Advancements in technology used to fight terrorism from Iraq to Afghanistan are not only a booming business, but a testament to how far these military contracted corporations are pushing the envelope. One such tool being implemented on the battlefield are UAVs or unmanned aerial vehicle(s). There are a number of reasons for the bullish effort for the advancement and development of this technology. Whether it’s financial savings or cutting out the cost of human life, there is no denying the benefits of unmanned vehicles.
The US first became involved in the R&D of UAVs as far back as 1959. The thinking was why lose human pilots over hostile territory if there was a cheaper and more effective way to wage war in the air? Surprisingly, it was only five years later that the US implemented UAVs in actual battle. The theater was Vietnam and only after the war did military officials admit it had secretly flown thousands of missions across the Southeast Asian country with these drones.
The program of implementing unmanned aircraft in the field has come a long way since the 1960s. Improved sensors ranging from infrared and gamma ray to advanced weapon systems and chemical and biological detection, the science of UAVs has expanded beyond our wildest dreams. And these systems and technologies have translated into increased mission successes where the enemy has attempted to elude friendly forces.
So what’s next for a technology that at one time could be considered sci-fi at best? How about jet propelled units the size of modern day jet fighters? It seems that both Boeing and Northrop Grumman are taking UAVs to the next level, incorporating jet propulsion, increased weapon payloads and an expansion of fuel capacity. We’re talking about larger, further and more damaging instruments of warfare.
The writing is on the wall. In an age where the sky is the limit for the continuing development of technologies in all sectors, UAV development has neared the point of removing the pilot almost entirely from full size aircraft. Instead, keyboards, mice and large flat screen monitors have taken their place.
With the announcement of Boeing’s Phantom Ray UAV, stealth technology has now been utilized into an ever increasing, “full package”. Full bay doors and its internal storage will be able to house up to two 2,000 pound JDAMS (Joint Direct Attack Munition) while a service ceiling of 40,000 feet will put it out of range of many air-to air-threats or ground-to-air threats.
The Phantom Ray’s competitor, Northrop Grumman’s X-47B, is eerily similar to the now serviced and full sized B-2 bomber. What the X-47B has going for itself is applications specifically tailored for naval integration. Salt-water friendly, able to take the shock of hard aircraft carrier landings and a convenient size for stowaway on crowded decks make it ideal for high sea deployment.
But the more immediate benefits of this new generation of UAV are lower production and maintenance costs, the elimination of human pilot loss and equal firepower to their manned, full size fighter-bomber cousins. Stuffing all of these tools into a near full size aircraft that can be controlled from the comforts of a cushioned chair with stealth capability are reasons enough why this new generation of UAVs are the best yet.