The Navy’s new X-47B drone has set off on a series of trials aboard the USS Harry S. Truman.
According to Defense News, “The carrier will undertake three weeks of tests with the X-47B, both in port at Norfolk and underway along the Atlantic coast. Engineers and sailors will use a hand-held control display unit to control the aircraft moving along the carrier’s deck.”
This will be the first time that a carrier is host to an unmanned aircraft capable of mimicking the most difficult of all flight maneuvers, the aircraft carrier takeoff and landing, and the occasion marks a paradigm shift in air warfare.
Artist's conception. Image credit: U.S. Navy
The shift is not immediately apparent yet and so not a few analysts and pundits have recently raised alarm in regard to recently apparent breakthroughs in Chinese naval capability such as carrier killer missiles and the carrier landing, all of which could certainly seem threatening. But China is working with legacy technologies. In the future, war will be fought by drones.
The drone being loaded on the USS Harry S. Truman. Image by U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Lyle H. Wilkie III
And the U.S. is a leader in drone technology. Consider, for instance, the Navy’s X-47B drone. It has range of approximately 3,000 miles, according to David Axe at Wired. This range allows U.S. carriers to remain outside of the strike envelope of virtually all of China’s weapons systems, including the carrier killer missiles, which have range of only 1,900 miles.
What does the future hold? Smaller, more lethal drones launched from homeland bastions and able to fly around the globe at hypersonic speeds, reaching targets anywhere within minutes of launch.