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Unmanned Combat Air Systems: A New Kind of Carrier Aviation

by Norman Friedman, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 2010, $52.95.

To my knowledge, there’s no work comparable to Norman Friedman’s new book, which details the wide variety of existing UCAVs and explores the even more prominent role they’ll assume in the future. He points out that their present roles will be transformed in importance by orders of magnitude when they become a persistent “virtual air base.” Carriers, now threatened by the appearance of new cruise missiles and maneuverable ballistic missiles, will soon serve as rear bases for a “swarm” of UCAVs near or over enemy territory. Perhaps the most welcome aspect of this transformation is that it will reduce costs.

Friedman describes the Northrop Grumman X-47B, for example, as “transformational,” an unpiloted aircraft that will be deployed from carriers for multiple missions. He also addresses perhaps the biggest hurdle the X-47B and its ilk will face—the antipathy of pilots—and takes a judicious look at where and when a pilot is, and is not, needed in the cockpit.

Friedman devotes 60 pages to the book’s six chapters, while the two appendices require all of 185 pages. Appendix I, relatively short, covers the combat use of UCAVs. Appendix II provides a voluminous listing of the world’s UAVs, including all large military UAVs currently or about to be in service as well as some experimental types.


Originally published in the May 2011 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here