Re: How many more manned warplanes will there be?
How many more manned warplanes will there be?
I don't think anybody knows. That's why you hear about stuff being "optionally manned". So you can have it pilotless on very easy, or very dangerous, missions - if that tech pans out. But fly it when you have to. Which might be all the time. Seeing as we don't yet have the capability to fly such complex systems reliably autonomously - and neither do we want to give full firing authority to the computers.
If the enemy can block your communications, for example, then your autopilot is completely on its own, and you can't update mission parameters after its taken off.
One of the things we've learnt about drone-use in Ukraine is that electronic warfare is extemely effective. It's just that it's very patchy. Russia keeps finding that their own EW is screwing up their own systems, just as much as it buggers up Ukraine's. Worse, in the early days of the war they found that their own electronic warfare once turned on, couldn't be turned off. Because unless commanders were physically able to reach the EW units, they couldn't get through to them, to tell them to turn it all off. This speaks to a lack of practice.
Since even NATO rarely train using our full spectrum of EW, I doubt we're sure how we'd fight under those conditions. One thing that's worked when the EW is turned on is to use cheap drones in dumb mode, where they just fly a pre-planned route, and bring back their footage for analysis. Rather than directing artillery strikes live, which is the much sexier footage the Ukrainians like to post online.
Plus an aircraft that's expected to last for 30-40 years is going to undergo a lot of changes in use, due to changes in circumstances.
The next generation of Western fighters are all being designed in tandem with unmanned aircraft. These will fly with them, and act as force-multipliers (and/or sacrificial victims) for the manned fighters. Thus the fighter crew will direct them tactically, but they'll fly themselves. I doubt even these programs know what will come out the other end of them.
The UK-Italian-Swedish (soon to have Japan joining by the looks of it) Tempest is supposed to be flying by 2030 and replacing Typhoon by the middle of that decade. But Tempest is only a part of the FCAS program, which should be include unmanned aircraft.
I get the impression the Franco-German-Spanish FCAS program is prioritising the unmanned stuff first, with the idea that some of it might fly with current jets and then the main aircraft will be their replacement for the Rafale and the Typhoon. That's if the French don't sabotage yet another joint European aircraft project, and the Germans and Spanish don't end up fleeing and joining ours. Although both programs may have some drone tech in service first.
The US future fighter project is doing the same things.
Of course in reality we already have autonomous firing. The Brimstone missile (some of which we've given to Ukraine) can be targetted with lasers or on coordinates. But can also be told to go and hunt in such and such an area until it sees a tank, then kill it. It has a database of enemy combat vehicles, so you can even select it to only kill artillery pieces. At the moment, in the presence of multiple missiles, later fired ones will delay their attack until they see whether previous shots have destroyed their targets, so they don't all hit the same thing. But the next generation will have full swarming capability, where they can communicate with each other in real time.