US $250m superbomber 'almost as good' as $8m robot

Top US general Petraeus in bitchslap for 'Bones'


General David Petraeus - the famous US officer who oversaw the "surge" in Iraq and is now set to take over the war in Afghanistan - has delivered a stinging bitchslap to the US Air Force's fleets of heavy manned bombers. Petraeus says that a mighty 200 tonne, quarter-billion-dollar B-1 "Lancer" is "almost" as good as having a much cheaper unmanned aircraft.

The bitchslap was administered earlier this week in the form of a left-handed compliment during Petraeus' confirmation hearings in Washington DC prior to assuming command in Afghanistan.

Military.com reports that one of the legislators grilling Petraeus was Senator John Thune of South Dakota, a state home to a large airbase full of B-1B Lancer heavy strategic bombers.

With the US services facing imminent budget pain following the recent economic crisis, senior airforce figures have lately speculated that the B-1 fleet could be cut, as supersonic heavy bombers' usefulness in modern warfare is questioned by many.

This would be bad news for Thune and his pork-hungry constituents, so he took a break from probing Petraeus' fitness for command to squeeze an endorsement for the B-1 out of the general.

Petraeus did his best to comply, saying that the B-1 (sometimes known as "Bones", from "B-one") is "a great platform ... it carries a heck of a lot of bombs".

This is undeniably true. In just one incident during May last year, a single B-1 dropped no less than five 500-pounder and three blockbusting 2000-pounder bombs on an Afghan village. These four tons of munitions utterly destroyed a mosque, a shrine and various other buildings, and killed a reported 140 people.

Episodes such as this have caused massive disaffection among Afghans and led Petraeus' predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal*, to order a stringent and hotly-debated cutback on the use of airstrikes and other massive firepower - which Petraeus has confirmed will remain largely in place under his command. The ability to carry a "heck of a lot of bombs" isn't actually much of a selling point these days.

Perhaps feeling he hadn't quite done enough, then, Petraeus went on to add that the B-1 is also useful as a flying spyeye for observing events beneath. Ground commanders in recent years have been almost insatiably hungry for aerial surveillance coverage, and such capability is seen as a real war-winner.

Unfortunately Petraeus couldn't quite manage to avoid revealing that there are much, much cheaper and better ways of providing such coverage.

"[The B-1] is almost like having another unmanned aerial vehicle in terms of full motion video and so forth,” he added. (Our emphasis.)

A Sky Warrior UAV, however, costs just $7.5m as opposed to something on the order of $250m for a B-1B. The Warrior, in addition to being better at the main mission - surveillance - also carries smart Hellfire missiles, a much more surgical weapon than anything the B-1 can offer.

Petraeus' comments are being viewed in some quarters as a "hearty shout out" for the Lancer.

Not so much, we'd suggest. ®

Bootnote

*For those readers who missed all the brouhaha, McChrystal - a long-serving former commander of the ultra-secret, blacker-than-black "Tier One" special ops JSOC supertroops - was recently fired following disparaging public comments regarding senior Obama administration officials by him and his personal staff.

Petraeus was asked to take a step down from his post as boss of US Central Command - into which he was promoted following his perceived "surge" success in Iraq - to supersede McChrystal. A British general is in temporary charge until he can take the reins.


Other stories you might like

  • China rolls out bots to enforce ‘temporary closed-off management’ of Shanghai
    Drones, delivery-bots and robo-sprayers at work in locked-down megacity

    State-controlled media in China is proudly reporting the use of robots to facilitate the “temporary closed-off management” of Shanghai, which has experienced a new surge of COVID.

    The city of 26 million plus residents has been locked down as cases reportedly surge past the 13,000 mark each day, a new high for the city and a level of infection that China will not tolerate under its zero COVID policy. City authorities have quickly created 47,000 temporary hospital beds and increased capacity to four million tests each day. All residents have been required to take a test.

    Robots are helping to enforce the lockdown. Police have employed “drones equipped with a broadcasting system to patrol key areas.” The craft “publicize latest news and anti-pandemic prevention and control measures to the local communities." Which looks and sounds like this.

    Continue reading
  • Boston Dynamics' latest robot is a warehouse workhorse
    When does this thing get to unionize?

    Robotics company Boston Dynamics is making one of its latest robots more generally commercially available: a mobile, autonomous arm called Stretch.

    Stretch is outfitted with a vacuum gripping arm able to move a wide variety of box types and sizes, up to 50 pounds (≈22.7kg). Its footprint is about that of a warehouse pallet, and it can move around on its own, which Boston Dynamics said makes it a good fit for companies trying to automate without building a whole new factory.

    "Stretch offers logistics providers an easier path to automation by working within existing warehouse spaces and operations, without requiring costly reconfiguration or investments in new fixed infrastructure," Boston Dynamics said this week.

    Continue reading
  • Japanese startup makes baby carrier-style sling for 'Love Robots'
    Fittings open on Saturday, to make it easier to take motorized pals with you wherever you go

    Japanese startup Groove X will on Saturday stage fittings for a wearable sling - somewhat akin to baby carriers - designed to let owners of "Love Robots" more easily carry the machines wherever they go.

    The robots in question are called LOVOTs – a name that combines the words Love and Robot to reflect the creations' intended role as an object of domestic affection for residents of Japan that fancy cuddling up to a furry machine. LOVOTs roll around on wheels and have a cylindrical object on their head containing a camera and other sensors.

    The fitting session will take place in the newly expanded LOVOT Studio – a store in downtown Tokyo that this week opened a space in which LOVOT owners can congregate, with their robots, to enjoy each other's company among like-minded friends.

    Continue reading
  • Google helps develop AI-driven lab machine to diagnose Parkinson's
    Robo-worker manipulates test tubes and pipettes, images skin cells to classify disease

    A robotic system armed with AI-powered cameras can grow and image skin cells from test tubes to diagnose Parkinson's disease with minimal human help, according to researchers from Google and the New York Stem Cell Foundation.

    Parkinson's disease is estimated to affect 2 to 3 percent of the population over the age of 65. Nerve cells located deep within the basal ganglia region of the brain slowly die over time, impacting motion. Patients find it difficult to control their movements; their limbs may shake or feel stiff. Scientists aren't sure what causes the disease, and it is currently incurable.

    "Traditional drug discovery isn't working very well, particularly for complex diseases like Parkinson's," NYSCF's CEO Susan Solomon explained in a statement. "The robotic technology NYSCF has built allows us to generate vast amounts of data from large populations of patients, and discover new signatures of disease as an entirely new basis for discovering drugs that actually work."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022