The next war could be fought partly by unmanned aircraft that respond to spoken commands in plain English and then figure out on their own how to get the job done, even dodging enemy aircraft as they carry out their assignments.
At left is a Lockheed T-33, used as if it were unmanned, in the middle is the Boeing F-15 fighter jet, from where the commands were issued, and at the right is an unmanned aerial vehicle.
Engineers and scientists at several institutions and corporations are working on the project, chiefly under the sponsorship of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. They have already demonstrated that the idea can work.
Last June, a Lockheed T-33 fighter jet successfully completed a series of assignments given by the pilot of another aircraft over Edwards Air Force Base in southern California. There was a pilot aboard the T-33, just in case something went wrong, but it turned out that he had nothing to do. Everything went according to plan, even when some assignments were changed at the last minute.
“That was a proof of concept,” says Mario Valenti, a flight controls engineer for Boeing who is on leave to work on the project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the lead institutions in the effort. “But this is obviously a system that is still in development.”