Last year at this time, the Navy made history off the Virginia coast when a sleek, computer-controlled drone landed on the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush.
But the future of unmanned aircraft in the Navy is still up for debate, as evidenced Wednesday in a hearing chaired by Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake.
The Navy envisions a carrier-based, unmanned aircraft as a way to gather intelligence, patrol around the ship, spot targets for fighter pilots and have limited firepower. Forbes and other critics say these aircraft should pack more of a wallop and be able to penetrate enemy defenses -- essentially working in tandem with manned aircraft.
Just as last year's successful landing, the stakes are being described in historical terms.
"This is a debate not about a program, but the future of carrier-based aviation," said Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., a member of Forbes' seapower and projection forces panel of the House Armed Services Committee.
Two panels testified Wednesday. First came defense analysts who raised questions about the Navy's program, followed by military leaders who suggested those concerns were overblown.