US Plans to Build Aircraft Carriers in the Sky

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  • Darpa Conceptualizes A Large Cargo Plane That Could Launch Drones To Spy And Attack
  • It’s a Hollywood sci-fi fantasy that has long eluded the Pentagon: a flying “mothership” that launches smaller aircraft.
  • The Pentagon’s research agency put out a request to industry this month to outline how a large cargo plane could release drones to spy on or attack an enemy and then return to the flying aircraft carrier.
  • The concept conjures up fantastical images from ‘The Avengers’ film and the ‘StarCraft’ videogame, with large motherships sending out smaller craft.
  • But there are no cloaking devices involved in this particular project.
  • At the moment, the Defenze Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) is not close to constructing any test planes and is merely exploring the possibility on paper.
  • Author Peter Singer, who has written extensively about robots and warfare said:This is the float-the-idea stage of the concept. It’s not the build-me-a-prototype stage.
  • In a conceptual drawing from Darpa, a cargo plane resembling a C-130 releases a squadron of drones that look similar to Predator or Reaper aircraft.
  • Dan Patt, the manager for the Darpa programme said:We want to find ways to make smaller aircraft more effective, and one promising idea is enabling existing large aircraft, with minimal modification, to become ‘aircraft carriers in the sky’.
  • It’s not the first time US military has sought to create a carrier in the sky.
  • James Lewis, director of the Strategic Technologies Programme said:This idea goes back to the 1920s.If you think back to dirigibles, they used to have small aircraft, a one-man fighter, that would hook up to them.
  • Constructed by the US Navy in the late 1920s, the rigid airships could carry a small squadron of Sparrowhawk biplanes inside, and the planes would then launch from the dirigible after being lowered by a trapeze device.
  • The biplane would return by latching onto a hook on the belly of the mothership.
  • The US navy built two of the airships but both went down in crashes in 1930s, killing dozens of crew and spelling the end of the experiment.
  • The unmanned D-21 carried a camera for spy missions over China and then was supposed to release the camera for retrieval while the plane would self-destruct.
  • In four missions, the plane either failed to self-destruct as planned or the camera module could not be retrieved, and it was scrapped by 1971.
  • The flying carrier could allow the use of drones in areas where the US has no access to nearby airfields.
  • The technical challenge of recovering a robotic plane in mid-air remains a serious obstacle.
  • The exploration of a possible airborne carrier is part of a massive effort by the Pentagon to invest in cutting-edge robotic technology, as commanders are keenly aware that China, Russia, Iran and other countries are looking to build their own fleets of unmanned weapons.
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