Some people in the Pentagon and the industry wonder if the F-35 will be the last manned fighter the U.S. will ever build. I don't think it will come to that, but they say to watch UCAVs [unmanned combat aerial vehicles, or killer drones] and the possibility for deploying a UCAV/manned combination (1 plane, 1 or more UCAVs).This could have real merit. The backseater would fly a companion aircraft. That would increase the deliverable payload per sortie and give the manned craft the option of letting the UCAV do things that seemed unacceptably risky. You can think of other scenarios where this could be handy. It's a step beyond the idea of UCAV as a more capable UAV, operated by someone on the ground far away.The technology is not there yet, but better UAV's (that automate more of the routine tasks for flying that pilots do almost without thinking) and code from gaming software make this a possibility. Think of it not as independent flying robots but a new kind of forward air control (and the military implications of game technology deserve its own entry).The other question is whether UCAV programs can recover from the summer movie "Stealth," which has gotten a number of terrible reviews. Ive only seen the trailers, so I cant say. The picture [a Photoshop special -- ed.] is from DARPA, by the way, and makes it look like some of these programs are pretty far along.
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