The world took another step towards unrestricted global drone warfare - or just a few more options for American generals - on Tuesday, following the first launch of an unmanned aircraft from a seaborne carrier.
The Northrop Grumman-built X-47B prototype took off with the help of a catapult from the deck of the USS George H.W. Bush for a 65-minute flight to a Naval airbase on land.
Vice Adm. David Buss said in a statement: "Today we saw a small, but significant pixel in the future picture of our Navy as we begin integration of unmanned systems into arguably the most complex warfighting environment that exists today: the flight deck of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier."
Future tests will test the ability of the X-47B to land on a carrier
What sets the X-47B apart from current drones in the US military arsenal is its ability to fly autonomously to a preset target with the ability to make decisions about course corrections.
Although drones cannot target without human intervention, campaign groups fear this is another step towards the reality of "killer robots" able to decide for themselves when to fire.
The ability to launch from carriers theoretically gives the aircraft a global reach.
Drones currently used in operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan for example require airfields in countries that may not be hospitable to the idea of hosting US hardware.
The X-47B is a tail-less drone, similar in shape to the more familiar B-2 stealth bomber, also made by Northrop Grumman.
It has a wingspan of 62ft, a range of 21,000 nautical miles and can carry 4,500lbs of weapons.
The US Navy has two of the prototype drones and is developing a larger version with a 172ft wingspan and a 10,000lbs payload.
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