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Milestone for Unmanned Aircraft

Last week came word that the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush, an aircraft carrier on which I had the honor of spending two weeks nearly two years ago, would be testing Northrop-Grumman’s X-47B, an unmanned combat aviation vehicle. The Navy has now released photos and video of the X-47B both launching from the Bush, and also conducting a touch-and-go.

There is little good news coming from the military today, with cutbacks, self-inflicted sequestration wounds, and the looming loss of capability dominating headlines. That the Navy is testing successfully the X-47B on carriers is a good sign. Launching from a carrier is one thing; a “touch-and-go” is something entirely else, as planes—manned or unmanned—must take into account ocean swell and deal with what, in effect, is a constantly moving runway.

If tests to “trap” the X-47B (landing by catching the wire on deck) in the coming weeks are likewise successful, observers will get a glance of the next generation Navy. Let us hope that, even if the X-47B successfully passes all of it tests, we will still have the political leadership to understand how important the ability to project force anywhere on Earth remains for U.S. national security.


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