Elon Musk Says Era Of Fighter Jet Is Over And F-35 Should Have Drone Competitor

The SpaceX and Tesla founder pulled no punches in his remarks, which are bound to raise the eyebrows of Air Force and defense industry officials.

byTyler Rogoway|
F-35 photo


Elon Musk was the star attraction over at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium in Florida this week. This afternoon he sat down for an incredibly frank and fascinating interview session in front of an audience of symposium attendees. Most of the discussion was about space and space-launch capabilities, but the dialogue strayed off into a number of interesting areas. The most of which resulted in some raw words about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the procurement strategy that underpinned it, what it's competitor should be, as well as where the future of air warfare lies. 

Considering the crowd is made up of service and defense industry personnel, many which have a direct stake in the F-35 program and the future of tactical airpower, taking on the Air Force's prized gold-plated fighter program was bold to say the least, as was his response on how the age of fighter jets dominating the sky is over. 

When asked about competition, Musk stated: 

"I think competition is a good thing. It may seem at times that we should focus our efforts on one system rather than divide them and have two competing systems. Like, not to cause controversy, like, in my opinion, Joint Strike Fighter... There should be a competitor to JSF... I know it's a controversial subject, but, you know, it's not good to have one provider. It's good to have competition where that competition is meaningful and somebody can actually lose..."

In a Tweet reply to Aviation Week reporter Lee Hudson, Musk clarified what he thought the competitor to the Joint Strike Fighter should be. He stated:

"The competitor should be a drone fighter plane that’s remote controlled by a human, but with its maneuvers augmented by autonomy. The F-35 would have no chance against it."

When asked about his thoughts on the future of warfare in the air domain, Musk gave another incredibly frank answer:

"For the air domain... things are definitely going to go into, kind of... locally autonomous drone warfare... is where the future will be... It's not I want the future to be this, this is what the future will be, autonomous drone warfare... At a local level... I can't believe I am saying this because this is dangerous, but this is simply what will occur. Drones locally will be autonomous, but I think we still want to retain the authority to damage or destroy anything that isn't an autonomous drone. Keep the authority back there with a person in the loom. The fighter jet era has passed. It's drones."

Probably the most important theme of this site and my work over the years was largely summed up by Musk. If you want an extremely in-depth background on this issue, how advanced air combat drones that were once the most promising technology since the jet engine largely disappeared and why that is a huge problem, as well as a history on the subject and more, read my expose linked here

The fighter jet era of airpower is, at the very least, in its twilight. The Air Force has been reluctant to embrace that reality to an incredibly frustrating degree. Musk's bold statements, regardless of how informed they truly were, could help make an impact on this absolutely critical aspect to America's national security. 

Watch the entire interview below. It is well worth your time. If it does not show up automatically, you can click over and watch it on Facebook directly by clicking here.

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com