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The Military Technology

The Unmanned Air Force 352

Posted by samzenpus
from the fly-the-robotic-skies dept.
coondoggie writes "How important have unmanned aircraft become to the US military? Well how's this: the Air Force says next year it will acquire more unmanned aircraft than manned. Air Force Lt. Gen. Norman Seip this week said the service is 'all in' when it comes to developing unmanned systems and aircraft. 'Next year, the Air Force will procure more unmanned aircraft than manned aircraft,' the general said. 'I think that makes a very pointed statement about our commitment to the future of [unmanned aircraft] and what it brings to the fight in meeting the requirements of combatant commanders.'"
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The Unmanned Air Force

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  • Not surprising (Score:5, Interesting)

    by OverlordQ (264228) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @09:11PM (#26459277) Journal

    I don't have the numbers handy but I'm betting that they can get many unmanned aircraft for the cost of a single manned one.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm curious as to what the costs of training a single pilot are, and even more to see a comparison of the average pilot skills vs an AI pilot.

      However, this sure screws my plans to corrupt the air force pilots to get them to bomb random sites I generally dislike.. hmm after reflection maybe a virus for this AI would be easier!

      • by Nursie (632944)

        Do you even need AI if you can do low-latency remote control?

        • Re:Not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

          by vux984 (928602) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @09:30PM (#26459499)

          Do you even need AI if you can do low-latency remote control?

          You do if your opponent has some sort of communications jamming technology.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by megaditto (982598)

            Right. But I'd imagine that's why we have the incredibly expensive stealth bombers: once the enemy air defences are down, it would really be much more cost effective to run the drones. The drones should cost less to run and would be cheaper to replace.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by maeka (518272)

            Do you even need AI if you can do low-latency remote control?

            You do if your opponent has some sort of communications jamming technology.

            One hell of a jamming technology to block the laser to satellite communication of a high-altitude plane.

            • Re:Not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

              by vux984 (928602) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @10:21PM (#26460115)

              One hell of a jamming technology to block the laser to satellite communication of a high-altitude plane.

              1) Satellite communications are not generally referred to as "low-latency" which the OP suggested were required.

              2) Two way Laser links are extremely difficult to maintain outside of your idealized scenario. Two rapidly moving endpoints, one of which might be engaged in combat.

              • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

                by Anonymous Coward

                Considering this is what both the test platforms I've done work on are using as links, I think your concerns are irrelevant.

              • by nebosuke (1012041)
                1) Depends on orbital altitude over the theatre of operations. Low (enough) latency links can be accomplished with sats if you're willing to spend money on a satellite constellation of sufficient density to allow for full coverage of the area with low altitude sats. Considerably lower latency than a Hawaiian quake player would experience on a west coast server is possible.

                2) Yes, but that is neither an unsolvable nor unsolved problem.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by TooMuchToDo (882796)

                1) Satellite communications are not generally referred to as "low-latency" which the OP suggested were required.

                Geosync? Yes. Very high latency. LEO? (Iridium) Tolerable. I know only because I've integrated systems with Iridium. Expensive as hell, but imagine being able to control something from damn near anywhere.

              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                Call the round trip 600ms since you have to make the distance four times to do it.

                Still, its lower latency than Clint Eastwood thinking in Russian.

            • by pushing-robot (1037830) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @10:26PM (#26460171)

              One hell of a jamming technology to block the laser to satellite communication of a high-altitude plane.

              Yes, the level of technology required would be ridiculous. [wikipedia.org]

              • by 4D6963 (933028)
                I know you're joking but a range in the infrareds goes through clouds like they're not there.
                • Re:Not surprising (Score:4, Informative)

                  by pushing-robot (1037830) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @12:28AM (#26461305)

                  That depends on the cloud. Warm, low-altitude clouds are almost transparent to infrared. Cold, high-altitude clouds—the kind you'd find between a plane and satellite—are extremely opaque to infrared. Even clouds that are nearly transparent to visible light can block infrared light.

                  On the other hand, I'm not convinced a laser system would even be necessary; militaries already rely on a great deal of battlefield radio communication; if it was easy to jam those signals, people would be doing it already. Jamming a spread-spectrum transmission from one directional antenna to another is very hard.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by merreborn (853723)

              Do you even need AI if you can do low-latency remote control?

              You do if your opponent has some sort of communications jamming technology.

              One hell of a jamming technology to block the laser to satellite communication of a high-altitude plane.

              I'd imagine you'd jam that system just like you jam radio: by sending a stronger signal -- in this case, by shining brighter lasers on the receivers on both ends (the satellite and the UAV).

              Or by simply interrupting line-of-sight.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Kingrames (858416)
            A communications disruption can mean only one thing.
        • Re:Not surprising (Score:4, Interesting)

          by DustyShadow (691635) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @10:11PM (#26459989) Homepage

          Do you even need AI if you can do low-latency remote control?

          Yes. I say this because of the high number of Predator crashes that are always blamed on "pilot" error. Compare that to Global Hawk which has one crash (which was in a very early stage of the aircraft -- late 90s I think), which has a totally autonomous flight control. None of the deployed GHs have crashed. I don't know how many Predators have crashed but for awhile it seemed like I was hearing about them once every 2-3 months.

          • Re:Not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

            by evanbd (210358) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @12:54AM (#26461551)
            Be very careful when reading stats on pilot error. Generally, if a report claims something was pilot error, it is appropriate to ask what caused the pilot error. The answer can usually be found in some sort of human factors design flaw -- poorly laid out controls, confusing instruments or indicator layout, overly complex procedures, poor scheduling leading to fatigue, etc. When you decide the pilot made a mistake, that is not the end of the investigation -- and it doesn't mean that the correct solution is to replace the pilot with an AI, either.
          • Re:Not surprising (Score:4, Interesting)

            by GooberToo (74388) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @11:51AM (#26466345)

            I say this because of the high number of Predator crashes

            Don't forget a number of these planes were actually downed from small arms fire. Even with full size aircraft, human error is often attributed to crashes when it really isn't a factor at all.

            Example: A small, single engine plane on short final (low to the ground and slow airspeed) encounters wind sheer which forces it into the ground. Cause of crash may be, "Human error. Failure to maintain positive control of craft and while close to the ground. Failure to initiate a go-around." I'm not kidding, stuff like this is actually recorded in NTSB and/or FAA crash records. Of course it ignores the fact that it is impossible for some craft to escape wind sheer. And in fact, it has caused the crash of large, commercial jets before. The problem is serious enough commercial jets now have wind sheer detection systems on board and large airports now detect and report the condition.

            Additionally, as many as a half dozen commericial jet crashes which were originally attributed to human error have since been determined to be attributed to humans actually doing things properly. In fact, in these cases, the cause of the crash was actually failed hydraulic valves causing the rudder to operate in reverse direction; meaning correct corrective action by humans actually cause the problem to become worse. Yet it's still dubbed, "Human error."

            Long story short, don't get too caught up believing in "pilot error" claims.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 4D6963 (933028)
        Huh? Which UAVs are piloted by AIs? None that I know of, but on the other hand I've only heard of Raptors.
      • by jamesh (87723)

        However, this sure screws my plans to corrupt the air force pilots to get them to bomb random sites I generally dislike.. hmm after reflection maybe a virus for this AI would be easier!

        This is the problem with a computer. Once you know how to hack a specific configuration/version of the AI, you can (probably) hack all of that model.

        I wonder what the public opinion would be on opening the source to the AI vs keeping it secure via not showing it to anyone. The difference here being that you can't just reverse

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by turkeydance (1266624)
      "i'm sorry Dave..."
    • Re:Not surprising (Score:5, Informative)

      by usul294 (1163169) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @09:22PM (#26459407)
      Reaper is $13.325 million and carries 3,750lbs of payload. F35 is $83 million and carries 15,000lbs of payload, thats what wikipedia says. Reaper carries more load per dollar, but is much slower, carries less, flys lower, and doesn't have a person taking a ride.
    • by conureman (748753)

      Down at the bottom of the Wikipedia MQ-9 page: "four aircraft, four ground stations and five years of maintenance support, all valued at US$330 million." Pretty cheap, if you don't consider the public relations price of sending robotic killing machines to spread goodwill in sensitive regions.

  • War No 81-Q (Score:3, Funny)

    by Nursie (632944) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @09:14PM (#26459309)

    So have we got to the stage yet where we can just have our unmanned vehicles fight their unmanned vehicles over an empty patch of ocean and declare a winner?

    No, thought not, but I'm sure that's where we're headed. /mark elf... //I hope someone gets the references

    • by mi (197448) <slashdot-2012@virtual-estates.net> on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @09:50PM (#26459739) Homepage

      So have we got to the stage yet where we can just have our unmanned vehicles fight their unmanned vehicles over an empty patch of ocean and declare a winner?

      The whole point of UAVs is that they are great in assymetrical warfare — such as what we and our allies (like Israel) are engaged in now and for the foreseeable future. A really strong military facing weak opponents, who carefully exploit not military strength (which they do not have), but their blending among civilians, terrorism, and some legal tricks too.

      It does not work the other way — against comparable or stronger military. When Georgians tried, earlier this year, to use UAVs to monitor their rebel territories from the air, the rebel-supporting Russia quickly blasted the UAV out of the sky with a manned fighter.

      Should we come to the unfortunate point of facing a comparably-equipped military once again, Air Force's spending priorities will change again.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Sure. Now please report to the disintegration booth.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So winning a war will be about programming skills and not economic power.

    I for one welcome our new communist overlords.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Winning a war will, as always, be a combination of many factors. Economic power is only one of these; no doubt it will continue to be an important one.

      As far as the specific issue of producing leading-edge UAVs goes, the USSR was not particularly good at either software or electrical engineering, IIRC. Command economies and totalitarian ideologies seem to be good at the brute-force, metal-bashing, rule-of-thumb kind of engineering, but not stuff requiring higher levels of precision. To the degree that th

      • "Command economies and totalitarian ideologies seem to be good at the brute-force, metal-bashing, rule-of-thumb kind of engineering, but not stuff requiring higher levels of precision."

        Like say launching rockets into orbit.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Like say launching rockets into orbit.

          Which they did, basically, by brute force, metal bashing, and rule of thumb. And killed a hell of a lot of people doing it. I'm a big fan of Soviet-era space technology, actually -- the stuff that has lasted is cheap and reliable -- but the process of developing it was something that would have been completely unacceptable to Americans, and rightly so.

        • "Command economies and totalitarian ideologies seem to be good at the brute-force, metal-bashing, rule-of-thumb kind of engineering, but not stuff requiring higher levels of precision." Like say launching rockets into orbit.

          I was going to say! The Soviets controls community was really incredibly badass (and they had journals with wonderful names like "Kybernetica"). They must have also had some really good aeronautical engineers, because they put out some insane fighter jets too. All of this is pretty much the definition of high-precision. And while we're on the subject of "totalitarian ideologies" and "higher levels of precision," I should probably bring up Hitler's Germany. Y'know, the country that the U.S. got a lot of

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Yazeran (313637)

            Except that Nazi Germany basically invented all the technologies used in modern warfare

            1) Long endurance diesel electric submarines (type XXI, Elektroboote)
            2) Long range ballistic missiles (A4/V2)
            3) Jet propelled aircraft (both fighters, bombers and recon, notably ME-262)
            4) Cruise missiles (V1/FGZ-76)
            5) Smart bombs (Fritz-X and HS-293 glider bombs)
            6) Inertial navigation (A4/V2)

            Systems under development/not deployed
            1) Nuclear bomb / nuclear power
            2) Guided surface to air missiles (Wasserfall)
            3) Guided Air to

  • by EWAdams (953502) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @09:28PM (#26459483) Homepage

    However, there is still an old guard of macho "Top Gun" guys in the upper ranks who will have to die off before the Air Force becomes completely comfortable with the idea.

    An un-manned plane can out-accelerate and out-turn any plane with a human in it, so before long a manned plane will be at a distinct disadvantage. Give it 10 years or so and manned fighters will be gone. We'll still use pilots for AWACS and the like, though.

    • In order for unmanned, remote control aircraft to fully replace manned aircraft 3 things have to happen:

      *Reaction time for the remote pilot must equal or exceed that of an in-the-air pilot.
      *Data the remote pilot has access to must equal or exceed that of an in-the-air pilot.
      *Counter-counter measures must ensure that the remote pilot is always in control of the craft.

      In order for self-guided robotic aircraft to replace live pilots the following must happen:

      *Reaction speed must equal or exceed that of human pilots.
      *Appropriateness of reaction must equal or exceed that of human pilots.
      *Counter-counter measures must ensure that the robot cannot act against its creator body (IE, it can neither be subverted, nor rebel).
      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        *Reaction time for the remote pilot must equal or exceed that of an in-the-air pilot.

        Why?

        The performance difference between a manned and unmanned aircraft is so great that it pretty much takes all the skill out of dogfighting. This of course assumes that the aircraft even gets into visual range (hint, missiles might be involved) before the engagement is over.

      • by Bios_Hakr (68586)

        *Reaction time for the remote pilot must equal or exceed that of an in-the-air pilot.

        Reaction time does not matter as much in bombing. The UCAV is, more or less, a reusable cruise missile.

        *Data the remote pilot has access to must equal or exceed that of an in-the-air pilot.

        Again, not really needed. One thing that keeps UCAV cost high is the "requirement" to provide feedback to the pilot. Sure, you need basic instruments. But most of the data in the cockpit is really not needed for the remote pilot. An

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zx75 (304335)

        Or, you know, be able to put 3 unmanned airborne weapon platforms in the air for the same cost as a single manned jet-fighter and develop sophisticated enough auto-pilot that a human controller is only required during tactical maneuvers and blow the hell out of any human pilot opponents because:
        1) You outnumber them
        2) Your cost of casualties is far less because a single lost plane is 1/3 the price and no human casualties as a result
        3) Your ability to maneuver is much greater because you don't have to worry

    • Eh, machismo maybe is a factor for managerial preference for people over automatons in the military, I think more one of trust though. As a civilian, who likes peace, I would rather that War costs lives, as that cost should equal a reluctance to engage unless necessary.

      Man, if we go all automatons, cracking skills will bring some serious power.

  • About time. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jcr (53032) <[jcr] [at] [mac.com]> on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @09:32PM (#26459529) Journal

    For decades now, the limit to fighter aircraft performance has been human endurance.

    -jcr

    • by werdnapk (706357)
      Thanks to uppers [globalsecurity.org] the pilots are going longer, stronger, faster.
    • Re:About time. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bios_Hakr (68586) <xptical&gmail,com> on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @11:50PM (#26460931) Homepage

      For years, "fighters" really haven't been doing A2A combat. Most (all?) of these are employed as bombers. And fighter/bombers are limited by airframe, not the pilot.

      And when it comes to bombing, unmanned aircraft are just better. One can orbit at high altitude and lase targets while others come in lower and drop GBUs all over the target. If a few get shot down, no big deal.

      Set up an INS with a gyroscope and trigger that to the proposed flight path and set the bomb to detonate if the plane veers off course. If a few blow up in the air, no big deal. Better than having one go "unguided" and hit whatever.

      Forget calling in air strikes for CAS roles. The soldiers on the front can launch their own RPVs for some stuff. And for other missions, it'll be cost effective to have a wing of escorts accompany the troops. If they are attacked, the UCAVs can come down in seconds and drop munitions.

      Forget the traditional role of air dominance. We can just send hundreds of UCAVs for every piloted vehicle the enemy has. He can't possibly shoot them all down. And in the opening days of the war, we'll blanket all the enemy runways with thousands of UCAVs anyway. Bomb the shit out of the runways and then loiter to take out any combat engineers trying to fix it.

      The greatest thing is the manpower use. One pilot can update the INS for hundreds of UCAVs. Then, they just fly themselves. Once over the target, one pilot can take a single UCAV out of loiter and hit targets all night. Or, 20 pilots can be re-directed to engage in "shock and awe" while their former flights loiter.

      Pilots will be working 8-hour shifts with 15 minute breaks every hour. They will even be able to take lunch. They can do their job from Utah or Maryland or Colorado without every having to deploy to Iraq. They won't have to be in perfect physical shape to fly. Bum knee on a great pilot; no problem.

  • We are calling it skynet and WOPR is the name of main AI running it all.

  • I think it's a very pointed statement about our commitment to providing money to the defense contractor industry.

  • Not just the US (Score:2, Informative)

    by youknowjack (1452161)

    I read recently that China is also committing to unmanned aircraft, with a 1 billion yuan investment (US$150 mil)

    http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90776/90882/6564823.html [peopledaily.com.cn]

  • to find moonlight grahm?
  • buy a dog, learn to shoot heavy weapons, and move to Mexico.
  • Misleading number (Score:3, Insightful)

    by andy1307 (656570) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @10:00PM (#26459867)
    An unmanned aircraft costs a lot less than a single F/22 or F/35. So, buying more UAV/UCAVs doesn't say much about spending priorities. TFA makes no mention of the amount of meny being spent on unmanned aircraft v/s manned aircraft.
    • by cowscows (103644)

      That's not currently a fair comparison to make however. Current unmanned aircraft are nowhere near as capable as an F-22 or an F-35. Sure, in theory, an unmanned craft with comparable performance and capabilities should be somewhat cheaper because you can leave out a bunch of the pilot interface/support/safety gear, but I don't think the difference will be as vast as the cost difference today between an F-22 and a predator drone.

  • by arbitraryaardvark (845916) <gtbear.gmail@com> on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @10:53PM (#26460439) Homepage Journal

    'Next year, the Air Force will procure more unmanned aircraft than manned aircraft,'

    Nice to see the air force finally getting behind affirmative action.

  • by Bruha (412869) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @11:07PM (#26460559) Homepage Journal

    This is about as dangerous as Shinsheki's push for the lighter more mobile Army which was torn to shreds by IED's in Iraq and Afganistan.

    If too much focus is put towards UAV's we'll end up with a manned Air Force that begins to put A2A combat second to UAV combat. What happens when we end up fighting a real war?

    Capitalistic principles have no room in our military, if we cut corners we will someday pay for it.

  • ...Air Force reading list [militarypr...glists.com]. Several books about counterinsurgency, only one about flying airplanes and that's a historical piece (Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the U.S. Army, 1917-1945). That's the CSAF's reading list, and he would know where they're going...

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