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Thursday, March 31, 2005
  The Future is Now: Robotic Death from Above
TCS: Tech Central Station - Robotic Death from Above: "You can forget about pilot fatigue since controls can easily be handed off to somebody else. Pilot error will be greatly reduced since the controller will never be worrying about losing his own skin.

Amazingly, several types of new robot combat aircraft could be in action within just five years.

One, General Atomic's Predator B called the 'Hunter-Killer,' is already here. While several versions are under development, they all should be able to fly at 50,000 feet -- twice the altitude reachable by the original. The B can also carry ten times the munitions load. Its turboprop engine allows it to fly faster than 300 miles per hour and stay aloft for as many as 32 hours. That equals a third of the ground phase of Operation Desert Storm.

Instead of merely carrying two Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, the Hunter-Killer can carry a variety of weapons, including both satellite -- and laser-guided bombs. Its radar, cameras, and sensors will also be upgraded, allowing it to instantly track and attack moving vehicles. The Air Force already has six combat-ready Predator Bs and plans to soon acquire 14 more, according to General Atomics. The company will soon be able to pump out two a month.

The X-45 is jet-powered and will fly just below the speed of sound. It resembles something of an oblong pancake with wings. At only 39 feet long, the latest configuration (X-45C) is little over half the length of America's top fighter, the F-15 Eagle, albeit with a slightly larger wingspan. Most amazingly, at four feet tall you'd have to stack four of them to equal the height of the F-15.

The latest versions, the X-45C and its Navy variant the X-45CN, will carry as many as 4,500 pounds of missiles and bombs, fly at 40,000 feet, and can strike targets 750 miles away. The first X-45 flew three years ago and the more capable C version should take to the skies in 2007, such that the jets may enter service by 201"
 
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