Feeds

French-led continental stealth-bomber robot firms up

No German input: could need a surrender button

Build a business case: developing custom apps

The killer-robot revolution, that 21st-century military phenomenon*, has so far been centred mainly in America, with other industrial nations like the UK trailing behind.

But continental Europe is determined not to be left out, and the French-led flying-killbot demonstrator project has just passed an important milestone.

Two days ago, France's defense procurement agency, Delegation Generale pour l'Armement (DGA), announced that the Neuron Unmanned** Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) would move from feasibility studies to a Project Definition phase, funded to the tune of €130m. The definition phase is expected to last until 2009, and will firm up details of the Neuron's design. Provided that approval to proceed continues to be forthcoming, the Gallic killbot will fly in 2011 and drop a laser-guided smartbomb in 2012.

That, for the moment, is as far as anyone plans for Neuron to go. No country has expressed firm interest in buying a fleet of such UCAVs, and as yet even the US military is unsure whether and/or how it wants to proceed. The US Air Force is quite happy to use low-powered flying robots such as the Reaper for dull tasks such as surveillance and even guided-weapons ground attack ("tank-plinking" as swaggering fighter jockeys called such duties in 2003).

The US has also funded tech demonstrations, which seem to show that bigger, jet-powered stealth UCAVs could take over more advanced duties such as battling enemy ground defences. But the ruling generals of the USAF - sometimes known as the "fighter mafia" - have so far shown no desire to proceed any further. For now, they're quite happy with their snazzy new F-22 manned*** jet.

Europe's Neuron may very well get no further than the American X-45 and X-47 have thus far. The stated purpose of the Neuron programme isn't to arm the air forces of France and its partners (Sweden, Italy, Greece, Switzerland and Spain), but rather to develop technologies and maintain design skills. Following completion of the Eurofighter and Rafale combat jets, the design offices of the continent might otherwise have become rather sleepy places by now. Furthermore, Neuron is a Stealth plane; its development will give European designers who haven't any access with the USA an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of radar-invisibility.

Automating a jet fighter has been possible for a long time. Remote-piloting it, though, calls for a lot of bandwidth, which in a combat context may be more difficult to provide than a human driver - and then you still have to train the pilot anyway.

A new day, however, may be dawning. The latest UCAV demonstrators seem to offer genuine killer robots, which can often interpret data and make decisions themselves. They might not need much bandwidth at all, and their operators might need no piloting skills.

It still remains to be seen whether air forces run by pilots will find these ideas appealing. ®

Bootnotes

*Easy. There have been lots of military robots, drones etc in the 20th century, of course. But their widespread use as weapons platforms in their own right - killer robots - is more recent.

**Sorry - that should be Uninhabited, of course. Women have gained entry to combat piloting, perhaps just in time to have their jobs stolen by computers.

***Inhabited, that is.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
prev story

Whitepapers

Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up distributed data
Eliminating the redundant use of bandwidth and storage capacity and application consolidation in the modern data center.
The essential guide to IT transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIOs automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.