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07/10/2013

"Game-changing" drone lands on U.S. carrier

Us carrier drone
(Source: U.S. Navy)

Here is an inevitability that today became reality -- the U.S. just announced the "historic" breaththrough of successfully landing a next-generation unmanned drone aboard an aircraft carrier.

The fighter-jet sized X-47B landed intact aboard the USS George H.W. Bush off the coast of Virginia earlier Wednesday -- a demonstration hailed by Navy brass as "the first time a tailless, unmanned autonomous aircraft landed on a modern aircraft carrier."

"By evolving and integrating new technology like the X-47B and the unmanned aircraft to follow, carriers will remain relevant throughout their 50-year lifespan," Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said in a statement.

If initial reaction is any indication, the Navy may be dramatically underestimating the significance of its own achievement. This isn't just about carriers, or the Navy, for that matter.

Many are now pointing out that as American carriers attain mobile drone launch capabilities, the need for land-based drone bases is likely to vanish accordingly. Drones have already dramatically altered global conflict. But their rise over the past decade necessitated on-the-ground commitments in places like Afghanistan.

Today's landing "represents a watershed moment in the wielding of unmanned aerial vehicles," Brian Jones of Business Insider said in a rapid assessment of what it all means.

"Today, the U.S. showed that it can tether the clandestine nature of drones to the power projection ability of the largest Navy in the world," Jones writes.

"Now, theorhetically, the American military will not need a secret base, or the permission of countries where they are located, like Saudi Arabia, to launch unmanned aerial vehicles."

Mitch Potter is the Toronto Star's Washington Bureau Chief, his third foreign posting after previous assignments to London and Jerusalem. Potter led the Toronto Star’s coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he won a 2006 National Newspaper Award for his reportage. His dispatches include datelines from 33 countries since 2000. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites

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