LANDING ON BOARD
It is scheduled to undergo two weeks of testing aboard the carrier leading up to a landing on the ship, in which a plane’s tailhook grabs a wire that will slow it and keep it from plunging overboard.
While the carrier takeoff represented a significant milestone, defense analysts are focused on the next step, when the Navy attempts to use what has been learned with the X-47B to develop an unmanned aircraft for actual operations.
“The X-47B is a great story,” said Mark Gunzinger, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think-tank. “It’s a milestone and a step forward for unmanned, carrier-based aviation. But I think the real story is what’s next. How do we operationalize this capability?”
Future variants of the drone could probably be designed for full-spectrum broadband stealth, which means it would be hard for radar to locate it, analysts said. That level of stealth would be one of the drone’s major defenses.
U.S. drones currently in use in places like Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan, like the Predator and Reaper, are not up against any air defenses and are not stealthy aircraft.
Because of its long range and the Navy’s need to have it take off and land, day and night, from an aircraft carrier, the X-47B has been designed to operate with far greater autonomy than the remotely piloted aircraft currently in use.
That has raised concerns among some organizations worried about the heavy U.S. reliance on drones in warfare and the rising use of autonomous robots by the American military.