Dassault has just completed the first fully autonomous flight of its AVE-D experimental stealthy unmanned aircraft - almost eight years after its first flight. The June 30 flight involved a completely automated sequence - the subscale UCAV technology demonstrator leaving its parking spot, taking off, maneuvering, landing and returning to its parking spot autonomously - all under the watchful eye of its French customer, the DGA defense procurement agency.
Whether people like it or not (and the pilots in the US military really don't), the future of combat aviation is in the unmanned realm. The fact of the matter is that manned fighters have grown too expensive to do anything other than buy a handful. A large part of this is due to the way we purchase the weapon systems, but there's more to it than that. Furthermore, they have to operate in combat - and political ! - arenas that are unfriendly to a manned presence: loss of pilots is simply not acceptable anymore. If you think about it, too, then you realize by making combat not about the loss of people but rather a measure of economical fortitude alone - goods instead of labor - it becomes whoever can spend the most on the muscle than anything else. This plays to our strength. It would play to the Europeans too if they could get their militaries merged. Something that is now in doubt with the Irish debacle.