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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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Just great, the T-1000’s flying cousin.
By Noobsa44 on 8/6/2007 11:22:48 PM , Rating: 2
It’s funny that some of my co-workers and I were talking about this very concept today. The problem I see with this sort of vehicle is that its ability to be controlled remotely is the major weak point in the system.

Even if we assume that the signal is encrypted, and for the sake of argument, unjammable, then there are only two basic weak points I see. One is where you gain authorization physically (by, say, taking over the base that all the crafts are controlled) and the other is by breaking the encryption and taking over the craft.

In either case, the only way to prevent the worst case scenario (bombing our own cities, troops or allies), we would have to hard code (burned ROM chip?) the planes not to bomb/fight in certain areas. This means, if an attacker were to ever make it to the USA, these planes would be unable to defend us, because they couldn’t fight in those areas.

I suppose the only way to solve this is to build in an AI that is smart enough to know who the enemy is. That AI of course would be named SkyNet....




RE: Just great, the T-1000’s flying cousin.
By masher2 (blog) on 8/7/2007 12:58:56 AM , Rating: 2
> "One [weak point] is where you gain authorization physically (by, say, taking over the base that all the crafts are controlled)..."

If you can gain such access to that base (and had the skills and knowledge to remotely pilot the craft), then one must assume you could just as easily seize and fly a non-autonomous version of the same craft. So the risk here isn't increased at all.

> "...and the other is by breaking the encryption and taking over the craft."

Codes aren't as easy to break as Hollywood movies make out. In fact, the military has long used codes which are not just "hard" to break, but impossible, such as the OTP. Key exchange is a b***h, but for cases where compromise is wholly unacceptable, they are quite useful.


By DeepBlue1975 on 8/7/2007 9:30:21 AM , Rating: 2
They might be impossible to break...
But is any radiofrequency communication totally impervious to heavy interference?
The enemy doesn't need to break the code to disable the drones, they just need to cause enough interference so that the link is lost :D


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