, terrain-independent transportation for logistics, personnel transport and tactical support missions for small ground units. In 2013, DARPA selected the Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) design concept to move forward.
Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works® is leading a team with Piasecki Aircraft to develop the next generation of compact, high-speed vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) delivery systems under the ARES program. ARES VTOL flight module is designed to operate as an unmanned platform capable of transporting a variety of payloads. The flight module has its own power system, fuel, digital flight controls and remote command-and-control interfaces. Twin tilting ducted fans would provide efficient hovering and landing capabilities in a compact configuration, with rapid conversion to high-speed cruise flight.
It is envisioned that the flight module would travel between its home base and field operations to deliver and retrieve several different types of detachable mission modules, each designed for a specific purpose.
Example modules include: Cargo resupply, casualty evacuation (CASEVAC), and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).