Late last year, but only revealed recently, there was a first that will likely one day be considered historic: robotic air-to-air combat was born, with a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone shooting down a smaller, target drone, all without humans physically involved. It’s likely this is just the first example of drone-on-drone violence in the skies.
While the incident occurred in a controlled environment, there were no major technical challenges associated with the dogfighting maneuver. According to a Military.com interview with Col. Julian Cheater, commander of the 432nd Wing, the test went down like this:
“Something that’s unclassified but not well known, we recently in November … launched an air-to-air missile against a maneuvering target that scored a direct hit. It was an MQ-9 versus a drone with a heat-seeking air-to-air missile, and it was direct hit … during a test.”
This is the first time a drone has taken down a drone in the air, as far as we know. Drones have been shot down by crewed aircraft before, and, technically, since the MQ-9 is remotely piloted, it was a human that was in control of at least one of the drones.
Fully autonomous dogfighting drones may become common in the future, but we’re not there just yet.
Eventually, maybe we’ll be able to cut humans out of the loop altogether, and the drones can just fight it out, conduct their own peace talks, establish their own nations, and whatever while we humans hang out, snacking, drinking, and playing video games or whatever.