US Air Force may allow killbots to be flown by non-pilots
Flyboys sick of couch-potato warfare
The new head of the US Air Force - replacing an officer who was fired at least in part for dragging his feet on unmanned air operations - has hinted that the service may relax its rule that drone aircraft must be flown by fully qualified military pilots.
Answering written questions from Senators prior to his confirmation hearing, General Norton Schwarz wrote: “It may well be that a blend of rated and non-rated operators makes the most sense. If confirmed, I will come to a conclusion on this issue quickly.”
A "non-rated" drone handler in action.
At the moment, US Air Force Predator and Predator-B/Reaper UAVs are handled throughout every flight by commissioned officer pilots with wings on their chests, fully trained and rated to fly manned military aircraft. There is also a sensor operator, usually a non-commissioned person not qualified as aircrew - hence much cheaper and easier to find.
In recent times, massive demand for unmanned air patrols above Iraq and Afghanistan has caused manpower headaches for the USAF. The issue hasn't been with availability of Predators, nor sensor operators - the problem has been finding enough pilots. The drones spend much more time in the air than manned aircraft do - this is why the ground forces like them so much - but this means long shifts at the stick for the flyboys back at the ground control station. (Landing and takeoff are handled by a crew at the Reaper's base in theatre, so as to reduce comms latency, but most of a mission is under the control of stations in the USA.)
Pilots hate drone duty, and the previous USAF leadership were reportedly reluctant to forcibly draft larger numbers of their flyboys into the ground control stations - or to compel the existing drone jockeys to work more hours. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates described the business of ramping up drone operations as "like pulling teeth", before finally deciding to fire general Schwarz's predecessor - General "Buzz" Moseley - and his civilian boss Michael Wynne. (Gates also cited various recent blunders involving mistaken shipment of nuclear bombs and export of Minuteman missile parts to Taiwan.)
The other US armed services typically can't see the need to have manned-aircraft pilots in control the whole time. The US Army plans to deploy its own version of Predator - the Sky Warrior - which will have automated landing and takeoff, and be handled during missions by non-com specialists equivalent to today's sensor operators. There is control software in test nowadays which will allow a single, not especially highly trained operator to handle up to six drones at once.
But thus far, the pilot-dominated USAF has seemed to feel that if you absolutely must have an unmanned aircraft, then by God you'll still have a pilot.
It appears that this rather schizophrenic attitude may be starting to break down, though probably only in a partial and temporary way. ®
The Stargate Connection
Before you start yes I know it's scraping the entertainment barrel but I can't resist! Anyhoo, there's an episode where the team turn up on whatever conveniently human inhabited planet and fly remote control drones, only to find out they are flying them for Nazi's. The America's Army comment from the AC made me think that this move away from actual human contact in war makes it all the more easy for armed services personnel to remain oblivious to the horrors they inflict. What if this tech was availbale for Vietnam, would the veterans anti war movement have even existed, let alone have the gravitas it did if the worst injuries were RSI and soldiers never had to step over the bodies of those they killed? I feel a bit angry/sick just thinking about it to be honest, or maybe that was the Inq's coverage of the spammer suicide...
Actually the reverse is also true. The machineguns that the Germans massed hub-to-hub in the Western Front were subject to the patent rights of Sir Hiram Maxim.
It the end of the era of steam.... oh wait..
It is only recently here in Canada that the railways stopped having firemen, brakemen on their trains. Thanks to a real strong union these brawny and diligent coal shovellers and caboose minders had jobs for life, even though the trains went diesel half a century ago and the controls went electronic with the commensurate disappearance of the caboose just a few decades past.
I see these jet jockeys are in the same pickle and you will be dragging the control sticks from-their-cold-dead-hands. Either that or the brass et al, gets their early retirement packages for being mutton heads.
With all this bluster and smoke blowing you know theres going to be someones hands in your pocket soon enough.