Air Force Report Envisions a Broader Use of Drones Christopher Drew, New York Times, July 23, 2009
I had a conversation with a friend a few years about UAVs and the future of piloted military aircraft. He was a B-1B Lancer pilot transitioning to F-16 Fighting Falcons. He definitely had a horse in the race. He argued that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) would never be sophisticated enough to do more than take pictures. Besides, a human being with a conscience should be present to make the decision to kill. My friend was wrong. Those arguments are still wrong.
Piloted aircraft must have a place for the pilot to sit, controls for her to operate, instruments for her to monitor and a window through which she can look. It also must have an oxygen system, ejection seat with parachute, warning systems, pressurization, and environmental systems to keep the pilot comfortable (and alive). Pilots also have to eat, poop and sleep. This all requires space, money and extra fuel.
Additionally, engineers of piloted aircraft must consider the safety of the pilot and limit turn radius, acceleration and other g-forces. An aircraft without a fragile human pilot would be automatically capable of much greater maneuverability. They could also stay aloft for much longer durations.
Pilots also must be rescued when they crash or eject. This puts para-rescue teams in grave danger. Captured pilots are quite bad for troop morale and public support for conflict. Especially when military pilots are publicly decapitated on YouTube.
UAV drones are faster, more maneuverable, and cheaper. They allow pilots to safely control the aircraft from a trailer on the ground many miles away. Military pilots are a relic. My guess is they’re still around only because they are who make acquisition decisions and battle plans. Like the rest of us, they like to have a job, too.
We don’t need a manned space program, either. The Mars rovers proved that.