With the rise in popularity among self-driving vehicles, it’s not surprising to find U.S. military leaders pushing the leading edge of that technology.

Future conflicts could be fought with no pilots or crew on board combat jets.

The Pentagon advancements are in line with the attempts to keep up with other countries’ progress, and are expected to become prominent in civilian life as well.

In a Wall Street Journal story, the technology is said to include:

Cockpits managed primarily by computers.

Completely autonomous helicopters.

Automated aerial-refueling tankers.

This myriad points of high-level progress also could appear in air-traffic-control systems and a range of drone applications.

A cutting-edge example from the Journal’s story:

“Pentagon initiatives include teaming a traditional jet fighter with an autonomous version — sometimes called a ‘loyal wingman’ — to illustrate the advantages of such combinations in mock dogfights. The Air Force also foresees Boeing Co.’s aerial tankers eventually pumping fuel into aircraft miles above the Earth without crew members guiding the process.”

The Marines, Army and Navy also are well down the road in product development.

Somewhat operating without a safety net, the science isn’t error-free and could be dangerous.

In the WSJ story, Najmedin Meshkati, a human-factors expert who teaches at the University of Southern California warned “there aren’t any regulators or outsiders to scrutinize Pentagon efforts. You really have to do your homework before integrating emerging new applications with older technology.”

The tech is not likely to become a part of the active military any time soon, but the recent $740 billion defense authorization bill contains opportunity for expanding automation and promoting autonomous operations.

Commercial airplane makers are making strides, too, with Europe’s Airbus SE completing more than 500 test flights last year executing autonomous takeoff and landing capabilities.

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