Good News and Not So Good
Technology drives the world. No point in pretending otherwise. Ever since NASA and DARPA developed the printed circuit, the microchip, the LCD screen, and a host of other inventions that rule our daily lives… those same aviation development teams are continually writing your future whether you like it or not. So, seeing what they have in store for 2018 and beyond may help you plan your future and the future of your children with a little more certainty.
The arms boys and girls are especially busy. Russia's MiG team have decided that pilotless fighters are the future and are "upgrading" several fighters, including their advanced MiG-35 to fit the bill. Can they pull it off? It is worth remembering that they built a Shuttle called the Buran that took off and landed autonomously back in 1988! Oh, and they had a MiG-29SMT flying pilotless in Syria already last year. Why are they doing this? Actually they are cutting their defense budget to 1.5% of GDP and not having pilots to pay helps. The money they save goes to cyberwarfare…
Meanwhile, China has jumped into the pilotless game with spy planes that can loiter for days. And, yes, they are developing fighters too, spending 2% of GDP on defense.
Far more exciting in the good news' department are the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, set to blast off very soon, and the Scaled Stratolaunch plane already in testing. The SpaceX Falcon Heavy is the largest rocket booster since the Saturn 5 and, yes, it will land all by itself when it spits it's payload into low earth orbit (where the upper stage can fire to attain a desired altitude). In fact, to test the rocket payload capacity (ready to launch, the Falcon is heavier than a Boeing 737 fully loaded), Elon Musk is putting his car as the payload and may aim it at Mars. And no, I am not kidding. By the time you read this it may already have launched. The Scaled Stratolaunch is a huge plane, set to climb, carrying a rocket strapped to its belly, to more than 60,000 feet where it will drop and ignite the rocket, thereby allowing a huge payload to be sent to space at a fraction of the cost of a normal launch. And, yes, it can make hundreds of flights, landing each time back at Mojave.
Meanwhile, Boeing have announced the "Son of Blackbird" prototype capable of flying "more than Mach 5" (estimates are Mach 7+). It's called Hypersonic Propulsion. Seen as a "defensive" plane, the Son of Blackbird will be used for spying and what Boeing calls "limited offensive capability." Defense is also the stated plan of the Aegis Ashore installations with the SM-3 Block 11A interceptor rockets. Poland has the first site being completed now to protect Europe from missiles from the Middle East (or at least that's what they say when they mean Iran).
Sorry to end on a sour note, but you do need to know this: With a budget of $647,000,000,000 (not including existing development programs which are over $1,000,000,000,000 a year), the US Defense budget is 3.5% of GDP. There are 1,281,900 active, full-time, men and women in uniform and 801,200 in reserve (active duty reserve). Currently, and for the year certainly, we have US personnel deployed in: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Belgium, Djibouti, Egypt, Germany, Guam, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Niger, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Korea, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. And we employ mercenaries (sorry, professional soldiers from other countries) in another 15 countries.