The front line in the wars of the future will be machines.

A massive, unmanned air force will scour the skies over a city, while robots will patrol the streets, quickly discriminating between an enemy carrying a gun and a civilian carrying a child.

Only then will human beings arrive, protected by fast armored vehicles that are half the weight of today's tanks but just as strong and ground troops who will have robot mules carrying their equipment for them.

This was the vision of the future set out by Britain's Ministry of Defense as it launched its Defense Technology Plan (DTP) last week. The plan is a wish list of cutting-edge battlefield gear that the British government wants businesses, academics and inventors to create for a new, high-tech armed forces.

Among the ambitious aims the MoD will help to fund is the creation of a "Future Protected Vehicle," a lightweight transport that, at 30 tons, would be half the weight of current battlefield tanks.

They might have "glass cockpits," where a panoramic screen inside the vehicle would give soldiers a 360-degree view of events outside, without ever having to venture out of the protection of the tank.

Another key project is the "Novel Air Concept," the creation of a fleet of cheap, unmanned drones that are capable of reaching targets 600 miles inside enemy air space — the distance from London to Milan — and can be launched from military vessels at sea.

The MoD hopes to have working versions of these ideas in the next 5 to 10 years.

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