Boeing decided to take lessons learned and technologies honed in their Bird of Prey project and apply them to a completely new “technology demonstrator” aircraft that they hope could make them a hefty amount of money, while also terrifying anyone with an imagination. They created the X-45 UCAV, or Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle. Like horrors from a science fiction film, these things are meant to travel in packs, autonomously, and engage targets with lethal speed, maneuverability, and armament. They communicate with each other and with near instantaneous speed determine how best to deal with a target in any given situation, then handle it. While one is attacking, another covers it. The craft can accomplish mid-air refueling autonomously. In May of 2009 a secret project inside Boeing was unwrapped to reveal an even deadlier version of the X-45c, the largest most advanced version of the X-45 airframe, dubbed the Phantom Ray. It’ll be flying by 2010. That airframe was expected to rate 0.85 Mach with a ceiling of 40,000 ft. and 4,500 lb munitions payload, so we can expect even more out of the Phantom Ray.
Northrup Grumman didn’t want to feel left out in the X series aerial death race, and neither did the US Navy. Enter the Pegasus, cousin to the X-45 series airframes, but meant for a different environment. The Pegasus is ideally meant to stock carriers with swarms of autonomous operations capable fighter drones. Its impressive 62 ft. wingspan get’s chopped to a fraction for storage in between flights with folding wings. It cruises at .45 Mach and is capable of speeds at the X-45 level, but that’s not as important as the fact that it will be taking off and landing on carrier decks on its own, and able to refuel mid-flight over the ocean if needed. This capability will allow for a carrier to be in an entirely different ocean than the target these drones go after with their payloads of smart-bombs.