UACV will take over fighters in the future, we know that. But replacing a great fighter with a Reaper doesn't sound smart.
Which is exactly the reasoning the USAF is looking to exploit.
Tell me, when you hear 'bomb truck in the CAS mission' what airframe do you think of?
Is it the F-16 or the A-10?
Thus it doesn't take a grand leap of never-trust-a-manipulator to realize that when the USAF suggests they want to replace _Guard_ F-16s with this
platform, what 'they really mean' is:
"We just retired half our LITENING capable shooters, we NEED the F-35 as a precision engagment platform NOW!"
Which is -exactly- (deliberate hysteria) the tactics that the USAF engenders in Congress /every/ time they 'feel a need' to justify one completely
worthless program solution by forcing the inventory 'problem' to appear for it to fulfill.
MQ-9s will replace F-16s only when pigs fly. Because F-16s are /far/ from being 'bomb trucks'.
As you said, it's not an F-16, and that's the problem. I don't have the trust at this point in a UCAV as I have in a man controlled fighter (even
though I'am quite sure I will change my opinion in the future).
Manned airframes fly 90% of the time on autopilot whether 'switched on or implicit' to the FLCS holding atittude/rate as an extant performance
This has the dual advantage of both-
A. Allowing the pilot to bury his head in a 5X5 or 6X8 inch TV monitor 'looking for things he cannot see outside' (because his own vision is too
damn poor from upwards of 5-10 MILES with Gen-2 pods like LANTIRN and 10-15 MILES with Gen-3 pods like Sniper/LITENING) as a -systems manager-.
B. Doing things which he cannot match. Like holding a waypoint time or fuel flow margin for airspeed. Or orbit wheel for target FOV scan by optics.
All things which an autopilot (through the DEEC as well as flight controls) can 'dial in' /vastly/ more efficiently than he can. Soon, this
capability will even extend to (differential GPS + Autopilot) things like landing on a carrier 'always on the 3 wire' and hitting perfect precontact
and contact positions behind a tanker. It has already been proven to be a superior gunnery and ballistic weapons delivery (IFFC/Firefly and AFTI)
_AUTOMATION IS BETTER THAN MAN_ when it comes to basic aviate/navigate and soon communicate elements of flight. It has been so since WWII if not
before. Just ask a B-17 aircraft commander who coupled his Sperry autopilot to the bombardiers sight controls.
The Reaper doesn't have the aerodynamical qualities that the F-16 has, you mentioned speed, but manoverability is also a question.
Blather. In Desert Storm an F-16 coming down the pipe with Six Mk.82 onboard was _effectively invisible_ to ground threats before he rounded out at
about 12-15,000ft, flat plating his airframe on the way back to 20-25,000ft.
Why? Because there is a low altitude hazing factor (dust, pollution, water vapor) which automatically distorts look up and even when this is CAVU'd
out of the picture in the open desert, the isoluminent factors of the hard blue sky literally 'glares out' (brightness, not color) the F-16's
Now, that was visual divetoss bombing from right atop the target (say 3nm slant). Take the distance out to 10-15nm and KEEP the height at
18-25,000ft (just short of whereever the contrail zone begins). A small airframe dropping modern day PGM with the aid of targeting optics twice as
good as those of 1991 will _NEVER BE SEEN BY ANYONE_. Not even those directly underneath it's ground track. Upwards of 10-20 miles from the
'observed' target area.
When I hear F-16 I think of a plane that hits hard, and often.
Snort. Both pylons today I tell'ya!
Then we come off target, hit the A2A button in the desperate hope of a an air threat, hit a couple tankers and fly home 500nm to combat turn the
airframe while switching pilots. If we're /real lucky/ we then get to repeat the 90% transit, 10% target area mission effect, 1 to 1.5 times more
that day. Until all 'terrorist buildings have been eliminated!'
Where's the 'hard' in two JDAMs?
Where's the 'often' in 2-3 sorties (surged) per day?
What's more, the F-16 ONLY STAYS IN THE TARGET AREA about 20 minutes. Maybe 40 if there is a tanker orbit nearby.
What happens when there simply aren't any targets VISIBLE during that time?
_It Goes Home With Bombs Still Aboard_. Which is where you end up having massive bottlenecks of drivers all wanting their chance in the spotlight and
half of them timing out in overhead CAS or killbox BAI because we simply cannot generate targeting for them all.
Wasting HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF POUNDS of jet fuel which will be increasingly hard to justify when the reason you are fighting to begin with is to
ensure access to oil.
Compare this to an MQ-9 which loiters up to 42hrs in the target area AND is it's own gun cabinet.
Now it's the gun bunny's on the ground who are the 'hyeeeear kitty kitty' long-time-in-target-area fools. Because you will see them coming. For
upwards of an hour before they are in a position to hit your people. And even if they preposition, they will -remain- a designated-morte victim for
upwards of THREE hours trying to get away.
All with ONE sortie and 3,000lbs of internal fuel. Half that of a single F-16.
When I think of the Reaper, I can only think of a small glider that will break during the very first minutes of combat.
It's actually a fairly large 'glider' with a 49ft wingspan and 36ft length that is in roughly the same size category as a WWII P-47 (then one of
the largest fighters in the world).
It is however very light.
Which means it is potentially vulnerable to heavy winds and icing issues as well as G restrictions.
But an MQ-9 'breaking' as a function of combat use should /never/ be a consideration in COIN ops where it is most useful. You simply never go below
about 15-18,000ft which is where you get your best ballistics on your weapon even as all the trashfire (14.5mm and below + most MANPADS) simply falls
out of the sky before reaching your level.
UCAV will replace fighters, but that time isn't here yet, mentally.
Pilots have been stepping on the necks of their superior Robotic replacements like whites bullying blacks for much the same
fear-of-acknowledged-equality reasons for _decades_.
If that's what you mean by 'mentally' then you put your peace of mind over that of the lives of soldiers on the ground to sustain a false-romantic
image of what it is to be a pilot.
UCAV will replace fighters the very instant we stop worshiping combat aircrew as 'the experience we vicariously fulfill through others' of a perfect
knighted killer, priveleged beyond all others and untouchable by the consequences of their own actions.
Indeed, the first 'UCAV' outperformed manned fighters in 1944 after _then_ extant 'high command' had fought to have them relegated to the scrap
heap for almost two years. In the process, ensuring the slaughter of thousands of Marines and Army troops 'during a real war' through the Solomons,
Marianas and PI campaigns because airpower could not realistically get to distant targets and _hit them_ without taking unsustainable losses over the
enemy point defenses.
Your arguments hold no water. Even though they reflect, perfectly, the very base psychologies the manned uber alles USAF hopes to continue to exploit
in maintaining their own 'most aristocratic' of service priveleges.