When the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has a new drone in mind and wants to take it from concept to product, it keeps one company in particular on speed dial: Monrovia, Calif.-based AeroVironment (NASDAQ:AVAV).

A few years ago, DARPA needed a small unmanned aerial vehicle capable of flying to a destination, "perching" there and observing the surroundings, and then flying back to base. AeroVironment built it for them. This week, DARPA came back to AeroVironment with a new request for a larger UAV, a "medium-altitude, long-endurance" drone "designed to operate from small ships to provide persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance."

As described in an AeroVironment press release, the new UAV should be capable of carrying payloads of 600 pounds and have a flight range of up to 900 nautical miles from base. DARPA wants the company to design the UAV so that it can be produced in large numbers at low cost.

Dubbed the Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) Program, AeroVironment will receive an initial contract award of $2.3 million to work out the "concept" of this "entirely new category of UAS."