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Why Not the Killer Drones?

July 30, 2009

droneThose who say the new unmanned aerial vehicles will never (notice how that word “never” is so frequently abused in the history of warfare!) take the place of a manned fighter, should consider the following quote from the Danger Room:

After all, robot planes can pull far more Gs than a human-piloted plane, potentially making for a far more impressive display.

Interesting that the article is concerned with the use of drones to fly in formation, like the Thunderbirds, but yours truly was thinking of something more ominous, as we wrote a while back:

These killer drones need not be supersonic but may possess a unique design allowing them to outmaneuver any plane that flies. Their primary advantage will be the ability to endure astonishing G forces far beyond the 9 G’s a human operator could safely tolerate.

Imagine such future hunter/killer drones which lie in wait for traditional jet fighters on a mission, like eagles who can spot their prey from great distances. Some claim that such computerized weapons can never replace trained pilots nor duplicate his reactions, but considering the speeds and accuracy of modern weapons when response time to a missile attack is down to mere seconds, we don’t see any other way for aircraft to survive except for the robots to take charge.

This should come as no surprise, since all air vehicles in past history have followed a similar course of development:

  • Balloons in the Civil War are used as scouts and for artillery spotting.
  • Airships (blimps, dirigibles) are used as scouts, for naval and land artillery spotting, and even as the first long-range bombers
  • Heavier-than-air planes follow the same exact progression, but also start carrying light machine guns to usher in the age of the dogfighter. 

So we see the UAVs simply following a natural pattern. The traditional services will never lead this effort though (it was the CIA which first used the Predator with Hellfire strike missiles), especially with the impending deployment of a new $100 million manned fighter, the JSF Lightning II. Still, we expect they will gradually come around to the idea, though kicking and screaming all the way!

4 Comments leave one →
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  2. July 31, 2009 8:45 am

    This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 7/31/2009, at The Unreligious Right

  3. Heretic permalink
    July 30, 2009 4:20 pm

    There’s a very easy “counter” to the 9G “limit” imposed by humans. It’s called VIFF (Vector In Forward Flight) and USMC Harriers have been doing it for decades (ie. since the 70s). Between the combination of a fully blown wing lift and engine thrust, Harriers can make what is effectively a 30G turn in the air (also known to opposing pilots as a “square corner”) simply by vectoring the power of their engine while in forward flight.

    At short, “knife fighting” ranges where maneuvering and turn radius and cannon shots come into play, the high wing loaded Harrier(!) is one of the best dogfighters in the world. In wargaming exercises against F-16s and F-15s back in the early 80s, even when the Harrier started out in a position where the enemy plane began in the tail position (ie. the worst possible scenario), when dogfighting the Harrier would reverse positions with the attacker and either shoot down the non-VIFFing aircraft or escape. At the very least, in a dogfight scenario, the Harriers didn’t lose against low wing loading fighters, thanks to VIFF, which makes them far more unpredictable flyers in a dogfight.

    Unfortunately, the Harrier family of aircraft was conceived and designed prior to the era of IR missiles … let alone radar cross sections. They were also developed and “perfected” in an era prior to widespread adoption of avionics packages that we now, today, consider to be standard kit (radar, FLIR, et al.) … so they’re not exactly “optimal” aircraft by today’s standards. Then again, there aren’t any “optimal” aircraft around today which were designed starting 50 years ago either … unless you count the BUFF B-52.

    Anyway … my point is that if you need additional maneuverability beyond the 9G “limit” on pilots, the answer is … VIFF. Problem is, it’s hard to “retrofit” an optimized VIFF capability onto an existing fighter airframe, and there are doubts that the capacity to VIFF is even relevant/useful to tipping the odds of survival in your favor(!) when in combat. This is because VIFF goes against the doctrine of Energy Maneuver for air-to-air combat, laid down by the Fighter Mafia of F-16 fame.

  4. July 30, 2009 1:22 pm

    “Their primary advantage will be the ability to endure astonishing G forces far beyond the 9 G’s a human operator could safely tolerate. ”

    “NIH” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist:

    The limit is more like 11 or 12 g (positive Gs – less for negative Gs, of course), and large airframes get quite heavy if built for more than that.

    Plus: The technological trend is going away from aircraft maneuverability towards missile maneuverability. The West ignored this till a 1990 Sputnik shock by Eastern German R-73 (AA-11) missiles.

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