Policy & Law
Despite their key role in Washington's ongoing shadow wars in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, the US Air Force has long been resistant to the idea of utilizing unmanned aerial drones in an honest-to-goodness air war. Earlier this year it announced plans to scale back its drone fleets significantly, and for good reason — faced with any kind of human resistance from a sufficiently funded military, the fact is drones still don't stand a chance. But new evidence reported on Aviation Week suggests that the Air Force may instead be developing at least two new kinds of remote-control stealth planes in secret.
Bill Sweetman reports that Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman are behind the new drones, which include a "Next Generation" stealth bomber and UAV reconnaissance plane. None of these plans have been officially disclosed, however, highlighting a significant contrast to the Air Force's public-facing side, which has repeatedly expressed reluctance about incorporating drones as its mainstay. In 2008, then-US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that trying to get the Air Force to expand its drone armies was "like pulling teeth."
In contrast, the Army and the Navy have openly poured billions of dollars into developing drones in recent years, newest among them being the deadly X47-B, which will soon be deployed from US aircraft carriers. But if there's any truth to Sweetman's report — which there very well could be, judging from the Pentagon's previous plans — the Air Force may be shedding its stubborn resistance to change, albeit under the cover of a highly classified black project.