THE COST OF DOING BUSINESS
The effects of sequestration are immediately visible at bases across the country. The pass office at the main gate of PAX River bears large signs signalling it will be closed every Friday from July 8 to September 30 -- the dates during which Defense Secretary Hagel said almost all civilian employees will endure 11 days of furloughs. Staff, such as in public affairs, will also likely close the bulk of their offices on Fridays during those weeks so that other services -- such as security and emergency responders -- can draw down their numbers in kind.
But the X-47B has so far been safe from the across-the-board mandatory cuts. Its total program cost was estimated at $813 million as of January 2012, Business Insider reports.
"We haven't seen any direct impacts due to sequestration," says Engdahl. "It's mostly because we're at the end of the demonstration in execution and we're moving along."
However, the next stages of testing this technology may not be so lucky. Sequestration creates an environment where turning tested technologies over to another program within the military becomes more difficult, Engdahl says.
A team of top-flight engineers and testers was amassed for this program, says Lt. Cmdr. Hall, which unlike some other aerial programs can only settle for the very best components.
"Any plane that has an 'X' in front of it is always surrounded by the best and brightest team you can assemble," he tells U.S. News, standing in the hangar where the two X-47Bs are housed. The military uses that letter to denote experimental aircraft.
"This really is a pure engineering and flight test organization, so I have ... the best Northrup Grumman guys over there and the best government guys over there," he says.
Engdahl adds that he always underestimates the public interest of this aircraft, which has appeared on the cover of Popular Science magazine.
"We're handing the U.S. Navy ... the technology to be able to do whatever they need to," Engdahl says. "If it's a pivot to the Pacific and a focus on anti-access area denial, then the entire idea of autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles is very beneficial."