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2047 timeline contents




Fully autonomous, intelligent military aircraft

Today's jet fighters are now entirely computer controlled. These unmanned planes have fully autonomous capability from the moment they take off, to the moment they land. A combination of strong AI, swarming behaviour and hypersonic technology is employed to create near-instantaneous effects throughout the battlespace.*

The growth of network-centric warfare and the increasing complexity of enemy types, movements and environmental factors has led to major advances in target recognition technology and collision avoidance systems. This allows whole squadrons of pilotless planes to synchronise, attack from multiple vectors and regroup in seconds. Further autonomy is provided by auto air refueling, self-repair and other systems.

With the emergence of AI, personnel costs have shifted from operations, maintenance and training, to design and development. Machines can perform repairs in-flight (including the use of "self-healing" nanotechnology composites) while routine ground maintenance requires little or no human labour, being done mostly by robots. New tactics and information can simply be programmed into the aircraft, or they can "learn" from others in the swarm.

With their hypersonic engines, inhuman reaction times and improved weaponry, these craft would run rings around human pilots of earlier decades. Following the retirement of the F-35 Lightning II, manned fighter planes are now essentially obsolete.


autonomous military aircraft future uav technology 2040 2047 2050
Credit: DARPA



Unmanned probe to 2060 Chiron

2060 Chiron is a minor planet found in the outer Solar System.* Discovered in 1977, it became the first in a new class of objects known as centaurs – small bodies orbiting between Saturn and Uranus – and named after the race of half-man/half-horses from Greek mythology, in recognition of their dual comet/asteroid nature.

2060 Chiron has a radius of around 145 miles (233 km) and a parabolic orbit going from just inside the orbit of Saturn (8.5 AU) to just outside the orbit of Uranus (19 AU). With an orbital period of 51 years, it reaches perihelion in 2047.* As part of the recent exploration of the Kuiper Belt,* an unmanned robotic probe has been sent to intercept it, arriving this year.

The mission returns critical data about Chiron's size, shape, polar obliquity, atmosphere, surface morphology, surface composition, internal structure, surface activity (including the nature of Chiron's outbursts), and its origin. NASA had been planning for such a mission as far back as 1994.*


centaur 2060 chiron 2047 perihelion



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1 United States Air Force Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047, GlobalSecurity.org
Accessed 14th August 2010.

2 2060 Chiron, Wikipedia:
Accessed 8th July 2012.

3 The Chiron Perihelion Campaign, NASA:
Accessed 8th July 2012.

4 See 2036.

5 A Low-Cost Mission to 2060 Chiron Based on the Pluto Fast Flyby, NASA:
Accessed 8th July 2012.




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