Unmanned Planes And Airships: What Will Soon Be Able To Stop You?

A strange new plane could be flying at some point this century: The Omicron, a two-seat aircraft with no windows, needs no pilot to fly. The Omicron has been in development for some time,…

Unmanned Planes And Airships: What Will Soon Be Able To Stop You?

A strange new plane could be flying at some point this century: The Omicron, a two-seat aircraft with no windows, needs no pilot to fly.

The Omicron has been in development for some time, but the wingspan and tail design seem like an odd choice for the aircraft. The fear, though, is that this is what future warfare will look like. What would small devices like small drones and even small, flying, small aircraft do without pilots or direct situational awareness from flight data?

The first Omicron demo could happen as soon as this year at the Farnborough Airshow.

Phantom plane: What are “airships”?

This article originally appeared on HUFFPOST HILL, the political news site of HuffPost Post.

Congress agrees the Pentagon shouldn’t put a 5,500-pound, laser-guided, “airship” weapon on the F-35.

The militarization of the skies is a debate long before anyone thought about having “airships.” But aviation legend and ill-fated Minuteman missile systems builder Burt Rutan pitched an idea to the Pentagon nearly two decades ago that would have seen a massive unmanned airship designed and built as part of an air-launched missile and catapulted aboard an F-35 bomber.

“The F-35 with this system is the best plane ever to be built, and yet it wasn’t selected by the U.S. military,” Rutan told NBC News. He also described this design as the most expensive and least effective weaponry ever designed. In the past, he offered to let Pentagon researchers test out the design on a plane-sized drone aircraft designed by his company at his private airfield. Those efforts weren’t successful. Rutan was concerned the missile attack tool would create unintended consequences with humans. “You don’t have to have it in the air,” he says. “You can put it on a ship. You wouldn’t have to have it in the air for strikes. You could blow the hell out of it.”

Not so fast, says Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford. He told reporters on Tuesday that the Defense Department should put the technology to use in a new category of weapon: flying, small airships. “It’s got to be designed in the future. If we didn’t do that, we’d be extremely out of date,” Dunford told reporters during an appearance at the Armed Forces Press Service. Dunford mentioned his concerns about the airship-equipped F-35 as a part of his rationale to make the investments necessary to fully integrate the weapon with the bomber force.

“If that particular program goes ahead,” Dunford said, “the requirement is for [the F-35] to be able to carry that airship.”

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) confirmed this posture at a hearing Tuesday morning on which television networks should bring him to Washington for briefings. Inhofe’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

President Donald Trump has shown interest in such a weapon. In a Twitter post last month, he jokingly discussed the benefits of an aerial weapon based on his “Space Force.” (The Trump administration has yet to determine what an American Space Force would actually be and how it would function.)

The Department of Defense and others, @VP @RonMack took their blueprints to the White House and argued that “Space Force” could be one of the 12 under the @POTUS mission. pic.twitter.com/x2n5yj0tfN — Preston Burton (@prestonburton) December 13, 2017

People on both sides of the debate argue about the risks of putting an unmonitored missile in the sky. But there are consequences of not using these weapons, too. “In the conventional sense, the F-35 does very well,” Rutan told NBC News. “But even a fighter jet, if you’re not always tuned in, has problems. When you have to respond to rapidly changing enemy signals, you’re lost.”

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