Feeds

French-led continental stealth-bomber robot firms up

No German input: could need a surrender button

Intelligent flash storage arrays

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.

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.