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US unveils world`s first aircraft carrier-borne `stealth` drone X-47B

Last Updated: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 16:25

Aboard The USS George H W Bush: The US Navy for the first time on Wednesday launched an unmanned aircraft the size of a fighter jet from a warship in the Atlantic Ocean, as it wades deeper into America`s drone programme amid growing concerns over the legality of its escalating surveillance and lethal strikes.

Called the X-47B, the drone is considered particularly valuable because it`s the first that is designed specifically to take off and land on an aircraft carrier, allowing it to be used around the world without needing the permission of other countries to serve as a home base.

There has been increasing pushback against the use of drones from some nations that say the strikes cause widespread civilian deaths and operate with only limited oversight, eroding the US image overseas. Navy officials say the drone will provide around-the-clock intelligence, surveillance and targeting capabilities.

The X-47B took off successfully this morning and made two low approaches to the ship before heading back toward land. The test aircraft isn`t intended for operational use; instead, the military is using the information it gathers during these demonstrations to develop the drone program. The Navy already operates two other unmanned aircraft, the small, low cost ScanEagle, which does not carry weapons, and the armed Fire Scout which is built more like a helicopter.

Both the military and the CIA use armed Predator and Reaper drones in surveillance and strike operations around the world. The military uses them routinely in Afghanistan and other warzones, while the CIA has conducted frequent strikes in the border region of Pakistan -- most often secret operations that trigger sharp criticism from the government there.

The X-47B can reach an altitude of more than 40,000 feet (12,000 meters), has a range of more than 2,100 nautical miles (3,400 square kilometers) and can reach high subsonic speeds, according to the Navy. It is also fully autonomous in flight.

It relies on computer programmes to tell it where to go unless a mission operator needs to step in. That differs from other drones used by the military, which are more often piloted from remote locations.

Some critics have said the military`s use of drones, furthered by today`s tests, create concerns over the development of systems that could become weaponized and have less and less human control over launching attacks.

Human Rights Watch has called for a pre-emptive prohibition of the development and use of any unmanned systems that carry weapons and are fully autonomous.

While current models, like the X-47B, retain some level of supervision over decisions whether to use lethal force, the group predicts that fully autonomous weapons could be developed within decades that select and engage targets with no human intervention.

PTI

First Published: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 09:47

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