In 1948, just three years after the greatest conflict this world has known, noted British general and military historian J.F.C. Fuller wrote about the German vengeance weapons, the gyroscopically-controlled V-1 flying bomb and the V-2 ballistic missile, in his compelling history of WWII. Quoting his own observations from as early as 1931, Fuller’s analysis is particularly prescient, and foresees our current tactical and strategic military thinking with startling accuracy.
...this novel weapon [the V-1] ... initiated a tactical revolution as important as those following the invention of the aeroplane and the tank. Writing on this type of projectile in 1931, I pointed out that “The central problem in future warfare is not even electrification. Instead it is elimination, the elimination of the human element....The whole history of weapon development is one in which the aim has been to reduce to a minimum the human element, and its goal would appear to be the Robot obedient to a distant mind.” Picturing these Robots, I wrote: “They will be wirelessly directed....Only direct hits will bring them to earth. Otherwise, soulless, nerveless and without fear, they will move swiftly onwards, and, as their target is reached, without a tremor they will dip and rush upon it. To be attacked by such monsters will be fearful in the extreme. Monsters blind, deaf and dumb. Monsters of steel and high explosives, who can neither curse nor cheer and who, nevertheless, are the incarnation of destruction.
Inexplicably, the Allies chose to focus their efforts at stopping the vengeance weapons by bombing their launch sites and production facilities, with little effect. Had they instead focused on the vulnerable factories that produced the hydrogen peroxide fuels, the vengeance weapons would likely have been stopped before the end of the war and many innocent lives saved. But even had the V-1 and V-2 been stopped in their infancy, the genie was out of the bottle. Fuller goes on to say,
Though these two weapons [the V-1 and V-2] were nothing more than explosive projectiles, their introduction constitutes a revolution in the art of war; for in their employment the human element is virtually reduced to its irreducible minimum. Further, the fighting man is replaced by the technician, who, in complete safety, can operate these weapons hundreds of miles behind the battle front or from the target aimed at. Such a man is neither soldier, sailor nor aviator any more than a far-away broadcaster.
Further still, once a more economical fuel than any of those experimented with or used is discovered, the revolution of the V-2 will effect is to be sought not so much in its forms of a projectile, as in that of a reaction propulsion engine, which acting purely by recoil does not require air to “push against” or to sustain it. Therefore, it adds a new sphere of movement to those existing: movement in a vacuum. This possiblility is as great if not a greater revolution than that introduced by the aeroplane, because it raises war into pure space.
So, even as early as 1931, Fuller was predicting the unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), the autonomous drone, the cruise missile, and even more importantly, the ICBM. And here we are. The revolution in unmanned warfare that was started by the Germans in WWII has come to its inevitable technological fruition. I don’t think that it is even that far-fetched to imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when the manned warplane is deemed obsolete, replaced by hordes of autonomous—and expendable—aircraft. In 1932, British MP Stanley Baldwin famously said, “The bomber always gets through.” To a certain extent, he was proven wrong in WWII. But in the future, he will likely be right.
Fuller, J.F.C. The Second World War. Da Capo Press: 1993. First published in 1948.