This scenario is intended to illustrate the role artificial intelligence will play in the near future. Please let me know if you like it, and I will provide more scenarios that educate and entertain.

Scenario: The North Korean Incident 2025

The buzz of USAF Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Martin’s tablet phone on his nightstand woke him. He reached for it as quickly as possible. He did not want it to wake his wife. It was 4:12 A.M. The flashing red light indicated the call was urgent and coming through on Nellis’ secure intranet. The caller ID displayed Major Jensen, one of his subordinates at Nellis Warfare Center. As he sat on the edge of the bed, he touched the answer icon, “Martin.”

Jensen’s voice had a sense of urgency. “Sorry to disturb you, Colonel.” Jensen paused. “We have an MQ-10 that’s TU in North Korea’s airspace. The protocol requires I contact you.”

“Yes… of course….” Martin moved to the hallway and closed the bedroom door. He knew that “TU” was an abbreviation for “tits up,” meaning that the MQ-10 was either down, inoperative, broken, or otherwise malfunctioning.

Now completely awake, he asked, “What’s the operational status?”

“It’s fully loaded and non-responsive.”

This meant the MQ-10 had four Hellfire missiles, two GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs, plenty of fuel, and was not under their control. To his mind, this had World War III written all over it.

With uncharacteristic haste, he asked, “Who’s the interface?”

“Captain Levey.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m with Levey in T-7.”

“I’ll be right there.”

He returned to the bedroom and turned on his nightstand light. As quietly as possible, he began to dress. His wife was a light sleeper, something that comes with being a Mom.

His wife opened her eyes to about half-mast, “Something wrong?”

“A problem at the base…sorry I woke you.”

She knew better than to ask. She had also mastered the ability to shut her mind down and go back to sleep.

“Be safe…” Her eyes slits closed.

He completed dressing, got into his driverless vehicle, and headed for Nellis’ Warfare Center. During the five-minute drive, he could not help but wonder about the new MQ-10s. He was always dubious about enabling fighter aircraft with SAM (i.e., strong artificially intelligent machine) autonomous control. However, that decision was a done deal, four levels above his pay grade.

The MQ-10 was General Atomics’ latest engineering drone marvel. The biggest changes introduced in the MQ-10, over its predecessor, the MQ-9 Reaper, were:

  • Active stealth, which allowed it to elude Chinese, North Korean, and Russian radar systems
  • A large flexible internal weapons loadout (i.e., two Hellfire missiles, two AIM-120C Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, plus either two general-purpose GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs or two anti-ship Harpoon missiles)
  • Significantly increased long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance
  • Onboard fully autonomous AI control

The MQ-10 was the first USAF fighter plane with a SAM at its core. In short, the onboard SAM was equivalent to a human pilot. Actually, “equivalent” is an understatement. The onboard SAM was able to react to changes in its environment at about three times the rate of a human pilot, including combat engagements. Once the MQ-10 received mission parameters, it worked out its own plan to accomplish the mission. The onboard SAM also enabled specifically equipped MQ-10s to take off and land on Navy aircraft carriers, remarkable new flexibility in drone deployment. Lastly, MQ-10s could network with each other and execute coordinated attacks on enemy targets. Ground crews for MQ-10s had roles similar to ground crews of human-piloted fighter aircraft. However, the MQ-10’s modular construction and internal diagnostics allowed a more rapid return to combat-ready status than their conventional human-piloted counterparts. In 2015, one in three fighter aircraft were drones. By 2025, about half the fighter aircraft were drones, upgraded with SAMs.

As soon as the vehicle pulled into the base, it drove to the entrance of T-7. Martin made his way up to T-7’s stairs, a trailer-like container that was one of the control centers for MQ-10s. After punching in his code and visual confirmation, the door opened to a dimly lit room aglow with computer monitors. He saw Jensen sitting next to Levey and began walking toward them.

Jensen heard Martin enter, stood up, and saluted. “Colonel in the Command Center.”

Before the others could stand, Martin quickly returned the salute, “As you were.” He continued to make his way toward Jensen and Levey.

He tapped Levey on the shoulder. “What’s up?”

Levey maintained his focus on the monitor. “I’m not sure, sir. Just an hour ago, we were on a routine surveillance mission over Musudan-ri. Our active stealth appeared to be working, and Silver Hawk was routinely monitoring the site.”

Martin knew that Musudan-ri was a rocket-launching site in North Korea. It lies in the southern North Hamgyong province, near the northern tip of East Korea Bay. It was ideally located to attack Japan. However, recent intel suggested that Musudan-ri had North Korean manufactured intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with nuclear warheads, capable of reaching targets in the U.S. He assumed that “Silver Hawk” was the call name of the MQ-10. The Pentagon specifically chose the MQ-10s to keep close tabs on Musudan-ri and neutralize it, if necessary.

“Then what happened?” Martin asked in a calm tone.

“Then Silver Hawk stopped transmitting.”

“Is it still flying?”

“Satellite surveillance says yes.”

“What’s it doing now?”

“It is still flying in a position to maintain surveillance of Musudan-ri.”

“Have you tried giving it a command to return to base?”

“Yes, sir…no response.”

“Get me an MQ-10 system engineer ASAP.”

“Yes, sir.” Levey hastily made the call. “He’s on the way, sir.

Within several minutes, Lieutenant Louis Della entered and saluted. “I’m an MQ-10 system engineer.”

Martin looked at Della. Clean cut and green, he thought. “Tell me, Lieutenant, why would an MQ-10 become unresponsive?”

“There could be many reasons….”

Martin sharply cut him off. “Confine your answer to the top three.”

“Well, sir, the MQ-10 is essentially a flying SAM. It is the equivalent of a human pilot, only better in most respects.” Della paused to regain his composure and then continued in a textbook fashion, “In the order of most probable, here are the top three. One, the MQ-10 may have recognized a threat and is intentionally not communicating to avoid any chance of detection. Two, the MQ-10 has a malfunction, which is preventing it from communicating. In such a case, it would continue to follow its last order. Three, the MQ-10 has gone rogue.”

“Gone rogue!” Jensen said with a look of surprise. “What the hell would cause that to happen?”

Della replied in a calm tone, “We have done laboratory simulations of the MQ-10 SAMs and found that, just like their human pilot counterparts, they can suffer from PTSD.”

Jensen raised his voice. “You’re telling me we have an autonomous fighter aircraft in North Korean airspace, and it may have post-traumatic stress disorder?”

“It’s a possibility….”

“It’s a goddam machine.”

“Yes… but simulations indicate there is the potential for it to become self-aware and concerned for its well-being.”

“That wasn’t in the goddam manual.”

“No sir… The possibility is slim and just coming to light, based on diagnostics we recently performed on SAMs that have flown over a hundred missions.” Della paused again, intent on remaining calm. “It is a possibility, but not the most likely.”

Martin reengaged. “What is the most likely?”

“It recognized a threat and is intentionally not communicating to avoid any chance of detection.”

“Would it fire a missile without permission?”

“It’s possible.”

Martin turned to Jensen, “We’ve got to get a handle on this.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I want you to work with Della and develop a plan ASAP… You have thirty minutes. I am going to stay with Levey.”

Jensen got up and gestured to Della to follow him. They went to an office within T-7. Jensen and Della huddled. Martin could see Della outlining something on the whiteboard as Jensen listened intently.

“Captain Levey… can you disable the Hellfire missiles.”

“No… but we can destroy Silver Hawk.”

A drone exploding in North Korea’s airspace was not an acceptable option to Martin. It would compromise all drone missions if the North Koreans learned it could elude the air defenses. In addition, the North Koreans were unpredictable. They could consider it an act of war and retaliate on South Korea or even Japan. Although both South Korea and Japan could defend themselves, the situation could spiral out of control.

“No!” Martin was emphatic. “Not over North Korea. Continue attempting to establish contact with Silver Hawk.”

“Yes, sir.” Levey’s fingers appeared to fly over the keyboard. Martin had his eyes focused on the satellite surveillance monitor.

Jensen and Della returned. Jensen summarized, “Based on the most likely scenario, our best move is to get all other MQ-10s out of North Korea’s airspace and take a wait and see with Silver Hawk. Della believes it will return to the base when it hits “Bingo.” He thinks if it had gone rogue, we would have noticed aggressive behavior.” Jensen paused and waited for a response.

Bingo was slang for the fuel state at which an aircraft needs to begin its return to base to land safely. This made sense. Actually, Martin liked Jensen’s plan. Silver Hawk was not acting aggressively. In fact, Silver Hawk was doing everything it could to remain invisible while still appearing to carry out its last order.

Martin looked at Jensen. “Get the other MQ-10s…”

Levey interrupted. “North Korea just opened one of Musudan-ri’s missile silos. It looks like they are getting ready to fire a missile.”

“Can you tell me what type of missile?”

“Yes…our intel says that silo contains an intermediate-range ballistic missile.”

“If it’s an IRBM, the U.S. is not the target…maybe Japan or South Korea.”

“They just fired the missile.”

“Tell me the probable target,” Martin said in a measured cadence.

“Not at our MQ-10. It looks like it is on its way to Japan.”

A tense minute passed as everyone’s eyes stared with disbelief at the satellite surveillance monitor.

Levey brought another monitor online to increase the satellite surveillance resolution on Tokyo and Okinawa, the locations of Japan’s ground-based PAC-3 interceptors.

Levey was an expert on satellite surveillance and could read the screen as though he were watching television. “The Japanese have just launched a PAC-3 from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.”

Everyone observed a bright dot on the monitor.

A flash of scenarios went through Martin’s mind. Is this just another game of chicken that the North Koreans like to play with the Japanese, or is this the beginning of World War III?

North Korea had a history of using their ballistic missiles to bully the Japanese, which started in 1998 with North Korea’s Taepodong-1 missile “test.” In 2006, North Korea performed its first nuclear test and followed by additional missile launches. The most provocative act was North Korea’s “communications satellite” launch in April 2009, which flew over northeast Japan and fell into the Pacific Ocean.

“The PAC-3 will intercept North Korea’s IRBM in 30 seconds.” Levey’s voice had an edgy pitch.

Martin’s earpiece came to life, “What the hell is going on?” It was General Rodney. The release of missiles by North Korea and Japan automatically triggered Rodney to be notified, and his staff got him out of bed. They knew Martin was the senior officer on site and routed Rodney to his earpiece.

Martin replied with composure, “We’re on top of it, sir. It’s not clear if the North Koreans are engaging in a war game with the Japanese… We have MQ-10s in position… We’re going to have to let this play out. Give me a few minutes, and I’ll get back to you.”

Martin did not have time to explain the entire situation to Rodney. He knew the North Koreans had historically fired missiles that appeared to be targeting Japan but had never actually detonated one on Japan. Japan, in recent years, also fired missiles at North Korea’s Musudan-ri but destroyed them short of reaching their airspace. The Japanese wanted to make a point—they could not only detect and counter any attack originating from North Korea but were also capable of attacking North Korea. This cat and mouse game was provocative and dangerous but not considered an act of war.

“Don’t let this get out of hand, Martin.” Rodney sounded pissed.

“Yes, sir,” he said the words, but he knew he had little control over the events.

Levey gave a count down. “Missiles contact in 15 seconds…10 seconds. The North Koreans just destroyed their missile.” Levey paused, still watching the PAC-3 trajectory and the red dot disappeared.

“Kadena just destroyed their PAC-3 missile over the Sea of Japan,” said Levey. “It doesn’t look like we’re going to war today.”

Martin was relieved and looked at Levey. “Get me, Rodney, on the phone.”

Levey got Rodney patched through to Martin’s earpiece. “Both missiles were destroyed before making contact. It looks like the North Korean’s were in their bully mode again.”

“Keep an eye on this, Martin. I’ll call the Pentagon and let them know.”

“Yes, sir,” he intentionally did not mention the potential MQ-10 issue.

Martin turned to Della. “Could this be the reason Silver Hawk went silent?”

“Could be…” Della speculated and paused… “But, it still doesn’t explain the whole story.”

“What’s the whole story?”

“Silver Hawk should have at least sent an acknowledgment by now.” Della paused, placing his thumb and index fingers of his right hand on his closed eyelids. “Something’s not right….”

Martin looked at Jensen. “How many MQ-10s do we have in North Korea’s airspace?”

“Three, including Silver Hawk.”

“Order all MQ-10s to return to base.”

Levey didn’t wait on Jensen’s order. He immediately began to type on his computer keyboard and announced, “They’re breaking their surveillance pattern and setting a course for Osan Air Base.

Osan Air Base was the USAF’s 51st Fighter Wing home, under Pacific Air Forces’ Seventh Air Force. Its role was to provide combat-ready forces in defense of South Korea.

“Even Silver Hawk?” Martin wanted Levey’s confirmation that Silver Hawk responded to the return to base order.

“Yes, sir.”

“When will they be clear of South Korea’s airspace?”

“Silver Hawk will be clear in 30 minutes. Black Hawk and Eagle 4 will be clear in 20 minutes. All should be on the ground at Osan within 90 minutes.”

“Is Silver Hawk communicating?”

“No… Still unresponsive.”

Martin looked at Della but did not have to ask; his eyes seemed to penetrate Della’s brain.

“Something is amiss on Silver Hawk,” Della’s tone was subdued and concerned. “It should be communicating.”

“Captain Levey, be ready to destroy Silver Hawk on my command.” Martin was taking no chances. “Let me know the second we are clear of North Korea’s airspace.”

Martin could see beads of sweat on Levey’s forehead, even though the room temperature was 63 degrees. Obviously, Levey’s adrenalin was pumping. Destroying an MQ-10 had no precedent.

Each minute felt like an hour to Levey. Finally, Silver Hawk was clear.

“We’re clear.” Levey’s tone was relieved.

Martin looked at both Jansen and Della. Both were still intently watching the monitors. Della was attempting to loosen his collar with his finger. Martin knew Della was nervous. Jansen, a former fighter pilot, appeared composed.

“Levey, order Silver Hawk to drop its Hellfire missiles, AIM-120s and GBU-12s.” Martin wanted to error on the side of caution. Martin knew each Hellfire represented an $82,000 investment, each AIM-120 $400,000 and each GBU-12 $26,000, in 2025 dollars. He would be essentially dropping over a million dollars worth of weapons into the Sea of Japan. There was a chance the Navy could recover the weapons using their “UMSs” (unmanned maritime systems). UMSs were the U.S. Navy’s equivalent to the USAF’s drones.

“Order given…Silver Hawk not responding.”

“Communicate to Osan Air Base that Silver Hawk should be treated as a ‘Bandit.’”

In USAF parlance, this meant that it was unclear that Silver Hawk was a friend. It might act as or foe.

“Ask them to intercept Silver Hawk.” Martin wanted Osan to scramble an F-22 to check out Silver Hawk before it was in striking distance of Osan.

“Osan acknowledges and has launched an F-22. ETA to Silver Hawk, 12 minutes.”

Martin, Jensen, and Levey kept their eyes glued to the satellite monitor.

Levey broke the silence, “Silver Hawk should already be able to detect the F-22 and recognize it as a friendly.” Levey paused, his eyes the size of Kennedy half-dollars. “Silver Hawk has fired two AIM-120Cs at our F-22.”

“What the hell is wrong with Silver Hawk?” Martin demanded, looking at Della as if he had an answer.

“It’s gone rogue,” Della said quickly. “Destroy it.”

“Destroy it,” Martin Commanded.

“Silver Hawk is not responding to the destroy command.” Levey’s voice seemed to change pitch. “The F-22 is taking evasive measures and has released two AIM-120C missiles.”

The AIM-120Cs were Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles, or AMRAAMs, with smaller “clipped” aero surfaces to enable the internal carriage. It was one of the USAF’s best air-to-air missiles and gave excellent service for the last fifteen years. However, it was not designed to deal with active stealth.

“Silver Hawk is taking evasive maneuvers. It is giving out a radar signature that makes it invisible. It may be able to fool the AIM 120Cs.” Levey called the action, almost like a sportscaster, as it displayed on his monitors. “The F-22 has evaded the AIM-120Cs.”

“What the hell?” Martin was angry and focused on Della. “Why did it ignore the destroy order?”

“The Silver Hawk’s SAM must have found a way to disable it.”

“Are you telling me that we can’t control our own goddam weapons?”

“Yes… They were designed to be completely autonomous.”

“But the destroy order doesn’t go through the SAM. It’s an independent system.”

“The SAM must have found some way to disengage it. We’re dealing with a machine that is more intelligent than the three of us together.”

Martin was angry and pissed. Goddam Engineers, he thought, they’ll eventually find some way to start World War III.

“Levey, tell Osan they have a confirmed hostile MQ-10 with two Hellfires and two GBU-12s  heading their way,” ordered Martin.

Levey’s fingers appeared to type at superhuman speed. “Osan acknowledged,” Levey said in a strained voice. “They are launching another MQ-10, Night Owl. It will try to network with Silver Hawk.”


“Yes… Their MQ-10 ground engineer thinks that Night Owl may be able to talk Silver Hawk down. It also has the ability to overcome its active stealth. If need be, it will kamikaze it.”

Martin was in disbelief—his thoughts were flashing at light speed. Night Owl is similar to Silver Hawk. Silver Hawk was just a machine, but now it has become hostile. Would Night Owl actually be willing to sacrifice itself to stop Silver Hawk?

Looking up from his monitor, Levey stated, “Night Owl is networking with Silver Hawk.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Martin asked in total disbelief.

“The communication is encrypted and too rapid for me to decipher… It seems to be working. Silver Hawk just dropped its remaining weapons into the Sea of Japan.” Levey kept his eyes glued to the screen. “They are both on a course to land at Osan.”

“What the hell just happened?” Martin’s earpiece erupted with Rodney’s angry voice.

“We had a serious malfunction with an MQ-10. Apparently, our new weapons have minds of their own and can suffer PTSD.”

“It’s a goddam machine.” Rodney was pissed, and his voice signaled bewilderment.

“That’s what I thought, but we’re going to need to run diagnostics. Apparently, the machines think they can disobey direct orders….”

“What the hell… I want to know how to fix it. Get on it, Martin. The MQ-10s are a critical element in our defense.”

“Yes, sir. We’ll run diagnostics as soon as it lands and get the engineers working on it ASAP.”

“I want answers in six hours. Call me with your report.”

“Yes, sir.”

Martin had an uneasy feeling that this was just the beginning. There was a lot to learn. Every branch of the service was fielding SAM weapons. The U.S. Navy was deploying SAM nuclear submarines and destroyers. The U.S. Army was deploying SAM tanks. His gut told him that SAMs had developed a self-preservation instinct without specific programming to do so. He had to get this information to the highest military and civilian leaders. He would make the call in six hours, but he knew a full report was necessary and could take a month or more. He doubted that Rodney grasped the gravity of what had just happened. Martin even had trouble grasping the gravity, and he saw every detail unfold.

Although Martin did not understand every technical detail, his mind came to grip with a new reality. We have created the ultimate ‘fire and forget’ killing machines. Now, we have to learn to control them before they turn on us.

End of Scenario