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Boeing, BAE Systems Show Off New Unmanned Planes 157

Posted by Soulskill
from the sneaky-and-expensive dept.
gilgsn writes The hydrogen-powered Phantom Eye unmanned airborne system, a demonstrator that will stay aloft at 65,000 feet for up to four days, was unveiled by Boeing today. 'Phantom Eye is powered by two 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engines that provide 150 horsepower each. It has a 150-foot wingspan, will cruise at approximately 150 knots and can carry up to a 450-pound payload.' Across the pond, BAE Systems showed off Taranis, a UAV that will test the possibility of developing the first ever autonomous, stealth Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle that would ultimately be capable of precisely striking targets at long range — even in another continent."
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Boeing, BAE Systems Show Off New Unmanned Planes

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  • And the cost will be what? $5 billion a piece?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by somaTh (1154199)
      According to Dailymail [dailymail.co.uk], it should be around £143 million ($214 million for those too lazy to google it yourself).
      • Re:Cost? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by demonbug (309515) on Monday July 12, 2010 @02:49PM (#32877212) Journal

        According to Dailymail [dailymail.co.uk], it should be around £143 million ($214 million for those too lazy to google it yourself).

        If you read the article (and others), you will also see that this was a technology demonstrator, and £143 million was the cost to build it. If it went into production it would likely cost significantly less, certainly less than a $191 million JSF [wikipedia.org]. Getting the pilot out of there cuts down a hell of a lot on the cost, as all of a sudden you can replace all sorts of expensive weight, volume, and logistics with relatively cheap computers (theoretically, anyway).

        • on the surface this would seem to cut cost - in fact its probably a wash or slightly more expensive to build a UAV than a manned aircraft - while you can get rid of a lot of systems (pressurization, ejections seats, etc..) you now need at least 2 and most of the time 3 or 4 computers to fly the thing plus redundant air data sensors, really good data links, etc... it really adds up - in fact the computers and data links can be a large majority of the cost of the basic green aircraft

          • by Bakkster (1529253)

            you now need at least 2 and most of the time 3 or 4 computers to fly the thing plus redundant air data sensors, really good data links, etc... it really adds up

            Modern aircraft (particularly combat aircraft) already have redundant computers to move the control surfaces (and the computer is required to make the plane even remotely flyable), multiple sensors are already used because it's equally bad for a pilot to lose sensors, and high quality data links are standard in this age of electronic warfare. The only difference is one additional redundant computer to fly the plane in place of a pilot. Development cost will be higher due to the extra hardware and software

            • by egomaniac (105476)

              And you're ignoring all of the work it takes to keep a pilot alive and at least reasonably comfortable. A UAV doesn't need a pressurized cockpit, comfortable air temperatures, a complicated and expensive ejection system (comprising not only explosives, rocket motors, and parachutes, but also survival and rescue gear such as flares, food and water, dye packs, and smoke grenades), or for that matter even seats. Nor does it need any of the input / output devices that a human pilot needs in order to actually

              • by Bakkster (1529253)

                I am assuming that R&D costs for automated flight control computers will be more expensive than that of pilot controls and comforts, as the latter are more common.

                Regardless of R&D costs, operational costs will certainly be less.

      • by tibit (1762298)

        That's a fairly ridiculous price, but given that there are no other products that can stay aloft that long, it'd probably be acceptable. I wonder if there are any jets out there that could take enough fuel in extra internal tanks to stay aloft for 4 days... Wikipedia doesn't have enough details to tell, say, how far a 787-8 would fly if all wet weight were to be fuel.

        • by sznupi (719324)

          Such long flights wouldn't work very well for manned aircraft anyway - and we do have an idea, there's air refueling after all.

          One of the things which killed nuclear-powered aircraft.

        • by Calinous (985536)

          Italians flew some World War 2 bombing missions (with civilian crafts) that spent about 25 hours in the air. There was an around the world flight without refueling, so the technology is certainly there.

    • by rwa2 (4391) *

      Cheaper than launching a bunch of satellites, and hopefully competitive with a fleet of airships.

      • by hitmark (640295)

        and unless you launch a geo-sat pr nation, can be hovered over a specific trouble spot as needed.

  • it has a 150-foot wingspan, will cruise at approximately 150 knots...

    ...and will only be deployed in places where Surface to Air Missiles are unavailable and the natives don't have radar.

    • Re:SAMs? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by brainboyz (114458) on Monday July 12, 2010 @02:44PM (#32877178) Homepage

      The B2 has a 170ish foot wingspan and the radar cross section of a ball bearing, so size is not necessarily a stealth disqualifier.

    • Re:SAMs? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by demonbug (309515) on Monday July 12, 2010 @02:52PM (#32877248) Journal

      it has a 150-foot wingspan, will cruise at approximately 150 knots...

      ...and will only be deployed in places where Surface to Air Missiles are unavailable and the natives don't have radar.

      So, pretty much all of the conflicts the U.S. and allies are currently embroiled in.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR (28044)

      And in doing so reviels where the SAM is. Mr. Sam meet the stealth UCAV with a HARM tasked with SEAD.

      • by hitmark (640295)

        heh, didnt the israeli use early UAVs with radar decoys that made them look like high priority bombers to trick SAM sites into revealing themselves?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Wyatt Earp (1029)

      "The Boeing Company [NYSE: (BA)] today unveiled the hydrogen-powered Phantom Eye unmanned airborne system, a demonstrator that will stay aloft at 65,000 feet for up to four days."

      Not alot of SAMs reach that high, it'll have a low radar cross section, small IR signature, so even the SAMs that go up there will have a hard time acquiring it.

      So even if it's used in a place like Iran or I don't know, the Sudan or Venezuela in a future conflict, the good SAMs will have been taken out in the first few days of the

      • by sznupi (719324)

        So, certainly not "all the good SAMs will have been used in the first few days of the war on F-16s, F-18G"?...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jgtg32a (1173373)

      So all US combat zones?

    • by quanticle (843097)

      Not necessarily. As a sibling points out, the B-2 is larger, yet manages to maintain a very small radar cross-section. Actually, being unmanned allows this aircraft to have a much smaller radar signature than a manned plane of similar size, as things like engine air intakes and control surfaces can be placed in a more optimal fashion when the front portion of the aircraft doesn't need to be reserved for the cockpit.

      I wouldn't be surprised if this plane managed to pack more ordinance than a B-2, despite be

  • UAV ? ICBM (Score:5, Interesting)

    by B5_geek (638928) on Monday July 12, 2010 @02:40PM (#32877130)

    UAV capable of reaching inter-continental target - check
    UAV payload nuclear - check
    UAV 'hard to hit' and/or find - check

    Ladies and Gentleman; let me present to you your new ICBM replacement (and don't worry about treaties with the Russians, these qualify as airplanes not missles, so we are clear to rebuild our stockpiles!)

    • Re:UAV ? ICBM (Score:5, Insightful)

      by moogied (1175879) on Monday July 12, 2010 @02:56PM (#32877306)
      Uh. No. Not even a little tiny wee bit. The issue with nuclear warfare between America and Russia is not ones capability to produce X amount of Weapon Y with a nuke on it. Its about the capability to have X fire Weapon Y and for Weapon Y to have 10 nukes. Before we started using the MIRV's it was possible to defend against a nuclear strike. Now though we know we are eff'd if the nukes start flying. Sure, we can shoot down 80 missiles if we get lucky.. can we shoot down 800? No.
      So how exactly do these replace THAT capability? Also, the big threat of nuclear weapons is speed and stealth. Not having some frigen UAV flying around that any MIG built in the last 40 years could shoot down with ease.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by quanticle (843097)

        Also, the big threat of nuclear weapons is speed and stealth.

        UAVs have that. Sure, a MiG can shoot down a UAV with ease. However, in order to shoot down the UAV, it first has to find the UAV. Given that UAVs don't need pilots, control surfaces and intakes (the two most radar reflective portions of any aircraft) can be positioned in a way to minimize radar cross section in a way that even ultra-stealth aircraft like the B-2 cannot do. Combined with the ability of a UAV to fly a computer controlled course at very low altitude (just like cruise missiles), the ultra-

      • by wigaloo (897600)

        Sure, we can shoot down 80 missiles if we get lucky..

        No, I don't think so. From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]: "As of February 2007, the U.S. missile defense system consists of 13 ground-based interceptors at Ft Greely in Alaska, plus two interceptors at Vandenberg AFB, California." There are a lot of doubts about the effectiveness of this existing system. See the work of MIT Professor Theodore Postol [wikipedia.org] here [mit.edu].

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rwa2 (4391) *

      As noted in other articles, the project was previously named HALE (high altitude long endurance) and is a rapid prototype for a larger craft.

      The new dorky name is probably a nod to "Phantom Works", Boeing's "Skunkworks", and hopefully not as much due to stealthy / nefarious connotations.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TooMuchToDo (882796)
      Don't forget, unlike an ICMB, it can loiter and get realtime surveillance before it strikes the target, unlike an ICBM where you may be relying on satellite data that's already X minutes/hours old.
    • Ladies and Gentleman; let me present to you your new ICBM replacement (and don't worry about treaties with the Russians, these qualify as airplanes not missles, so we are clear to rebuild our stockpiles!)

      Protip: Learn what you're talking about before posting - airplanes are limited by treaty as well, as are warhead counts.

      • by couchslug (175151)

        "Protip: Learn what you're talking about before posting - airplanes are limited by treaty as well, as are warhead counts."

        Protip: Doing that interferes with delectable nuke fear where everything that could possibly contain a warhead, Snoopy's dog house included, is seen as a first-strike weapon.

    • by quanticle (843097)

      (and don't worry about treaties with the Russians, these qualify as airplanes, not missiles...

      If I understand correctly, the arms control treaties we have apply to deployed warheads, not delivery systems. By that accounting, a warhead deployed on a UAV is the same as a warhead deployed on a missile, so I don't see how either the US or Russia could squirrel out of an arms control treaty by using UAVs rather than ICBMs.

  • by dmgxmichael (1219692) on Monday July 12, 2010 @02:41PM (#32877152) Homepage
    So when do the land based killer units get going?
  • Hydrogen (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OzPeter (195038) on Monday July 12, 2010 @02:48PM (#32877202)
    I was going to ask "why hydrogen?", then I think I answered my question myself. I would guess that if you had a fossil fuel based system then all your enemies would need to do is point some sort of spectrographic analyzer at the sky and detect a trail of combustion emissions - where the trail ends is where you aim your counter measures. With a hydrogen based system it would be a lot harder to detect a trail a of water vapour in a sky full of water vapour.
    • Re:Hydrogen (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dynedain (141758) <slashdot2@NOspaM.anthonymclin.com> on Monday July 12, 2010 @02:58PM (#32877328) Homepage

      Actually it's probably more likely that making it hydrogen-based qualifies it for earmarked expenditures in Congressional appropriations.

    • by perpenso (1613749) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:22PM (#32877620)
      Hydrogen may be the most efficient combustible fuel, giving the aircraft the longest range per fuel payload? With an unmanned aircraft the usual safety concerns regarding hydrogen do not apply.
      • by sznupi (719324)

        It gives a lot of energy per weight, but not per density; which is a problem / a matter of trade-offs in an aircraft.

      • Hydrogen may be the most efficient combustible fuel, giving the aircraft the longest range per fuel payload

        It also imposes a huge penalty in the form of the massive tanks required to hold a reasonable quantity.

        With an unmanned aircraft the usual safety concerns regarding hydrogen do not apply.

        Yeah, after all there won't be a ground handling and maintenance crew, and the fuel won't have to be shipped or handled either. Oh, wait...

        • by perpenso (1613749)

          Hydrogen may be the most efficient combustible fuel, giving the aircraft the longest range per fuel payload

          It also imposes a huge penalty in the form of the massive tanks required to hold a reasonable quantity.

          That was my original assumption too. However we have a high endurance aircraft that can remain aloft for 4 days. I'm having to reevaluate that assumption given the facts. FWIW, the engine is from Ford and a car using a similar engine has a range of 130 miles so the tanks can't be too large. Also the aircraft seems to be using more exotic materials. Some article referred to a composite layer so it may use less metal than the consumer tanks, or maybe the reinforcement allows for greater internal pressure

    • by quanticle (843097)

      Well, I doubt that spectrographic analysis is too useful. Simply put, there's a lot of air over any specific point of earth. In comparison with that total volume of air, the exhaust trail of even a thousand jets is probably still beneath the threshold of detection.

      I'd argue that the purpose of the hydrogen is to 1) earn subsidies from the alternative energy lobby in Congress and 2) increase the endurance of the aircraft. Given that the UAV is designed for visual and electronic intelligence gathering, loi

    • by lennier (44736)

      Why hydrogen indeed. One reason comes to mind:

      You can make it on today's nuclear-powered warships. [hydrogencarsnow.com]

      This has nothing to do with civilian spinoffs and everything to do with being able to park off Unhappy Country X's coast and proceed to make them even more unhappy without dragging that pesky petroleum supply chain.

      Now you can do it with UAVs and nukes too.

      Everyone wins!

  • Not much payload (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pushing-robot (1037830) on Monday July 12, 2010 @02:49PM (#32877214)

    Even the far smaller Predator can carry up to 750 pounds and stay aloft for at least 40 hours. Though I guess you could still throw in a bunch of Spikes [designation-systems.net] and still have a nice Macross Missile Massacre. [tvtropes.org]

  • Fantastic... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vvaduva (859950) on Monday July 12, 2010 @02:54PM (#32877276)

    We constantly find new and amazing ways to kill each other more easily. Too bad this much effort doesn't go in other directions which are more beneficial to mankind, and are aimed at saving lives rather than taking them.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Fuck off commie!

    • There are some who think culling the population a bit is beneficial to mankind..

      • There are some who think culling the population a bit is beneficial to mankind..

        If that were the case, then the areas of the World with the least conflict would have the highest population growth. There doesn't seem to be a relationship between wars and population reduction - unless you get into outright genocide; such as in Rwanda. As misanthropic as I am, I don't see that as a very efficient solution.

        Economic development seems to be the best way to reduce population growth - see Europe.

        Now, all we need to do is stop these entitlement programs that are based upon pyramid schemes tha

        • Incidentally, outright genocide just made a little dent [wolframalpha.com]. The anomaly between 1990 and 2000 is visible; but in terms of long-term growth rates, turning the entire country into an abattoir had about the same effect as a slight bump in the condom supply would have.
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        I suggest they go first.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Jeng (926980)

      You make it sound like its not beneficial to mankind to kill off some of its less co-operative members.

    • by HolyLime (926158)
      That part will probably never change. What I would like to point out would be the money making venture in this. This is probably a low risk way for Boeing to make money. Because wouldn't this be one of the first deployment of a hydrogen powered military vehicle, and I KNOW someone is going to prove me wrong in this. But after this gets into general production and the cost lowers it should be relatively easy for the company to turn around and find other uses for the engine and few system. What OTHER things
    • we've got a few hydrogen buses on trail in london... :o)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by evilviper (135110)

      We constantly find new and amazing ways to kill each other more easily.

      We already have exceptionally convenient ways to kill EVERYONE. Every weapon developed after thr 1960s is actually designed to make it easier to SELECTIVELY kill people. In other words, less collateral damage.

      And making it HARD to kill people isn't a good thing. Go back through antiquity, and you'll find that, though it was difficult, more people were being killed then, than now. Better weapons reduce the body count, as the war is wo

      • by mdielmann (514750)

        Bingo. Without the huge effort put into the Manhattan Project, we wouldn't have access to one of the cheapest, cleanest, and (currently) most sustainable power supplies out there. Now if we could get rid of the spectre of that war and start using it in North America (and the rest of the world), we could start seeing some serious payoff.
        This doesn't even mention all the other wonderful side effects of nuclear research, much of which has been based on military or security desires.

      • by zeoslap (190553)

        While the body count isn't anywhere near as high both World Wars were convincingly won much quicker than the two we are currently embroiled in.

        • by evilviper (135110)

          both World Wars were convincingly won much quicker than the two we are currently embroiled in.

          Not really. The "war" part of the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts lasted all of a couple weeks. All standing military forces were defeated, and the capitols were occupied almost immediate.

  • “The program is moving quickly, and it’s exciting to be part of such a unique aircraft,” said Drew Mallow, Phantom Eye program manager for Boeing.

    He sounds like a bolt.

  • No to worry! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by quickpick (1021471)

    Should such systems enter into service, they will at all times be under the control of highly trained military crews on the ground.

    how comforting, so if it does kill anyone at least we know they meant to.

  • And this ain't one of them. Technological design from the Senate? Give me a break!

    I understand the technological need for a "Big Dumb Booster" project- but one that uses *solid fuel propellant*, and then cutting out all the possible uses for it from the budget, is just plain madness. Must really be just an attempt to funnel taxpayer money to investment in Utah

  • by Que914 (1042204) on Monday July 12, 2010 @03:46PM (#32877930)
    The extent to which we've removed humans from the battlefield is really starting to disturb me. The public objection to American coming home in body bags up 'til the past decade has served as at least a mild deterrent to using force, but when we can kill with little or no risk to our own soldiers, what's left to provide our leaders with a motive for restraint?

    Egh...
    • by couchslug (175151)

      "The extent to which we've removed humans from the battlefield is really starting to disturb me."

      Then you don't know much about war, or have the idea it should be "sporting" for some reason. If you favor casualty parity, do volunteer to be one. :)

      Pilots were already in lofty isolation from much of the battlefield in World War 1, as were long-range artillerists. A tiny number of remote operators doesn't isolate the tens of thousands of infantry needed for modern warfare.

  • B-52 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by S-100 (1295224) on Monday July 12, 2010 @05:39PM (#32879412)
    Tactically, this is a SAC B-52 replacement.
  • by meringuoid (568297) on Monday July 12, 2010 @06:38PM (#32880206)
    I've been reading the odd scraps of information coming out about Taranis for a few years now. Supposedly it was supposed to begin flight trials in 2010; has this happened yet, or have they just shown off the prototype model on the ground to a few media hacks?

    There was an interesting conspiracy theory [theregister.co.uk] put about a while back that Taranis was only incidentally a scary UAV project - that its real purpose was technology laundering. BAE have had access to American stealth technology through the JSF project; Taranis is a stealth aircraft supposedly developed independently. So if ten years from now BAE start selling stealth drones to every sheikh with a few billion quid in his trousers, they'll say 'oh, this technology is derived from the Taranis project. Nothing to do with the American secrets we were shown while working on the F-35, no, not at all...'

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