The Navy’s X-47B can take off, soar and land on an aircraft carrier without the aid of a human, as it demonstrated so well in July when it touched down on the deck of the USS George H.W. Bush.
But one thing the bat-winged, tailless Navy drone cannot do – and is not intended to do – is kill anyone, the program manager for the Navy's Unmanned Combat Air Systems program manager.
At least not yet. According to the Naval Air Systems Command, the UCAS program is intended to develop a carrier-suitable UAV “in support of persistent, penetrating surveillance, and penetrating strike capability.”
Capt. Jaime Engdahl, program manager for Navy’s UCAS program office, said on Tuesday that the Northrop-Grumman-built X-47B is not going to be armed.
“There is no plan to weaponize the aircraft … we’re not planning on doing that,” he said in Washington, DC, where he made a presentation about the drone at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems.
Engdahl dismissed the X-47B as a strike system twice during the presentation.
The most famous drone hunter-killer today is the Air Force’s MQ-1 Predator, which is equipped with a pair of laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The Air Force began using the Predator for reconnaissance in the 1990s, but early in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars began arming the system. The CIA also uses Predators, including for operations in Pakistan and Yemen.
The Navy has been test flying its drone since 2011. But in recent months it has performed successfully in first-ever catapult launches, touch-and-gos and finally a landing from the George H.W. Bush.
Engdahl said the successful flights of the X-47B mark “an historic time for naval aviation.”