back to article Robot air fleet can launch mid-air from cargo plane's ramp

US manufacturers have carried out a flight test that might change the way air battles are fought. In future, rather than sexy jet fighters or massive bombers, the aircraft which crush an enemy dictator's air defences could be ordinary cargo haulers – each of which could launch a hundreds-strong armada of small robot planes into …


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  1. Efros
    Thumb Up

    House of Dolmann

    All the world's future history is predicted in 'The Valiant'!!

  2. Rodrigo Valenzuela

    Too many hours...

    playing Starcraft?


  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Notice Raytheon don't make *planes*

    So not too bothered if aircraft use displaced by this.

  4. Danny 14 Silver badge


    so it is basically a missile without a warhead?

    1. Filippo

      Carrier has arrived

      We are poised for victory

    2. Ralthor


      No, it's basically a hi tech clay pigeon launcher.

      1. Marvin the Martian

        It's just a temporary measure

        until we've solved the plummeting issue with the flying monkeys.

  5. Ralph B
    Black Helicopters

    Prior Art!

    The Beano's General Jumbo did it first!


  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think I need help...

    The mention of a cage of dangerous flying things made me think of nothing except Angry Birds!

  7. Tommoxyz

    US have done this before but useing bomber as launch vehicles

    The USAF once had a quail aircraft launched by a B52 which did just this.

    So this is really old tech.

    1. Harthin

      Reading comprehension really is a lost art

      Read the article. It says that the development here is the "birdcage launcher" not the decoys. It allows a much larger number of decoys to be deployed by a single C130 than a group of B52s.

  8. Graham Bartlett

    See "Red Storm Rising"

    Tom Clancy's "Red Storm Rising" had pretty much this decoy scenario, which was using long-range missiles fired some distance out and programmed to take the same track that incoming bombers would take. The fighters and air defenses unloaded on the missiles, then the actual bombers came over the horizon and there was nothing left to hit them with.

  9. breakfast

    Combat wasps

    I seem to recall Peter Hamilton having remote armed vehicles as the mainstays of space combat in his "Night's Dawn" trilogy. It always seemed an entirely plausible idea to me.

  10. nichomach

    Oh look, a Page article...

    ...stating that jets are crap and drones are great. Wasn't expecting that, no sirree bob. These...ah...putative warships punting cruise missiles; are they going to be like HMS Triumph, the Trafalgar class that in contributing less than 10% of the total of just the first lot of cruise missiles lobbed at Libya spunked half its total weapon load? Of course it can pootle home at a maximum 40mph to pick up some more...and while its away, the GR4s can get on with the business of lobbing better, more accurate missiles with a much faster turnaround between missions. Of course, if we hadn't canned MRA4, we could have had those drop a half a dozen Storm Shadows each too.

    1. GeorgeTuk

      Or just wait for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary to drop it off?

      As they will have started heading out once they knew they would be using some. May already have been on station.

      MR4A had to be canned after the Nimrod refuel accident, to be fair the amount that was spunked on the whole thing would have been better used on either buying a new existing airframe or designing a new one. But then BAE has been screwing us over for years with the jobs argument, and they do provide jobs...I had one.

      Don't disagree with the Page bit though.

      1. nichomach


        The fuel thing's a red herring; the airframes were being completely remanufactured anyway, so wouldn't have had the same problem, although I agree that new airframes would have been a lot better idea. Hell, there's noithing wrong with the Nimrod airframe as such; they could have manufactured new airframes to a common standard, with the new wing, engines and avionics and it would probably have been cheaper and easier to deliver. You won't find me arguing that the way the MRA4 contract was run was justifiable; it wasn't. That said, the aircraft were pretty much built; and the fact that the Navy are now spunking another billion (minimum, and we know it'll be more than that) on procuring a plane just to do the maritime part of the Nimrod's job (never mind the ground surveillance and attack capability) amply demonstrates that the aircraft IS needed and not putting it into service was dumb.

        The thought occurs that maybe we could just dispense with these slow, expensive, relatively incapable launch platforms - I mean submarines, naturally - and just equip the navy with converted cargo ships that could launch missiles from self-contained palletised setups. Oh...wait...I'm only allowed to use that argument against planes, right?

    2. Bumpy Cat


      Surely for the cost of a handful of GR4s we could deploy ten times as many armed drones. I think you're setting up a bit of a strawman here - certainly a single ship would run out of ordnance during a bombardment, but so would the planes unless resupplied too.

      A better scenario would be a warship or two placed near the target area for C2, with several armed drones for the strikes supplied by ordnance flown in by C130 (which could also bring and launch the decoy drones).

      1. nichomach

        @Bumpy Cat

        Planes are far faster to resupply and relaunch than warships, so it's much less of an issue for the GR4s. Bear in mind that the GR4s were back on the ground within hours and being turned around. Triumph, not so much... :-)

        As far as the drones are concerned, I assume that you are expecting to lose all your drones on every mission, since while a C130 could drop drones, it would have no way of recovering them. Not a problem if you're just launching decoys (their job is to nobly sacrifice themselves for the sake of their fleshy comrades after all, bless 'em), but more of a problem if you're looking at something like Reapers, which you kind of want to re-use. There's also the point that whether we're discussing Tomahawk or Storm Shadow, there is currently no drone in service that can carry them, nor is there one being ordered. I'm sure there will be in future, but that capability doesn't exist yet. We don't have any warships currently capable of launching and recovering said drones however resupplied (are you assuming that the C130s just drop the reloads in the sea, by the way?), so that option's out.

        Not really a straw man after all...

    3. BoldMan
      Thumb Up

      Great minds...

      That was the first thing that popped into my mind... Ahhh Combat Wasps... Joshua Calvert to the rescue!!!!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        LaGrange Calvert :)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Combat Wasps

    Sounds like COmbat Wasps to me from Peter Hamiltons stuff.

    Always thought they were awesome.

  12. John Dougald McCallum


    Missle Pods that is as this reminds me of that idea from David Weber's Honor Harrington space opera books.

  13. Steve 48
    Thumb Down

    And the winner is...

    Hmm, according to good ol' LP we could dispense with expensive fighters - so what's protecting the bridcage/trash hauler whilst on approach and launch? Even third world nations can field half decent fighters capable of knocking out a C-130.

    Spectre/Spooky (AC-130), whilst a great weapons platform, is only any better for close support than fast air when all reasonable anti-air threats & fighters have neutralised otherwise it's vulnerable.

    1. Msan
      Thumb Down

      @ Steve 48, I think you will find it is Raytheon who is arguing that

      you can obliterate air defence systems without fighters, not Mr Page. Their was also something about the 'droids' having a 600 mile range so comparison to the Spectre is misleading.

  14. Mediocrates Silver badge

    Rev. 2

    They need weapons so they look more like fighter jets -- Miniature Air Launched Decoy for Enemy Neutralization (MALDEN). That way they could really clean up The Streets Of San Francisco or maybe even beat Matt Helm.

    Mine's the one with the 1972 TV Guide in the pocket.

  15. Adrian Esdaile

    Sorry, did you say 'golf bags'?

    Two Golf Bags long? Seriously?

    Did someone say: "We don't want to say they are 2m long, thats CLASSIFIED! Pick something vague, that everyone knows, like um,,, er..... GOLF BAGS!"

    Why not use a more standard measurement like cows, London Busses, Jumbo Jets, Cubits or beezdicks?

    No wonder military projects are so costly if they are measuring in golf bags...

  16. Mips

    You have to be joking

    You know that the "Airheads" will always win out. So there is no chance of the UK buying an economic solution.

    Where is my favourite icon when you need it.

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