Boeing and the US Air Force have tested F-16 fighter jets (which have been retired from the Air Force and used for research, such as this) without any pilots in the cockpit. The aircraft were basically turned into drones that were piloted remotely from the ground by US Air Force pilots.
The flights proved to be successful, with the jets flying at an altitude of 40,000ft (12.2km) and speed of Mach 1.47 (1,119mph/1,800km/h). The pilots were also able to remote perform barrel rolls, evasive maneuvers and a landing that Paul Cejas, the project’s chief engineer, describes as “probably one of the best landings I’ve ever seen.”
As for what the fighter jet turned drones will be used for, Boeing says that it could eventually be used to help train pilots, since the unmanned planes could be used as a flying target that pilots can fire on. Boeing currently has six of the modified F-16s, which they have renamed QF-16s.
Unexpectedly, the development has drawn some criticism. Prof. Noel Sharkey of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is worried that they might eventually be used for automated killing:
“I’m very concerned these could be used to target people on the ground. I’m particularly worried about the high speed at which they can travel because they might not be able to distinguish their targets very clearly. There is every reason to believe that these so-called ‘targets’ could become a test bed for drone warfare, moving us closer and closer to automated killing.”
The US military is currently planning to use the modified jets in live fire tests.
Is anyone really surprised with this news? It was only a matter of time. I’m just wondering why it took so long.