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Artist rendering of the X-47B in combat  (Source: Northrop Grumman)

  (Source: Northrop Grumman)

  (Source: Northrop Grumman)
Northtrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy will fly the X-47B in late 2009

The U.S. military is furthering its funding of unmanned vehicles for combat. Just last week, DailyTech reported on the U.S. Army's new SWORDS unmanned robots which roam the Iraqi battlefield carrying M249 machines guns -- and in turn put human soldiers out of harm's way. The military's latest unmanned project leaves the desert behind in order to take to the skies.

The U.S. Navy on Friday awarded Northrop Grumman a six-year, $635.8 million USD contract to further develop the X-47B fixed-wing unmanned air system (UAS). The funding for the Unmanned Combat Air System Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program will allow Northrop Grumman to conduct take-offs and landings from the U.S. Navy's nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

"We are proud of our legacy of innovation and creativity in developing new combat capabilities and are pleased to be selected to lead this revolutionary advancement in unmanned systems capabilities," said Northrop Grumman's Scott Seymour.

"The UCAS-D award is the culmination of several years of effort with the Navy to show the benefit of melding the capabilities of a survivable, persistent, long-range UCAS with those of the aircraft carrier," continued Northrop Grumman's Gary Ervin. "The UCAS-D program will reduce the risk of eventual integration of unmanned air systems into carrier environments."

Northrop Grumman will build two X47-B aircraft for the U.S. Navy -- the first of which will take flight during the closing months of 2009. The company expects to begin the first carrier landings in 2011.

The X-47B, a sister-ship to the X-47A, has a cruising altitude of 40,000+ feet and a combat radius of 1,500 nautical miles. The stealthy vehicle can carry an internal payload of 4,500 pounds and can travel at high subsonic speeds.



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Love em
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 8/6/2007 11:19:09 AM , Rating: 5
I was watching Future Weapons for the past few weeks and these bad boys are on there every night.

Just think, remove the human pilot and aircraft can make 10G turns, and accelerate or make maneuvers that would normally render a human unconcious or kill him.

Ah, the days are coming when we can finally deploy as many aircraft as we can build, we will no longer be hindered by how quickly we can train pilots, we can now quite literally "build" an air force, and perhaps someday an army as well.

I am pleased to see these unmanned aircraft and vehicles supplementing our forces, it allows a force multiplier on the cheap, and it's more politically popular. American's die less, bad guys die more..... yeap, that works well in the minds of the American public.




RE: Love em
By rtrski on 8/6/2007 11:31:20 AM , Rating: 2
Well, we still need to train operators. But as you say, the force multiplication factor still applies. Presumably with good software a single 'remote pilot' can control an entire small squadron of aircraft on a given mission, assuming limited autonomy for things like collision-avoidance and self-defense (countermeasures) on the part of the aircraft itself.

I just hope the SW gets vetted pretty well. Remember recently some F-22's that were manned and the first ones flying across the international date line all got their power shut down by some sort of time synch related SW bug?


RE: Love em
By kextyn on 8/6/2007 1:20:55 PM , Rating: 3
The glitch wasn't time related. They use zulu time I believe. It was actually the GPS coordinates.

"A group of F-22s heading across the Pacific for exercises in Japan earlier this month suffered simultaneous total nav-console crashes as their longitude shifted from 180 degrees West to 180 East."


RE: Love em
By CSMR on 8/6/2007 2:05:47 PM , Rating: 3
Operators are cheap; planes are expensive. Unless the operators are in the air that is; then they are expensive.


RE: Love em
By bkm32 on 8/16/2007 10:08:45 AM , Rating: 2
The Terminator Trilogy, iRobot, The Matrix Trilogy. Hello!!

When will we learn that the only way to end human losses fighting wars is to STOP FIGHTING WARS! We think we are so clever finding new and interesting ways to kill each other, dont' we?

At any rate, if the apololyptic futures painted in the above movies (excluding iRobot) is any indication, we'll eventually band together to kill machines instead of each other.

I'm a Bible beliver, and as such I don't actually believe in a robot takeover of Mankind. BTW, this last statement is not a "flame".


RE: Love em
By FITCamaro on 8/6/2007 11:31:28 AM , Rating: 5
We'll still need pilots. We won't be putting weapons in the control of machines for a while. Human pilots will likely still control fighter type aircraft and operate the weapons. A human pilot will always be better than a machine. A remote interface will let the pilot execute said high-G maneuvers and still remain in control of the weaponry.

What this will let us do is not loose any pilots in the future. So we won't have to be worried about battlefield losses. Which yes, the American public will approve of.

While I don't like seeing our troops die, right now its a part of combat. You shouldn't sign up if you aren't prepared for it, even in peace time. And simply sitting in our own country waiting for the attack to come so we don't loose anyone overseas doesn't work.

Really considering the amount of time we've been in Iraq, our casualty rate is extremely low. It doesn't make any of those deaths easier for the families to deal with. But as military operations go, our casualty rate is stellar considering how hostile the environment is and the length of time we've been there.


RE: Love em
By marvdmartian on 8/6/2007 11:39:53 AM , Rating: 4
That's true. But now, instead of our pilots being "Top Gun" types, with perfect eyesight and looks like Tom Cruise's, we can get the dweebs that live in their parent's basements, and have mastered video games, to pilot these bombers. Imagine remote guided fighters, and some uber-geek being able to brag the the hot chicks he meets, that he's an ACE!! ;)

One question I have.......if these are unmanned, why does the artist portray them as still having a cockpit-shaped area & windshield (that, even though blacked out, still is a windsheild shaped piece)???? Wouldn't the aircraft be more stealthy without the cockpit bulge??


RE: Love em
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 8/6/2007 11:44:05 AM , Rating: 2
The electronics packages are housed there, its the best place to put them and makes design easier as they already know the flight dynamics of a fuselage with a cockpit.


RE: Love em
By helios220 on 8/6/2007 11:53:21 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
One question I have.......if these are unmanned, why does the artist portray them as still having a cockpit-shaped area & windshield (that, even though blacked out, still is a windsheild shaped piece)???? Wouldn't the aircraft be more stealthy without the cockpit bulge??


That is not a blacked out window, that is the air intake for the propulsion system.

quote:
The electronics packages are housed there, its the best place to put them and makes design easier as they already know the flight dynamics of a fuselage with a cockpit.


It is true that that the aerodynamic tendencies for traditional manned aircraft are better known and this has some influence over the design, however that characterization is over simplified. Alas, the details are proprietary but not a bad guess.


RE: Love em
By stromgald on 8/6/2007 12:19:28 PM , Rating: 4
Actually, that's not a cockpit area or a windshield. It's an air intake. There are better images on Boeing and Northrop Grumman's website. Most UCAV designs are similar to the B-2's flying wing design for better stealth, so that's what the flight dynamics are probably based on.

Electronics for these things are still generally held in the nose of the aircraft to my knowledge because that's usually the best place to hold radar and avionics. With the engines near the rear, and bombs near the middle, you need something to 'balance' the aircraft. However, I wouldn't be surprised if radio antennas and some other electronics are spread throughout the aircraft.


RE: Love em
By twajetmech on 8/7/2007 12:48:32 AM , Rating: 2
That's the inlet for the engine, not a cockpit


RE: Love em
By Merry on 8/6/2007 11:32:02 AM , Rating: 1
But surely unmanned fighting machines only serve to make war 'cheap' and more justifiable. It makes me kind of uneasy to think that nations could have a war over a trivial matters because not many people will die.

Bit of a moral dilemma going on there is you ask me.


RE: Love em
By masher2 (blog) on 8/6/2007 11:39:36 AM , Rating: 3
> "It makes me kind of uneasy to think that nations could have a war over a trivial matters because not many people will die"

Isn't minimizing deaths during warfare a good thing? If two nations have a war, and the only result is a lot of machinery winds up destroyed, isn't that better than 250,000 dead troops? Or worse, a few nuked cities?

Autonomous warfare is, like all technological advances, a mixed bag. But by and large, I think its going to be much more positive than negative.


RE: Love em
By Bonrock on 8/6/2007 12:16:30 PM , Rating: 2
It's worth noting that your logic is only valid if both sides have robots and unmanned aircraft at their disposal. If only one nation has the robotic combat technology at their disposal, that nation could become far more likely to start wars--after all, none of their human soldiers would be in harm's way.

Since this is the more likely scenario--I don't see any other countries besides the U.S. who have this kind of technology available right now--robotic warfare will probably result in many more deaths due to wars that otherwise would not have been fought. This will hold true for at least the next 15-20 years until other countries catch up with American technology.


RE: Love em
By masher2 (blog) on 8/6/2007 12:53:04 PM , Rating: 5
> "If only one nation has the robotic combat technology at their disposal, that nation could become far more likely to start wars--after all, none of their human soldiers would be in harm's way"

True only if one assumes that nation is wholly unconcerned with collateral damage to the other side. That certainly doesn't fit the description of the US, which has always bent over backwards to minimize In fact, a nation wholly unconcerned with enemy casualties will most likely not break stride over losing a few tens of thousands of their own troops.

Also, while autonomous warfare lowers the human toll, it generally increases the financial costs of war. Human life is cheap-- mult-million dollar autons are not. Given the current degree of concern over the dollar costs of the Iraq war, I think the conclusion that future engagements would be more likely runs counter to logic.

We've been seeing this same trend already since WW2. Wars cost more to fight, but kill less people per dollar spent. That means the "people back home" suffer a larger hit in their pocketbook, whether they're actually slugging it on the front lines. All in all, I think that makes war less likely, not more.


RE: Love em
By drank12quartsstrohsbeer on 8/6/2007 1:12:51 PM , Rating: 5
"The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots."


RE: Love em
By bespoke on 8/6/2007 1:00:03 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly. Part of the reason the Iraqi army losses in Gulf Way I & II were thousands of times higher than ours was due to our technology being one to two generations ahead of theirs (of course, the severe mismanagement of the Iraqi military and the complete lack of morale were even more deadly, but I digress). This will allow us to be even more callous in our choices of who to fight and when.

BTW, the UK, Germany and perhaps France aren't too far behind the US in UCAV technology.


RE: Love em
By FITCamaro on 8/6/2007 1:10:34 PM , Rating: 4
Yes but that doesn't mean we're going to just start attacking anyone and everyone who's technology doesn't match our own.

Look at the good side. And also make note that while we inflicted far more casualties on their military than they on our own, we also minimized civilian casualties through the use of our technology. Instead of blanket bombing an area like in WW2, we used cruise missiles worth a million bucks each to take out a single building.


RE: Love em
By SirLucius on 8/6/2007 1:07:51 PM , Rating: 2
I tend to agree with masher. Just look at how many times we've been asked to put more money into the Iraq war, and look at the response from people. As much as people don't like the loss of human life, I'd say the loss of cash is a greater incentive not to go to war.

Plus, correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't having more robotics in warfare lower the number of casualties? It seems like having computers do all the hard work in terms of targeting would yeild more accurate results when targeting facilities and leave less opportunity for casualties. Again, I'm just guessing. I have no idea how much of piloting is left up to the actual pilot now.


RE: Love em
By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 8/6/2007 8:50:06 PM , Rating: 2
A great philosopher, I believe it was Thomas Hobbes or maybe Machiavelli, stated once that people will hate you if you kill their next of kin, but that people will abhor you if you make them live the rest of their lives in poverty.


RE: Love em
By Scorpion on 8/6/2007 3:56:14 PM , Rating: 2
I absolutely disagree with you. If you take the loss of life out of one side of the equation then you remove the very thing that gives you a reason to try to avoid wars. I agree with the person who posted before you. The further idea of removing men from war actually makes me uneasy.

The only deterent from war is the consequences and suffering that is a result of it. This is absolutely why Bush and the military guys want to keep dead soldiers out of the news, and why the media is censored from showing the horrors of war. This has been a slow moving agenda since Vietnam and with every conflict the censorship becomes more and more. This is precisely why extreme conservatives have been so angry since the Vietnam war. They blame it on the "liberals", but that is such a false accusation. It is the fault of exposing raw war for what it really is, horrible.

If you remove this personal cause-effect from conflicts, then it will become increasingly easier to wield these weapons as a way of asserting control over people and nations. Of course I don't expect anyone to even give pause to that idea. I'm sure there are many people who absolutely relish the idea of forcing their ideas upon others by the tip of a sword, the barrel of a gun, or the detonator in a nuclear warhead. That also happens to be the most anti-American ideology anyone can have.

Wars will inevitably always be fought, but war should always be a terrible thing with terrible consequences for there to be a deterrent from it.


RE: Love em
By masher2 (blog) on 8/6/2007 4:19:03 PM , Rating: 4
> "The only deterent from war is the consequences and suffering that is a result of it."

So you're saying a country won't mind losing perhaps a few trillion dollars, along with the possibility of loss of territory or actual invasion by enemy forces-- not to mention indirect effects like trade sanctions or diplomatic repercussions from other nations-- just as long as "no one dies"? Come again?

The real world doesn't work like this. Nations have NEVER minded losing young men to wars. They always care about the expense, however. And wars are getting just too expensive to fight.

Look at the US Civil War, in which some 3% of the total population of the country died. Now compare it to the outcry against the Iraq War, in which only 0.0005% of the population has been killed....and yet daily stories innudate us with the financial costs of the war effort. If the Iraq war had killed only a tenth the soldiers, but cost us ten times as much, the public would have pulled the plug long ago.



RE: Love em
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 8/6/2007 4:34:44 PM , Rating: 2
I think you need to return to planet Reality.

quote:
The only deterent from war is the consequences and suffering that is a result of it. This is absolutely why Bush and the military guys want to keep dead soldiers out of the news, and why the media is censored from showing the horrors of war.

Yea, no. Respect for the dead is why the media doesn't show body parts on the news, but hey if your into that sort of thing check out Al-Jazzeera, they show it when they can.

quote:
This has been a slow moving agenda since Vietnam and with every conflict the censorship becomes more and more. This is precisely why extreme conservatives have been so angry since the Vietnam war. They blame it on the "liberals", but that is such a false accusation. It is the fault of exposing raw war for what it really is, horrible.

Vietnam? Anyone that would like to equate Iraq to Vietnam can leave the country now and not look back, thanks. But since you brought it up let me educate you on some simple numbers. Let's break it down in chronological order for you too, keep it simple.

World War I Injured - 204,002
World War I Killed - 116,516

World War II Injured - 670,846
World War II Killed - 405,399

Korean War Injured - 103,284
Korean War Killed - 36,516

Vietnam War Injured - 153,303
Vietnam War Killed - 58,209

Iraq War Injured - 25,830
Iraq War Killed - 3,571

Yes, now I would like you to understand two important things. One, you live under a rock. Time to come out and recognize that the casualty rate in Iraq is minimal VERY minimal. Two, We will not be leaving Iraq anytime in the next 50 years so you can get off that train too. Notice we STILL have bases in Europe from the cold war era? Yea, those will be there for a long time to come. Bases will remain in Iraq, Afganistan and other middle eastern countries for a long time to come as well. This is what we call "Power Projection".

quote:
If you remove this personal cause-effect from conflicts, then it will become increasingly easier to wield these weapons as a way of asserting control over people and nations. Of course I don't expect anyone to even give pause to that idea. I'm sure there are many people who absolutely relish the idea of forcing their ideas upon others by the tip of a sword, the barrel of a gun, or the detonator in a nuclear warhead. That also happens to be the most anti-American ideology anyone can have.

You better check your facts man. We have gone to war for our ideals time and time again. We kicked the British out and formed the United States because we wanted it our way and were sick of being subjected to their ways and their laws. We damn near wiped out the Native Americans because we wanted our land and we wanted it our way. We go to war to protect our ideals, to preserve them from threats, and to protect our allys and what we percieve to be a free world. This is the nature of americans, we are winners, and we like winners, we hate losers and we hate people that try to tell us what to do. To be american is all of the above, accept this. Americans are peaceful to an extent, but we also have global power projection and the way we got that is not just because of military capability, but because we have the balls to actually put it to use. Peace is fine, but if someone decides to flip you the bird and start shooting, Americans are keen to shoot back and eliminate the enemy. This causes countries to recognize the military superiority of the U.S. This in turn causes them to listen and take what we say seriously. Could Fidel Castro tomorrow tell France that they are going to straighten up and fly right or else? Nope, France would laugh at them.
I rest my case.

quote:
Wars will inevitably always be fought, but war should always be a terrible thing with terrible consequences for there to be a deterrent from it.

War has consequences, it costs a lot of money to run a war these days. If you think we can declare war on anyone we want just because lives arent being lost, your dead wrong. War's cost money and lots of it, if we don't have it, we can't make war. The financials will keep war's in check.


RE: Love em
By GeeSussFreeK on 8/7/2007 9:33:59 AM , Rating: 2
Right on man! If you were in Austin, I would buy you a beer!


RE: Love em
By Scorpion on 8/7/2007 5:40:33 PM , Rating: 2
Wow, I'm speechless. Both you and masher2 have got your heads up your arses.

quote:
Yea, no. Respect for the dead is why the media doesn't show body parts on the news

Keep telling yourself that. That may be one factor, but you're blind to believe that is the whole reason. We have no problems showing the dead from the people we kill, so try again. The only proof I need is from my Father-in-law who is one of this nations top 1st Amendment attorneys who is currently involved in a case being appealed to the Supreme Court over a very respectful photograph of a US soldiers funeral. Guess who's backing the side of censorship and frivolous resitution compensation?

quote:
Vietnam? Anyone that would like to equate Iraq to Vietnam can leave the country now and not look back, thanks.

Oh thanks for the redneck America threat. "You're either with us or against us." You people haven't even a f*cking clue what America stands for. Perhaps it is you who should leave the country. Seig Heil!

quote:
Yes, now I would like you to understand two important things. One, you live under a rock. Time to come out and recognize that the casualty rate in Iraq is minimal VERY minimal. Two, We will not be leaving Iraq anytime in the next 50 years so you can get off that train too. Notice we STILL have bases in Europe from the cold war era? Yea, those will be there for a long time to come. Bases will remain in Iraq, Afganistan and other middle eastern countries for a long time to come as well. This is what we call "Power Projection".


Thanks for arguing a point I never even made. Were you paying attention to what I read? No. What did you see then? "Blah Blah some guy who hates america Blah Blah"? Obviously you've got your blind patriot filters on and you need to take them off. I never even talked about this. Thanks for playing.

quote:
You better check your facts man. We have gone to war for our ideals time and time again. We kicked the British out and formed the United States because we wanted it our way and were sick of being subjected to their ways and their laws. We damn near wiped out the Native Americans because we wanted our land and we wanted it our way. We go to war to protect our ideals, to preserve them from threats, and to protect our allys and what we percieve to be a free world.


Again, you are arguing with me another point which I did not even touch, but now I will address this one. I know my facts, man. Yes America fought for freedom, fought for a democracy and for secularism. Nevermind what poison you hear spewed from the pulpit about our founding fathers. Most of them were very staunch secularists and that was one of the most motivating forces behind the movement to America, to escape the hard religious rule of the Church of England and other similar church-state governed nations around the world.

What about wiping out Native Americans? Are you serious? I have roots to Native Americans. I am part Native American. Pick up a history book. Do you still believe that what early Americans did to the Natives was justified? I ask you who taught you history then because they taught you ignorant lies and propaganda. Who was it that the first early settlers looked to to survive in this new world? Who's land? Oh "our land". It's not YOUR land if someone else is already there. Alas this only demonstrate an early onset of the American imperialistic nature. This is something we must grow beyond.

America should go to war to protect it's ideals only when they are threatened. This isn't even something I brought up, by why are we in Iraq? You are an idiot (or a neocon) to believe that such actions will protect our ideals. Only the corruption of our ideals can be met by this means. You obviously have no understanding of what American ideals are, and neither does a large portion of our population unfortunately. Pulpits and corruptionists have been teaching false history to too many people. America is democracy and freedom and secularism, as was the vision of our founding fathers. This is not Jerry Fallwell's America.


RE: Love em
By Scorpion on 8/7/2007 5:41:30 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
This is the nature of americans, we are winners, and we like winners, we hate losers and we hate people that try to tell us what to do. To be american is all of the above, accept this. Americans are peaceful to an extent, but we also have global power projection and the way we got that is not just because of military capability, but because we have the balls to actually put it to use. Peace is fine, but if someone decides to flip you the bird and start shooting, Americans are keen to shoot back and eliminate the enemy.


Keep pumping your Rah-Rah-Rah Uhmerican fist to that one. That entire sentence is just ridiculous and riddled with insecurities. So you think we should be the playground enemy? Obviously you need to grow up. Pick up Sun-Tzu's Art of War sometime. It is not in our best interest to viciously attack anyone who "flips us the bird". That is not American ideals. Not the ideals of democracy or freedom. You cannot spread these ideals through the barrel of a gun when will you imbeciles realize this. The only thing a gun barrel does is weaken the other side to persuasion to spread our ideals through other means. The whole idea of this is counter intuitive to democratic and freedom principles.

quote:
War has consequences, it costs a lot of money to run a war these days. If you think we can declare war on anyone we want just because lives arent being lost, your dead wrong. War's cost money and lots of it, if we don't have it, we can't make war. The financials will keep war's in check.


Both you and masher2 keep raising this point, and I think you are dead wrong. Wars will always cost more, and we will always have more money in the world to fund them. This Iraq war is costing us heavily, but is that a problem? Why no we just borrow the money we need to fund it, or we just make it up somehow. You all have been seduced by the value of money it is ridiculous. Most of the money we spend on wars goes back to us anyhow! That may not be the case much longer as we continue to become less and less of a manufacturing country with less of our own resources. Then we become so dependant on other countries for the material we need. Do you not see a problem with that? Why do you think we have a double standard with China? It's not called the "War Machine" for nothing.

You are quite fooled to believe that the cost will be a deterent. The only thing both of you are saying is that money is worth more than a human life and I believe you are dead wrong. People are complacent to be screwed out of money by our government more and more they will become numb to losing it. So much of our "screwed out of money" goes into our bloated military funding (notice how I neglected using the term "defence funding"). This only benefits a nation only relying on monetary sacrifices for wars. I guarantee that a lost loved one is felt so much more than having less money. And that right there is the heart of the point that I was making in my previous post.

I am completely astonished that DailyTech somehow finds the both of you worthy of your status here. Neither of you, especially masher2 is capable of "reporting" or regurgitating agregated information without bias. DailyTech should have more sense than to give either of you too much credibility. And it's far more troubling to see how neither of you "gets it". This is what America is becoming I suppose. I'll leave you with some parting quotes.

quote:
Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose -- and you allow him to make war at pleasure. If today, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, 'I see no probability of the British invading us' but he will say to you, 'Be silent; I see it, if you don't.'" - Abraham Lincoln


quote:
A country cannot simultaneously prepare and prevent war. - Albert Einstein


I hardly doubt a single person reads this lengthy diatribe, but I enjoyed writing it so very much.


RE: Love em
By Ringold on 8/6/2007 4:51:38 PM , Rating: 2
If we don't capitalize on the technology out of a weak moral belly there is no doubt China, Russia, Iran and everybody else eventually will as they are able to afford to. They would then have the advantage.

On the liberal/conservative thing.. if censorship was meant, as it was implied, to keep the people fat, dumb and happy, along with recruitment rates high by sheltering them from the "horrible" wars, then to test the thesis that it matters we could look at re-enlistment rates; people who have gone to Iraq, Afghanistan or other overseas deployments, come back, and decided to sign up yet again. And what does such an analysis show? Re-enlistment rates have been amazing.

Not to say war isn't nasty, it is, but I think it underlines the futility of trying to let that debate enter in to a judgement of the merit of this technology, the liberal/conservative debate. On a technical basis, these things pwn, so that's probably all we should be concerned with at the moment.


RE: Love em
By h0kiez on 8/6/2007 11:32:17 AM , Rating: 2
Well...you'll still need skilled pilots to fly them, they'll just be doing it remotely. It definitely does open up new posibilities though.


RE: Love em
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 8/6/2007 11:40:38 AM , Rating: 3
Indeed. Case in point is that these bad boys would be autonomous and not controlled by a human pilot. These things fly and fire on their own, think cruise missile but instead of impacting the target its just a delivery system. An AWACS in the area would be picking targets using the Predator drones and Global Hawk UAV's, then issuing targets and approach vector's to these unmanned bombers that would be lumbering around on station ready to blow something to bits at a moment's notice. Now I also have to note that the new F-22 also posesses the same target picking capability the AWACS does, and can relay it to friendly craft like said Unmanned Bombers. Letting the F-22's patrol the skies looking for enemy aircraft and then issuing attack orders to their large squadron of unmanned bombers in the area who are carrying the heavy ground pounder ordnance.

Ah, good times indeed.


RE: Love em
By helios220 on 8/6/2007 11:46:28 AM , Rating: 2
While the costs associated with pilot training are significant and by no means to be ignored, the bigger issue with modern military aircraft has been the cost of new aircraft development.

While all rules have exceptions, the general trend for decades has been that each new generation of military aircraft has been more expensive and hence made in fewer numbers than the previous generation. A perfect example being the F-22, undoubtedly superior to any unmanned platform and rated as the top air superiority fighter in the world. Yet all of these capabilities come at a tremendous cost and F-22 orders have been continuously cut by the Air Force to a mere shadow of the original proposed production numbers. The current development of autonomous vehicles is driven by the primary motivator of cost, not performance.

This is not to say that I have anything against the UCAS or unmanned platforms in general, as a former Northrop Grumman employee who worked on the program I have great respect for the platform. However, you will not be seeing the X-47 pulling excessive G's or wowing anyone with its performance characteristics, like all current UCAV offerings it is meant to be a strike aircraft and not an air-superiority fighter. While the X-47B does look sleek and impressive, the reality is that the current generation of UCAV's are designed to fly relatively simple loitering flight plans and put bombs on target, not engage other aircraft in complex autonomous dog fights.

Also addressing others who have seen the movie 'Stealth' a few too many times, these platforms are not completely autonomous and do not make the decision to strike without a human operator.

It is not my intention by any means to rain on anyone’s parade, however there is generally quite a difference between TV/Movies and reality in regards to these aircraft, but that does not make them any less impressive in my opinion.


RE: Love em
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 8/6/2007 11:55:06 AM , Rating: 3
Ah, but Helios you are missing the point.

Imagine taking your F-22, taking the pilot out, and sticking him behind a joystick. Now, we get our money's worth. The F-22 is capable of much more than it currently does because the pilot is human and there are precautions that must be taken.

Fighter aircraft could also be built smaller, and cheaper without the need for expensive safety systems, ejection systems, blow off canopy systems, all these customizeable displays and buttons and switches, etc.....


RE: Love em
By helios220 on 8/6/2007 12:15:12 PM , Rating: 4
I never made the point to say that machines are not limited by the characteristics of the humans who operate them. There is an entire field (Human Factors Engineering) devoted to this area, and simply removing the pilot from the cockpit by no means alleviates all of these problems. While there would be a weight reduction by removing certain pilot-centric aircraft subsystems, other different subsystems to accommodate remote / autonomous operation would be added in their place (for now). Furthermore, if you make the argument that an Air Superiority fighter could be more effectively flown remotely, I would not want to be the engineer / human factors engineer responsible for designing the HMIs (human machine interfaces.) It would be a very complex task (although possible) to provide a remote-pilot the necessary perception and feedback to adequately perform air superiority missions, which is a whole different style of flying than strike missions.

Regardless of whether you think I am missing the point, I have worked for Aerospace defense contractors my whole career and I have great hopes for the future of unmanned flight, however my only point is that these aircraft are not the magic solution to the dilemma of increased capabilities versus esclating costs. The primary detractor from aircraft performance is not the pilot, it is cost of the platform plain and simple. I have great hopes for the future development of autonomous vehicles, however there is much hard work to be done by engineers and researchers before we can think about replacing pilots completely.


RE: Love em
By pauldovi on 8/6/2007 12:00:02 PM , Rating: 2
I am a pilot... I am in Air Force ROTC in college. I would love to fly... but I think that there will be no need for my kind any more by the time I commission. Ohh well, good thing I will have my BS in Aerospace Engineering.

Poor pilots... :(


RE: Love em
By BladeVenom on 8/6/2007 4:22:51 PM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't give up hopes of being a pilot so soon. Some people said planes and pilots were soon to be obsolete 50 years ago after Sputnik launched.


RE: Love em
By borowki on 8/6/2007 4:12:33 PM , Rating: 3
Dependence on remote controlled aircrafts puts us on the defensive on the get-go, since none of these technical wonder will work if the communication network isn't. China has already shown that it's capable of shooting satellites out of the sky and is experimenting with laser-based anti-sat weapons. While counter-measures are possible, I would hate to see ourselves in a position where we have to invest massive amount of money into defensive systems to maintain our offensive capability.

I'm happy with the current mix of manned aircrafts, cruise missles, and relatively low-tech unmanned planes. Having a UAV that does 10-G turns is pretty pointless when the whole point is that it's dispensable.


RE: Love em
By Calin on 8/7/2007 5:19:05 AM , Rating: 2
A bomber won't make 10G turns (maybe when empty), and a bomber won't make that kind of accrobatics.
As for the planes/pilots rate, I think right now US air force is training more pilots than the aircrafts it is buying, and things won't change very fast when a plane costs a big fortune.


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