Mosquito versus man

The Los Angeles Times describes the development of the five pound Spike missile at China Lake. The missile represents the continuation of two trends: the requirement for weapons with controllable lethality and the rise of the unmanned platform as the premier weapons delivery system.

In recent months, the U.S. has used Predator robotic planes equipped with video cameras to carry out search-and-destroy missions against Al Qaeda hide-outs in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These attacks highlighted the rapidly changing face of warfare. But it was no big deal at China Lake, where weapons have been getting smaller, more precise and more powerful for a decade.

The new missiles being developed here are minuscule compared with the older, 100-pound Hellfire missiles in use today in Central Asia. A Predator, which can carry two or three Hellfires, would be able to hold as many as a dozen Spikes, extending its capabilities.

At the same time, experts say, smaller unmanned planes that could not carry weapons before could become deadly attack aircraft.

It is not clear how far the trend will go, but the Royal United Services Institute, a British think-tank, believes it will ultimately be possible to combine directed energy weapons and limited-effect EMP weapons with large and small airframes.