‘This will change the balance of power.’ Pentagon successfully tests ‘flying aircraft carrier’

‘This will change the balance of power.’ Pentagon successfully tests ‘flying aircraft carrier’

Andrey Kots

The United States tested the technology of the future – a C-130A transport aircraft with experimental X-61A Gremlin drones on board took off. Swarms of drones, according to the Americans, will provide air superiority over any enemy. There are similar developments in Russia. The pros and cons of such tactics – in the material of RIA Novosti.
Special role
Drones, as recent conflicts show, are rapidly replacing manned aircraft: they conduct reconnaissance, point to targets, strike and act as communication centers. The advantages are obvious: it is cheaper and nothing threatens the pilot’s life.
But most modern military drones have a short range, this is tactical aviation (the exception is the American RQ-4 Global Hawk with a range of about a thousand kilometers). Therefore, the drone control center is usually located near the combat zone. It is enough to destroy it, and the devices will collapse.
The Pentagon has been trying to solve this problem since 2014. Including with the help of the Gremlins project – inexpensive medium-sized UAVs with a semi-autonomous control system. The main requirement: drones must be based on a manned aircraft and r-eturn to the carrier after co-mpleting a combat mission. Since 2018, the technology has been tested on the basis of experimental X-61A – with varying success.
In November 2019, the aerodynamics of the Gremlins were checked – under the wing of an aircraft. In January 2020, the drone separated from the carrier for the first time and went free flight.
As conceived by the developers, after completing the combat mission, the drone docks with the docking station, which is dragged by the C-130A on a cable, and the transport aircraft pulls it into the cargo compartment. However, all nine attempts to return to base were unsuccessful – excessive shaking interfered. It was possible to liquidate it only now.
Collect in half an hour
The performance characteristics of the X-61A Gremlin are known. It is an aircraft-type drone with a thick fuselage, narrow straight wing and a turbojet engine. Length – 4.2 meters, wingspan – about 3.5 meters. The takeoff weight is 680 kilograms, of which 66 is the payload.
The range is 560 kilometers. The small combat radius is leveled by the possibility of basing on a long-range aircraft – this is the know-how of the project.
“If successful, the US Air Force will receive completely new combat capabilities,” the manager of the Gremlin program, Tim Keater, told reporters. drone collects information, identifies targets and performs other functions in a dangerous area for pilots. “
According to Keeter, the next stage is a test launch of four drones at once. The plane must then collect them in half an hour.
Regardless of the results, observers have already started talking about the tactics of the wars of the future: the use of inexpensive drones in whole swarms. The Pentagon’s calculation, according to experts, is simple. In the event of an armed confrontation with an enemy equal or close in strength, the Americans will primarily use aviation. UAVs will be at the forefront, which will not only point to targets, cover from electronic countermeasures, but will also be able to refuel manned aircraft.
The power of the swarm
Such technologies are being developed not only in the USA. In particular, the Russian company “Kronstadt” is working on a system for using a swarm of drones based on artificial intelligence.
“The main emphasis is on the autonomy of the aircraft, increasing their intelligence, and information awareness of drones,” explains Sergey Bogatikov, CEO of the enterprise. “This gives them the ability to independently make the right decisions – with minimal human involvement.”
As expected, the promising compound will independently distribute functions – shock, reconnaissance. In the future, the unmanned “horde” will be able to autonomously search for and hit assigned targets, transmitting information about them to the allied forces.
“Significant minus”
It is possible that smart swarms and “flying aircraft carriers” will become mandatory in operations involving ground, air and sea forces.
“A military transport aircraft is capable of taking on board quite a few small UAVs and performing the functions of a winged headquarters with them,” says Viktor Murakhovsky, editor-in-chief of the Arsenal of the Fatherland magazine. For example, “Gremlins” can be used as loitering ammunition. If they do not find a worthy target, they will return. “
However, according to him, the technology also has disadvantages. The main one is the vulnerability of the carrier aircraft.
“To sink an aircraft carrier, you need to break through the anti-aircraft and anti-missile lines of its escort. To destroy a transport aircraft, one anti-aircraft missile is enough,” Murakhovsky clarifies.
In this way, the expert believes, it is possible to fight only with the enemy without a developed air defense system – for example, terrorists. However, in the same Afghanistan, American drones had little effect on the situation as a whole.

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