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The Military Robotics Transportation Technology

Future Fighters Won't Need Ejection Seats 622

Dr. Tom writes "The U.S. has deployed more than 11,000 military drones, up from fewer than 200 in 2002. They carry out a wide variety of missions while saving money and American lives. Within a generation they could replace most manned military aircraft, says John Pike, a defense expert at the think tank GlobalSecurity.org. Pike suspects that the F-35 Lightning II, now under development by Lockheed Martin, might be 'the last fighter with an ejector seat, and might get converted into a drone itself.' The weakest link is the pilot. A jet could pull 15 Gs, out-turning any conventional aircraft, except it would kill the pilot. Is it time to stop spending billions on obsolete aircraft?"
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Future Fighters Won't Need Ejection Seats

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  • by leonardluen ( 211265 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:31AM (#43014371)

    Any system can be hacked. Having humans directly in the loop is the basic Wargames lesson.

    and humans can be hacked [wikipedia.org] also.

    or if you want a movie reference to back this up, how about humans can also defect on their own with large war machines...that is the basic Hunt for Red October lesson

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:32AM (#43014391)

    didn't iran make one of our drones think it was landing at our base when instead it landed on theirs with gps spoofing.

    They claimed to have done so, but personally I'm a little suspicious of anything they claim. Don't forget they've also claimed to have developed a stealth fighter jet and provided pictures of a cheap mock-up, and video of a hobby-size RC model craft as "proof".

  • Re:lag (Score:4, Informative)

    by dave420 ( 699308 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:38AM (#43014467)
    Try 1999. Hint: Balkans conflict.
  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:41AM (#43014519)

    There's a big difference - even on a computerized plane, all the inputs come from somewhere aboard the plane. You can't log in and tell it to bomb somewhere else. Drones are remotely controlled by design.

    Except that the outputs come from the computer, so if you can get your software onto the computer (don't forget that hackers already stole 1 TB of design plans for the F-35 - and that's just the known breach, who knows what else they may have), then you can make the plane fly anywhere you want, regardless of what the pilot wants.

  • by realityimpaired ( 1668397 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:44AM (#43014569)

    Aren't high-G turns already obsolete (along with 'dogfighting')?

    They're only obsolete because the weapons have evolved to make it so. The pilot can't take a 28g sharp turn to avoid an incoming missile, so chaff and other deterrence systems were developped so that the pilot can take a turn they can survive. I doubt he was suggesting that such systems be abandoned entirely, but making an aircraft that can take a hard turn like that in addition to having ECM/chaff could only improve things. Until laser and other energy weapons that can't be dodged are the norm, it's unlikely that agility will ever become a non-issue in designing a fighter.

    Hollywood *rarely* gets technical issues right, but the speech in Top Gun where they were talking about pilots becoming reliant on missiles in Korea was actually true, and the basic principle should still be true today. Dogfighting specifically doesn't really happen any more, but the basic evasive agility skills that it's based on are still applicable. That's actually the point of the article, as I understand it: the pilot is, by far, the biggest limiting factor on the agility of aircraft today, and if you can remove the pilot you can make something that's faster, accelerates harder, and is more agile. As others point out, they need to figure out a way to make it unhackable for it to be truly reliable, but that isn't an impossible task.

  • by smash ( 1351 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:55AM (#43014715) Homepage Journal

    High G turns are still and relevant even with BVR combat. However, NO JET can sustain 15G (or even 9 G) either now or in the near future. The peak G loadings fighters are capable of bleed airspeed at a massive rate and are only used briefly for evasion or to point the nose in a hurry for weapons delivery. New, high angle off-boresight missiles will make this less of a problem (you can shoot the guy without pointing the nose at him). There are pilots who can do 10 or 12 G anyhow (see red bull air race).

  • by gr3yh47 ( 2023310 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @12:01PM (#43014813)
    That's actually false. A cuniversity professor was able to use a spoof GPS attack on a military drone with nothing too expensive - all you have to do is make the drone think it's 3 feet higher than it should be and you can make it dive into the ground: "It’s not as if DHS is unaware of the issue. Todd Humphreys, an assistant professor at the University of Texas’ Cockrell School of Engineering Radionavigation Laboratory and a group of UT researchers demonstrated the impact of GPS "spoofing" on drones at a DHS-organized test in June. Humphreys, who presented earlier this year at a conference at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory on GPS vulnerabilities to cell phone systems, used UT’s GPS spoofing gear to fool a helicopter drone’s GPS with data that showed it was rising, resulting in it attempting to correct the fake climb; a safety pilot took over to prevent the drone from crashing." from: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/07/fear-of-drone-gps-hacking-raised-by-congress-as-faa-deadline-looms/ [arstechnica.com]
  • by JeanCroix ( 99825 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @12:03PM (#43014827) Journal

    Pike suspects that the F-35 Lightning II, now under development by Lockheed Martin, might be 'the last fighter with an ejector seat...

    ...And I'd put lots of money on his suspicion being incorrect.

  • by PseudoCoder ( 1642383 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @12:10PM (#43014941)

    As a drone guy myself, I love drones. Throughout my career I've designed, built, tested, simulated and built training systems for them. Just love them. I just don't think they'll be a viable air-to-air solution for at least another 25 years. I remember wanting to be a fighter pilot in my high school and college years and reading about it, everyone seemed to emphasize the pilot's situational awareness, and how it makes all the difference in air-to-air combat. This was in the days of the next generation fighters where designers were starting to focus on pilot overload with all the sophisticated systems they were having to manage in addition to flying the plane and shooting down the enemy. The 2-way datalink requirements to support that level of SA in an unmanned fighter are just not there yet, as far as I see the current state of the art. And frankly, I'm not aware of a whole lot of R&D to explore what it's going to take to get a man-in-the-loop unmanned fighter to provide that level of SA to a remote pilot. The links themselves can be pretty fickle. You can't maneuver a UAV too fast or you'll lose the datalink. Predator operators eventually have to learn how to maneuver properly to avoid satlink loss and how to deal with having to wait for the bird to regain its bearings and restore the link. I can't see how to keep a satlink going during air-to-air combat maneuvering with current datalink technology.

    There are clear advantages of getting the pilot out of the cockpit, but the technology and sensor fusion isn't there to make them fully autonomous, which is the only foreseeable way to deal with the lag and bandwidth issue that precludes man-in-the-loop dogfighting today. The life support systems on a fighter plane weigh as much as a Predator and we would pretty much have to replace that weight with sensors, datalink support equipment and necessary redundant systems. And when start talking autonomous then we're going to argue about ethics, so either way, it's not going to happen any time soon. Consider how long it took the FAA to get past the point of having meetings about when they were going to have meetings. So the man-in-the-loop approach is the closest one, in my opinion. I might not be up to speed on newer technologies and research, but I'd say for now, let's do the R&D and deal with the datalink issues and 1) quantify the bandwidth, lag and maneuvering requirements and 2) see how we can satisfy those requirements and what technologies can be evolved to deal with the current limitations.

  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @12:26PM (#43015155) Journal

    No, you are totally incorrect. Humphreys spoofed a commercial, civilian drone, using the unencrypted civilian GPS channel. The military uses a private GPS channel that is secure and encrypted and has not been hacked or spoofed. In addition, the newest GPS satellites modulate the signal in such a way (called M-code) as to further prevent spoofing (the edges of the square waveforms are peaks with troughs in the middle of the waveform, making it harder to overlay one signal onto another, so the receiver is actually looking at the shape of the waveform and not just the raw digital data it encodes by each peak and trough- or something like that).

    Humphreys: Sure. Well GPS spoofing takes advantage of the fact that the civilian GPS signals, as you mentioned, are unencrypted and unauthenticated; so, whereas the military GPS signals have an encryption code overlaid on them, the civilian ones do not and never have.

    We did so by purchasing our own drone. No one would lend us a drone because they knew it was going to be a risky endeavor and we generated fictitious GPS signals, captured the drone and brought it down.

    http://spectrum.ieee.org/riskfactor/aerospace/aviation/-drones-and-gps-spoofing-redux [ieee.org]

    And from your own link:

    "Hacking a UAV by GPS spoofing is but one expression of a larger problem: insecure civil GPS technology has over the last two decades been absorbed deeply into critical systems within our national infrastructure," Humphries told the subcommittee in his testimony. "Besides UAVs, civil GPS spoofing also presents a danger to manned aircraft, maritime craft, communications systems, banking and finance institutions, and the national power grid."

    What he demonstrated has absolutely nothing to do with military at all. He's raising awareness to the risks of controlling important, life-or-death type hardware with unsecured civilian GPS.

  • by MasaMuneCyrus ( 779918 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @01:42PM (#43015991)

    IRAN can barely make a coffee maker...

    IRAN can certainly make coffee makers.... but it can barely make a company that can be profitable by designing and manufacturing coffee makers.

    IRAN is capable of a great deal. It is home to some of the best civil engineers in the world (though fortunately for us, most of them immigrate to the US, given the opportunity). It is no less capable than any other second-tier developed country. Consider that its Human Development Index [wikipedia.org] is similar to that Eastern Europe or Turkey. It's certainly not an OECD advaned economy, but it's not The Congo, either.

    Iran's government is overly oppressive, but authoritarianism doesn't preclude economy success (see: China). Iran's economy is mainly held back by an incompetent and inefficient government that cares more about how women dress and face [wikipedia.org] than it does its economic prosperity. The biggest mistake anyone could do, though, is to underestimate them. Never underestimate your adversaries. That's Sun Tzu 101. Some highly-advanced machinery is out of their reach, and certainly they have no environment for world-class companies to form, but the technology and sophistication that their best scientists and engineers can achieve in a well-funded laboratory is a different story.

  • by Floyd-ATC ( 2619991 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @01:59PM (#43016159) Homepage
    Have you ever been to Iran, or is your idea of Iran as a pile of sand populated with cave-dwelling camel-humping wife-beating fundamentalists purely based on other well-informed and unbiased sources such as Fox News? You might want to double check those facts of yours. Their president may be missing one or two important screws but that seems to be the rule rather than the exception with world leaders. Iran is just as technologically advanced as your typical "Western" country and they are not to be underestimated. They're hardly the first country to play games with mock-up aircraft either.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @02:08PM (#43016243) Homepage

    We're going to see semi-autonomous fighter aircraft. The F-35, at $236 million per unit, is just too expensive to deploy in quantity. Autonomous landing and autonomous refueling have already been demonstrated for the F-16. The F-16's targeting system is already partly automatic. It's not far away. Even if manned aircraft are better in combat, there won't be enough of them.

    There will be a remote operator, but their job will be to decide what to kill. They'll turn on Master Arm, select a target, and pull a trigger. Then the computers will take over.

    Another possibility is the autonomous wingman [dtic.mil]. Some planes have pilots, but they're the squadron leaders. The rest are autonomous. This is very likely to happen soon, since DoD has been testing it for about ten years.

  • by kaatochacha ( 651922 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @02:43PM (#43016721)

    Just a quick question: Have you ever watched Fox news and saw an show describing Iran as "a pile of sand populated with cave-dwelling camel-humping wife-beating fundamentalists"? People continually toss stuff like that off in reference to that network, but it's always some sort of random, half truth based on things they've heard from other sources, but not witnessed themselves. I'm not a particularly big Fox fan, but this sort of argument seems sloppy and lazy.
    You would have been more logically served leaving off the Fox reference, it weakens your argument.

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