The X-47B Drone Plane Can Carry 4,500 Pounds Of Weapons And Operate All On Its Own

Photo: Northrop Grumman

The X-47B drone took its first recorded flight in September (video below) and the Navy announced it will be able to refuel itself by 2014. 

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The move will allow the X-47B to remain in flight well beyond 3,000 nautical miles, a long time, 10 times the ability of a traditional manned fighter. And it will be doing it with no one at the controls.

Not only will there be no pilot in the cockpit, there won’t be one anywhere.

The drone will be programmed to fly autonomously and W.J. Hennigan at The Los Angeles Times points out this ability may be the first in a  whole new era of military action conducted by independently operating machines.

  The Robot Wars   These robot weapons will have a human programmed flight plan and the ability to be overridden, but they’re already raising some concerns.   Hennigan talked to computer scientist and robotics pro Noel Sharkey who makes a good point. “Lethal actions should have a clear chain of accountability,” Sharkey says. “This is difficult with a robot weapon. The robot cannot be held accountable. So is it the commander who used it? The politician who authorised it? The military’s acquisition process? The manufacturer, for faulty equipment?”   Sharkey sees this as such a big deal he compares it to the development of gas warfare in World War I and the advent of nuclear weapons during World War II.   Good questions. After all, the X-47B will be doing its own thing for indefinite periods of time. Hennigan points out that while flying, the drone will also conclude what type of weapons it’s carrying, decide if it’s under a possible threat, when it needs to be refueled, and where to find an aerial tanker.   The UAV will even perform the Navy’s most difficult manoeuvre and land on the deck of an aircraft carrier.   As Northrop Grumman’s X-47B program manager, Carl Johnson says, “[The X-47B] will do its own maths.”  

The Navy ordered the X-47B in 2007 and has two in production

The drone will be completely autonomous, launching and landing from carriers, and refueling in mid-flight

The X-47B flies at about .45 mach and has a range of up to 3,000 miles

The first carrier landings are planned for 2013

Two weapons bays allow for 4,500 of ordnance

The proposed X-47C, the next version, will allow for a payload of 10,000 pounds and have a wingspan of 172 feet

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