Air Force Plans for All-Drone Future

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Is the day of the hot-shot fighter jock nearly done?

An Air Force study, released without much fanfare on Wednesday, suggests that tomorrow’s dogfighers might not have pilots in the cockpit. The Unmanned Aircraft System Flight Plan. which sketches out possible drone development through the year 2047, comes with plenty of qualifiers. But it envisions a radical future. In an acronym-dense 82 pages, the Air Force explains how ever-larger and more sophisticated flying robots could eventually replace every type of manned aircraft in its inventory — everything from speedy, air-to-air fighters to lumbering bombers and tankers.

Emphasis on “might” and “could.” While revealing how robots can equal the capabilities of traditional planes, the Air Force is careful to emphasize that an all-bot air fleet is not inevitable. Rather, drones will represent “alternatives” to manned planes, in pretty much every mission category.

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