A new Business
Week Online article gives a good summary of the X-45, one of several
Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAV) under development. The article
addresses the issue of reliable targetting. Are UCAVs really smart
enough to distinguish a school bus from valid target like an enemy tank?
I believe the article misses the point. It's trying to say that since
the Army is now using "smart" bombers, those planes could improperly
identify a target and destroy it. At least for now, the military isn't
putting up drones and letting them work on their own, these are
essentially big R/C airplanes with bombs on them and humans controlling
them from the ground.
I highly doubt that the military will let these things go fully
autonomous until the AI can decide on a target as well as a human
That's true of UAVs like the Predator but the article is talking about
stuff like the X-45 and Pegasus that are still under development. These
UCAVs are designed to be flown by
control station and humans would have to authorize their attacks and arm
the weapons systems, but the direct human control would mostly consist
of selecting and executing scripts (sort of like on Star Trek when they
order the ship to execute "attack pattern delta").
Most of the attacks involve the use of multiple UCAVs communicating with
each other (and the group of UCAVs would usually have just one human
operator). For example two UCAVs might be ordered to a particular area
to destroy anti-aircraft weapons on the ground. One UCAV would identify
targets and while the other UCAV flew in stealth mode firing weapons at
the targets. Other strategies involve larger numbers of UCAVs working
After an attack plan is issued the vehicles are designed to
carry it out even if all communications with the human operator is lost
or jammed. They are supposed to be able to evade enemy fire, identify and
destroy their targets, select new
routes to get out of the target area if needed, and possible even engage
manned enemy fighters (how much of that they can really do at this point
is anybody's guess though).
So, it might be accurate to say they're much more autonomous than
fighter planes with human pilots but not quite as autonomous as cruise
missles. There was a Jane's article a while back that talked about some
of this here.
I remember seeing that one of the planes, maybe the pegasus? Made quite a lengthy flight and handled take off and landing just fine
without human control. I don't see how this technology could be a problem, with the level of AI programming even in games today i think
that robot-military aircraft will most likely be very autonomous and better pilots than most human pilots in a few years.