Remotely controlled unmanned aerial vehicles have been shifting usability from defensive(reconnaissance) to offensive(weapons payload) for the last several years. Working prototypes in the shadows of secrecy reaching yet another long-range flight milestone are setting up the foundations for a different kind of warfare. And while the concept has the potential of saving lifes, and of course taking some while protecting the pilot, it will take several more years before fleets of drones are fully capable of integrating their benefits in the NCW field.
Here’s an in-depth article on the evolution of UAVs to UCAVS :
“Robotic air vehicles are beginning to replace some of the Air Force’s manned combat aircraft. Soon, they will be handling a major share of the service’s strike mission. The first steps in this transition already have been taken in the field of fighter-class aircraft. Classified projects now in development seem sure to cut into the manned medium and heavy bomber roles, as well. The Predator MQ-1 is leading this transition. A familiar feature of Air Force combat operations for more than a dozen years, the spindly Predator has evolved dramatically. It is no longer simply a loitering “eye in the sky” but rather a versatile weapon system capable of destroying a couple of ground targets on its own or in collaboration with other aircraft. It is in great demand, and the Air Force is acquiring Predators as fast as it can absorb them. Now in early production is a souped-up version of the Predator, the MQ-9 Reaper. Its combat payload—missiles and bombs carried on underwing hardpoints—roughly equals that of an F-16 fighter. In the Reaper, the Air Force has found a craft that truly combines the powers of a potent strike fighter with the capabilities of a reconnaissance drone.“
You may also be curious on why the U.S Department of Agriculture is interested in buying some the way I am — perhaps a sci-fi insects invasion. What would the next logical evolution of UCAVs be? That’s UCAVs capable of electronic warfare attacks, and with their flight durability and flexibility of operation, the idea will receive more acceptance as the technology matures. There’s also something else to keep in mind, and that’s the interest and active research of various terrorist organizations in UAVs. And while they wouldn’t sacrifice $7M for a drone, even be able to get hold of one — unless Iran supplies — cheap alternatives such as the Spy X plane are already taken into consideration, at least for reconnaissance purposes. Yes they’re cheap, and yes they’re easy to jam, you can even hear them coming, but the trend is worth mentioning.