back to article US robot carrier-jet contract announced

The US Navy has finally chosen a builder for its new robot carrier plane demonstrator, awarding a $635m contract to Northrop Grumman. Northrop, partnered with Lockheed, is expected to develop its existing X-47 drone for this purpose. This is an almost 20 tonne, 60-foot-wingspan stealth jet which will offer 3,500 nautical …


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  1. E


    If this program succeeds then future George Bushes will be able to invade other countries without even bothering to tell the electorate.

    No yanks dies in battle, the military action can be declared military secret and the yank populace would mostly just say "well, it doesn't affect me...". The US will have achieved the ability to wage war without domestic cost.

    You know what? Give the US this kind of weaponry and no other sane country will have a reason to not built nukes, and that quick. Few countries can build robotic stealth bombers but most can build nukes. Nothing retaliates for a clutch of 5000 lb bombs falling on your capitol like a nuke, and for most countries thqat will be the only option.

    Mark my words. This kind of weaponry is madness.

  2. chris

    Good news for the army

    Soon telling women that you're a pilot will have the same social cachet that telling them you're a programmer has now, fantastic. The only heroic jobs left will be infantry and fireman.

    There's a serious point here relating to E's comment.

    It's already the case that you can bomb less powerful countries without any risk to your own servicemen. We were quietly bombing radar installations etc in Iraq for years before we went in. This technology doesn't change anything.

    The reason it doesn't matter is, no one surrenders to aircraft. Look at the Blitz, the fire-bombing of Dresden or the Kosovo War. You can do massive damage to a country and they just get more pissed off with you, reinforcing the current regime. It's boots on the ground, or at least the credible threat of them that are required to force a surrender.

  3. David Blair

    Would you like missles with that shake?

    I wonder how long the dumbing down of flying these drones will take? Today highly skilled personel tomorrow high school drop-outs?

  4. Joe Cooper

    Not a big worry

    It's potential is as a cost saver for the military, not as anything magical that'll win us wars.

    The number of people actually getting killed off in the air is very, very small in the sorts of wars you're talking about, and it's mostly helicopters going down.

    You ~do~ need real manpower to win a war. It's the same luddite argument over again. People fear being replaced by machines, but time and time again we just find other things for people to do.

  5. MD Rackham

    Boots on the ground...

    ...or robot tank treads on the ground?

    The infantry is being robotocized too, so I'm not sure that the fully automated victory doesn't become plausible enough that someone won't try it.

    After all, Iraqis greeting invading troops with flowers seemed plausible to some.

    Nukes are, unfortunately, the only cheap deterrent left.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Friendly" Fire

    It's a good thing, get rid of all combat pilots

    No more ego manic d8ckheads flying in cable cars. No more "heat of battle excuse" friendly fire. No them or us decisions.

    Granted, they may need to raise a change control, go to a board meeting and then pass it to 3rd line in order to press the "fire" key, but hey, that's no bad thing....

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Lords of Flatbush

    So that's where Gordon Brown's supposedly brand new leather jacket came from.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pentagon Wars...

    Actually, this is one of those huge programs that will suck a gigantic chunk of cash from the U.S. taxpayer directly to the contractor, and will result, 10 years later, in a barely usable, far from the original spec, piece of junk. For a good example of what I'm talking about, look for the sadly out of print book, Pentagon Wars, by Col. James Burton.

  9. John Dallman

    Actually, autoland exists

    Current USN jets have autoland, so so I was told on rec.aviation.military.naval. They just don't tend to trust it or use it, because you look like such a fool if you turn it on and it crashes your plane. It's usually reserved for landings with an injured pilot, or the like.

  10. Eugene Goodrich

    We all treat this like new?

    I laugh reading some of the previous posts and getting the impression that the posters treat this like some wholely new development. We (yanks) are already employing drones in actual combat, and periodically improving their software and hardware capabilities. So what's new, here? A heavier drone that can operate from carriers? Doesn't sound like much to worry about, for anyone.

    The things to worry about, for people so inclined, are totally outside this picture.

  11. Rob

    Friendly fire

    By Stu: "No more ego manic d8ckheads flying in cable cars. No more "heat of battle excuse" friendly fire. No them or us decisions."

    Are you kidding? The latency and lack of situational awareness involved in flying a machine 6000 miles away means (a) reaction times are far longer (b) friendly fire incidents will increase. Communications with ground controllers will go to shit:

    GC - "Bravo Flight this is ground control. I have you in sight. We are to to your west. Target is at our front. Do you see our position off your left?"

    Drone Driver - "To my left? Dude, all I see is Bill getting a lap dance for his 21st! I think he's about to fire his load..."

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surprised no one has made this comment yet....

    Security. Yes, obviously it needs to be mind-meltingly complex. However, if I were the commander of a large opposing military power, I would certainly be putting the very best brains in my nation on the project of cracking the remote control and telemetry systems on these automatic jets.

    Case in point: Assuming I'm the commander of an enemy force, if I could commandeer one of these carrier-borne drones, fly it about a thousand feet straight up, and then put it into a nosedive directly at the command tower of the carrier, that's one *hell* of a cheap and efficient attack.

  13. E

    Latency, and politics

    I was anticipating something more autonomous than "fly by radio" remote control. I had in mind something that incorporated the sort of terrain recognition ability of a quality cruise missile into a reusable weapons platform.

    For attacking buildings & infrastructure & fairly easily identified things like armour and automobiles, this would seem to be the way to go.

    My main objection, not well stated above, is that such weapons remove pretty much any reason for domestic political opposition to a war - officially declared or unofficially declared. The only time (so it seems to me) most countries start to seriously object to fighting a war is when the cost in lives or gold rises too high.

    Robotic weapons remove the variable of dead military personnel, and I do not believe the US economy would much notice production of these things (what do current stealth bombers cost anyway?)

    Therefore these weapons become very very easy to use. As such they constitute as much a political change vis a vis war as they do a military one.

    The point that countries do not surrender to air forces has some truth, but it is only relevant if the goal of a war is to force a surrender. Students of history know well that war and military force has often been used to force economic concessions (examples: China vs gunboat diplomacy from Europe initially and then later also the USA & Japan, from about 1800 to 1945; Japan vs the USA and US gun boat diplomacy opening Japan to foreign mostly US trade; the development of the British Empire in India; ...go read all about it). You don't need to win to dominate, control and extract profits from a target.

    This kind of weaponry is perfect for gunboat (if you will) diplomacy: no political cost at home, quite possible to use without even informing the domestic polity, terrifying and largely unanswerable militarily force to the target country. I gotta ask, what else would you want to use this tech for?

    And, it's not that I think the USA gov't is especially vulnerable to the temptation these would represent: Canada, if we had 'em, would behave badly too, as would most countries. But, well, it seems the US is the country most interested in acquiring the tech, so it got the heat.

    The Reg is nominally a tech rag, so I will shut up now.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Couple more thoughts

    Taking over remote control probably isn't easy - I am sure it's encrypted and probably more... But jamming them by overloading the sensors and sending garbage signals is a distinct possibility...

    Another interesting point here is that it makes it very easy to mask the source of the bombs. Capture a soldier or bomber or agent and it is not that hard to find out which country he is working for. Send remote control bombers against a target and even if you shoot one down no-one can tell who sent it (once they become more common, that is..).

    And when NGOs are able to produce them, we are in deep doo-doo. Suicide bombers are a problem, but remote controled kamikaze planes without a pilot are much worse...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Actually, autoland exists

    "because you look like such a fool if you turn it on and it crashes your plane",

    not half as much of a prat as you look when you f*ck up a landing that the plane could have done by itself.

    See here the difference between British pragmatism and American ego.

    Brit: "It should work, If I don't use it and I crash, that's my fault, if I use it and IT crashes it's someone elses fault."

    Yank: "If I don't use it (and IF don't crash) everyone will think my cock's bigger, and that's far more important than my or anyone elses safety"

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