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"We are now shifting to a theatre where there is an adversary out there who is going to have a vote on whether I have that staring eye over the battlefield 24[hours], seven [days a week], 365 [days a year], and pretty certain they are not going to allow that to happen," says Gen Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). "The fleet I've built up-and I'm still being prodded to build up too- is not relevant in that new theatre."
In the future, Hostage says that he believes unmanned aircraft will eventually have the same level of awareness as manned aircraft. With virtual reality technology, it might be possible to fully immense a pilot into the battlefield environment to the point where he or she cannot tell the difference. "I fully believe we'll get there some day," Hostage says. "But I don't have that technical capability today."
While it is technically possible to make an autonomous unmanned aircraft that could go fly combat missions, Hostage says, such technology is not ready for use in the near future. "I can build a platform and I can give it autonomous capability, and tell it 'go into this area and kill anything that moves,' but we're not morally or culturally ready to do things like that because we're not able to make them smart enough to determine between the adversary and somebody that looks like they are an adversary, but maybe they aren't quite."