The Mighty X-47B: Is It Really Time for Retirement?

May 6, 2015 Topic: Security Tags: X-47BAircraftNavy

The Mighty X-47B: Is It Really Time for Retirement?

The X-47B program has been a great success. Is it really time for the boneyard?

Stakeholders in the ruling paradigm defend it until contrary evidence becomes overwhelming—at which point the old order shatters, giving way to something new. That’s the upheaval Kuhn memorably dubbed a paradigm shift.

In philosophical terms, U.S. naval aviation is attempting a difficult feat: superintending an orderly paradigm shift from manned to a composite of manned and unmanned air wings. Out with the old paradigm, in with the new. If successful, such a transition would gladden the hearts of both Popper and Kuhn. One imagines they would agree that continual experimentation using the best scientific instruments at hand—hello, UCAS-D!—constitutes the best way to oversee the transition to a new age of unmanned flight with minimal turbulence. With apologies to Aegis forefather Wayne Meyer, let’s amend his formula: build a little, test a lot, learn a lot.

James Holmes is Professor of Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College and coauthor of Red Star over the Pacific, an Atlantic Monthly Best Book of 2010. The views voiced here are his alone.

Image: U.S. Navy