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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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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 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 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.

"Google fired a shot heard 'round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people." -- Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.)
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