Drones and the Rivalry Between the U.S. and China

THIS week the Navy will launch an entirely autonomous combat drone — without a pilot on a joystick anywhere — off the deck of an aircraft carrier, the George H. W. Bush.

The drone will then try to land aboard the same ship, a feat only a relatively few human pilots in the world can accomplish.

This exercise is the beginning of a new chapter in military history: autonomous drone warfare. But it is also an ominous turn in a potentially dangerous military rivalry now building between the United States and China.

The X-47B, a stealth plane nicknamed “the Robot” by Navy crews, is a big bird — 38 feet long, with a 62-foot wingspan — that flies at high subsonic speeds with a range of over 2,000 miles. But it is the technology inside the Robot that makes it a game-changer in East Asia. Its entirely computerized takeoff, flight and landing raise the possibility of dozens or hundreds of its successors engaged in combat at once.

It is also capable of withstanding radiation levels that would kill a human pilot and destroy a regular jet’s electronics: in addition to conventional bombs, successors to this test plane could be equipped to carry a high-power microwave, a device that emits a burst of radiation that would fry a tech-savvy enemy’s power grids, knocking out everything connected to it, including computer networks that connect satellites, ships and precision-guided missiles.

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Source: New York Times

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