3D Printing to Turn Aircraft Carriers Into Mobile Factories

nimitz-class-carrier-640x424It’s no secret that NASA has turned to 3D printing as a way of opening up new frontiers of space exploration and resolving potential problems – like building moon bases or feeding astronauts. And now, it seems that the only other organization that can rival the space agency in terms of funding and scale – the US Navy- has something similar in mind.

The US Navy already boasts most of the world’s largest moveable structures – the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier taking the cake. Whats more, modern aircraft carriers are basically floating cities already, complete with conventional manufacturing facilities to provide a good portion of what the crew might need while at sea. It therefore makes perfect sense to incorporate a high-quality 3D printer into the mix.

F_35_navyWhile the ultimate goal may be the ability to print actual replacement fighters and ordinance, the current plan is to incorporate printers that can print off replacement parts and possibly even small drones. With the technology already in place, it is not difficult to imagine a carrier, or perhaps even a large land vehicle, outfitted with a high-quality 3D printer, several tons of raw materials, and a few pre-fabricated cameras and circuit boards.

What’s more, this could also make transport of basic supplies more efficient, holding powder and casing materials separately and combining them to make bullets and munitions as needed, rather than storing them in a way that takes up vast amounts of space. Researchers at Virginia Tech even told the Armed Forces Journal that they believe 3D printing could produce high-quality propellants themselves – meaning an aircraft carrier could produce its own supplies of fuel and missiles.

cyber-war-1024x843This idea drives home a number of things that are likely to become the mainstay with military technology. One is the increasing gap between the military haves and have-nots, and the increasing importance of cyber warfare in the modern world. No army or insurgent militia is likely to be able to withstand a mobile drone factory, nor is a nation that does not possess the technology be able to compete with one that does.

At the same time, simple defects, caused by cybernetic intrusion, could render such a mobile factory useless and counterproductive. In any future arms race between nations where 3D manufacturing is part of the arsenal, hacking will certainly be a factor. And last, but certainly not least, the ability to independently produce components, weapons and tools also opens up the possibility to create fully-autonomous ships and bases, complete with recycling programs that can turn waste into reusable raw material.

Cuban-Missile-CrisisSuch are the concerns of today’s military and all those who need to plan for the future. And as always, the prospects are frightening for all – not only because they make the nature of future conflicts uncertain, but because any serious advancement on one side is likely to cause others to scramble to get their hands on it as well. As any student of history knows, arms races lead to escalation and increased tension, and those rarely end well!

Source: extremetech.com

Drone Wars: X-47B Makes First Successful Landing

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The X-47B, also known as the Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS), is the world’s first and only stealth autonomous drone. Late last year, it accomplished a first when it was placed aboard the USS Harry Truman, mainly to see if it would remain in place as the ship conducted maneuvers. This was the first in a series of trials to see if the new naval drone can take off and land from an aircraft carrier.

And earlier this month, it achieved another when it performed its first arrested landing. Basically, this involves a plane landing and grabbing hold of an arresting cable with a tailhook, simulating what happens aboard a carrier deck. This marked an important milestone in the development of the UCAS by proving that it is capable of landing at sea. Later this month, it will complete the final trial when it takes part in a catapult launch from the deck of the USS George H.W. Bush.

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For some time now, the development of autonomous aerial drones has been the subject of concern, both from human rights groups and concerned citizens who worry about putting the power to kill into the hands of machines. The use of less sophisticated UAVs, such as the MQ-9 Reaper and the MQ-1 Predator, has already attracted considerable attention and criticism due to questions about their killing power and how they are being used.

However, these two weapons systems both have the distinction of being controlled by a remote operator, not by an on-board computer. By removing a human being from the process altogether, many fear that things will only get worse. Up until now, the US Navy and other branches of the armed services, both within the US and abroad, have had people making the decision to use lethal force. This has ensured a degree of oversight and culpability, but with autonomous machines, that will no longer be the case.

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What’s more, if this technology is ever used against the citizens of the country that employ them, the people will have a much harder time holding those responsible to account. In response to these concerns, the Pentagon announced last Thanksgiving that it would be taking measures to ensure that, where life-and-death decisions were concerned, a human controller would always be at the helm.

What’s more, the Navy has offered its assurances to the public that the X-47B is not intended for operational use, but is part of a program geared toward the creation of other unmanned carrier-based aircraft programs. However, with some modifications, the unit would be capable of being outfitting with weapons mounts that would be capable of supporting missiles and bombs, at which point any legal barriers could easily find themselves being removed.

And as always, there are those who worry that giving machines the ability to kill without human oversight is a threat in and of itself. Forget about the government being culpable, what’s to happen when said machines decide to launch nukes at Russia so that the counter-attack will kill its enemies over here? Find John Conner, people, he’s our only hope!

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Source: news.cnet.com

X-47B Stealth Drone Completes Sea Trial

X-47BFor some time, the US Navy has been conducting tests on a new stealth drone known as the X-47B Unmanned Aerial Combat System. A vast improvement over earlier generations of drones like the Predator and the Reaper, this new vehicle combines jet propulsion, autonomous control, and a stealthy fuselage in one package, making it the most advanced unmanned aerial vehicle in the world to date.

In its latest trials, the drone completed a series of test trials which were in preparation for its first take off and landing from an aircraft carrier. This consisted of seeing whether or not the drone had any “sea legs” – basically, if it is capable of fitting on a carrier deck and remaining in place while the ship is performing maneuvers at sea.

??????????????????All of this took place over the course of the past few weeks aboard the USS Harry S. Truman, where a prototype of the X-47B was towed by flight deck tractors, taxied on the flight deck, and had its digital engine controls tried out amidst the rampant electromagnetic fields that are common on a carrier. This last aspect was of particular concern, as developers and naval personnel weren’t sure if the carrier’s radars would interfere with the drone’s remote controls.

TrumanX47BflightdeckAccording to Mike Mackey, the program director for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, the most hostile electromagnetic environment on Earth happens to be “on the deck of a Nimitz class Navy aircraft carrier”. By proving that it can fit and function aboard, the navy now knows with some certainty that they will be able to deploy these drones to all corners of the world to take part in military actions, reconnaissance, and ongoing anti-terrorism efforts.

Naturally, this and other developments relating to the X-47B have got many people feeling nervous. Unlike the Predator and Reaper, this new class of UAV is autonomous and not controlled by a remote operator. No telling how this might fit in with Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter recent promise that measures will be taken to ensure that all killer robots will have a human at the helm. Could it be that all that was merely a political promise? For shame!

Plans to conduct the first take off and carrier landing are scheduled for some time in 2013. By 2014, they also hope to have successfully conducted an autonomous aerial refueling of the craft as well. Anyone feel scared? I kind of feel scared…

Source: news.cnet.com

China’s First Aircraft Carrier Landing

China has been featured quite a bit in the news lately due to the rapid pace of its industrial, urban and technological development. However, one area which has not ceased to garner attention has been the parallel growth in its military industries. Whether it is the development of digital soldiers, stealth fighters, or naval vessels, any movement in these areas is bound to make analysts and defense planners in the West nervous.

For example, last year China finished the aircraft carrier which it had purchased fourteen years ago from the Ukraine, an aged Soviet-era vessel that they renamed the Liaoning. However, as Wired magazine columnist David Axe reported, the carrier was “a piece of junk”, and therefore not worth stressing over. Thought its engines were running and it was outfitted with the latest in anti-aircraft artillery, it was still an old model that was not up to the latest western standards.

But just two days ago, China managed to make its first aircraft carrier-based landing, a move which demonstrates that not only is the carrier sea worthy, but capable of deploying combat-ready planes into the Pacific. After deploying from its naval base in Northern China, the Liaoning began conducting take-off and landing drills using a J-15 fighter, a Chinese variant on the Russian SU-33 Flanker D. After performing a successful takeoff from the carrier, the fighter managed to circle back and perform a perfect landing. This was part of a series of exercises designed to test the aircraft carrier’s capabilities as part of China’s ongoing efforts to enhance their navy and “protect national sovereignty” at sea.

Naturally, the news has some people worried, as this development comes at a time when China is engaged in some territorial disputes with Japan over control of several islands in the East China Sea. What’s more, the Liaoning’s deployment took place amidst rumors that China is in the process of building its own carriers, which are expected to be ready by 2015. However, given the fact that the US still boasts a technological and numerical edge, and China is still several years away from deploying a fully combat-effective aircraft carrier the Pacific, few people are genuinely frightened.

In the end, all sides agree that this is a largely symbolic achievement on China’s part, and an indication that it is joining the ranks of global powerhouses in more ways than one.

Source: Huffington Post