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Replacing the Raptor

August 1, 2005

The F/A-22 Raptor is probably the greatest fighter plane ever built, but with the cost of these aerial wonders at $200 million each, very few can be afforded. The Air force contends it needs the Raptor to continue American air dominance into the 21st Century. If not the F/A-22, they ask, then what? This article from Strategypage may provide the answer:

Several decades of developing software to run aircraft has made it possible to send off a fully robotic bomber, or even fighter, on many types of missions. Air forces have resisted this sort of thing for over thirty years, although cruise missiles, which are one way bombers, are regularly used. But now, all those nations that see no way of competing with the F-22, do see it as possible to build a large fleet of robotic fighter aircraft. China has a lot more software engineers than it does highly experienced fighter pilots. American air force generals fear that the Chinese are moving slowly to expand their fleet of modern fighters because everyone believes that the next generation of fighters will be robotic, and a lot cheaper than F-22s.

…This is one of those rare turning points in weapons design. Similar to when the modern battleship (the British Dreadnaught being the first), made all existing battleships obsolete. A similar thing happened when jet fighters appeared in the mid 1940s. Nearly all those 63,000 American fighter aircraft in 1945 were prop-driven, and all those pilots knew that in the next few years, jet fighters would make all those prop fighters obsolete. Now the robotic fighters are about to make manned fighters obsolete, just like GPS guided bombs (JDAM) made dumb bombs dropped by a low flying fighter-bomber obsolete.

So we find that robot planes may be the answer to the dwindling number of fighter craft in the US arsenal. Unlike what Hollywood may want you to think in the blockbuster film “Stealth”, new technology is actually a good thing.

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