The Army has finally settled on a company to build its next generation of long-range killer drones, according to Defense Daily.General Atomics, maker of the wildly succesful Predator robo-plane, got the $214 million gig to build 48 of the Extended Range Multi-Purpose drones. The first of them should be ready to go by 2008. 132 are planned, all told.Defense News notes that "unlike Predator, the ERMP will be able to take off and land automatically" -- handing off the trickiest parts of piloting a drone to a computer. Which means that the ERMP can be flown by young enlisted men, instead of by the ex-fighter pilots, who now operate the Predator fleet. (My Wired magazine story on drones has a bit more on this.)The Army sees the drones staying up in the air for 72 hours straight; the Predator, by comparison, can't even manage a whole day in flight, right now. While it's airborne, the Army expects the ERMP to snoop on enemies, relay communications, identify targets -- and blow stuff up, if need be. It'll start out with Hellfire missiles, same as the Predator. Other weapons may be added, later on.
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