...When the Air Force first tried to replace its aging fleet of tankers a decade ago, you could
have counted on your hands the number of drones.
...In February 2011, when the tanker contract was finally awarded to Boeing, the number of
unmanned aerial vehicles stood at 7,000.
...The emergence of highly capable robots promises to change a lot of things. Call it a killer
app.
...“Were seeing a change not only in the history of war, but humanity,” said Peter Warren
Singer, author of “Wired for War,” during a March lecture at the Office of Naval Research.
...Work is moving ahead on unmanned systems big and little, from bird-sized UAVs to those
the size of airliners.
...One project that’s moving forward rapidly is DARPA’s $33 million KQ-X, designed to
create an unmanned aerial tanker that will be able to refuel other unmanned vehicles. Earlier
this year a NASA Global Hawk and manned Proteus flew within 40 feet of each other to test
control issues. In the spring of 2012, two autonomous Global Hawks will conduct a refueling
mission.
...The development of UAV aerial tankers makes sense in light of the number of unmanned
systems that will likely fill the skies in the future.
...Singer, senior fellow and director of the 21st century defense initiative of the Brookings
Institution, said during the lecture that an Air Force three-star claims we won’t be using
thousands of aerial robots in the future, but tens of thousands.
...And they won’t be today’s robots.
...Singer said robots now are like Model Ts. Within 25 years computers and robots could be a
billion times more powerful. He pointed out that a Hallmark greeting card of today that plays a
song has more computing power than the entire U.S. Air Force had in 1960.
...The Air Force is already training more robot system operators than pilots. Unmanned aerial
tanker production lines may be needed before all the manned KC-46As are built.
...If the Gulf Coast is smarting over the loss of the tanker project, it might do well to look into
where the future is heading. Moss Point, Miss., already builds portions of Global Hawk and
Fire Scout, and likely will be involved in the bigger version of Fire Scout, the Fire-X.
...Tens of thousands of UAVs? They have to be made somewhere. – David Tortorano


April 2011
Aerospace/robotics
Robots: The real "killer app"
Tens of thousands of highly capable robot systems will be flying in the future, and they have
to be built somewhere...