Though war can be called the scourge of humanity – it is no doubt that future war technology has its appeal in our imaginations. Whether dove or hawk, most of us can admit to at least feeling a sense of awe when seeing the majestic grandeur of an aircraft carrier, or the awesome speed and maneuverability of modern day aircraft. And, let’s face it, for any nation it is a sense of tremendous pride to have an advanced and capable military – even if the purpose is primarily for defense of the homeland.
Because of the nature of the world – it is always volatile – weapons of war and defense are always under development. The combined global military expenditure has decreased in recent years, from almost 4% in 1989 to about 2.6% today. Considering the global Goss Domestic Product (GDP) is estimated at about $70 trillion as of 2011, quick math reveals that over a trillion dollars is being spent every year on militaries around the world. That is a lot of money – more that the entire GDP of most countries around the world. That kind of expenditure can purchase a lot of weapons, and fund the development of even more. Of course, the United States of America leads the world in military spending. It would serve to reason that the country also leads the world in weapons development. In this article we will look at some prospective military aircraft of the future.
Efficient Vertical Take Off Still An Elusive Goal
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is one of the main defense agencies responsible for funding the development of new war technologies. The agency has released information on several projects – including the Disc-Rotor Compound Helicopter. This interesting looking aircraft looks like a mix between a helicopter and an airplane – with the helicopter blades extending from a disk sitting atop the aircraft. The machine will be able to take off vertically like a helicopter, then it will fly horizontally in the same manner as an airplane. The blades would retract into the disk atop the machine in order to reduce drag. The Disc-Rotor Compound Helicopter is just the latest attempt by the military to combine the benefits of the helicopter and the airplane. Previous attempts have included the Harrier Jump Jet, which has had a relatively successful career, and the V-22 Osprey, which has had a career characterized by deadly crashes.
The Future Belongs To The Drones
In many ways the future of airborne war technology is already here. In the mountains of Yemen and Pakistan militants are stalked by robotic drone aircraft – which can be deadly accurate when firing their payload of rockets and missiles. These aircraft can fly high enough to remain unseen, all while controlled remotely, theoretically from thousands of miles away. Currently the drones are all controlled by human beings. Controversially, there are plans to give drones independent decision making technology in the future, essentially allowing them to make life or death decisions with little or no human input.
Another kind of drone, currently under development by Boeing, is the so-called “Sky Eagle.” This amazing aircraft would be able to remain airborne for an incredible 5 years at a time, all while essentially acting as a spy plane. It would provide intelligence gathering, communications support, and surveillance operations. The Sky Eagle is practically a reality, and is expected to be an unmanned aircraft with a 120 meter wingspan. It will remain at an altitude of 18,000 feet above the earth’s surface. The Sky Eagle is expected to be ready for deployment in 2014.
Mach 20 – Not So Fast
One of the most ambitious aerospace objectives currently being researched is the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2.) This is a theoretical aircraft which would be able to fly anywhere in the world in less than an hour. The technological challenges associated with this kind of performance are enormous. The aircraft would have to be able to reach a speed of about 13,000 miles per hour (Mach 20) and withstand temperatures of up to 3,500F. Two rocket based test flights in the last couple of years both crashed after less than 10 minutes flight time. It remains to be seen if the technology will eventually make it to a phase of practicality. Should this theoretical aircraft ever be successfully developed – the world would get much smaller. A trip from New York to Los Angeles would only take an estimated 12 minutes at top speed in the HTV-2.
A Flying Humvee?
One more interesting aviation initiative is the Transformer project. The idea behind the project is to develop a car, which can fly, that can also carry 4 adult passengers a distance of driven 250 miles – all on one tank of fuel. A quick check on recent updates for this project yield few recent articles, perhaps for good reason. Good luck with that one.
Small Is The New Big
The future of airborne weapons does not only belong to the large, but also to the very small as well. The Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) program has an objective of making small airborne vehicles which could be utilized in a variety of applications, including both indoor and outdoor missions. The object is to develop an aircraft smaller than 15 centimeters in length, and 20 grams in weight. There have been widely circulated videos on the internet of a small robotic hummingbird, which was developed as part of the program. Researchers studied the flight and hovering mechanics of real-world humming birds as part of the development process.
No doubt much of the future of warfare will be fought in the sky. But, unlike what may be imagined by many – a future of highly visible aircraft dominating the sky – it seems the opposite will likely be the case. Recent developments seem to indicate that the military would like to employ aircraft that fly higher and faster than ever. And, in the case of nano drones, domination of the sky may mean that the enemy won’t even know that there are aircraft in the vicinity at all.