The U.S. Navy’s X-47B made “history” last week when it landed on the U.S.S. George H. W. Bush near Virginia. The Northrop Grumman craft is actually being wound down, but represents a glimpse of the coming systems that the U.S. military will invest heavily in: computer-guided, semi-autonomous drones that do not require direct piloting.
Consider it a kind of “point-and-click” system.
On more practical matters, the drone’s advantages are hard to ignore. The X-47B, with its 62-foot-wide batwing design, can reach 40,000 feet and has a range of more than 2,100 nautical miles, far greater than a carrier-based fighter jet and three times that of the Predator drone widely used in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Centering the Pentagon’s drone capabilities offshore would obviate the need to get permission to use foreign bases for takeoffs and landings, which has proven such a lightning rod in Pakistan.
There is some evidence that aircraft carriers will enjoy a renewed importance in the coming decades, as they provide a floating drone base “anywhere”.