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Armed Robotic Squadron Takes to the Air

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted August 7, 2007

In the skies above the bloody streets of Iraq and Afghanistan, military drones continue to deliver the goods on one battlefield after another. Part spy and part weapons system, the effect of drones in the war on terror is both visible and undeniable.

Besides providing critical intel, the bottom line is that these machines save lives. That’s what makes them so invaluable to the troops on the ground and in the air. And for investors it’s a trend that means big profits.

And as we told you here a few months back, some of the drones in those dangerous skies are about to become a whole lot more deadly. Just three weeks ago, the first robot attack squadron in aviation history touched down in Iraq. 

The new squadron is comprised of drones called the Reaper, and sometime in the near future the turboprop, 300-mph drone is going to unload a ton and a half of laser-guided bombs and missiles on insurgents in Iraq–while its "pilot" sits at a video console 7,000 miles away in Nevada.

"It’s not a recon squadron," Col. Joe Guasella, operations chief for the Central Command’s air component, said of the Reapers. "It’s an attack squadron, with a lot more kinetic ability."

Kinetic ability, by the way, is nothing more than military speak for destructive power, and the Reaper has it in spades. It’s got the destructive equivalent of an F-15, and it can stay aloft for more than 14 hours when armed to the teeth. 

But the Reaper squadron is just the beginning when it comes to robotic fighter squadrons. The U.S. Navy is pursing the concept of a drone that would be based on aircraft carriers.

In fact, just last week the Navy chose Northrop Grumman (NOC:NYSE) as the builder for its new carrier robot plane demonstrator, awarding the defense giant a $635 million contract for the project.

Northrop’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Aerial System (UCAS) will be a "proof-of-concept" vehicle designed to demonstrate the feasibility of unmanned aircraft in carrier operations, according to the U.S. Navy official overseeing the program.

Speaking August 6 at an unmanned systems demonstration in Maryland, Rear Adm. Timothy Heely said, "This will give us a great opportunity to look at the way we’re going to operate unmanned aircraft at sea."


The stealthy X-47B, which comes equipped with folding wings and a tailhook, got the Navy’s nod on August 1, edging out Boeing’s rival X-45N. The initial contract includes two aircraft, mission control stations and ground support elements.

"Today’s announcement is a significant milestone towards understanding and mastering autonomous and low-observable flight in the maritime environment," said chief Navy weapons buyer Delores Etter.

Initial flight testing of the Northrop-Grumman design is slated for 2009, with carrier qualification tests beginning in 2013.

That means, as shown by the deployment of the Reaper, the battlefields of the future will be increasingly dominated not by men but by machines.

In fact, according to the Pentagon’s own estimatesm a full third of U.S. fighting strength will be robotic by 2015. 

It’s the beginning of a brave new world–one in which soldiers no longer have the monopoly on doing the killing.

By the way: It’s not just in air where robots are changing the face of the battlefield. An armed killer robot called the Sword has also arrived in Iraq. It is the first deployment of its kind.

Sword robots are a modified version of track-wheeled bomb disposal devices that are armed with M240 machine guns or .50 caliber rifles.

Soldiers operate the robots with a modified laptop, complete with a "kill button" that stops it if it goes awry. The devices are likely to be used during raids on suspected enemy compounds.

You can learn more about the Sword here.

Also be sure check out this video that has been making the rounds lately. It’s right out of Star Wars.

Talk about a brave new world.

Wishing you happiness, health, and wealth,


Steve Christ, Editor