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Manned 'Surrogate Predators' fill in for robot assassins

Humans go into simulations, but not into real world

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Robot aircraft are in such demand for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan that the US military - in a mildly disorienting move - is using manned aeroplanes to stand in for them during military training exercises.

It seems that high demand for the services of Predator and Reaper surveillance/assassination droids overseas has meant that none can be found to take part in the US Air Force's annual "Green Flag" air bombing exercises.

“Due to the Air Force maximum surge effort to provide more MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper support to ground units in [US Central Command, covering the southwest Asian wars] there are no Predator or Reaper forces available to support pre-deployment exercises such as Green Flag, which focuses on air-to-ground operations,” stated USAF Predator/Reaper ops honcho Major Matt Martin last month. “The Surrogate Predator is the solution.”

The Surrogate Predator consists of an electro-optical "ball" turret of the same type carried by Predators and Reapers, fitted to an ordinary human-piloted Cessna 182 operated by the USAF's auxiliary organisation the Civil Air Patrol. The Patrol teaches young Americans to fly, and helps out with missions such as searching for missing aircraft.

“We’ve seen nothing but enthusiasm and a willingness to help from the Civil Air Patrol, which is why we chose them to do this mission,” Martin added.

The Surrogate Predators will fill in for the robots during Green Flag exercises, freeing the machine warriors for combat operations. The human pilots, unlike the robotic craft, won't be allowed real weapons, however.

“Once a target is identified by the ground commander as hostile,” explains Martin, “the Surrogate Predator will dynamically re-task into the strike role and coordinate with a forward air control to simulate the delivery of precision ordnance onto a target.”

Strange days.

We learnt about the Surrogate Predator plans from Aviation Week's excellent Ares blog, but there's more from the CAP here. ®

Bootnote

As regular readers will be aware, there are also programmes under which manned aircraft help out unmanned ones in combat. And others in which such "manned unmanned" planes are modified to operate unmanned, so swinging the pendulum back again.

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