Boeing unveils unmanned combat jet developed in Australia

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A model of Boeing CoÕs new unmanned, fighter-like jet, called the Boeing Airpower Teaming System, is displayed in Avalon, Australia February 27, 2019. (REUTERS)
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A model of Boeing CoÕs new unmanned, fighter-like jet, called the Boeing Airpower Teaming System, is displayed in Avalon, Australia February 27, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 27 February 2019
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Boeing unveils unmanned combat jet developed in Australia

  • The jet is powered by a derivative of a commercially available engine, uses standard runways for take-off and landing, and can be modified for carrier operations at sea, Robertson said

AVALON, Australia: Boeing Co. on Wednesday unveiled an unmanned, fighter-like jet developed in Australia and designed to fly alongside crewed aircraft in combat for a fraction of the cost.
The US manufacturer hopes to sell the multi-role aircraft, which is 38 feet long (11.6 meters) and has a 2,000 nautical mile (3,704 kilometer) range, to customers around the world, modifying it as requested.
It is Australia’s first domestically developed combat aircraft in decades and Boeing’s biggest investment in unmanned systems outside the United States, although the company declined to specify the dollar amount.
Defense contractors are investing increasingly in autonomous technology as militaries around the world look for a cheaper and safer way to maximize their resources.
Boeing rivals like Lockheed Martin Corp. and Kratos Defense and Security Solutions Inc. are also investing in such aircraft.
Four to six of the new aircraft, called the Boeing Airpower Teaming System, can fly alongside a F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, said Shane Arnott, director of Boeing research and prototype arm Phantom Works International.
“To bring that extra component and the advantage of unmanned capability, you can accept a higher level of risk,” he said.
The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in the United States said last year that the US Air Force should explore pairing crewed and uncrewed aircraft to expand its fleet and complement a limited number of “exquisite, expensive, but highly potent fifth-generation aircraft” like the F-35.
“Human performance factors are a major driver behind current aerial combat practices,” the policy paper said. “Humans can only pull a certain number of Gs, fly for a certain number of hours, or process a certain amount of information at a given time.”
In addition to performing like a fighter jet, other roles for the Boeing system early warning, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance alongside aircraft like the P-8 Poseidon and E-7 Wedgetail, said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems.
“It is operationally very flexible, modular, multi-mission,” she said. “It is a very disruptive price point. Fighter-like capability at a fraction of the cost.”
Robertson declined to comment on the cost, saying that it would depend on the configuration chosen by individual customers.
The jet is powered by a derivative of a commercially available engine, uses standard runways for take-off and landing, and can be modified for carrier operations at sea, Robertson said. She declined to specify whether it could reach supersonic speeds, common for modern fighter aircraft.
Its first flight is expected in 2020, with Boeing and the Australian government producing a concept demonstrator to pave the way for full production.
Australia, a staunch US ally, is home to Boeing’s largest footprint outside the United States and has vast airspace with relatively low traffic for flight testing.
The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will be manufactured in Australia, but production lines could be set up in other countries depending on sales, Arnott said.
The United States, which has the world’s biggest military budget, would be among the natural customers for the product.
The US Air Force 2030 project foresees the Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter working together with stealthy combat drones, called the “Loyal Wingman” concept, said Derrick Maple, principal analyst for unmanned systems at IHS Markit. “The US has more specific plans for the wingman concept, but Western Europe will likely develop their requirements in parallel, to abate the capabilities of China and the Russian Federation and other potential threats,” he said.
Robertson declined to name potential customers and would not comment on potential stealth properties, but said the aircraft had the potential to sell globally.
“We didn’t design this as a point solution but a very flexible solution that we could outfit with payloads, sensors, different mission sets to complement whatever their fleet is,” she said. “Don’t think of it as a specific product that is tailored to do only one mission.”


WWWorries? Inventor of Web laments coming-of-age woes

Updated 12 March 2019
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WWWorries? Inventor of Web laments coming-of-age woes

  • Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN as a software engineer when he invented the hypertext-transfer protocol
  • He hopes countries can make the web available to more citizens

GENEVA: The inventor of the World Wide Web knows his revolutionary innovation is coming of age, and doesn’t always like what he sees: state-sponsored hacking, online harassment, hate speech and misinformation among the ills of its “digital adolescence.”
Tim Berners-Lee issued a cri-de-coeur letter and spoke to a few reporters Monday on the eve of the 30-year anniversary of his first paper with an outline of what would become the web — a first step toward transforming countless lives and the global economy.
The European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, plans to host Berners-Lee and other web aficionados on Tuesday. “We’re celebrating, but we’re also very concerned,” Berners-Lee said.
Late last year, a key threshold was crossed — roughly half the world has gotten online. Today some 2 billion websites exist.
The anniversary offers “an opportunity to reflect on how far we have yet to go,” Berners-Lee said, calling the “fight” for the web “one of the most important causes of our time.”
He is convinced the online population will continue to grow, but says accessibility issues continue to beset much of the world.
“Look at the 50 percent who are on the web, and it’s not so pretty for them,” he said. “They are all stepping back suddenly horrified after the Trump and Brexit elections realizing that this web thing that they thought was so cool has actually not necessarily been serving humanity very well.”
The anniversary is also a nod to the innovative, collaborative and open-source mindset at the Geneva-based CERN, where physicists smash particles together to unlock secrets of science and the universe.
As a young English software engineer, Berners-Lee came up with the idea for hypertext-transfer protocol — the “http” that adorns web addresses — and other building blocks for the web while working at CERN in March 1989. Some trace the actual start of the web to 1990, when he released the first web browser.
Berners-Lee reminisced about how he was really out to get disparate computer systems to talk to one another, and resolve the “burning frustration” over a “lack of interoperability” of documentation from disparate computing systems used at CERN in the late 1980s.
Now, the hope of his World Wide Web Foundation is to enlist governments, companies, and citizens to take a greater role in shaping the web for good under principles laid out in its “Contract for the Web.”
Under the contract’s sweeping, broad ambition, governments are supposed to make sure everyone can connect to the Internet, to keep it available and to respect privacy. Companies are to make the Internet affordable, respect privacy and develop technology that will put people — and the “public good” — first. Citizens are to create and to cooperate and respect “civil discourse,” among other things.
To Berners-Lee, the web is a “mirror of humanity” where “you will see good and bad.”
“The Contract for the Web recognizes that whether humanity, in fact, is constructive or not actually depends on the way you write the code of the social network,” he said.
Some tough regulation may be necessary in some places, in others not, Berners-Lee said.
On one issue, he’s insistent: “Net neutrality — strong regulation,” Berners-Lee said, hammering a fist on the table. He was alluding to a principle that anyone with an Internet connection should have equal access to video, music, email, photos, social networks, maps and other online material.
Berners-Lee said the web has created opportunity, made lives easier and given the marginalized a voice, but “it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crime easier to commit.”
Ultimately, his “Contract” proposal is not about “quick fixes,” but a process for shifting people’s relationship with the online world, he said.
“It’s our journey from digital adolescence to a more mature, responsible and inclusive future,” he wrote.