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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 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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  • lag (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pezpunk ( 205653 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:18AM (#43014179) Homepage

    well, in a dogfight, manned aircraft will easily trump remote-piloted aircraft, even with the maneuvability disadvantage. the reason is lag. i've read there is a 2 second delay between a remote operator's input and action by a drone. even assuming technology progresses and that lag is reduced, there are certain physical laws that can't be broken, and a delay is always going to exist. as any gamer knows, lag kills.

    there is a world of difference between telling a drone to hit a fixed, stationary target versus piloting an aircraft through a dynamic set of circumstances.

    so yeah, if all we ever want to do with our planes is hit-and-runs on stationary targets, then sure, we don't need manned aircraft anymore.

  • by loonwings ( 1519397 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:31AM (#43014369)
    That's not sad, that's 100% appropriate. Their very existence is to protect civilians.
  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:34AM (#43014413)

    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.

    When you have a 20 foot long drone that can withstand 20G's of stopping force and 20G's of takeoff force from a relatively short magnetic rail gun, you don't necessarily need a 1000 foot 100,000 ton aircraft carrier to service it.

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:48AM (#43014615)

    Iran's claim is very suspicious. However, Iran isn't exactly the most technologically-advanced nation out there. This drone stuff only works because all the opponents are decades behind the US technologically, so they have little ability (yet) to block the radio signals needed to keep these aircraft under control. If the US were up against an opponent at the same technological level, such as China, it'd be screwed. Blocking GPS signals is something well beyond the capabilities of some Taliban fighters living in a cave and carrying nothing more advanced than AK47s, however it's well within China's abilities.

  • What good is 15g (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JavaBear ( 9872 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:50AM (#43014647)

    if you have a 300 ms latency?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @11:54AM (#43014699)

    GPS was created by the DoD. There is the civilian-usable C/A code and then there is the encrypted P(Y) code that the military can use to avoid spoofing issues. The military is also developing M-code to further improve their anti-jamming and secure access.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @12:10PM (#43014925)

    First to the ones who think this is a problem because 'Dogfighting is obsolete'. Please see the craptastic example of Mr. McNamara on that one - lesson is still relevant.

    Second: My father is a Vietnam era fighter jock, and at 75 is the last living member of his squadron. They are all dying early, frequently from complications arising from their internal organs bouncing off their ribs - where no G suit could help them. Were they pulling 15G? No...they were doing tight 8G turns followed by just enough time for the plane to stabilize before pulling 8G turns in the opposite direction in order to dodge SAMs with an aggregate 16G turn done *just* slow enough to not take the wings off their planes. So long as missiles are shot at manned planes, this 'dogfighting' move will be required for anyone who wants to see their family again.

    So...speaking as someone watching fighter vet's bodies crumble, Hell Yeah! Bring on the UAVs right now!

  • by smash ( 1351 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @12:13PM (#43014977) Homepage Journal
    Look up G vs turn radius. Missiles travel a lot faster than fighters, so they NEED to pull WAY higher G to turn with a fighter, and can still be fooled as they run lead pursuit to minimise distance. They can be tricked into flying into the ground, missing, etc without the pilot needing to pull anywhere near the same G as the missile. Even a missile that can pull 28-30G is not a point and shoot death laser that can't be evaded with far less G required by the pilot - so long as he knows he's been fired on.
  • by smash ( 1351 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @12:14PM (#43015001) Homepage Journal
    They're also very fuel constrained and burn all of it within seconds. Make the missile waste energy and it runs out of ability to maneuver.
  • by theVarangian ( 1948970 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @01:01PM (#43015555)

    I have to think that the ability to do higher G turns results in better missile avoidance capability.

    Modern thrust vectored missiles with state of the art sensors will always be able to outmaneuver a fighter, even an unmanned fighter, just like a LearJet will outmaneuver an Airbus 380 or a 747. If you try to outmaneuver an SA10 you will loose. There are modern missiles who have a PK factor of 0.9 against highly agile targets. Maneuvering has its place but it won't save your bacon. You are as good as dead without first class missile launch detectors, RWR sensors, an up-to-date threat library, superior ECM and good decoys/foxers. The best defense is of course to wreck the opposition's surveillance systems and destroy their aircraft and SAMs on the ground while they are blinded but that isn't always as easy as it was in the Gulf Wars, the feasibility and costliness of that approach depends on the potency of the opposition.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @01:07PM (#43015619) Homepage

    7/12/2021 API news : 3500 american civilians were killed today in a NYC protest by a software glitch from an aerial drone. The President expressed sadness that this glitch caused so many lives lost. This has been the 4th drone glitch to cause civilian casualties. But Homeland security still maintains that they are needed to "ensure the safety of the Americans against terrorism."

  • Re:lag (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chibi Merrow ( 226057 ) <mrmerrow&monkeyinfinity,net> on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @02:02PM (#43016179) Homepage Journal

    Fair disclosure, I may be a bit biased here: I work with unmanned aircraft systems on a day-to-day basis. That being said, all of what I'm about to share with you is all publicly available knowledge via wikipedia or shows on the various Discovery Networks...

    "Remotely piloted" UASes are ALREADY semi-autonomous. Many of them already don't allow any sort of direct control input from the operator, only taking directives such as "Fly to this point", "orbit this location", or "engage this target" via a point-and-click interface. There are already WORKING systems that make use of autonomous cooperation between multiple units to ensure target coverage for surveillance, or decide which unit will deploy its ordinance for a selected target. UASes have already engaged moving ground targets from beyond visual range via guided missiles, as well.

    With all that in mind, yes, I'd say the tech is already there. We don't have (to my knowledge) any UASes currently carrying AIM-9s or AIM-120s and attempting to engage airborne targets, but I think that's more a result of the Fighter Mafia being in charge of the USAF than a lack of technical capability.

    As others have said, air-to-air combat has been reduced to push button, beyond-visual-range engagements already. Heck, with newer aircraft they can engage targets not even visible on their own sensors, with the missiles being guided by satellite or AWACS or what have you. When the missile is being fired by a button push from a controller sitting at a RADAR screen somewhere, what does it matter if a manned or unmanned aircraft is carrying it?

  • Drones are cheap, send a 1000. they cost about 5K + Ordinance .
    Drones are armed, so they can shoot other aircraft
    You do not need GPS to find a location. You know the terrain. We deliver missiles using terrain mapping very effectively now.
    Spread spectrum(and other technology) will prevent jamming. I suspect you don't really know much about jamming and military communications.

    Drones can stay in the air, carry on board system to respond autonomously to change.

    Also, as alluded to in the post, there will be delivery drones, and fighter drones. So we will have aircraft do 15 G Turns designed to take out enemy aircraft. Send 100.

  • by IICV ( 652597 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @03:29PM (#43017287)

    I don't think you understand how communications are "blocked". It's not like the enemy puts up some sort of magical barrier that keeps radio waves from going to their destination; what they do is flood every wavelength they can reach with noise, making it so the drones can't hear the base station.

    The problem with that is it makes whatever's doing the blocking a huge target - it's literally like putting up a huge glowing sign saying "blow me up, I'm a military asset". That sort of blocking would only last as long as it takes to blow up its location with whatever artillery you have handy.

  • by jafac ( 1449 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @05:05PM (#43018289) Homepage

    Iran DOES have some pretty brilliant scientists. GPS blocking is one thing, but GPS forgery - I'm not buying that. That's bullshit. I tend to believe the theory that they got a couple of aircraft around the drone, and herded it using it's close-range collision avoidance system. That's why it landed hard.

... though his invention worked superbly -- his theory was a crock of sewage from beginning to end. -- Vernor Vinge, "The Peace War"