(CBS News) The controversy over the use of drone attacks isn't stopping the military from testing the next generation of planes without pilots. The newest drones can be completely guided by computers, not people.
CBS News' David Martin shared some of the latest technology from Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.
The X-47B is capable of carrying 4,000 pounds of weapons, although right now it is loaded only with instruments as it is launched from a land-based catapult. Remember, there is no pilot on board with a stick and rudder. It is responding to a computer program. Call it "point and click" flying, and according to Capt. Jamie Engdahl, the X-47B is taking drone warfare to a whole new level. Engdahl said, "The test went very well and it's very significant because this is the first time that we're actually doing catapult shots with a vehicle with nobody in the cockpit."
The x-47B has already conducted taxi tests aboard the USS Truman, and later this year, will attempt to take off and land from the deck of an aircraft carrier.
The Navy has not yet decided whether to put weapons on the X-47B. It could be used for other missions like reconnaissance or electronic jamming of enemy air defenses. But it could also be armed.
Unmanned aircraft offer the obvious advantage of being able to attack heavily defended targets without risking a pilot's life. Putting them aboard an aircraft carrier would give the Navy the capability to launch strikes virtually anywhere in the world. Engdahl said, "The biggest thing is that you don't have to worry about permission from other countries to operate a vehicle from foreign airfields."
That won't happen until 2017, but two of the unmanned aircraft seen in Martin's "CBS This Morning" feature, seen in the video above -- are flying today over the Persian Gulf and have been for the past three years. To see that aircraft and for discussion on concerns about war and drones, watch the video above. You can see Martin's full report on next-gen drones this weekend on "CBS Sunday Morning." Also on Sunday, CBS News' Bob Schieffer talks about drones, cyber warfare and the Chuck Hagel nomination with with Senators Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., on "Face the Nation."
For David Martin's full report, watch the video above.