Yesterday, the X-47B UAV made the first arrested landing on a carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush. It previously had made the first take off from the carrier and practiced the landing on shore at a base in MD. This is the first time a tailless, unmanned autonomous aircraft landed on a modern aircraft carrier. This was the completion of testing of the X-47B over the last eight months, culminating a decade of Navy unmanned integration efforts to demonstrate the Navy's readiness to move forward with unmanned carrier aviation.
The engineering and testing was a team effort in partnership with Northrop Grumman who makes the X-47. The X-47B completed the 35-minute transit from MD to the carrier and caught the 3 wire with the aircraft's tailhook. The arrested landing effectively brought the aircraft from approximately 145 knots to stop in less than 350 feet. Shortly after the initial landing, the aircraft was launched off the ship using the carrier's catapult. The X-47B then proceeded to execute one more arrested landing. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said, "The operational unmanned aircraft soon to be developed have the opportunity to radically change the way presence and combat power are delivered from our aircraft carriers."
This clears the way for UAVs to be embedded in all of the armed forces, from small hand launched to large armed UAVs and allows global coverage. Maybe this will prevent things like the Libyan attack on the American embassy taking lives as we should be able to deploy armed UAVs quickly to most locations around the world. Perhaps the F-35 will be the last manned fighter aircraft we design.
Looking forward to improvements in UAV technology, the DoD wrote The Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap FY2011 - 2036 projecting the U.S. governments priorities and plans for UAVs a while back. It lists the following challenges facing military departments:
- Interoperability: UAVs need to operate seamlessly across domains and with manned systems
- Autonomy: pursue technologies and policies that introduce a higher degree of autonomy to reduce the manpower burden and reliance on communications links while also reducing decision cycle time
- Airspace Integration: ensure UAS have routine access to the appropriate airspace needed within the National Airspace System working with the FAA
- Communications: continue to address frequency and bandwidth availability, link security, link ranges, and network infrastructure
- Training: ensure continuation and joint training that will improve basing decisions, training standardization
- Propulsion and Power: continue to develop more efficient and logistically supportable sources for propulsion and power
- Manned-Unmanned Teaming: continue to implement technologies and evolve tactics, techniques and procedures that improve the teaming of unmanned systems with the manned force.
Look for our cover story in the August Military Microwaves supplement reporting on the current state-of-the-art in UAVs, market projections, future developments and how RF companies can participate in the UAV market.