The world's other biggest blackouts

India's dark days continue. When two of the country's five power grids collapsed today, the number of powerless Indians neared 700 million. With stranded trains, unresponsive ATMs, and dark traffic lights abounding, it's been an unprecedented disaster only somewhat mitigated by the fact that the majority of Indians aren't connected to the power grid in the first place. 

India's outage is now the largest blackout in history, surpassing yesterday's power outage for the record. But it's not the only time the world has seen millions without power. Here are a few more of the world's recent memorable blackouts:

Indonesia: Aug. 20, 2005

Number affected: 120 million people in Java and Bali

When three power stations went down, three provinces -- including the capital city, Jakarta -- were plunged into darkness. Fires erupted across the capital when resourceful residents turned to candles to light their homes.

Brazil: March 12, 1999

Number affected: 97 million across Brazil and Paraguay

The blackout was caused by lightning hitting an electricity substation, causing the cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to grind to a hault. Just two years later, the Brazilian government was forced to ration power to prevent more blackouts during a national drought.

Brazil: Nov. 10, 2009

Number affected: 60 million across Brazil and Paraguay

Ten years after Brazil's biggest blackout, the Itaipu dam along the border of Paraguay shut down completely, affecting large parts of both countries. Many at the time thought the blackout (shown above) was the consequence of a cyberattack.

Italy -- Sept. 28, 2003

Number affected: 57 million across Italy

The blackout occurred the night of Italy's annual "Nuit Blanche" or "White Night" festival in Rome. It's safe to say festivities ended earlier than expected.

United States -- Aug. 14, 2003

Number affected:  50 million in New York, Michigan, and Ohio, as well as Toronto and Ottawa, Canada 

The biggest blackout in U.S. history cost an estimated $6 billion dollars. Remarkably, the massive outage began with a single high-voltage power line in Northern Ohio brushing against overgrown trees.

United States -- Nov. 9, 1965

Number affected: 30 million across parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, and Ontario, Canada

The initial cause of the blackout was the tripping of a transmission line near Ontario, though at time, many linked the outage with supposed UFO sightings.

Europe -- Nov. 4, 2006

Number affected:  10 million across Europe

After a routine shut down of a high-voltage transmission line to allow a ship to pass on the Elms river in Germany supposedly caused this blackout.  France, Italy, Austria, Belgium, and Spain were also affected.

Northeast Brazil -- Feb. 4, 2011

Number affected: 10 million

Keeping the lights on does, indeed, appear to be an Achilles heel for the fast-growing economy, provoking fears ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.



The next generation of UAVs

In an example of how the next-generation of stealthy UAV will be here within the decade, Lockheed Martin has just revealed the Sea Ghost, an unmanned Naval strike jet.

While the vast majority of the world's current fleet of combat UAVs aren't much more survivable against modern air defenses than a World War I bi-plane, drone technology is set to take a giant leap forward in the next decade if all goes according to the U.S. Navy's plan to field a fighter-sized, stealthy, long-range combat drone by 2018.

The Navy's Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program calls for a fleet of jet-powered stealth drones that can do everything from refuel other planes to spy on the enemy and even drop bombs on them, all while flying autonomously. This means they are supervised by humans aboard aircraft carriers or shore installations, but the planes will execute the details of their missions -- including the incredibly difficult task of landing on an aircraft carrier in pitching seas -- on their own. Current UAVs are flown by pilots sitting in trailers, which is why the U.S. Air Force officially calls them Remotely Piloted Vehicles. (Click here to see how UCLASS will fly autonomously and land itself on carriers.)

How is the Navy going to field a brand new class of jet so quickly? It's going to base the jets off of existing technology that's been developed and proven via programs such as Northrop Grumman's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle. (The X-47B is actually being used to prove that it is possible to operate a stealthy, fighter-sized UAV from an aircraft carrier.)

To that end, Lockheed Martin is developing Sea Ghost as its proposal for the UCLASS effort. The jet, shown above, will draw on the Bethesda-Md.-based company's experiences fielding the mysterious RQ-170 Sentinel stealth UAV (made famous for spying on Osama bin Laden as well as crashing inside Iran in 2011) and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, according to a company statement.

Other than that, Lockheed is pretty mum about the new jet.

We do know that in addition to being stealthy, autonomous and able to quickly swap out payloads of weapons, sensors and even air-to-air refueling kits, the Sea Ghost will need to be toughened to withstand the strain of catapult launches, arrested landings and corrosive, salty ocean air. It would also seem likely that this will be a flying wing, judging from the image above and the fact that this plane will draw on Lockheed's experience with the RQ-170, which is a stealthy, jet-powered flying wing.

The UCLASS concept fits nicely into several post-Iraq/Afghanistan constructs that the military is focusing on.

First off, this jet is well suited, in theory anyway, to the Pentagon's focus on fielding new weapons capable of traveling long distances and penetrating 21st century air defenses.

This is because nations such as Iran and China have figured out how to defend against  the U.S. military that awed the world in the 1990s during campaigns in the Balkans and Middle East. Potential enemies will try to keep U.S. aircraft and warships at bay by firing masses of guided missiles capable of hitting American air bases the region - and in China's case, aircraft carriers - and by fielding advanced Russian-designed air defense systems that are able to shoot down all but the stealthiest of aircraft. 

UCLASS is stealthy - so that, with the help of electronic warfare gear, it has a chance of getting past enemy radars - and it can be refueled in flight, giving it fairly unlimited range and it's unmanned so that if one is shot down, a U.S. pilot won't be endangered.

The jet also fits into Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert's call for the sea service to buy relatively inexpensive, easy to develop, "trucks" that can be adapted to perform a variety of missions instead of complex and expensive weapons systems that are designed to perform a narrow set of missions. (20th Century examples of the type of truck Greenert has in mind are the B-52 bomber and the U-2 spy plane, both of which have outlasted aircraft built to replace them by decades due to their ability to be adapted to perform a wide variety of missions over the last fifty years.)

The Sea Ghost is competing against Boeing's unnamed concept jet and General Atomics' - maker of the famous MQ-1 Predator drone - jet-powered Predator C Avenger. Northrop is likely going to offer a version of its X-47B.

The Air Force is closely monitoring the Navy's progress on UCLASS since it too sees the need for a much more modern fleet of combat UAVs (it just hasn't found the money to stand up its own program, at least not publicly, who knows what it operates in addition to the super secret RQ-170 - dubbed The Beast of Kandahar after photos emerged of the then-unacknowledged aircraft operating out of Kandahar airport in Afghanistan several years ago.)

Lockheed Martin