Drone planes, also known as UAVs (for unmanned aerial vehicles), have been one of the main military technology stories for several years. Apparently, crunch time has arrived and the Department of Defense procurement people are in a flurry of activity at the moment cancelling some programs and starting new ones across the board, and the latest development involved armed drones.
I'd earlier reported that the X-45, a planned short range drone bomber that will fill the niche of the F-117, as a small payload bomber for high risk strike missions, and the X-47, a backup version, both of which were designed for dual ground and aircraft carrier use, were cancelled. Now, it appears that the story is more complicated than that.
Right now it appears that the U.S. military is looking at a drone long range heavy bomber to fill the B-52s niche, an Air Force drone fighter-bomber (rather than a pure short range bombing aircraft) and a Navy drone fighter-bomber. The planned delivery date of these new projects is about 2020.
This still casts real doubts on the motives of the officials who made the X-45/X-47 cancellation decision. An X-45 was planned to be in service in 2008. The latest decison postpones that date by about 12 years, which is the difference between retiring with a full twenty years of service and being laid off in the near future, to a majority of fighter pilots now in military service.