I'll be the first to admit it: drones are quite the rage.
In 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates hinted that the F-35 Lightning II might be the last manned fighter ever fielded.
He's not alone, either. For years, headlines have heralded the end of manned flight, and the coming drone wars. Not to mention, Twitter is littered with several accounts ostensibly belonging to self-aware drones: Drunken Predators, Party Reapers, Sexy Ravens, and the like.
While the bulk of military technology has remained relatively stagnant over the last decade of war, unmanned aerial vehicles have taken off. Rifle companies roll into battle with hand-held Raven UAVs, while brigades and divisions are armed with Shadow and Grey Eagles. According to a recent New York Times article, the Pentagon's unmanned arsenal has grown from 50 to 7,000 unmanned vehicles in just ten years.
But will our military become a pseudo-Cylon force by the end of the century? Perhaps not.
Peter Singer, author of Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century was interviewed in a recent article in The Economist:
[A]t a time of falling defence spending, UAS procurement and development may lack allies against powerful and conservative constituencies. These include sceptical military bureaucrats, fast-jet pilots, and members of Congress fighting to preserve traditional weapons programmes and the jobs that go with them.
But the real impediment to Drone Warfare may be more mundane.
Recently, Noah Shachtman of Wired Magazine revealed that America's drone fleet was hit with a computer virus. What's more is that the data links which control America's fleet of drones is suceptible to jamming and anti-satellite technology, video feeds have been hacked, and GPS signals can be jammed.
Drones may be able to stay aloft for 36 hours without a break, but human beings can't be jammed or hacked. In the 21st Century, that might make all the difference in the world.
The author is a helicopter pilot qualified in the UH-60 Black Hawk and LUH-72 Lakota helicopters. Serving as the lead Observer/Controller for Unmanned Aerial Systems at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, he has logged approximately 5.3 hours walking through the forest in Germany in search of wayward Raven UAVs. With little success, one might add...