The following entry first appeared as the second comment in the 18 December 2012 edition of Flight International.
When new battlefield technologies emerge, no one wants to be remembered for having failed to grasp potential applications. Such was the fate of French strategist Ferdinand Foch, who in 1911 said: "Airplanes are interesting toys, but of no military value."
Royal Navy history offers another cautionary example. In December 1941, battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse were sunk by Imperial Japanese Navy Betty bombers. Admiral Sir Thomas Phillips, failing to grasp the potential of airpower, led Task Force Z to disaster while trying to intercept the Japanese fleet north of Malaya without fighter cover.
However, sometimes a technology may fall short of its touted benefits. When unmanned air vehicles first started striking at terrorist targets and protecting troops via battlefield surveillance, many hailed them as an inexpensive, expendable replacement for manned combat aircraft. But while UAVs proved effective in permissive threat environments over Iraq and Afghanistan, the USA is shifting its gaze to the Pacific, where the slow-moving machines are considered vulnerable. And, ironically, UAVs require more personnel than manned aircraft. They are neither inexpensive, nor expendable.
In time, unmanned aircraft may prove able complements to manned combat aircraft - but with present technology, they are not the panacea many assumed them to be a decade ago.