Stealth, Range Are Key

(DEFENSE NEWS 20 MAY 13) … Editorial

The U.S. Navy is poised for an unmanned revolution. Last week, for the first time, it successfully catapulted an unmanned jet from an aircraft carrier. The launch of Northrop Grumman’s X-47B was part of a seven-year, $1.5 billion program to prove unmanned, high-performance planes can operate from carriers.

This summer, the X-47B will land on a moving ship. Both test planes will then be retired, and a new program born to field — within six years — unmanned, long-range, stealthy spy and strike planes.

Meanwhile, the naval version of Northrop’s Global Hawk long-range UAV, the Triton, will soon make its first maiden flight. The company’s unmanned Fire Scout helicopter is in limited service, as is Boeing’s ScanEagle drone.

But the X-47B’s successor will be key, fielding a stealthy spy plane that can operate globally without ground bases and give carriers the long-range strike capability they lack today. As the Navy struggles with budget cuts, stealthy, long-range unmanned systems must remain a top priority.

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