China's fighter jets will be capable of remotely controlling drones by satellite within five years, experts said Tuesday.
China's fifth-generation stealth fighters J-20 and J-31 will be capable of mobilizing the drones for battle by serving as their control platforms, Xu Yongling, a retired PLA chief test pilot and an expert at the Chinese Society of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said at a recent defense seminar, Cankaoxiaoxi newspaper reported.
Xu explained to the Global Times Tuesday that "China could achieve the technology within five years. Chinese fighter jets will have the ability to control drones in real time in battles in the Indian Ocean, the west Pacific Ocean and South China Sea."
Manned fighter jets can easily remotely control a small drone fleet with artificial intelligence (AI). But satellites are needed for fighter jets to have the flexibility of controlling drones and alter their mission in changing situations, according to Xu.
The J-20 and J-31 could remotely control up to six large drones armed with missiles or a fleet made up of smaller drones if they are equipped with AI, Fu Qianshao, another air defense expert, said.
It would be better for single-pilot jets to be equipped with a computerized co-pilot to process information from artificial sensors, Fu told the Global Times.
The AI technology is much more likely to be first used in twin-pilot aircraft, like third-generation fighter jets such as the J-10 and J-16. One pilot would process the data transmitted from drones, while the other pilot focuses on the manned mission, Fu said.
However, Xu admitted that the technology poses a problem. "It's unknown if the fighter jets can reconfigure the missions of the drones in time with keyboard commands. Current drones are all programmed, which means their missions cannot be altered in the air."
U.S. Air Force Chief Scientist Gregory Zacharias was quoted by U.S. magazine the National Interest in July as saying that F-35s, F-22s and other fighter jets will use AI to control nearby drone wingmen in high risk areas as well.