189-516H.jpgThe Pentagon's mad scientists have given Northrop Grumman a billion bucks on to develop the Navy's killer drone.The X-47B unmanned combat aerial vehicle (that's a little Photoshopped mock-up to the right) is one of a pair of pilotless fighter planes Darpa would like to see built for the Defense Department. But, unlike Boeing's X-45C, the Northrop drone "is designed to autonomously take off and land on an aircraft carrier, whose runway is about 300 yards long," the Los Angeles Times notes."Under the newly awarded agreement, the Northrop Grumman team will conduct a five year effort to design, develop and demonstrate a minimum of three full-scale, flight-worthy air vehicles and three mission control systems," according to a Darpa press release.

The system will include integrated sensors, communication, navigation equipment and low observability features, along with a common operating system to meet mission capability objectives established by the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. The targeted missions encompass suppression of enemy air defenses, penetrating surveillance in denied enemy airspace, and precision strike − all from both land and aircraft carrier bases. The systems objectives include an air vehicle combat radius of 1,500 nautical miles with a weapons payload of 4,500 pounds, electronic warning system and an integrated synthetic aperture radar. The vehicles are designed to survive in a high threat environment and feature beyond-line-of-sight network connectivity for global operations.
"X-47B flight demonstrations will begin in 2007," Darpa tells us, "at a West Coast test site."
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