As opposed to the slower, prop-driven drones like the the Air Force's Predator drones that are better suited for smaller, more prolonged conflicts that require light-weight missiles and insurgent surveillance, the jet-propelled X-47B appears designed more for quick, shock and awe bombing runs against heavily fortified enemies.
Whether or not the Navy adopts a full fleet of X-47Bs will likely boil down to cost. As Wired first reported, funding for drones is dropping. Additionally, David Axe points out that the Navy has already sunk a lot of money into the X-47B to the tune of $800 million since development began in 2007.
The Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System, a proposed follow-on program to the X-47B, could cost more than $2 billion over the next five years and billions more if put into full-scale production. By comparison, a ship-launched Predator-style drone could cost around $9 million to build, while a jet-powered drone fetches a $15 million price tag.
"The X-47B is a great story," Mark Gunzinger, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think-tank, said according to Reuters. "It's a milestone and a step forward for unmanned, carrier-based aviation. But I think the real story is what's next. How do we operationalize this capability?"