In an extensive article, The Economist reports on the current use of UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) in the military. In the last few years, the use of UAS by the US military has increased tenfold, and UAS now fly more hours than manned strike aircraft.
Currently, UAS are controlled by ground-based pilots, but this will inevitably change in the future. Ultimately, UAS will be flown autonomously by technology such as AOS's C-BDI platform.
The US Air Force's study, Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047, predicts UAS built on a modular and networked architecture. It also foresees greater autonomy through the use of artificial intelligence technologies. This will largely circumvent the need for ground-based pilots controlling UAS, and will help overcome the vulnerability of UAS that rely on a jammable communications link.
In the meantime, UAS are being used where manned aircraft are less effective or more costly to operate. For example, surveillance and reconnaissance, where a UAS can fly for long periods of time in highly hazardous environments. In the future, their use will likely extend to applications currently best served by manned aircraft, for example, through the development of highly manoeuvrable airframe designs that exceed the human body's g-force tolerance, as well as innovative radar-cheating shapes that would not easily accommodate a human pilot.
The article goes on to discuss some of the ethical issues involved in allowing autonomous UAS to make decisions such as whether to attack a human target.