US' Next Big Weapon: Sea-Based Drones

One official says some will ultimately be deployed in Asia
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 16, 2011 11:20 AM CDT
In this Feb. 11, 2011 photo, Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk speaks during an interview on the bridge of the USS George Washington aircraft carrier at the Yokosuka Naval Base south of Tokyo. Buskirk said...   (Greg Baker)
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(Newser) – The US is developing aircraft carrier-based drones that could provide a crucial edge as it tries to counter China's military rise. American officials have been tightlipped about where the unmanned armed planes might be used, but a top Navy officer has told the AP that some would likely be deployed in Asia. Land-based drones are in wide use in the war in Afghanistan, but sea-based versions will take several more years to develop. Northrop Grumman conducted a first-ever test flight—still on land—earlier this year.

Though China is decades away from building a military as strong as America's, the US Navy's pursuit of drones is a recognition of the need for new weapons and strategies to deal with a changing military landscape worldwide. Current Navy fighter jets can only operate about 500 nautical miles from a target, leaving a carrier within range of the Chinese missile; drones would have an unrefueled combat radius of 1,500 nautical miles and could remain airborne for 50 to 100 hours—versus the 10-hour maximum for a pilot, according to a 2008 paper.

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