May 14, 2013

For first time, Navy launches drone from aircraft carrier

The X-47B is considered particularly valuable because it can be used around the world without needing permission of other countries to serve as a home base.

The Associated Press

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A Navy X-47B drone is launched off the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush off the coast of Virginia on Tuesday.

AP

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A Navy X-47B drone does a fly-by over the USS George H. W. Bush after it was launched from the carrier off the coast of Virginia on Tuesday.

AP

Earlier this month, the X-47B successfully landed at the air station using a tailhook to catch a cable and bring it to a quick stop, just as planes setting down on carriers have to do.

The X-47B has a wingspan of about 62 feet and weighs 14,000 pounds, versus nearly 49 feet and about 1,100 pounds for the Predator.

While Predators are typically piloted via remote control by someone in the U.S., the X-47B relies only on computer programs to tell it where to fly unless a human operator needs to step in. Eventually, one person may be able to control multiple unmanned aircraft at once, Branch said.

The group Human Rights Watch said it is troubled by what it described as a trend toward the development of fully autonomous weapons that can choose and fire upon targets with no human intervention.

"We're saying you must have meaningful human control over key battlefield decisions of who lives and who dies. That should not be left up to the weapons system itself," said Steve Goose, director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch.

Developed by Northrop Grumman under a 2007 contract at a cost of $1.4 billion, the X-47B is capable of carrying weapons and is designed to be the forerunner for a drone program that will provide around-the-clock intelligence, surveillance and targeting, according to the Navy, which has been giving updates on the project over the past few years.

The X-47B can reach an altitude of more than 40,000 feet and has a range of more than 2,100 nautical miles, versus 675 for the Predator. The Navy plans to show the drone can be refueled in flight, which would give it even greater range.

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