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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 crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:05AM (#43014037)

    Nah, no one could ever do that.

  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jjeffries ( 17675 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:15AM (#43014137)

    People in the military need to be injured or killed in war, to remind everyone that it is fucking terrible and that no one should *want* to do it.

  • by lister king of smeg ( 2481612 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:15AM (#43014141)

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

  • by Cassini2 ( 956052 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:16AM (#43014159)

    If the current drone craze takes off, the Navy aircraft carrier will be far from obsolete. Those drones need somewhere to refuel and reload, and an aircraft carrier is the easiest thing to keep in theatre.

  • by crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:18AM (#43014181)

    once we can prove that they can not be taken over by an enemy

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

    they could operate autonomously when conditions warrant

    And that is exactly what these drones should NEVER be allowed to do. And that's the basic Terminator lesson.

  • by ZorroXXX ( 610877 ) <hlovdal AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:21AM (#43014221)

    Is it time to stop spending billions on obsolete aircraft?

    It is time to stop spending billions on military weapons in general; sadly weapon is the world's largest trading goods. If all that money had been spent more wisely the world could have been a much safer and better place.

  • Re:No (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:23AM (#43014243)

    You should be more specific: If no one was injured or killed in war, it would become something between "sport" and "vandalism." A waste of resources, but less tragic. The real problem is when only one side no longer has to risk injury or death to wage war.

  • by Vlad_the_Inhaler ( 32958 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:24AM (#43014259) Homepage

    How could this go wrong?

    • A DOS attack stops everything, a decent EMP pulse would probably have the same effect
    • That Chinese unit based in Shanghai manages to comandeer parts of the air force
    • They use Windows and catch an updated version of Stuxnet
    • Either they can take commands in flight or they can not. In one case they can be taken over, in the other they can't react to a changing situation.

    I am not a security expert. There is so much wrong with this idea I can't even start to get my head around the ramifications. April 1 came early this year.

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:27AM (#43014317)

    Nah, no one could ever do that.

    Having a piloted plane doesn't eliminate the risk of hacking. If someone can hack the control system for a drone, they can do the same thing to an F-35. The pilot has little (or no) control if the computer doesn't want him to.

    The F-117 stealth fighter was said to be so aerodynamically unstable that it was unflyable without computer assistance.

  • Re:lag (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Crash24 ( 808326 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:28AM (#43014339) Homepage Journal
    You're assuming that the drones will never be autonomous in a situation that requires low latency. While a human pilot may have better ingenuity and unpredictability in a dogfight, he cannot physically react faster than a computer. Connect that computer to the right sensors, and you'll have a system ready to fly an airframe capable of doing turns that will turn any human pilot into red jelly.
  • by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:29AM (#43014343)

    Any system can be hacked. Having humans directly in the loop is the basic Wargames lesson. ...
    And that is exactly what these drones should NEVER be allowed to do. And that's the basic Terminator lesson.

    Because our military should really be basing decisions on fictional movies.

  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:30AM (#43014363)

    Drones can be effective, don't get me wrong, and they're getting more advanced all the time. However, anything that is controlled remotely can be jammed. You either have to create a control suite that can respond to a variety of situations or pray that you have constant contact with the aircraft. A local pilot, however, cannot be jammed.

    I remember a discussion once about this sort of problem: One model of fighter jet (I forget which) was capable of performing maneuvers that would cause the pilot to black out. The initial response was to lock down the controls to physically prevent the pilot from initiating any such maneuver, but then it cropped up that there were times when the restricted controls were a hindrance (during landing maneuvers or bad weather, something like that). So, they went back to the drawing board, and one idea was that the pilot could initiate a pre-programmed blackout-maneuver, but the designers couldn't agree on what to do AFTER that. What sort of flying pattern should it default to?

    And, as I understand, the idea that modern dogfighting amounts to launching missiles ouside of visible range is a fallacy, that was one of the factors leading to the founding of the Top Gun training academy. Wasn't there at least one fighter initially designed with just missiles that was retrofitted or redesigned to carry a machine gun?

    Then there's the immersion. Fighter pilots can feel their aircraft, they know how it's moving. You don't get the same feeling from a joystick and readout displays. Possibly you could put them in one of those omni-rotational spheres similar to how amusement parks make you feel like you're on a rollercoaster by simply tilting your seat, but that would also seem rather excessive.

  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:32AM (#43014387) Homepage

    " A jet could pull 15 g's, out-turning any conventional aircraft"

    Whys is that an advantage?

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

  • by JDG1980 ( 2438906 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:38AM (#43014475)

    Because our military should really be basing decisions on fictional movies.

    Well-written fiction often speaks to real-world concerns. George Orwell's 1984 was also fictional, but it was and is taken seriously as a cautionary tale, and rightly so.

    Sure, it's unlikely that an evil sentient computer will declare nuclear war on humanity, but one reason why the Terminator films are so popular is that they address real-world anxieties about how our lives are increasingly dominated by technology. It's perfectly reasonable to ask whether bad consequences could result from taking humans out of the loop, especially on military decisions.

  • Half of those apply to current fighters with people too.

  • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JDG1980 ( 2438906 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:49AM (#43014637)

    People in the military need to be injured or killed in war, to remind everyone that it is fucking terrible and that no one should *want* to do it.

    Automated drones are just the culmination of a decades-long trend in the U.S. towards enabling warfare by insulating the bulk of the population from its costs. During WWI and WWII, a universal draft meant that virtually every able-bodied man had to go to war, and those on the home front shared the sacrifice through work requirements, rationing, and higher taxes. In Vietnam, though, affluent Americans were able to avoid any impact of the war on their own families thanks to the college exemption from the draft. This meant that only the working classes bore the brunt of the war. And on the home front, life was far closer to normal than it was during the World Wars – the war was funded through deficit spending, not increased taxes, and there was no rationing. After Vietnam, the draft was ended, so even those Americans who didn't go to college would not be shipped off to the military unless they signed up. The result was that the first Iraq War met with very little opposition, since no one except volunteer soldiers was at any risk at all, and even then casualties were minimal. The longer campaigns in Afghanistan and in the second Iraq War led to additional backlash against the casualties among volunteer soldiers, hence the move to drones. Basically, the American political elites figured out that if Americans don't have to see American soldiers die in war, then they can do whatever they want overseas and no one will try to stop them.

  • by ArcadeMan ( 2766669 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:52AM (#43014669)

    Especially with almost everything being "Made in China".

  • by JDG1980 ( 2438906 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:55AM (#43014727)

    Why the hell should something that breaks the lock of a terminally closing incoming anti-air missile, thus saving the unit, be consider "obsolete"? That's like saying that dodging a mugger's knife is obsolete these days. Sure, if you want to end up dead...?

    The whole point of drones is that you're not putting your own soldiers at risk, so you don't care if it gets shot down. That only costs money, and the military has as much of that as it wants.

  • Imagine any conventional object up in the sky. A sitting duck for your laser, right? Even mach 10 is pretty much stationary compared to 3e8 m/s.

    But what if that autonomous drone is flying 2 feet off the ground using its inhumanly fast reaction time and 36g turning capability to fly at that altitude--i.e., it's below the horizon until it's right on top of your laser facility.

    Drones could survive battlefield lasers, maybe: piloted jets, not so much.


  • by smash ( 1351 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @12:03PM (#43014839) Homepage Journal

    You don't intentionally go up there to dogfight.

    A dogfight is what happens when two opposing forces merge, and the initial round of beyond visual range missiles don't kill everyone, which is relatively common - as both guys are in a game of chicken where they want to wait as long as posisble to launch so the missile has the maximum amount of energy for turning when it gets close so the fighter can't evade it, but they don't want the other guy to launch first. So typically they may launch pretty early and the missile has no energy left to turn by the time it gets to the other guy.

    As to why fighters are up there in the first place? To stop the other guys bombing you, and to protect your bombers and other assets, typically.

  • by azalin ( 67640 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @12:06PM (#43014871)
    One Idea would be to stop selling (or giving away) weapons to the bad guys.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @12:07PM (#43014883)

    Disclaimer: IAAP (I Am A Pilot), and the AC is right.

    For example, that 2,250 lb (max. takeoff load) MQ-1 Predator [wikipedia.org] effectively becomes 33,750 lbs at 15Gs.

    Not sure what this mass to structural support thing is that you're talking about, but unless we're talking about model airplanes those forces would rip any real air frame apart.

  • by rtaylor ( 70602 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @12:14PM (#43014989) Homepage

    Why send up one sophisticated aircraft when you could sent up 10,000 really dumb ones.

    Send up a cloud of drones with the expectation that 20% will be sacrificed for defence of the group.

  • by Electricity Likes Me ( 1098643 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @12:36PM (#43015269)

    Aldous Huxley had it more right then George Orwell: distract the people with luxuries and short term goals, at the expense of long-term freedoms. That said, his dystopia was arguably not one: it wasn't like those who brooked changed were murdered or imprisoned or tortured - they were just discredited and lavished with benefits, but ultimately kept irrelevant.

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @01:13PM (#43015681)

    Ok, and what happens when the enemy launches a bunch of fighter jets to take out all your drones, which are now flying autonomously and just looking for a target, because communications and GPS are blocked? Your drones are nothing more than cruise missiles at this point. Wouldn't it be cheaper to just launch cruise missiles? The whole point of drones is that you have remote human pilots who can respond to changing mission needs, rather than a fire-and-forget long-range missile, I would assume. If you block communications (and some navigation), you lose that advantage entirely, so there's little point in even having the drones to begin with.

  • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @03:39PM (#43017407) Journal

    That's all fine and well, however if you block GPS over the entire conflict zone, then these aircraft will be useless for any missions within that zone.

    I know it's normal on Slashdot for "five minute experts" to just assume that reasearchers who work in some speciality for a living have never thought of problems that occured to the poster in five minutes of thought, but c'mon, don't be silly.

    Yes, of course these (and the other problems in this thread) are known issues. Yes, of course, the military has thrown billions of dollars at very smart researchers for decades to overcome them. No, of course they won't tell the public what the fallbacks are.

    Now, in the more general case, sure: a drone isn't very useful if it doesn't have good coms with it's pilot. Given EW dominance, a human pilot is going to win. But you might be surprised at the ideas the military has come up with to maintain signal. The simplest, of course, are HARM missiles [wikipedia.org], which will put a quick end to any jamming that relies on simply "flooding the zone". But short of overwhelming power output, it's quite difficult to actually jam a signal between an airborn endpoint and a satellite endpoint by using a ground-based emitter - it's really easy to use directional shielding, antennas, and so on. And any active jamming from the air will be quite short lived.

    OTOH, there will certainly be a new generation of anti-drone jamming weapons, but then it's not like the military isn't used to the idea of an "arms race".

%DCL-MEM-BAD, bad memory VMS-F-PDGERS, pudding between the ears