From a shipping container-size control room on a quiet, but highly secure airbase somewhere in America, Air Force technicians are glued to their screens, using joysticks to unleash drone warfare thousands of miles away.
These young men and women don't look like the muscled Marines you might imagine as warriors. But since 2001, they've killed thousands of foreign fighters -- and then returned home to sleep safely in their beds each night.
It's the changing face of war for America, and the shift is coming quickly
. By 2023, the U.S. Air Force says, one-third of its attack and fighter planes will be drones.
Here, an MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle and F-16 Fighting Falcon are seen after returning from an Operation Iraqi Freedom combat mission. Both aircraft provide intelligence, search and reconnaissance gathering features, as well as munitions capability to support ground troops and base defense.
These pilotless planes are just a hint of what's to come, as the Air Force believes drone warfare is still in its infancy
. These weapons can fly themselves using GPS at undetectable altitudes; they're lighter and more efficient than jets, burning 300 times less fuel than a fighter jet; and they have a global reach that works around the official authorizations for war in the United States.