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To better track potential threats around the globe, the Pentagon is developing two unique unmanned surveillance aircraft systems: the Rapid Eye and the Vulture.
Adapted from NASA concepts for aircraft that might one day explore Mars, the Rapid Eye is envisioned as an unmanned aerial vehicle carrying a 500-pound payload that would be deployed in a ballistic missile to arrive at any target on Earth within two hours of launch.
If the threat level is deemed sufficiently high, the Vulture might be launched to continue long-term surveillance of a region. The Vulture is expected to be able to carry a 1,000-pound payload into the stratosphere, flying continuously at an altitude of 90,000 feet for up to five years.
The Vulture prototypes might include modular designs in which portions of the craft return to Earth for refueling and maintenance while the primary section continues to remain above a region of interest.