‘Historic’ Drone Landing Paves Way for ‘Killer Robots’ Anytime, Anywhere ~ Lauren McCauley, Common Dreams.
Aircraft landing of the X-47B proves US military “would take autonomous armed combat anywhere in the planet.”
The landing of the X-47B pilotless drone is just the ‘precursor’ to the future of warfare. (Photo: Timothy Waller/ USNavy/ AP)In an event sure to make “history”—if not for its technical prowess, then for its long-term impact on international warfare—the US Navy Wednesday successfully completed the landing of a fully automated aerial drone on an aircraft carrier at sea.
In what is being billed as a “pivotal moment” for the US military in the “growing global robotics arms race,” the landing—which took place on the deck of the USS George HW Bush off the mid-Atlantic coast—is the first time a “robot performed a feat executable only by the navy’s top pilots,” reports the Guardian.
The X-47B, constructed by Northrop Grumman, is a different kind of drone from the Predators and Reapers that have become global symbols of American military power. Contrary to popular understanding, those drones are not actually pilotless. People, usually US air force officers and contractors, fly them remotely, controlling them through instruments resembling those found in a traditional cockpit.
The X-47B is pilotless. Its operations occur thanks to lines of software code that its on-board computer systems execute. Its flight paths are pre-programmed […] although navy officials can take control in the event of a malfunction.
“Precursor to fully autonomous weapons?” tweeted Amy Wareham, Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch.
The human rights watchdog group has long been sounding the alarm over the potential of ‘killer robots,’ including the X-47B—a craft which they say “would take autonomous armed combat anywhere in the planet.”
And the Associated Press confirms that the successful landing paves the way for the US to “launch unmanned aircraft without the need to obtain permission from other countries to use their bases.”
“Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren and mine will be reading about this historic event in their history books,” boasted Rear Admiral Mat Winter, the head of the navy’s drone programs.
Though the navy plans on “mothballing” the costly X-47B ($1.4bn over four years), there are plans to develop other models of armed drones which will work alongside manned naval aircraft providing “around-the-clock surveillance while also possessing a strike capability.”
The Guardian continues:
[T]he navy will now put its energy into the X-47B’s successor, the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike robot, or UClass. The navy wants to use UClass to augment its carrier air wings – it will not replace manned pilots – providing surveillance flights longer than human pilots can withstand and, if necessary, firing its weapons in battle scenarios too dangerous for human pilots. Unlike the X-47B, the UClass robots will be armed, although navy officers insist that weapons releases will only occur at a human’s direction.
Four companies are competing for the UClass contract, each with their own design for the forthcoming drone.
New Age in Carrier Aviation Takes Off With X-47B Landing ~ USNI News Editor.
Northrop Grumman’s X-47B just before landing on the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) on July, 10 2013. US Navy Photo
The Navy has entered a new age in carrier aviation with the successful landing of the unmanned Northrop Grumman X-47B on the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77), the service announced at 1:45 p.m. EST on Wednesday.
Call sign Salty Dog 502 left Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. shortly after 12:00 p.m. EST and flew to the Bush controlled through a complex series of algorithms and navigational sensors and landed on the deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier guided not with a joystick and throttle controls but by an operator with a mouse and a keyboard.
On its final approach to Bush a hypersensitive version of the same GPS technology used to direct families on vacation guided the hook of the tailless aircraft safely to the deck of the carrier and into history.
“The dynamics and complexity of the demonstration is not just flying an airplane. It is operating a system autonomously in and out of the most demanding launch and recovery environment around the world,” Rear Adm. Mat Winter program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons said in a Tuesday conference call with reporters.
“This is not trivial.”
The landing of the X-47B successfully proved the Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) project and will pave the way to include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on carriers in the future.
The Navy’s focus now will be to move beyond the experimental UCAS-D and into a capability that will move from novelty to an organic component of the carrier air wing.
The next step will be development of the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) a capability the Navy wants to field by 2020.
The UCLASS program has run in parallel with the UCAS-D program. According to documents obtained by USNI News, the Navy is looking for a system (consisting of one or more aircraft) that can conduct two 650 nautical mile orbits around a carrier for $150 million.
In June, the Navy issued a preliminary request for proposal (RfP) to Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Atomics and Northrop Grumman to begin design work on their bids ahead of a full RfP in 2014.
“All of the knowledge out of the program is being transferred to UCLASS,” Winter said.
“UCLASS will benefit from all of what we have done here in X-47B.”
- New Age in Carrier Aviation Takes Off With X-47B Landing (news.usni.org)
- US navy to attempt drone landing on aircraft carrier for first time (guardian.co.uk)
- Drone Lands Itself at Sea, New Era in Warfare – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- X-47B UCAS (Navy’s killer drone) lands aboard aircraft carrier: machine does what first pilot did 102 years ago (theaviationist.com)
- Navy drone X-47B lands on carrier deck in historic first (stripes.com)
- Navy to Attempt 1st Unmanned Drone Carrier Landing (washington.cbslocal.com)
- The X-47B Drone Has Landed on a Carrier, And War May Never Be the Same (gizmodo.com)
- Navy to attempt 1st unmanned carrier landing (news.yahoo.com)
- US Navy completes 1st unmanned aircraft landing aboard USS George H.W. Bush in Atlantic Ocean (vancouverdesi.com)
- US navy makes history by landing unmanned drone on aircraft carrier (guardian.co.uk)