Hi all, well i'm still really new to this aircraft game!! - ive only just really started getting interested in military aircraft these past few
but theres something ive been thinking about since ive learned about unmanned aircrafts:- 'ARE UCAV'S REALLY THE ANSWER??'
me personally, i the UAV is ok for surveillance etc because if the actual UAV malfunctions big deal!! - its only a £multi-million$ piece of equipment
but at least no human life will be lost.
In Kosovo, where we lost 26 UAVs but only 3 Predators vs. 2 manned aircraft (an F-117 and a Puma IIRR), the reason for havin the RQ-1s on scene often
coming down to a failure to trust 'expert' human judgement with a requirement for a '2 eyes on target' second opinion.
Whereby you had to confirm what one pilot saw with his limited pod FOV/FOR (literally /seconds/ of viewing time before overflight and LOS loss, often
without any 'playback' or 'digital zoom' features) and screen magnification by tasking a Predator that might well take upwards of a half hour to
get there after being instructed to 'go see'.
Of course by this time junior jet ranger was out of gas and had so stirred up the threat that not only was the TST (Time Sensitive Target) /long/
gone. But the drone was flying into a hornet's nest of fires for which it no longer had a bomber able to kill what it authorized.
Which is all the more incredible when you consider that, had we had 20 such drones on station throughout the country, we could have spot scanned the
whole nation before engaging point targets with AGM-114 which was among the few weapons that COULD be safely used in direct proximity to civillian
And was readily carriageable by the Predator. But not an element in the arsenal of the F-16.
i.e. Not only was the F-jet a complete hash for the mission of 'COP' or Continuous Overhead Presence due to inadequate targeting and loiter. But
the very thing it was designed to do /well/ (carry big bombs a long ways, drop them and come home) was less and less useful.
It cost about 27 million for the USAF to buy a General Dynamics F-16C.40, the only variant of the F-16 jets with LANTIRN at the time. It cost the
USAF between 2.5 and 3.2 million to buy an MQ-1, depending on era and variant. Often another 2 million is spent on the mission equipment suite which
is where the '4.5 million' number most often quoted for the type is generated.
Comparitively, it costs 30 million to buy 4 such viehicles, a GCS control setup and the initial logistics bed down of a deployable flight. And one
team of two men can (now) fly all of them.
'Last I checked' (i.e. before another numb nuts 'rated pilot' crashed one) there were about 54 MQ-1s in service, even as we bouth about 615
It costs less than a 1,000 dollars per flight hour to keep an MQ-1 airborne. It costs about 5,000 dollars per flight hour to keep an F-16CG airborne.
An MQ-1 can loiter for about 17-24hrs, depending on radius and payload. An F-16CG is good for about 2 without refueling, again depending on radius
and threat levels.
i.e. If you had 20 operative SENSCAP/CAS Orbit aircraft over a given country, per theater day, you would be expending roughly 915 X 20 or 18,300
dollars for Predators. Vs. the approximately 5,000 X 60 X 2 (since the AF works on a 'buddy system') or 600,000 dollars it would would take to
maintain a similar number of F-16CGs on station.
This is roughly two full wings of 3 squadrons of 18-24 aircraft. And you would run the jets and the crews ragged trying hold the sortie evolutions up
so that you might have to bring in 'other' air and ground crew to artificially pump up the manning ratios.
Furthermore, if your percentage loss rate is around .2% per 1,000 flight hours in combat, .002 X 24 X 30 X 2= 2.88 airframes which means that, for
an initial investment of 81 million dollars in three Vipers which cost almost 7 times what the Predators do, you have expended (30 X 2 X 600,000)
another 36 million dollars in maintaining the aircraft which you don't lose.
For a total attrition plus ops account cost of 116 million dollars. Not including jet fuel or ordnance expenditures.
Or the life insurance paid out for each worthless gutsack's widow.
Compared to 4.5 X 3 + 30 X 2 X 18,300 = 14.5 million dollars.
The 'UAV' thus is not only a better shooter (because it is _present_ across a wider area, longer, for fewer dollars each day). It is a
substantially more capable asset to _lose_.
And winning wars is almost always about being able to lose more rather than kill more.
but i think UCAV's are a whole different issue, your talking about giving a piece of unmanned equipment (with onboard weapons) the capacity to think
for itself!! - its a scary issue, espcially if theres a fault with the onboard computer and the UCAV fire's at you and not the enemny (or even worse)
Nonsense. A UCAV is a cruise missile with a separable warhead and landing gear.
There is not a single mission-critical 'computer' (FLCS, FCS, MMU) in a UCAV which is also present on a fighter. If any of these fail on _either_
jet, not only is the fighter a 'mission kill' but it is most likely going to end up unable to survive.
What differentiates a UCAV from a UAV is the fact that it has a big wing and a lot of thrust so that it doesn't tumble in bad weather anymore than a
manned jet does.
Flying a Predator into a crosswind landing environment is often like flying a kite in a hurricane. Particularly where you have a
slow-to-respond-over-link human behind the controls.
In terms of mission and particularly combat systems, it is simple to 'poll' the datapathways and install logic which requires an RTB if a given
system is not up to snuff. Again something which often happens on manned jets with a 'mission spare' or 'ramp spare' (over tasking of assets to a
fragged mission) because the pilot being there doesn't mean a damn thing if he can't call upon an _automated_ system to save his bacon or kill
While nobody will miss R2D2 if that failed system subsequently causes the loss of the airframe itself, the fact remains that the asset is worth more
than the sortie or the pilot in a truly contested war. While in a lower intensity campaign, the UCAVs reduced signatures and better targeting all
make it a superior _penetrating_ strike agency able to control the fall-of-shot (ballistic envelope) 'scatter' of munitions by laying even PGM down
almost atop target if need be (no cross/head winds, less chance of last minute changes in target position or collateral cooccupation zones.)
Of course there will always be scenarios in which somebody 'walks in front of the muzzle' but here too, humans are too blind and stupid to do better
than machines. As can be seen with the OAF AGM-130 strike from an F-15E on a rail bridge. The 15-20nm release, necessary because the manned jet is
an utter pig of high signature, low evasive energy, aerodynamic capability; hit dead center twenty seconds before a passenger line went over the
broken span and killed almost everyone on board.
Awwwwwhhh, the poor humans, I bet they felt better knowing they were butchered by 'professionals', yup-yup.
UAV's have been known malfunction in missions - artifical intelligence can never run smoothly, compared to a human being (it will always have
Recent history has shown human intelligence is vastly less stable. Witness a Canadian infantry unit fired up because the pilot, high on uppers his
flight doctors _require_ him to take for extended night flights, 'thought they were shooting at him'.
Never mind that he was over 12,000ft and nothing they could do could hurt him. Never mind that he had options to check over radio.
Or the two F-15C pilots who flew _over the masthead_ of a pair of UN designated UH-60 helicopters. TWICE. And persisted in identifying them as
Mi-24's. Despite the lack of correct camo, weapons, shape configuration or displayed hostile intent. Relying on an E-3 AWACS (150nm further away)
which _had the choppers flight plans listed on it's daily activity lists_ to give them permission to shoot. And then killing both aircraft with a
Sidewinder and an AIM-120, neither of which could be called off once launched.
This latter being particularly heinous since the helos started out the engagement _20 minutes_ from the nearest Iraqi border.
And particularly given that each jet was also equipped with both AIM-7 Sparrow (SARH can be starved) and a 20mm cannon to give a 'wake up call'.
Not to mention that EITHER pilot could and should have taken the opportunity to think "What if I kill just one and then see if someone screams on
Pilots are myopic morons. Robots have a 90% better likelihood of targeting a threat first and classifying it by MASINT total-signature value to-type
before the human can even /acquire/ (10% as dot-image) let alone process the equivalent (90% sanity check) data needed for a similar decision.
What's more, a robot can go places where a pilot cannot. And since the 'MITL effect' of relayed visuals doesn't come with a tightened sphincter
if someone DOES shoot back, junior is more apt to 'be jiggy with it' in terms of making the right choice from the safety of a chair NOT on the
airframe, than he would be inside it. Preempting his own shoot-on-sight engagement doctrine as he sees fit.
But would you honestly feel safe at night knowing that theres a robot in the sky defending the WHOLE of your country??
Since 1982 former ADC/ADTAC pilots have sat in on wargames in which they openly admitted Russian aircraft could operate at will throughout the central
U.S.. Usually without detection.
And still they continually shut down not only the FIG detachment bases but the primary stations and all of SAGE relays throughout CONUS until there
were virtually NO active QRA birds available.
Why? Because /everyone/ knows that interceptor jock is a fate worse than death, giving the GCI controller-mouth practice in steering you onto airway
zombies and maybe (if you're a good little git) the odd drug smuggler.
'Fighter Pilots' (said with the same emphasis as 'Real Men') only duel each other, didn'tya know?
Operating under these rules, on 9/11 at 0846, two F-15s are given priority Zulu tasking from Otis AFB in Massachussetts, 153 miles from NYC. They
launch at 0852. At full burner with VMax activated and no concern for RTB fuel, they should have been no more than about 2 minutes and 30 miles
downrange as they passed Mach 1.7 which is the maximum they can run with Sidewinders aboard. At this speed, 8 minutes later, they should have arrived
over NYC at about 9:02-9:03. Just in time to see the fireball of Flight 175 impacting.
They didn't even try. Instead dawdling along, still 71 miles and 8 minutes out.
With such basic lack of competence in our Continental AD as the operating bar, please tell me why there was not a drone or LTA alternative with a
basic ability to motor up alongside and 'flash the secret code word' to the cockpit.
Or send a secondary Mode-3a/4 interrogate signal which could subsequently authorize weapons release from a GROUND source if not replied to.
Even why there are no activateable cockpit cameras to verify crew status from on the ground.
All of which would be massively cheaper, easier to implement and more capable in a terrorist scenario of VLA building impacts which the FBI had
_indentified_ 5 years earlier in 1996.
Could it be we are so in lust with the gold braid and shiny button image of the vaunted military that we forget that they are incompetent at
protecting us and _have always been so_ in every war they've failed to keep us out of?
Don't BS me about how 'good' humans are.
Because it was humans who let 9/11 happen. And humans THAT WERE NOT THERE when it was /civillians/ playing Pearl Harbor for our braindead foreign
policies. As indeed it took them another THIRTY GODDAMN DAYS (9/11 10/10) to begin bombing in AfG.
During which time UBL probably roller bladed his way outta Dodge.
A _single man_ that they have yet to even begin to run down.
Now that we have handled the realities of how 'well' protected we would be with business as usual homeland defense, lets get real about where it
really matters. Over some other yutz's backyard.
You know, the one where our grunts go out without COP for day after day because the Air Farce is so in love with its pilot corps that they cannot
'afford' to put a jet over every column. And so someone standing with a cellphone within 300m of the target detonation point can /walk away for
free/ because there is no overhead to see him.
And ask yourself, as a shooting gallery popup target, how much would you pay for a platform that could stick with you throughout your 5-10hr
Even if it was 'just' a UCAV.
Are armed robots in the sky REALLY the future or do you think there will always been 'manned aircaft' ie F-22, F-35's etc??
Sometime in 2015, a white scarf dinosaur will look with wild-eyed panic up into the sky and see the flash of a comet impact. Said flash will actually
be the dawn of the DEW age in the THEL/M-THEL field trials. And their existence will mean that aircraft can die in the blink of an eye.
At which point I'm sure pilots will be 'all for' not personally flying into combat. Because, for once, there will be as much danger to them as to
the rest of us mere check signers.
The problem being that the bank account will be overdrawn paying for their worthless Ferrari Air toys.
not really, as far i'm aware UAV's are not self-sufficient!! - they are mainly controled by a joystick in a computer room (i know the predator can
pick out targets by itself).
It is true that the original Predator/Gnats were burdened by the need for LOS links of about 150nm to allow for remote pilotage. Even then, they had
options for autorecovery to the conrol zone around an airbase or at least neutral territory self destruct if they lost their tether.
'Traditionally' however; it takes pilots doing braindead things like driving a no-anti-ice wing sailplane through an ice storm. Or reach behind the
GUI (like hacking Windows while reading Computers For Dummies) to tweak the sensor package resolution so as to 'accidentally' shut down the engine
controls leaving the autopilot no power-out margin to bring the nose DOWN as it tries to recover from a stalled condition. And of course, my
favorite, forgetting to turn on a yaw compensation channel in the FLCS while approaching a crosswinded runway doing the ONE thing which all pilots are
(supposedly, presumably?) 'expert at' enough to continue living. Which is to say land.
Indeed, now that we are looking at full autoland, the only really useful thing a pilot can do with or to an MQ-1 is keep his clutz puppy hamhands to
himself. Because the 3-4 second satellite lag inherent to the /targeting/ means it's easier to 'capture' the camera FOV than flight vector by
designating a point coordinate or swath search to the ground, finding a target, designating it, and letting the MTS contrast centroid lock up on it's
own to initiate fully coupled tracking. Again, because the machine can do the 'aviate' part of flight so much better, smoother and reliably than we
but UCAV's will basicly have a mind of its own, it will complete missions by itself and will basically think for itself.
A UCAV will fly to a given waypoint. Sit there until it hits bingo or is told to fly elsewhere (whether by a prebriefed mission tape or it's leash
holder). And at some point employ it's sensor systems to take a picture of the ground (since we're too stupid to use it in A2A applications) as a
function of finding something worth blowing up.
It will then compress this image (upwards of 72mb worth of SAR patch map) and send it over a 'CDL' or Common Data Link pathway operating in the same
X or Ku bands as most fighter radars.
As a function of a preprogrammed tape that has nothing to do with cognition, either rational or instinctive.
It will then be up to YOU, sipping coffee and eating donuts at your MCS (Mission Control Station) back at the CAOC or in front of some Operator
Console on a jet. To see and interpret that image about 3.5 seconds later (welcome to military broadband) much as if your favorite phone-buddy had
snapped a funny picture on his cell and dialed you up to share.
Mind you, assuming the target is prebriefed (static) as a function of the 'let's do urban 5-rings renovation on empty C2 facilities!' standard of
Air Farce ATO doctrine; the drone will likely make it's own sensor suite comparisons with a previously inserted (satellite or other national asset
radar/optical target maps). Much the way DSMAC does on a cruise missile.
During which it will use it's mathematically vastly superior target correlation algorithms to match and correct geometries of image for any error in
it's initial (GPS/INS or terrain profile matched) predicted position sense relative to the actual target slantrange and bearing indicated by the
But it will still be YOU. Who can say yay or nay before consenting (joystick, trigger, hold down) to release a 2,000lb JDAM which is subsequently
itself 'fully robotic' in playing pin the tail on the donkey all the way down to impact. Even from a manned jet.
At each point, YOU the remote tasker will still have the option of saying no, that is NOT the right target. And since YOU won't be full of yourself,
adrenaline and/or drug hyped and saturated with a thousand and one other flight tasks, YOU will likely make a better judgment that a 'real
But only based on what the drones sensor suite sends you. As it would him.
Of course it will help if YOU have studied your own set of mission brief images while the drone was spending it's 3-8hrs transiting in to the target.
And YOU are also sitting infront of a 17" monitor instead of a putz 6X6 MFD like Sir Eagle Eye is.
Bam. One crunched (twice) Kandahar Red Cross building or Belgrade Chinese Embassy. Courtesy of _human_ mission planning errors, before the drone (or
B-2) ever took off.
Mission over, come home, rinse, repeat. Where's the donuts?
Now, let's assume instead that this drone is flying as part of an ongoing maneuver warfare (ground) campaign instead. One in which all target
'folders' are created on the fly because the enemy is so rude in flitting about like..well, Feyadin barbarians.
If the target is part of an active battlefield matrix, the drone will report it's arrival at IP to both an ETAC or TACP (enlisted playing pilot or
pilot playing grunt) on the ground. And to YOU, the operator snoozing at YOUR console with donut sprinkles all down YOUR fresh-pressed uniform.
Now, when the call for support comes in, it will probably be somewhat urgent and YOU will skip through a list of 20 drones using a hot-key to get to
the one which is nearest to the engaged force with the correct munitions. Not very hard actually since 90lbs of IHE will generally kill just about
anything on the battlefield.
Finding the correct bird, YOU hit another (Function like) hotkey and 'snap to' it's control functions as it turns inbound and presents YOU with a
wide-FOV image that is grid overlaid.
All so that YOU can actually do something approaching a real job. Namely sorting and confirming what the drone says are target-X classifications from
the white-hot or MMW worm trail little blips which it sees (mathematically) in a lot more definition than it puts on the simplified screen view for
dumb old YOU.
Also shown are where the good guys are, both through their own classification algorithms (engine/track/wheel harmonics, turret locations/shapes, mass
reads) and quite likely via an IR beacon or flare or a lase+GPS offset from a known terrain feature (200 meters from Bullseye 122North, 227East!).
Most importantly, because YOU have a lousy memory as well as poor eyesight and inadequate signal processing capacity, the drone will number and
/track/ all these objects so that, even though your own image is historical (static from X many seconds ago). The targets you tap-tap task to it are
updated to their current-realtime positions.
All so that as YOU yawn and stretch and try to figure out what the heck is going on, it is still doing a better job as a warrior 'on point', feeding
YOU what little dataset information you can actually handle.
Finally, (where's the coffee?) YOU will scratch some part of your anatomy as a function of making a final decision and say "OK, I want you to track
1-2-5-9 and 23 with magnified images". And a minor 10-20kb data squelch later the drone will do so, confirming to YOUR pathetic vision the actual
silouhette shapes and perhaps even distinctive signature patterns (tread marks, muzzle blooms etc. etc.) of the targets is indeed enemy based on YOUR
memory of what 'friends' look like in exercises.
YOU will then send the updated picture to junior mint butterbar on the ground and he will then highlight to top-10 he wants serviced, hurry-quick.
YOU will then grumble something 'sarcastic' about ungrateful bastards thinking they deserve 5 minute CAS in under two. Hit another hot key to
signal acceptance of the shoot list by the 'airborne coordinator and his second set of eyes' and hold down the trigger pickle, which opens both
physical and electronic 'draw bridge' interconnects that consent the drone to drop a small diameter bomb.
At which point, YOU are largely out of the picture. Even as a fighter pilot would be. Since it is the drone will not only continue tracking the
targets but will also follow the transceivers locations on said munitions, applying AMSTE correction based on the relative movement rates of the enemy
And the bombs will land, about 20-30 seconds into the future, where the enemy is going to be based on it's entirely superior anglerate + lased range
This will continue about 4 more times until the A-45 (UCAV) is empty and YOU hit the 'go home then' key while reaching for another donut as the next
cow bomber from the CAS stack herd arrives on station.
IN NO WAY is the robot more 'autonomous' in it's actions than a manned jet is. Because all's it is using it's own automation for is to
snap-align the optics with what YOU are telling it is the target grid. It may well be doing it /better/ than a human can. As a function of
throttling up or down the IAS and cranking the nose up and over to get the longest/cleanest possible lookin to the designated grazing zone.
But even these are nothing but tools which are also available to pilots to employ. If they remember to (and half the time they don't) in the
hullaballoo of other ANC housekeeping while trying to be 'proactive' in a combat area.
of course i know military's will always have a planB if anything went wrong -but still it must be a concern.
The base question I hear a lot of is how easy is it to jam.
To which I reply, a lot more difficult than it is to jam a voice link.
1. Microwave is directional and burst-short due to wide bandwidth availability. Thus microwave up from the ground can be selectively filtered vs.
that which is from XX degrees above the UCAVs local horizon. Even if the threat can see the /receiver/ well enough to jam IT and not a million cubic
miles of void.
2. An APG-77 is to any Taliban (or for that matter, Chinese Radio Signal Corps) 'handheld jammer', what a flashlight is to stadium arc lamps.
Probably 20-30watts vs. over 15 KILOWATTS of effective radiated power. Denying the burn through is like trying to mask the rising sun behind the
light of a shaded candle. Furthermore, since RADAR (which is what the CDL is based on) has a 4th power rule for detection of objects vs. the distance
the signal itself can be (RWR) counter-detected, if an F-22 can detect a 1m2 target at 125nm/200km. A UCAV can likely hear the modem-squeal of the
same jet's radar acting as a digital morsecode unit at 500nm/950km.
Which is effectively over the horizon for most ground based jammer applications.
Lastly, it should be noted that the power of comms satellites exceeds that of fighter radars by an order of magnitude at least. And a UCAV operator
on a C-135 or similar class heavy bird may well be able to route messages to his leashed UCAVs through a multiple-node combination of several such
assets that triple the power loadings the UCAV can hear 'over the jammer' yet again.
That's pseudorandom noise. SOMEWHERE in all that digital garbage (which takes about two milliseconds to send compared to a human voice which will be
lucky to say anything useful in under 4) is the word 'Apple'. Apple doesn't mean diddly dip to anyone who hears it. Even if they can find it
among the garbage.
4. APPLE= Fly to Waypoint 29. As a 'single use key pad' go code prefix to a longer 'sentence' of commanded action. It ONLY means fly to
Waypoint 29 _this time_. It will not mean fly to Waypoint 29 for another MILLION occurences of APPLE. And it only means fly to Waypoint 29 for THE
ONE UCAV which has that term uploaded with about a half million other words and a proper terminal address (ISP code).
On this particular mission.
Not any of the 500 other UCAVs that the network can support. Not /next/ mission when a completely new list will be uploaded for this drone and all
Just this one machine. This one time.
Next Time, Fly To Waypoint 29 might well be CHEVY.
5. The drone doesn't know what Apple /means/. Because it's list of go codes is not interrogatable from it's comm suite. Being 'moated' in such
a way as no drawbridge can cross. YOU the treacherous slimeball Islamic Terrorist Supporting drone operator have no idea that the command for Fly To
Waypoint 29 is Apple. Because you just point and click at a screen icon on your console and the drone does. Transparent to your interrogative
abilities to say how or why.
6. As a kind of 'Azimovs Three Laws' it should be possible to generate both a total mission time. And an absolute spatial/geographic constraint by
which the drone will safe out (weapons systems interlock go dead) it's ordnance systems making it impossible to do harm to U.S. forces at their most
critical vulnerable point: around our own bases and those of allied forces on the right side of a 'fence' line.
This to happen irrespective of whether you have the right GC's or not.
Our military cannot prosecute a realtime (netcentric) war without a digital signals environment. Whether those signals originate on a manned jet or a
robot will not make either more secure because the man in the loop is not able to intervene to increase the safety factor on garbage-in/out (GIGO) in
either case more effectively than the machine can 'Norton Antivirus' check itself.
He simply doesn't have the time or brains or sensory resolution to do anything but drop on a blip which the machine tells him is a certified
We probably couldn't prosecute a static interdiction campaign without these latter digital onboard systems. Both of which are vastly less likely to
make key _targeting_ mistakes than the humans running them.
Robots never having been alive to die can at the very least, approach closer to get the target-certainty factor over a base threshold. Something
which humans will predictably 'preempt' to save their own hides in a shoot-or-die environment.
The question then becomes: If you have to have these systems anyway.
If these systems greater competencies in all things related to air warfare render man more or less a monkey-presses-button consent mechanism.
If, further, you don't have to have him /on board/ to guarantee the 'connectivity' by which that consent is given or withheld.
Why limit the COP (Continuous Overhead Presence = must coocuppy space with it's victim to kill it) factor of an airframe. To carry the weakest
element of it's warfighting capacities?