Why We Can Safely Transition to a Drone Air Force
After this week’s US Senate vote ending production of the F-22 Raptor, and its likely demise in the House as well, some may be worried it is the end of American aerial supremacy. Let me assure you it is not, and if you’ll examine the marvelous things our military is performing with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs-drones, robot planes), then you can be even more excited about the future. Here are some facts from CNN on “How robot drones revolutionized the face of warfare“:
There are now more than 7,000 UAVs ranging from the workhorse, the Predator, and its beefier, deadlier kin the Reaper, to army drones like the tiny hand-launched Raven and the larger Shadow. The drones are dramatically tilting the war in favor of the United States. Predators, for example, played a key role in killing al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi in 2006. UAVs are credited with killing more than half al Qaeda’s top 20 leaders.
Now U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants more UAVs. Already he has said that the next generation of fighter planes — the F-35 that took decades to develop at a cost of more than half-a-billion dollars each — will be the last manned fighter aircraft. Lt. Gen. David Deptula, USAF, explains that the next phase will enable a single drone to provide as many as 60 simultaneous live video feeds directly to combat troops. Some new drones will be as small as flies, others walk — all appear destined to work with decreasing human input…
The spokesman for Taliban leader Mullah Omar recently told me that it is not afraid of drones, that it doesn’t fear death. Deptula disagrees and quotes recently declassified comments between two Taliban leaders: “Tanks and armor are not a big deal, the planes are the killers.” He says that of more than 600 Hellfires fired by Predators, over 95 percent hit their targets. Those that failed did so generally through mechanical fault, loss of guidance or a target moving at the last instant, Deptula says.
So you see, it isn’t any personal bias against the F-22 Raptor, since the F-35 Lightning is threatened as well (prediction:look for far fewer numbers purchased than the 2000 or so the USAF wants to buy!). It is just a recognition that warfare is changing and that combat drones can do many missions of the more costly and vulnerable manned planes, and perhaps some day replace it altogether.
Now if only the Navy with their handful of supercarriers with their short-legged fighters can start thinking of alternatives…