Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams
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Not a lot has been written about new products from Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works during the last couple of years, but aerospace officials say the advanced projects company has produced prototypes of a classified, unmanned aerial vehicle--built strictly as an intelligence-gathering aircraft--that "has been used" operationally over Iraq.
The aircraft is described by a U.S. Air Force official as a derivative of the "DarkStar" (Tier 3-minus) program that was canceled after the demonstration aircraft was test flown and then declared operationally unsuitable. The new Lockheed Martin UAV is "highly reliable," in part because of a much improved flight control system, the Air Force official said. "It's the same concept as DarkStar, it's stealthy, and it uses the same apertures and data links," he said. "The numbers are limited. There are a couple of airframes, a ground station and spare parts."
The classified UAV's operation caused consternation among USAF U-2 pilots who noticed high-flying aircraft operating within several miles of their routes over Iraq, a distance they considered too close for comfort. The mysterious aircrafts' flights were not coordinated with those of the other manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft, they said.
"It has the hull form of the DarkStar, only it's bigger," agreed a U.S. Navy official. "It's still far from a production aircraft, but the Air Force wanted to go ahead and get it out there. They have to determine if the intelligence they can gather from it is worth paying several times more than the cost of the [non-stealthy] Global Hawk."
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