It looks like a beluga whale, but it may well be the shape of war in the 21st century. There's no crew, just computer technicians uploading the mission software.
The Global Hawk is an unmanned aircraft now being tested at Edwards Air Force Base in California. It can take off by itself and - with no pilot to get tired - fly for up to 38 hours nonstop. Global Hawk is designed to take pictures but program manager Claude Hashem says it could just as easily be designed to drop bombs by remote control.
"I will direct my bomber over the target, and once I'm over here, if it's a mouse I'm using or it's a touch pad, I will just touch it, and I will just hit 'drop the bomb' and click," explains Hashem.
It is point and click warfare fought from a control room far from the battlefield.
When asked if warfare can be that easy, Hashem says, "As an engineer, I say warfare is that easy."
Defense contractors are already working on concepts for unmanned bombers that the Air Force's Guy Hooper says will one day revolutionize air war as we know it.
"The bombs go off, smoke clears, the all clear sounds, people come out, the war continues. Well, in our case, the all clear never sounds because the robot never leaves. It's always there because this guy doesn't get tired," says Hooper.
But Air Force officials are going to think long and hard before taking the pilots out of combat aircraft.
"Man, we got to be real sure that these airplanes are going to react the way we want them to," Hooper says.
Until then, the Air Force will concentrate on keeping its pilots on the cutting edge of technology. Major Glenn Graham is testing a computerized helmet loaded with sensors that allow him just to turn his head toward his target and know that his weapon will fire in the direction he's looking.
But if you think all wars in the 21st century are going to be fought by remote control, you need to come here to Quantico, Va., where Marines are finding out there are precious few high-tech solutions to the nasty job of urban warfare.
Taking a city means fighting at close quarters, and Lt. Col. Gary Schenkel says high tech won't do an infantryman much good.
"He doesn't have time to put down his rifle and pick up some other piece of technology to try to operate and fight against that enemy at the same time," says Schenkel.
The nitty gritty of house-to-house fighting is a world away from the point and click warfare envisioned by the engineers at Edwards Air Force Base.
To them, the high-tech possibilities are limitless. But according to Schenkel, "They don't have to carry it....I can tell you if you can't shoot it, drink it or eat it, you're not going to carry it when you go into combat."
In recent urban warfare exercises, Marines have suffered up to 70 percent casualties, and that'not likely to get much better in the 21st century.
"We're always going to take casualties. It's inevitable. Unfortunately that's what war boils down to. People get hurt. It's ugly. It's mean. It's filthy. There's no way around it," says Schenkel.
But there's no way around the fact that by the year 2025, 70 percent of the world's population is expected to be living in urban areas - a fact that may keep an engineer's dream from becoming a foot soldier's reality.
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