back to article Top guns doomed as US Navy demos first carrier-launched drone

The US Navy has successfully completed the first carrier launch of its unmanned X47B drone, a programmable stealth strike aircraft with a range of 2,100 miles and the skills to allow automatic in-flight refueling, which could give it global reach. #BREAKING: #USNavy history is made! Was airborne at 11:18A. More to come. MT @ …

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Anonymous Coward

Apparently they have been giving bravery awards to drone pilots!

Wounded by a spilt cup of coffee medal perhaps?

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Anonymous Coward

Update..

Washington Post appears to show they have now scrapped the idea due to an outcry, still maybe they should get something? Cream to rub on their calloused backsides perhaps?

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rav
WTF?

sprained fingers from hitting the fire button.

what happens when you run out of quarters?

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Happy

Re: sprained fingers from hitting the fire button.

Presumably one of them got a medal for coming up with the idea of attaching a piece of thread to their last one.

Either that or repeatedly flicking the same one up through the coin return after levering the flap off.

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Facepalm

Amurrica Strong!!

"Such drones could be used in a future conflict with China, for example."

Hahaha!

China has nukes. On ICBMs.

This means NO CONFLICT because we, the West, just don't pick fights with someone who can fight back. Washington Elites and Think Tankers will just have to wank over maps of the Pacific Rim in mournful silence.

Additionally, imagine the uproar when Wal-Mart runs out of goodies. Millions of Jabba-the-Huts on mall scooters will descend on Washington, demanding their fix. Nope. Not gonna happen.

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Re: Amurrica Strong!!

Agreed. There is a happy equilibrium between both countries both militarily & industrially. They both need each other in order to continue, for a long while anyway. Any significant military conflict between the U.S. and China is a long way off.

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Thumb Down

Re: Amurrica Strong!!

It does not follow. Germany and UK needed each other as markets in 1914. Did not help then either. You assume humans are driven by rational self interest. History is an empirical demonstration this is rarely so. Why do you assume the usa is likely to exist in its current form for more than a decade ? Economy ? Industry ? political stability ? All extremely debatable. A statistician predicts the USA will suffer disruptive civil violence by 2020 using his model based on UN violence outbreaks analysis. See New Scientist or better yet, do a google for sources. One should remember no expert predicted the USSR would fall as quickly as it did. Oddly, popular fiction had novels with exactly that scenario.

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FAIL

Re: Amurrica Strong!!

LOL, that's very funny.

You mean like what happened in Cuba? Or perhaps Korea? And what will the Europeans do when the Russians come knocking? Perhaps they will throw Euros at them...

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Re: Amurrica Strong!!

Dude - get a clue. Sure there are nukes but that's terminally stupid.

You need to think about how to wage war and yet stay back from that brink.

And hopefully you'll read some history about how "Amurrica" handled itself and dealt with shortages during World War II. Then please come back end engage in meaningful conversation about conflicts, war, and how to avoid them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Amurrica Strong!!

@Denarius "A statistician predicts the USA will suffer disruptive civil violence by 2020 using his model based on UN violence outbreaks analysis. See New Scientist or better yet, do a google for sources"

Could you or someone cite for that please ? pretty please ??

I did google for 15 min but found nought, or rather, not the study mentioned ... thanks ...

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Mushroom

Re: Amurrica Strong!!

This means NO CONFLICT because we, the West, just don't pick fights with someone who can fight back.

I hope you're right in that no war between the US and China ever breaks out, but as others have pointed out, if nations could be relied to act rationally we'd be short a couple World Wars.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Amurrica Strong!!

You must either be new to this 'Google' thing or being deliberately dense, I found Peter Turchin with one search: http://www.nature.com/news/human-cycles-history-as-science-1.11078

N.B. I did not know of him before that search and offer no opinion on his prediction(s).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Amurrica Strong!!

thank you

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Range

"It has a much longer range than piloted aircraft". Intrinsically?

A quick poke of Wikipedia indicates that an EA-6B could fly this sort of mission profile.

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Re: Range

The EA-6B is an electronic warfare aircraft first operational in the 1970s! Its bomb-dropping sibs the A-6 Intruders were retired some time ago and the EA-6Bs themselves are being retired in favor of the new EA-18Gs, which in turn are based on the F/A-18F, whose sibs currently drop bombs and shoot down bad guys and stray vultures for the US Navy.

Sounds like the new drone has almost double the range of either the A-6s or the F/A-18s.

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Thumb Up

Re: Range

They are going to need that range if they don't get this part right.

"... before the team attempts to land it on the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier at sea"

But I wager it becomes a lot neater to package when you don't have to design it around a human. Just being able to ignore the aspects of G loading, a canopy and life support such as O2 and pressure suit should go a long way. Hell just being able to decide whether you care if it's "inverted" or not for the best radar signature and allow your attack pattern to diverge wildly from "normal" gives a heck of a leg up. Consider that it lets you stack the munitions on the roof hidden from ground radar and proceed into a -10G half loop dropping the payload once "upside down" and scrambling away like that just off the deck with the best stealthly bits pointed upward for the response that just launched.

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Re: Range

Eddy Ito - Yes, what you said but there is also a political advantage: Having a drone brought down in someone else's territory is embarrassing but nowhere near as much of a political headache as a pilot being captured.

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Holmes

Re: Range

Aerospace engineers will still have to take g-loading into account. Generally, the higher the stress, the stronger and heavier the components must be. Since most modern components, avionics included, are designed around a human limiting factor of around 9-10G's, they will have to be redesigned to operate in a heavier G environment. There will probably be a "sweet spot", depending on materials being used, where the designers get the optimum performance for the weight/power characteristics.

As for putting munitions on the top of an aircraft, it's been tried--doesn't work very well. Your maneuver would a) expose the non-stealth side to radar (assuming you were "stacking" them on top), b) would require a whole new testing regime on release characteristics and probably force unwanted changes to wing design/airflow. I've seen the footage where a munition dropped from below the wing went forward, up, and then over the wing, and c) make it hard as hell for weapons loaders to actually put the bombs on board. We currently use small bomb lift 'trucks" (called "jammers" they come in two sizes for small or big bombs). Loading on top would require hoists or bridge cranes loading x amount of lbs over the top of an aircraft. One slip and now you've got a very big hole in the aircraft, instead of a dent in the concrete. (I have personal experience dealing with a Mk-82 that hit nose-first, so dropping one on the concrete of a flightline won't cause a bomb to high-order--the fuses have lots of safeties designed to prevent just that)

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Happy

Re: Range

Deploying your munitions tends to expose your non-stealthy side as well...

In all seriousness, putting the munitions on top is not only technically challenging, from an engineering standpoint it is backwards. Where possible you never design something that accomplishes through technical prowess what physics takes care of for free (i.e. if you want something to fall you put it in a place where it will fall if left to its own devices).

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Re: Range

Yebbut I cannot see any intrinsic reason the drone would have greater range, except some slight weight advantages. The article implied that there was.

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bep

Matt Funk huh?

Old Matt must have had to overcome a certain amount of unconscious prejudice to become the engineer in charge. Sort of makes you want to put on your flame proof suit just reading about it.

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Pint

Re: Matt Funk huh?

Funk was quite popular in the 1970s. Better than being called Matt Rap.

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JLV
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Boffin

Watch out F-35

This kinda development is why embarking on decade long R&D cycles on manned fighters is getting to be very risky.

Consider that the first purely recon UAVs haven't been around very long. Since then, we've had how many generations leading on to the Reapers & such? With now something that is looking more like a combat aircraft and less like a powered kite. Or look at the Darpa 2004 self-driven cars vs. the Google cars now. 10 years, very different capabilities.

How many years before air combat capable drones work and work well? With no g-force limitations due to the pilots? Wanna bet hundreds of billions of tax $ that it will only happen after the F35's planned end of life?

IMHO, we are seeing the very beginning of something like the carrier vs battleship debates of the 1930s.

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Black Helicopters

Re: Watch out F-35

The Pioneer has been around since 1986 (hard to believe that was 27 years ago) and I think the Israelis had something a few years earlier. While the general public may not have noticed until relatively recently, this stuff has been around for a while.

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JLV
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Re: Watch out F-35

Well, I didn't know about the Pioneer, but I was thinking about the Israeli gear. Mid 90's wasn't it, when it first became operational? Israel is really good at quick concept-to-operation cycles btw, and they don't mind throwing up cheap gear at first. Unlike the Western military industrial complexes.

Yes, 27 years is a long time. But it's not just that UAV have only come to the public attention only recently. I would say that they weren't taken very seriously by the military establishments until the late 90s. And now their pace of development is definitely accelerating. A lot.

So I don't think the next 27 years will look like the previous 27.

If I was a Chinese military planner looking at 2030+, I'd be thinking in terms of saturating the air with a lot of relatively cheap drone fighters, with simple autonomous on-board "AI". No control links to jam that way. Design it to allow swapping of obsolete components and constant upgrading of the onboard smarts and you may be able to adapt very quickly to the battlefield.

Mind you, thinking too much in terms of "the West vs. China" is also a trap we need to be careful about. Too much military escalation has a way to take on a life of its own and I really wish we'd learn not to wage wars. But this is nevertheless a fascinating inflexion point in military technologies.

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Alert

Re: Watch out F-35

Make sure it runs Android so it's not stuck with Apple maps.

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Re: Watch out F-35

Except manned fighters are cool, so they get the pick of the best (or at least best connected) pilots

Those same pilots rise up the ranks of the air force and government - where they are in charge of the purchasing decisions

Ever wondered why the head of the RAF is always a fighter type?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Watch out F-35

"IMHO, we are seeing the very beginning of something like the carrier vs battleship debates of the 1930s."

Maybe but not in the way you're thinking. It'll likely turn out the reverse. It's because of a little thing called a spark gap transmitter. Create enough broadband interference to overwhelm the control signal and a drone is useless whereas a manned aircraft can still complete the mission.

This defense is really only useful if you don't have much high tech infrastructure because that will be affected as well.

Ironically, the current crop of adversaries are exactly the sort that _could_ put this sort of defense into play, so ??

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Black Helicopters

Ever wondered why the head of the RAF is always a figher type?

Apart from the next one, who's a helicopter type...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Watch out F-35

The bit you missed is that they are working on autonomous drones, which can fly and fight (well, drop bombs at this point) by themselves. So just the same as a manned aircraft when its communications are jammed and the pilot has no idea if the mission is still on or not, or if his carrier has just been nuked and he's not going back home. Minus the stress.

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Re: Watch out F-35

The drones are autonomous, they can navigate by GPS, intertial, TFR and Infrared mapping.

And if somebody does does shoot one down - what have you lost?

The main problem is that using them as a bomber is silly. If the mass you have to bring back to the carrier to reload is so much larger than the bomb load why not leave the plane at the target - ie a cruise missile.

The real reason that it will be dropped is that the navy like having big impressive carriers with 5000 crew all serving 2 dozen fighter pilots. Replacing them with a converted container ship and 3 techs launching disposable drones doesn't do much for your political career once you stop being an admiral

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Anonymous Coward

Re: if somebody does does shoot one down - what have you lost?

All of the tech in your drone including command channels and codes. Maybe it makes them useless (or worse turns them against you), maybe not.

Wanna bet your life on the outcome?

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Re: Watch out F-35

'This kinda development is why embarking on decade long R&D cycles on manned fighters is getting to be very risky.'

Not really the X-47 programme has been going since ~2000 is no nearer being an in service aircraft than the F-35, less so in fact, and may form the basis for an aircraft to enter service in 2019. Just because you've removed the meat sack from the airframe doesn't mean the development cycle is massively shortened if you're trying to push the limits of technology. Oddly there are vague plans for the final F-35s off the line to be unmanned, although that's decades off.

In fact we've been working on drones since WW2 when a number of life expired B-17 bombers were converted to remote operation and loaded with explosives. So the pace of progress isn't as rapid as you think, hell it took us 50 years to make a radio controlled plane that can drop bombs...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Watch out F-35

@AC 11:58. I didn't miss it, it's not relevant (in the context of drone vs manned fighter/bomber) because they only work against fixed, stationary targets.

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Re: Watch out F-35

Not many modern aircraft can complete their missions if their electronics aren't functioning properly. They'd be lucky to return home safely. The few that can function without all systems at high operational capacity are from the 1970's and fallback on massive cannons for air to surface assaults.

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Terminator

Takeoffs are easy, it's landings that are a bitch

*Especially* carrier landings. If you read the Wired story, (http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/05/drone-carrier/) which is a bit more skeptical, you'll see they admit to having problems with this. When they do that autonomously, then I'll be seriously impressed.

Speaking of autonomous, I'm surprised you didn't notice (rise of the machines and all that) that this is an autonomous drone, which is more told where to go and what to do, than continuously hand-flown like the USAF vehicles. So it's a lot more robot than model airplane.

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visible progress

This of course is visible and announced progress.

Those who think that this is all -- need to review the history of F-117 Nighthawk.

We now know that it was operational many years before its existence was known (about 10 years IIRC). For all we know, this may be the public-PR face to distract from work behind the veil.

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Terminator

Tower....this.....is.....Ghostrider.....requesting......a.....flyby.....

Negative Ghostrider, the pattern is full.

Locking.....all.....weapons.....on.....tower..................Commencing.....sterilization......protocol.......alpha......niner.......

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rav
WTF?

Hmmm

But can it dog fight? What happens when the control is jammed or destroyed? The best tactical response to a drone is the destruction of it's satellite control. Gee, China is up to it's butt in ground to space anti-satellite missiles.

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Re: Hmmm

I think these are intended to be mostly autonomous so loss of command link over the target is unfortunate, but not a show stopper.

Also most data relay is via geostationary satellites which are (probably) beyond the range of current anti-sat systems, unlike spy sats that are usually only a few 100km up and in the range of the last (and very dumb from a space debris point of view) demonstration of anti-sat weapons.

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Terminator

Can it dogfight?

Given that it can happily pull 30g turns without having to worry about any meatbags it's supposed to be keeping alive inside itself, I expect that once beyond the prototype stage they will be wiping the floor with any pathetic humans daring to challenge them in the air.

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Boffin

Re: Hmmm

China and the US are not stupid (most of the time). They are both nuclear powers and also have a symbiotic relationship through trade. Neither side would benefit from attacking the other either conventionally or with nukes.

If you want further proof look at the intervention (or lack of) in Syria. A nation state that has used chemical weaponry on its citizens, is bombing them from the sky and is committing war crimes on a daily basis (not that the rebels are innocent of this either). Yet where is the ground invasion to prevent chemical weapons (Iraq) or the no fly zone to prevent the murder of civilians (Libya)? Syria has a much more powerful AA system then Libya had (and even then the Israelis have snuck by it) and so there is little appetite from the west to do something as benign (in military terms) as enforce a no flyzone to stop civilians being bombed.

Now if they will not even tackle a tin pot dictator with modernish SAM's (they were getting s300's but the Russians saw sense on that) what makes you think they will go after the worlds economic superpower/factory ?

Another thing to consider is that blowing satellites up does creates debris. Too much debris and you can cause a Kessler syndrome to develop (chain reaction of debris) which messes up all sides and non participants.

This thing will be used to fly into situations like Syria where it can carry out operations without the risk of a pilot being captured/tortured/desecrated. It will be flown against country's with little air force presence and its first missions will be to destroy that presence on th ground. Any remaining birds in the air will be taken out by manned FA18/F35's for the near future.

The USN does not want to repeat Vietnam where a low tech army supplied with high tech weaponry (Soviet SAMS) can cause havoc on expensive fast jets and pilots. This aircraft will allow them to loiter over mission area's (can't do that with a tomahawk), is stealth (probably more so then an f35 due to flying wing config and size) so less likely to be detected and has longer legs then manned options available. Dogfighting is the least of their concerns

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Re: look at the intervention (or lack of) in Syria.

That's because of The Big 0 and What-his-name on your side of the pond, not because of the intrinsic situation. Ronnie and Maggie would have sacked that sorry SOB by now given the current world situation.

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Re: look at the intervention (or lack of) in Syria.

Adam Curtis did a blog post about ghaddafi (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/posts/hes_behind_you) which suggests that they nearly did go after Syria. He states that Syria was the prime suspect in the lockerbie bombing but once the Gulf war happened they shifted focus to Libya to prop up support for gulf war 1.

"Within months of the attack the famous Sunday Times "Insight" team had a series of scoops that revealed that the bombing on the Pan Am plane was a revenge attack by Iran for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by an American warship in the Gulf in 1988. The articles laid it all out in enormous detail - how the Iranians had paid a Palestinian terrorist group based in Syria to plant the bomb in a Toshiba cassette player. And that this had been done with the help of the Syrian authorities."

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Anonymous Coward

Works for me

Drones definitely have proved their worth for many uses including civilian where they have found injured people who could not be found with other aircraft. This drone looks pretty large so I'm guessing it can carry a good payload of serious missiels designed to punish terrorist, which is great IMO.

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Misguided notion of romance

As long as there are humans, human-crewed aerospace craft will rule. Misguided notion of romance in a human strapping on a powered kite. Silk scarves and all that.

I feel entitled to say this: I'm as guilty as any other former Blue Zoo officer in my bias toward crewed craft. I guess that's an admission-against-interest.

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Terminator

Re: Misguided notion of romance

I suspect this will be true right up until the point the other side fields an armada of unmanned aircraft that promptly start shredding their primitive, fleshy counterparts.

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Re: Misguided notion of romance

until they develop a drone that can do the banter - what !

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Silver badge

Re: Misguided notion of romance

I wouldn't say entirely misguided. We tend to prefer fleshies be the ones making the decision about whether or not to kill someone. That's sort of the point of the movies like War Games and Terminator.

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Re: Misguided notion of romance

To hitch-hike to another aspect: having witnessed July 20 1969 and well-remembering it, which would I rather see: a couple of R/C cars clattering around the Red Planet, or a couple of humans bouncing across the Red Planet? The latter, hands-down (please pardon the pun). And I don't think this is a subjective bias.

By the way, as for the one-way mission proposal, I would like to be the first in line to volunteer.

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