(CNN) U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants more unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Already he has said that the next generation of fighter planes -- the F-35 that took decades to develop at a cost of more than half-a-billion dollars each -- will be the last manned fighter aircraft.
The drones are dramatically tilting the war [in Afghanistan] in favour of the United States. Predators, for example, played a key role in killing al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi in 2006. UAVs are credited with killing more than half al Qaeda's top 20 leaders.
Lt. Gen. David Deptula, USAF, explains that the next phase will enable a single drone to provide as many as 60 simultaneous live video feeds directly to combat troops. Some new drones will be as small as flies, others walk -- all appear destined to work with decreasing human input.
“The future of how you use these un-manned systems or remotely piloted systems is really unlimited," says Deptula, based at the Pentagon and racing to keep pace with battlefield needs as well as Gates's demands. "We need to open our minds and think more about capability and impact we are going to achieve as opposed to how we've done business in the past.”
Robotic warfare expert Peter Singer, who advised President Barack Obama's campaign team and has authored “Wired for War” says that remote warfare is changing mankind's monopoly on how conflict is fought for the first time in 5,000 years. All that limits its advance is its application, not the technology. "The barriers of war in our society are already lowering," he says. "This tech may allow them to lower to the ground. And we might already be seeing this in the strikes being carried out on Pakistan.”