The battlefield has long been a proving ground for cutting-edge technology and the introduction of unmanned and autonomous systems has the potential to change warfare significantly.
Drones have been used by the military to eliminate enemy targets and carry out surveillance for many years, but a human is always in control.
Defence manufacturers are now taking the next step by removing the human element from some of the actions taken by machines.
The X47-B is a semi-autonomous, demonstration aircraft developed by Northrop Grumman for the US Navy.
It can take-off, fly and land without human direction and in April it performed the first ever mid-air refuelling of an autonomous aircraft.
“The human being is a natural constraint on an aircraft’s endurance,” said Andrew Taylor, Northrop Grumman’s Chief Executive in Europe.
“If you refuel these unmanned air systems, they can pretty much carry on until you actually need to maintain the engine. It could be 50 hours; it could be a hundred hours in the future. No human can sit around in an aircraft like that for that length of time.”
Autonomous developments are also being considered for existing military hardware.
The turret on Russia’s Armata T-14 tank can be remotely-controlled and computers within it track movement and can even activate weapons
Lockheed Martin has developed a system that uses an unmanned K-MAX helicopter and a ground vehicle to resupply troops.
The company’s Andy Horler said: “It (the K-MAX) was deployed by the US Marine Corps in Afghanistan for four years and for that period it carried four million tonnes of cargo.
“When it was too dangerous or it was bad weather they would send the K-MAX.”
Despite claims that autonomous technology could be a positive development, many people have concerns about its presence on the battlefield.
Noel Sharkey, Chairman of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, said: “The scenarios I have seen set up by the United States and think tanks project using swarms of something like the X47-B in the Pacific against the Chinese where they are outgunned.”The enemy are not going to be frozen in time and they will also have these weapons. How are they going to interact and how could we prevent accidental conflicts arising? It is a nightmare scenario.”