Robo stealth bomber piggybacks on NASA's shuttle jumbo
Desperate Boeing brings Phantom Ray show to California
Pic US arms'n'aerospace megacorp Boeing has now moved its Phantom Ray robot stealth fighter to Edwards Air Force Base in California for flight testing. The unmanned jet was shipped there on the back of one of NASA's well-known piggyback jumbo jets, more usually employed moving space shuttles about.
You don't see this every day. Hires TIFF here (warning, 27.4 MB).
It's widely thought among major weapons firms such as Boeing that craft on the general lines of the Phantom Ray will be the next major step forward from the manned stealth jets – F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II – now going into service with the US forces (and other Western air forces soon). Barring the appearance of working rayguns or something, there isn't really a lot more one could do to a combat jet to make it better now, except maybe removing the pilot.
This would mean that the aircraft could be happily sent into dangerous enemy air-defence networks without any risk of dead pilots, or – perhaps even worse – captured pilots triumphantly exhibited on TV. This would make the air defences themselves easier to destroy should this need to be done, and also eliminate any need for a major defence-suppression air campaign before any targets could be bombed.
Present-day unmanned aircraft mostly need to be remotely piloted constantly across a decent-bandwidth communications link. Those that don't still require a non-pilot operator to direct their actions, in particular the release of weapons. Very few of today's roboplanes have much chance of survival in hostile skies controlled by an enemy air force with any serious kit (though there is already, perhaps, an exception to this rule).
Thus it is that several American firms and the national weapons companies of the UK and France (allied with some other continental nations) are all working on things a lot like the Phantom Ray. These (the Northrop X-47B, General Atomics Avenger, British Taranis and French/European Neuron) are all fighter-sized planes intended to be able to mount a bombing mission largely autonomously – requiring no operator input to fly somewhere, deliver a weapon to a specified location, and fly back again. The lack of comms requirement and advanced stealth design should mean that such aircraft can have a decent chance of survival even against serious opposition – and their lack of a pilot means that they will have a decent chance of being sent in even if that chance of survival is not perfect.
But.... Why does El Reg persist in spreading articles across multiple pages? Is it purely for the extra ad impressions or is there a technical reason? Not complaining just curious as for some reason it always bother me. Otherwise nice article keep up the aerospace coverage please.
I think people might be smarter than you think, or at least perhaps smarter than you appear to be.
Assuming that people really were happy with the weapons that you list (*cough* ICBMs? Few complaints about those, were there not? *cough*) those were specifically targeted at something. This sort of development moves more towards having, say, a loitering vehicle that selects its own targets. Launching an artillery shell at a specific time towards a specific area of a country is not the same thing as sending a robot up above that country and letting it pick its own targets. Just as, for that matter, firing a shell at a specific target is not the moral equivalent of blasting away randomly all over.
Your argument seems to be that releasing any weapon in any context is morally equivalent and likely to end just as "happily" (for want of a better word). If so, you're a moron.
I fear Mr Page has mis-identified what is going on here, which is nothing to do with NASA but a very lucky shot of the Drone's counter-measures being deployed: an inflatable Jumbo Jet behind which the drone can hide while it masquerades as a lost Korean Airways flight.