While most advanced unmanned drones today focus on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, it appears that pilotless fighter jets capable of dogfighting are not far off in the future.

But how close are the armed forces to having to purchase unmanned fighter jets? Moreover, are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) becoming increasingly involved in modern warfare?

Not quite far

One of the significant defense technology manufacturers in the industry, Lockheed Martin, recently announced its interest in further expanding its autonomous systems—but not to strip Air Force pilots’ jobs but rather to team up with its manned fighters.

During the Farnborough International Airshow, Lockheed Martin’s Vice President and General Manager, John Clark, told reporters that their project on expendable drones will be available “as soon as three years.” The company’s expansion project came after the rising tension between China and the US, particularly in the Pacific.

“We’re really talking about something that could be operational in the next three to four years so that our folks in the Pacific have that tool in their toolbox, should they need it,” Clark said.

Aside from its drone technology, Lockheed is currently working on the fifth generation of the F-35, the world’s most advanced combat-fighting aircraft. The F35, with a top speed of Mach 1.6, advanced sensors capable of tracking enemy targets and jamming radars, and precision-guided missiles, will most likely become the bedrock for future unmanned aircraft. Not to mention its capability to transmit data directly to the ground control centers.

At the Airshow expo, Ziv Avni, Vice President of Israel’s Elbit Systems, also discussed how today’s cutting-edge technology allows drones on the battlefield to take on the reconnaissance role that previous generations of pilots have filled.

“Everything a drone does today at some point was done by pilots,” Avni said.