With the rising costs to keep ahead of new missile technology, combined with their limited range, Breaking Defense argues that the future of air superiority could belong to large autonomous stealth bombers, capable of supporting a wide range of missions anywhere in the world.
“What I find most compelling,” the industry source says, “is the idea that we could develop a single, large, long-range, big payload, stealthy aircraft that would comprise the future United States Air Force’s combat arm. You would have a common airframe that could be outfitted with different payloads to do different missions.”
One airframe, the industry source speculates, could provide a strike version, an air-to-air missile version for self defense, a nuclear aircraft, an air superiority version fitted with directed energy weapons, and planes for airborne early warning and ground surveillance missions.
Meanwhile, a counter-argument on pilot-free planes:
Such wishful thinking is perhaps symptomatic of our infatuation with technology and gadgetry, and the belief that we can compute our way out of every problem. The proliferation of drone aircraft also makes it easy to imagine a world of remotely controlled passenger planes. In fact, Boeing has acquired a patent on a sophisticated, remotely operated autopilot system.
But for now these things exist only in the experimental stages. A handful of successful test flights does not prove the viability of a system that would carry up to four million passengers every day around the world. And remember that drones have wholly different missions from those of commercial aircraft, with a lot less at stake if one crashes.
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