Belmont Club commenter Fat Man sends a link to a new Navy UAV which is apparently designed to operate in a much more hostile environment than vehicles currently employed against opponents with little or no air capability. The Northrop X-47B.
The manufacturer describes it as “a transformational, carrier-capable, multi-mission, unmanned combat air vehicle. Strike fighter-sized, it is a survivable, long range, high endurance and persistent platform capable of a variety of missions including Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, and Time Sensitive Targeting/Strike” which, to my layman’s ears sounds like it is a combination between an attack aircraft and a spy plane. The X-47B is designed to demonstrate certain concepts, presumably for a future production platform. The vehicle operates in the high subsonic range and has an ISR combat radius of 1,500 NM.
The interesting question is what requirements this concept is intended to fulfill. The design of aircraft like the X-47 B indicates what kinds of threats and missions the military will be challenged with in the coming decades. Wired wrote a year ago that “the Air Force has produced enough future bomber studies to fill a decent-sized library … after years of killing innocent trees with bomber studies , the Air Force decided that it would pursue a sort of modified “off the shelf” strategy for a replacement bomber; meaning it would use available technologies to build a new bomber by 2018, while saving future technologies (like supersonic speed, death beam weapons, and unmanned flight) for the quasi-mythical 2037 bomber.”
That sort of off-the-shelf bomber may be reflected in a UPI.com report that “the U.S. Air Force has set clear top-level criteria for the new bomber. It will have a combat radius of between 2,000 and 3,000 miles, high subsonic speed, improved survivability and a whole new approach to the battle-space information architecture.” Those specs are in the same ballpark as the stated figures for the X-47 B. Wired writes, “frankly, the Air Force’s conservative 2018 bomber plan, though it ain’t exciting, will give the military the best chance it has at actually building a new bomber”.
Yes, but what will it do? Or more to the point what should it do and will the current designs do them? Open thread.