Stealth unmanned combat vehicle makes first flight

May 04, 2011 By Nancy Atkinson, Universe Today
The Boeing Phantom Ray unmanned airborne system (UAS) on its first flight. Credit: Boeing.

Looking like something straight from a 1950’s science fiction magazine, the stealthy Phantom Ray unmanned airborne system (UAS) successfully completed its first flight on April 27, 2011 at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The 17-minute flight took place following a series of high-speed taxi tests in March that validated ground guidance, navigation and control and verified mission planning, pilot interface and operational procedures. The Phantom Ray is a demonstrator aircraft, about the size of a fighter jet, developed to test operations such as air surveillance, ground attack and autonomous aerial refueling missions. During the test flight, the Phantom Ray flew to 2,290 meters (7,500 feet) and reached a speed of 178 knots.

“This day has been two-and-a-half years in the making,” said Darryl Davis, president, Boeing Phantom Works. “It’s the beginning of providing our customers with a test bed to develop future unmanned systems technology, and a testament to the capabilities resident within Boeing. Just as follow-on tests will expand Phantom Ray’s flight envelope, they also will help Boeing expand its presence in the unmanned systems market.”

The flight demonstrated Phantom Ray’s basic airworthiness, and Boeing engineers are planning additional flights in the next few weeks. Other potential uses for the vehicle include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and suppression of enemy air defenses.

“The first moves us farther into the next phase of unmanned aircraft,” said Craig Brown, Phantom Ray program manager for Boeing. “Autonomous, fighter-sized unmanned aircraft are real, and the UAS bar has been raised. Now I’m eager to see how high that bar will go.”

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User comments : 41

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Skeptic_Heretic
1 / 5 (3) May 04, 2011
Wars will soon be fought with joysticks exclusively, and on that day, woe be to us.
zz6549
5 / 5 (2) May 04, 2011
Woe be to the Taliban, but that's about it.
lengould100
3.3 / 5 (13) May 04, 2011
The only thing restricting the US military(-industrial complex) from further use of military force to gain their ends is that American parents don't like casualties. Once the risk of casualties is eliminated by robot warriors such as this, the use of force worldwide for whatever the elites want will become even more commonplace than now.
jjoensuu
5 / 5 (3) May 04, 2011
Whats next? Equip this sort of thing with laser, invisibility cloak and scramjet?
TAz00
3.7 / 5 (3) May 04, 2011
Whats next? Equip this sort of thing with laser, invisibility cloak and scramjet?


naw bro, Hyperdrives
Resonance
5 / 5 (2) May 04, 2011
Where can I buy one?

No but seriously, I'd like to know how many g's this type of aircraft can pull (whether or not a human could sustain those forces without black(red)ing out.
Duude
3 / 5 (4) May 04, 2011
We can further expect remote tanks. But robotic infantry is decades away at best. How are you going to get a robot to climb stairs?
Skultch
4.6 / 5 (7) May 04, 2011
Wars will soon be fought with joysticks exclusively, and on that day, woe be to us.


If we get to a point where all casualties are non-biological, then all disputes are resolved with buying power. It's still a great waste, but millions will be spared the fear and horrors of war. I have an idea for an improvement, though:

World Peace = All disputes settled by The Thunderdome. ;)
JRDarby
3.4 / 5 (9) May 04, 2011
You're naive if you think that robotic warfare means no people will be dying: it will only be the people who can't afford the robotic weapons. In most cases, I'm sure the people without the money to afford robotic weapons will be the disenfranchised third-world peoples fighting for resources on their lands that first-world multinational corporations with first-world robotic armies and governments behind them will want.
Skultch
4.6 / 5 (5) May 04, 2011
You're naive if you think that robotic warfare means no people will be dying: it will only be the people who can't afford the robotic weapons.


My post was hypothetical. Did that really not come through?

Anyway, yeah, sure, initially it will be only the rich and powerful with this tech. You're naive if you think that /eventually/ every nation won't have it. They didn't always have AK-47s did they? Right now, I have no doubts that /eventually/ all wars will be proxy wars. But, I'm open to change my mind on that.
JRDarby
5 / 5 (1) May 04, 2011
The price difference between a 1940s Kalashnikov (many of which are still in use by freedom fighters/terrorists/whatever) and robotic weaponry is enormous. The amount of maintenance required for AK-47s compared to sophisticated robotic weaponry is likewise difference. Furthermore, there are disparities in training required to operate the weapons, ease of use, ease of distribution, etc.

Not only that, but eventually, even if all wars are fought by robotic proxies, there will be SOME people who will refuse to stop at robots and aim instead for their controllers. At this point, too, the wealthy will have all the defenses that the disenfranchised will not.

Even still, I imagine EMP weapons will be deployed at some point vs. robotic weapons, in which case humans, or non-electrical proxies, will be required on the battlefield.

My point is that conventional warfare will always be needed at some level, and robots will change the game but not entirely.
Skeptic_Heretic
3.8 / 5 (4) May 04, 2011
The price difference between a 1940s Kalashnikov (many of which are still in use by freedom fighters/terrorists/whatever) and robotic weaponry is enormous. The amount of maintenance required for AK-47s compared to sophisticated robotic weaponry is likewise difference. Furthermore, there are disparities in training required to operate the weapons, ease of use, ease of distribution, etc.
But what is the price of the training and experience required to wield an AK properly? I'm not talking some Mujahadeen fighter who's green and ready to die for his beliefs, I'm talking a trained soldier who is useful as something more than cannon fodder.

Now how much does it cost to give a kid a copy of Modern Warfare and teach him how to play?
TheQuietMan
5 / 5 (2) May 04, 2011
Any aircraft that leaves biological limitations behind is going to have major advantages, both in fighting ability and payloads. Seems to me the weak link is the link though. Cut that and they better have a good autonomous mode.
GSwift7
4.4 / 5 (7) May 04, 2011
The phychological advantage of remotely operated combat is huge in more than just the casualty aspect. Think about the difference between these two situations:

1) A pilot is stationed in Afghanistan for months at a time. His wife could be sleeping around, his house could be foreclosed, his car reposessed, a tornado could destroy everything he has, etc. If a flight lasts 18 hours, he is stuck inside a cockpit for the entire flight. Physical and mental stress build every day. He could also be shot at by anti-aircraft fire and/or have normal mechanical failures leading to flight emergencies. Normally only men are selected for these jobs due to risk of capture and cockpit size

2) The pilot wakes up with the family. He goes to work and takes over from the night shift. He/She can take regular breaks throughout the day for lunch or to use the restroom. Then he goes home or out for a drink after work. He has weekends off and goes to the beach. He can be fat, old, a woman or even disabled
Newbeak
2 / 5 (2) May 04, 2011
We can further expect remote tanks. But robotic infantry is decades away at best. How are you going to get a robot to climb stairs?

Climbing stairs is old hat.What they do when they get to the top is the question. BTW,did you know there is an actual company called Cyberdyne Inc? Sends a cold chill down my neck: http://www.cyberd...dex.html
Skeptic_Heretic
2 / 5 (4) May 04, 2011
The phychological advantage of remotely operated combat is huge in more than just the casualty aspect. Think about the difference between these two situations:
There's a massive psychological disadvantage evidenced by our use of drone planes in our current Middle Eastern theaters. Many drone pilots are reporting 'enhanced PTSD' due to the rapid disconnects they encounter between working 'in a warzone' all day long then going home to their familes in the afternoon. PTSD is more common amongst drone pilots than ground troops.

http://conflicthe...ne-wars/

Looking for some more indepth studies for you to read but most are pay to play.

Typically they cite the whiplash effect. A fighter pilot drops a bomb and doesn't see the aftermath, a drone pilot 'rides the bomb in' and sees everything, sometimes down to the depictions of horror on the targets' faces. Then they go to their kids' sporting events.
Sonhouse
5 / 5 (4) May 04, 2011
Where can I buy one?

No but seriously, I'd like to know how many g's this type of aircraft can pull (whether or not a human could sustain those forces without black(red)ing out.


People can only take 10 or so G's max for any amount of time without passing out but pilotless aircraft could run 20 G's no problem so they would be more manouverable than any piloted craft. The weakness would be the need for a controller by radio or laser. Cut that link and the plane is blind. The ultimate would be an AI computer that could handle a mission without a radio link so no amount of EMF would phase it.
GSwift7
4 / 5 (4) May 04, 2011
They didn't make too big a deal about it above, but unmanned aerial refueling is a huge game-changer too. They might even want to make unmanned aerial refueling planes.

That makes sense SH, thanks for the info. I've seen the B2 pilots in Missouri and they seem to like getting to be stationed at home, so I assumed the drone pilots would have the same experience. My bad.

Okay, how about this one: In stead of having forward air controllers embedded in combat team, now you could actually have pilots there on the ground. One pilot could theoretically switch back and forth between multiple aircraft. He could use surveilance and then take turns controlling a series of strike aircraft. Each time he uses up the ordinance of one he switches to a new one and the empty drones fly back to base on their own. Target selection would be much more accurate and eliminate a communication bottleneck.
Husky
5 / 5 (4) May 04, 2011
indeed, a bucketbrigade of unmanned airborne fuelling tankers, could extend loitering time for in flight refuellable drones to several days or even weeks and create instant 24/7 surveillance/attack capabillity for a hotspot , also i like the multi drone control you mentioned, there are only so much qualified pilot, but it would be very hard to fight off an overwhelming numerical swarm of drones, if 10 in the air pilots get confronted with 10 on the ground pilots each commanding 3 drones, they can afford to sacrifice a few, i say do away with the expensive stealth stuff and make more drones for that moeny instead
dirk_bruere
5 / 5 (1) May 04, 2011
Looks like Dark Star Mk2
Moebius
3 / 5 (3) May 04, 2011
The days of the piloted fighter are numbered.
VOR
5 / 5 (2) May 05, 2011


< I imagine EMP weapons will be deployed at some point vs. robotic weapons, in which case humans, or non-electrical proxies, will be required on the battlefield.>
Unlikey to be deployed to much affect. EMP effects on electronics has been known and tested for decades. Much military gear is already EMP shielded/grounded/whatever.

scidog
3 / 5 (1) May 05, 2011
i wonder whats out there that they don't allow news photos of.that thing is old hat by now i would think.
Beard
3 / 5 (2) May 05, 2011
A future robot war seems unlikely to me. Why do we fight wars? Resource scarcity and ideological conflict.

A ubiquitous alternative to oil will be found within our lifetimes, no other resource is worth fighting wars over.
All of the major powers are now capitalist, trading partners. A war would be self defeating even without MAD.
The only global ideological conflict left is the one between the west and Islamic religious extremists. Unless that somehow escalates into nuclear war, we'll be just fine.

The future looks bright to me.
droid001
5 / 5 (3) May 05, 2011
Remote or selfaware robots/drones can be used anywere. Like home robbery.
Be prepared !
Husky
3.7 / 5 (3) May 05, 2011
i disagree with SogWoo, drones where specifically designed with the aim of precision strikes against individual targets as opposed to carpetbombing with B-52s, these individuals are often the actual cowards that don't care about the women, children and city blocks they use in their terror rampage
Modernmystic
3.7 / 5 (3) May 05, 2011
The only thing restricting the US military(-industrial complex) from further use of military force to gain their ends is that American parents don't like casualties.


And Canadian parents do? Wow you are a bigoted jerk aren't you...

Once the risk of casualties is eliminated by robot warriors such as this, the use of force worldwide for whatever the elites want will become even more commonplace than now.


LOL...you can take off the shiny hat. We don't need the CIA anymore, average Americans can read your mind even through the tinfoil...
that_guy
3.7 / 5 (3) May 05, 2011


< I imagine EMP weapons will be deployed at some point vs. robotic weapons, in which case humans, or non-electrical proxies, will be required on the battlefield.>
Unlikey to be deployed to much affect. EMP effects on electronics has been known and tested for decades. Much military gear is already EMP shielded/grounded/whatever.



Just...think about that for a minute. How the hell is a pilot supposed to pilot a vehicle where the electronics don't work?? Really?

An EMP would take down a WWII Mustang (Disable the electrical part of the engine), so tell me VOR, How would a pilot fair better when in addition to the engine using electronics, he also has an entirely disabled fly by wire system???

How would he shoot or bomb with no targeting system? not that it matters, because the mechanisms to shoot missiles and drop bombs are also electronic.

I haven't even begun to scratch the surface...So in conclusion your argument for manned planes is poor.
Modernmystic
3 / 5 (2) May 06, 2011
An EMP would take down a WWII Mustang (Disable the electrical part of the engine)


I could be wrong but I doubt a P51 has any circuits in it small enough to be affected by an EMP. They generally only effect late 1960s technology and up.

The circuits have to be pretty miniaturized to be shorted out by the wavelength produced by an EMP, at least that's my understanding.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.3 / 5 (7) May 06, 2011
The only thing restricting the US military(-industrial complex) from further use of military force to gain their ends is that American parents don't like casualties.
No Lenny there are parents in the world who believe that god wants them to produce armies of little warriors so as to spread his will across the planet. 'The children of our youth... quiver full' of them as it says in the 'Good' book. That's what makes it necessary to develop tech like this in order protect ourselves. And your sorry ass. So that fewer parents need to suffer loss of their children.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (6) May 06, 2011
Anyway, yeah, sure, initially it will be only the rich and powerful with this tech. You're naive if you think that /eventually/ every nation won't have it. They didn't always have AK-47s did they? Right now, I have no doubts that /eventually/ all wars will be proxy wars. But, I'm open to change my mind on that.
Iran has a growing UAV capability. It routinely flies missions over Iraq. UAVs are cheaperby far and harder to counter when sent in waves.
A ubiquitous alternative to oil will be found within our lifetimes, no other resource is worth fighting wars over.
Depends on where the raw matls for new tech come from.
The only global ideological conflict left is the one between the west and Islamic religious extremists.
It's not just arguing over the form and function of god which is the problem. It is the endless supply of idle hungry youth that religions produce, with nothing else to do but fight, which is the Problem. This makes war INEVITABLE.
that_guy
3 / 5 (2) May 06, 2011
An EMP would take down a WWII Mustang (Disable the electrical part of the engine)


I could be wrong but I doubt a P51 has any circuits in it small enough to be affected by an EMP. They generally only effect late 1960s technology and up.

The circuits have to be pretty miniaturized to be shorted out by the wavelength produced by an EMP, at least that's my understanding.


It is more complicated than that - type/strength of the emp, electronics hardening, etc. While the simpler system of a P51 would be much more resiliant, anything with an electric ignition system (IE an electrical system to feed the spark plugs) is vulnerable to some degree. But I do recognize your point that i am unaware of the exact level of vulnerability the P51 would have.

The point that a modern autonomous fighter or modern manned fighter would have virtually the exact same risk still stands :)
Newbeak
5 / 5 (1) May 06, 2011
I remember reading years ago that Soviet fighters were much less vulnerable to EMP as in the early 60s they still used vacuum tube technology,whereas U.S. aircraft had more capable but delicate transistor circuits. WWII aircraft would probably do quite well if exposed to an EMP. Hopefully,modern combat aircraft employee some type of hardening to resist EMP.
Husky
5 / 5 (1) May 07, 2011
perhaps fully covering the airplane with a layer of highly conductive graphene-oxide paper as a lightweight farraday cage and a thin insulating layer to physically seperate it from the body of the aircraft, a full graph-oxide outer body would double as a large antenna to detect radar trying to lock on from afar, electric resonance could be induced/modulated in the outer body to mess with the signals hitting it, the communication between the outer body with the onboard electronics should commence via fiber optics wire to deny EMP point of entry
_nigmatic10
2.3 / 5 (3) May 07, 2011
The days of the true soldier are numbered, as we continue to detach our humanity from those actions that remind us of it.
Walfy
3 / 5 (2) May 07, 2011
As long as a substantial herd of our fellow humans can be duped (thanks FOX News!), trillions will continue to flow to the arms manufactures to fight against an ever-decreasing number of threats.
Na_Reth
4 / 5 (1) May 07, 2011
How would he shoot or bomb with no targeting system? not that it matters, because the mechanisms to shoot missiles and drop bombs are also electronic.


Imagine a system malfunctioning accidentally releasing a few bombs.

No, EMP'ing an aircraft which possibly carries missiles or bombs is moronic.

And if the system is malfunctioning in such a manner that controlled flight is impossible imagine the possible damage it could do crashing down...
Quantum_Conundrum
5 / 5 (2) May 08, 2011
And if the system is malfunctioning in such a manner that controlled flight is impossible imagine the possible damage it could do crashing down...


From an overall strategic perspective, it is better to lose a random friendly unit or civilian structure than to lose a vital military unit or production facility.

If I have a choice of losing my most important system, or losing one or two less important systems at random, I will probably chose to lose the random systems.

In a strategy game this is evidenced when we might sacrifice some worthless early game units to protect an end game strategy.

In real life, this is analogous to allowing some short term civilian or infrastructure casualties, so long as the overall military power is in tact and the end strategy is successful.

If I lose my air base, the civilians will die anyway, but if I lose a few civilians and a road or bridge, at least I still have the base and the air force and a chance to fight back.
Intensero
not rated yet May 08, 2011
So all those video game addicts will be recruited by the military.
World of Warcraft people rejoice. haha
TehDog
not rated yet May 08, 2011
I remember reading years ago that Soviet fighters were much less vulnerable to EMP as in the early 60s they still used vacuum tube technology,whereas U.S. aircraft had more capable but delicate transistor circuits.


Mig 25 Foxbat is the one soviet aircraft to have used them AFAIK.
rwinners
1 / 5 (1) May 09, 2011
The USA will be the first country ever to use these weapons on it's own populace.

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