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Killer Drones Converge on California, Ready to Take Off

Five years ago, the Pentagon was on cusp of an air-combat revolution. For a few brief, heady months in late 2005, it looked like the U.S. military might soon launch full-scale development of a new class of fast, lethal Unmanned Aerial Vehicles eventually capable of replacing all kinds of fighter jets, from the older F-15s, F-16s and F-18s to the latest F-22s.

But the revolution fizzled when the Air Force abandoned its share of the so-called Joint Unmanned Combat Air System effort. Manned jets continued to dominate, culminating in today’s mammoth, $300-billion F-35 program.

The embers of upheaval kept burning, almost invisibly. The technology from the 2005 effort survived in various forms, slowly maturing amid a growing demand for combat UAVs. Today, no fewer than three separate killer drone designs — two of them direct descendants of the original J-UCAS demonstrators — have converged on two airfields in California for flight tests.

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