The U.S. Air Force has a couple dozen unmanned Predator planes, equipped with deadly Hellfire missiles. But the Army wants killer drones of its own.After months of indecision, the Army has decided to buy 60 Extended-Range Mission Payload (ERMP) pilotless planes, according to Inside the Army. The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are supposed to be ready by 2008, will have a range of 300 kilometers, and will be able to stay in the air for 12 hours.In addition to the spy duties that have become traditional for UAVs, the drone will serve as a communications relay in the sky. And it will carry 400 pounds' worth of munitions. The Hellfire, Viper Strike and BLU-108 munitions are all possibile candidates for weapons work on the new drone."Several commanders serving in Iraq last year have requested more UAVs," Inside the Army notes, "including 4th Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno and then-3rd Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. Buford Blount."THERE'S MORE: Robotics researchers have long had trouble getting cash and respect for their work. No more. A "perfect storm" has landed on bot-makers, dumping a deluge of Defense Department dollars (sorry, couldn't resist)."The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University has seen federal funding jump 48 percent since 2000, and by 117 percent since 1994. Much of the $24.8 million in federal funding for 2003 came from the Pentagon," MSNBC reports. "Other universities, such as the California, Virginia and Georgia institutes of technology, say funding for robotics is up at least 50 percent or more in recent years."AND MORE: In today's Wired News, Mark Baard looks at the new generation of PackBots -- the 25-to-42 pound mechanical critters that are removing bombs and keeping an eye on adversaries for the Army. The story's headline is a bit misleading, though: these remotely-operated drones are for surveillance. They aren't about to "fight" anyone.

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