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Navy stealth bomber drone  (Source: IBtimes)
Navy stealth drone take to the skies

The Air Force gets a large portion of the funds allotted to military spending in order to develop costly new aircraft programs and to maintain existing aircraft. The Air Force is still in the middle of a bidding process to replace the aging aerial tanker fleet in use, and last September the USAF also announced that a new bomber was critical for the defense of the nation.

When the USAF first mentioned the need for a new bomber the rough outline was for a conventional bomber built on existing technology that would be purchased in larger numbers than the current B-2. The USAF is now scaling back their vision for that aircraft in the face of a tough budget crunchDefense News reports that the Air Force has noted that its plans for the bomber will be less ambitious than it previously envisioned. 

The lowered expectations for the new bomber will allow the USAF to better manage the program and will make it easier for the contractor that builds the aircraft to deliver on their promises.

General Norton Schwartz said, "We're not going to be as ambitious as we perhaps were at one time." He continued, "And that kind of thing will make it easier for us to manage and less challenging for industry to keep their promises."

The Air Force might lower initial costs by making the aircraft easy to upgrade later in its operational life for new capabilities. For instance, the aircraft doesn't need nuclear capability now, but later it might. The bomber would be built with the space needed for wiring and hardening for electromagnetic protection so it can be cheaply upgraded for nuclear payloads. 

While the USAF is being less ambitious about its future bomber, the Navy is hitting a milestone with its new unmanned stealth bomber. The X-47B is a stealth bomber that looks like a shrunken down version of the B-2. The Navy has announced that the aircraft has taken its maiden flight

Capt. Jamie Engdahl, program manager for the Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration said, "Today we got a glimpse towards the future as the Navy's first-ever tailless, jet-powered unmanned aircraft took to the skies."

The maiden flight for the X-47B lasted 29 minutes and the aircraft flew at up to 5,000 feet with landing gear down. The flight is the first in a series of 50-flights planned for the year of testing. Once the first plane finishes its testing, the second aircraft will start and after testing is completed the aircraft will be sent to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station for the rest of the carrier demonstration program.

Rear Adm. Bill Shannon, Program Executive Officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons said, "We are breaking new ground by developing the first unmanned jet aircraft to take off and land aboard a flight deck. This demonstration program is intended to reduce risk for potential future unmanned systems operating in and around aircraft carriers."

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RE: unmanned bombers
By boobo on 2/10/2011 6:26:49 PM , Rating: 2
in addition, these unmanned drones could be programmed to go to a specific target, bomb it, and return with little to no communication with the controllers.
What would be the benefit of that over a Tomahawk or other smart missile?

RE: unmanned bombers
By Iaiken on 2/10/2011 6:34:35 PM , Rating: 2
What would be the benefit of that over a Tomahawk or other smart missile?

You can reuse the part of the missile that flew the payload to the target. Duh.

RE: unmanned bombers
By Azsen on 2/11/2011 7:37:58 AM , Rating: 2
These planes will have some fancy evasive maneuvers built into them or can do some amazing stunts when piloted remotely. They're more advanced than the Predator and Reaper. You can bet they can avoid SAMs and other defenses while en route to the target. Cruise missiles also have a limited range and are not stealthy. You can detect them coming and intercept if you're fast. This bomber would fly in mostly undetected then deliver the payload. On the off chance it encountered resistance it could pull some serious maneuvers and still complete the mission. Being a pilotless bomber it's not constrained by how many G Forces the pilot can handle.

Perhaps a good example is this scene in Skyline:

RE: unmanned bombers
By SPOOFE on 2/12/2011 7:41:41 PM , Rating: 2
I imagine the drones can probably hang around an area for a lot longer than a cruise missile; one can be in place for the exact moment for a strike, rather than anticipating a target's position an hour in advance (or whatever).

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