The US Navy plans to launch a carrier drone for the first time, making aviation history.
On Tuesday, the Navy will catapult an unmanned plane from an aircraft carrier, testing a stealthy, long-range, bat-winged jet that signifies a leap forward in drone technology.
With a flying capability of over 2,000 nautical miles in one journey and a six-hour endurance, the X-47B is scheduled to depart in the Atlantic from the USS George H. W. Bush utilizing the same sling-shot method that shoots manned jets upward from aircraft carriers' short runways.
X-47B Drone Launch from US Aircraft Carriers
Developed by defense technology firm Northrop Grumman, the jet was first flown in 2011, and boasts a 62-foot wingspan. The X-47 project is now part of the US Navy's Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) program, and as of January 2012, the project's cost inflated to $813 million.
Due to its stealth potential and bettering the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter's range nearly two-fold, the X-47B and its descendants are regarded as a potential solution to the posing threat by Iran and China's developed anti-ship medium-range missiles, among other potential rival, according to defense analysts.
These missiles and other reputed area denial, anti-access weapons would oblige US aircraft carriers to function distant enough from land that F/A-18 and F-35 jets would be forced to undertake refueling to execute their missions, leaving them susceptible to attack.
Dual-Purpose Attack and Defence Capabilities
But an unmanned drone such as the X-47B could provide the Navy both with a reconnaissance competency and a long-range attack.
"That makes it strategically very important," says senior defense analyst Anthony Cordesman, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He regarded the jet as "essentially a really long-range stealth system."
Subsequent variants of the aircraft could potentially be developed for full-spectrum broadband stealth, making it difficult for the radar to position it, said the analysts.
US drones currently in operation in areas like Afghanistan and tribal regions of Pakistan, like the Reaper and Predator - are not stealthy planes and are not subject to air defense.
Due to its long range and requisite to have take off and landing capability from an aircraft carrier, day and night, the X-47B can operate with much greater autonomy than existing remotely piloted jets.