No Pilot, No Problem

The future of military aviation is unmanned. The sooner it comes, the better.

With no fanfare and little media notice, an extremely famous American will turn 60 years old this Sunday. 

It was on Tax Day in 1952 that the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, hulking symbol of the Cold War, accident-prone target of the unkind acronym "B.U.F.F.," the bomber several generations believed would usher in the death of humanity, made its first flight. 

Some interesting points about the B-52: 

• It was considered old-fashioned even before its operational life began. In the late 1940s the Air Force almost shut down the plane’s development out of concerns that it would be obsolete by the time it entered service. 

• It comes honestly by its status as a cultural icon. That first flight was made by storied test pilot Alvin M. "Tex" Johnston, who is widely believed to have been the model for Major T.J. "King" Kong, the colorful B-52 pilot played by Slim Pickens in the Stanley Kubrick movie Dr. Strangelove. Over the years the B-52 has lent its name to a cocktail, several motion pictures, countless nightclubs around the world, and a great dance band whose flamboyantly gay stylings now seem as quaint and dated as the bomber itself. 

• Though it has a reputation as a nuclear-age terror weapon, it has never delivered nuclear ordnance. To this day, the only plane that has dropped atomic bombs in anger is the B-52’s propeller-driven predecessor B-29 Superfortress. 

• Despite all the above, the B-52 is expected to remain in service until 2045. It performed shooting-war service this century over Afghanistan and Iraq. It will almost certainly outlast flashier successors like the Rockwell B-1 and the Northrop Grumman B-2. Given the vagaries of budget and the challenges of fully retiring any legacy system, it’s not impossible that the unloved B.U.F.F. could end up spending a full century in service. 

More striking than the B-52’s military longevity, however, is the question of why we’re still putting pilots into the cockpits of military aircraft at all. With each passing week, the arguments for moving to all-unmanned military aviation [pdf] attain greater speed and elevation, and the case for maintaining piloted warplanes sputters closer to the ground. Yet manned military aircraft systems continue to pull in hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.  

The F-22 Raptor ended up being such a money-suck that the future of that airplane is in doubt. The F-35 formerly known as the "Joint Strike Fighter" long ago became the most expensive procurement program in military history. The training and maintenance of pilots incurs costs that are uniquely vast in the never-cheap economy of military personnel spending. With the United States armed forces not having engaged a serious enemy in air-to-air combat since the Vietnam War, the age of the fighter plane seems to be well and truly over. 

In most conceivable battle environments, American air supremacy is a given. Even if this were not the case, if the United States were to face a real enemy air force in contested air space, it’s not clear manned warplanes would be the best way to do it. 

The most compelling argument against an all-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) force is that these still have to be controlled from the ground, introducing a time delay that can be critical in an engagement. 

"A real vulnerability of the current generation of remotely operated planes is that communications link to the ground," Peter W. Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institute, wrote in an email. "It’s a tether that slows things down, is easily clogged by the big amounts of data going through it, and most importantly can be targeted by an adversary via electronic means."

But there are ways around all these problems. Singer notes that more research is going into making UAVs more autonomous. And time delay is not a new issue. "The delay (‘latency’) is compensated for within the software," said James Dunnigan, a military analyst, wargame designer and editor of StrategyPage.com, in an email. "This has been a common problem in remotely controlled devices for a long time. Solutions are available and it is not a show stopper, even in combat UAVs." 

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Evil Otto||

    So you don't take the warning of Will Smith's I, Robot film seriously? How can you prevent your automated warplanes from being seduced by a giant traffic control computer?

  • Arf?||

    Make the all eunuchs, obviously.

  • albo||

    The band was named after the B-52 bouffant hairstyle, which in turn, I'm assuming, was named after the plane.

    Don't go on the patio!

  • Pro Libertate||

    See, Tim's not into space and science fiction. So he doesn't fear the robot the way he should.

  • Fluffy||

    Be careful what you wish for.

    It's possible there's a relationship between the form of government a polity will most likely possess and the basis for armed force in that polity.

    For example, in times and places where armed force arises from a small, highly trained elite that owns horses, you're likely to have a feudal system of government.

    Or in times and places where armed force arises from large masses of men bearing inexpensive weapons it's easy to learn to use, you're likely to have either a democracy or a dictatorship built on a mass movement or party.

    If that's true, what system of government are we likely to have once armed force arises from one man, or a small group of men, being able to push buttons to deploy robot armies?

  • Evil Otto||

    You could do a lot worse than government by BigDog.

  • WTF||

    Way to SugarFree the link.

  • Pip||

    "If that's true, what system of government are we likely to have once armed force arises from one man, or a small group of men, being able to push buttons to deploy robot armies?"

    One that forces women to marry rich men so that NO MATTER WHAT THEY DO it will never count as work.

  • TELLMOFF||

    Fluffy, we already have that system of government from robot armies: corporations.

  • o3||

    the F35 is the last manned attack aircraft the US will build.

  • Drake||

    We still put pilots into B-52's because UAV's cannot carry something like 60,000 lbs of ordnance. UAV's also can't think for themselves if they lose contact in a real war.

    Once we committed to the F-22, we should have bought more and sold them to Japan and Australia. At that point the per-unit cost wasn't bad.

    The F-35 is crazy expensive for a mediocre aircraft. The whole thing should be cancelled.

  • MOFO.||

    "We still put pilots into B-52's because UAV's cannot carry something like 60,000 lbs of ordnance. UAV's also can't think for themselves if they lose contact in a real war."

    Why not?

  • Suki||

    Exactly. The same remote control stuff can be stuck into a B-52 with the bonus of making more room for more bombs.

  • ||

    Fine and dandy until satcom's go down. Then pray the auto-pilot can fly VFR.

  • Drake||

    That would be like making a remote control Model A Ford. You might as well start from scratch with a 787 frame.

    But everyone here wants to cut Defense spending not start a whole new program. Making aircraft last extra decades helps.

  • jasno||

    UAV's also can't think for themselves if they lose contact in a real war.

    This. It's trivial to deny electromagnetic communications, especially for short periods of time(like during a dogfight).

  • Evil Otto||

    AI / machine learning are getting to the point where you may not need much communicating. Though the thought of totally autonomous killing machines is a tad creepy.

  • Michael Morrison||

    But Otto...AI machines aren't there, yet. We might have drone Air to Air capability in a decade, but integrating and interpreting data from the ground is much more difficult.

    This is pretty ironic, because Air Force pilots loathe air-to-mud missions--yet it may be the last technical justification for keeping pilots in the cockpit.

  • Michael Morrison||

    The F-22 was a pretty good interceptor; however, its range was too limited and its carrying weight too small to be used as a multi-role fighter.

    The U.S. pretty-well abandoned single mission fighters in the 1960s.

  • Aresen||

    BUFF [Big Ugly Fat Fellow]

    Right.

    I am sure that was exactly the way that military types described it.

    Same way "SNAFU" meant "Situation Normal, All Fouled Up."

  • Ice Nine||

    The first time I passed through the main gate at Utapao a dark vision was imprinted in my brain. I looked over the rows of 15 foot high quonset huts in the foreground and beheld, towering behind them, the surrealistic image of fuselageless 45 foot vertical stabilizers of about fifty BUFFs, all dark green and black and nasty. It looked like a nightmare shark tank and oozed malice and dread.

  • Michael Morrison||

    I've been in MITOs (Minimal Interval Take-Off) at Guam...The Buff tails looked a bit like sharks.

  • sarcasmic||

    Waging offensive war without risk of casualties is a dangerous prospect.
    Wars only end with a clear victory or when the public won't put up with it anymore.
    Otherwise governments will fight wars forever.
    Remove the risk of human casualties and the risk of losing public support approaches zero.

  • ||

    I like how you implied that enemies don't count as human casualties. I suppose it is consistent with the mantality of many U.S'ers.

    Of course, if we just go around killing foreigners all the time, I imagine that there will eventually be consequences at home.

  • ||

    men*tality

  • sarcasmic||

    I like how you implied that enemies don't count as human casualties.

    The implication wasn't meant, but you are right.

    Generally people don't cry when their enemies die.

    Of course, if we just go around killing foreigners all the time, I imagine that there will eventually be consequences at home.

    Some guy running for president is saying that, but he keeps getting laughed off as a crazy old coot.

  • GILMORE||

    Ryan|4.12.12 @ 2:21PM|#
    I like how you implied that enemies don't count as human casualties. I suppose it is consistent with the mantality of many U.S'ers.

    sigh. I like how you do the typical snotty non-US'r thing and presume the absolute most cynical and narrow interpretation of his intention.

    He "implied" that robot wars would result in a lower-barrier to killing. Which would not be good. But don't let that get in the way of your moral-superiority campaign.

  • Randian||

    Ryan, do you enjoy misinterpreting the intent of your "opponents" statements and then prattling like a sanctimonious ass as a result of your misinterpretation?

    Because you could have fooled me.

  • GILMORE||

    ^^THIS

    I said something similar yesterday in the 'military robots' thread.

    Timbo misses a key issue in this piece: he principally focuses on the 'cost per unit' question, and concludes that unmanned warfare is inevitable simply because it's 'cheaper'. But to presume that just because a per-unit cost is 'cheaper' means the military will ever be 'cost-efficient' in any way is a fantasy: you give military commanders thousands of $4m pilotless drones? Expect them to be used and treated in exactly the way you'd expect: disposed of en masse on missions that no one would have ever considered risking pilots lives over. Prejudice and discretion would go out the window.

    In addition, the 'shelf-life' of the airfleet would drop to that of your last Laptop. We'd be replacing and updating them constantly in a non-stop 'robot IT arms-race' So what they costs $4m when you have to replace it every time Intel releases its newest processor?

    The main rationale for putting human beings in 'harm's way' in any military conflict is that it makes us seriously consider the justification and 'cost-benefit' of the mission (in terms of *lives*) in the first place. As Sarc says = take away the casualties, you have much less disincentive to use force. I sincerely doubt a Robot militaary would in the end drain less money from the treasury, particularly when it would likely be used capriciously.

  • CE||

    That's not the main rationale.

  • sarcasmic||

    The main rationale for putting human beings in 'harm's way' in any military conflict is that it makes us seriously consider the justification and 'cost-benefit' of the mission (in terms of *lives*) in the first place.

    You've got it backwards.

    The rationale for a 'cost-benefit' analysis (in terms of *lives*) is the fact there are human beings being in 'harm's way'.

    Take that away and there's only the monetary factor.

    Since it's all OPM, who cares?

    Bombs away!

  • GILMORE||

    Call me dense, but this =

    Waging offensive war without risk of casualties is a dangerous prospect...

    Is more or less where I was going... because without risking people's lives, the 'cost' of going to war is so reduced. And by 'cost' I mean the political disincentives are reduced. Not money. By focusing on how much "cheaper" in $ terms a robot army is, the argument overlooks the greater risk of *frequency*, duration, and potential backlash of what may be increasingly indiscriminate use of force.

    When I say, "the main rationale" - I mean, the military often wants to put people in harms way, so that civilian leadership will more carefully consider the risks and consequences of tactical application of force.

    That, and hey - who wants to get kicked out of a job?

    I am missing where I got your point in reverse.

  • TELLMOFF||

    Sarcasmic, the ruling class keeps fighting until they are personally in danger. That is the job of terrorists.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Similarly, why do tanks still have crews?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Because crews might stop when a heroic citizen stands between the tank and mass slaughter.

    Oh, wait, that's the opposite of a good reason from the government's point of view.

  • T||

    Because the ground is lumpy and littered with obstacles.

    Plus, when that tank throws track (which it will, trust me on this) somebody's gonna have to break track and fix it.

  • Drake||

    Because we don't have Bolos yet.

  • T||

    Hell, DARPA can't get a car to drive around the block by itself reliably. I think Bolos are a ways off.

  • Evil Otto||

  • kinnath||

    why we’re still putting pilots into the cockpits of military aircraft at all

    Shit happens.

    Computers can't cope with shit.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Sure they can. When human control is lost, there should be a simple protocol used: Kill everything. Just as a default.

  • kinnath||

    Loss of connection between UAV and remote pilot is not the problem. The UAV simply climbs to a safe altitude and loiters.

  • Pro Libertate||

    That's a stupid protocol. Drones aren't hired to loiter. They're hired to kill.

  • kinnath||

    Actually drones excell at loitering. They can park themselves over a chunk of ground and fly in the same place for 12 or 15 hours and watch, never getting tired or bored or whatever bad things happen to humans doing monotonous tasks.

    Then when something does acutally happen, like a target you've been trying to find for more than a month finally shows up, the drone can kill the target.

  • Pro Libertate||

    That's wasteful. They should be killing all of the time. If there's no one to kill locally, they should fly somewhere to find something to kill, not hover around, wasting the taxpayers' money.

  • kinnath||

    Who are you and what did you do with ProL?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Sorry, I'm just being silly. Work's a bitch lately.

    We'll have made real progress when our drones are limited to killing their drones.

  • kinnath||

    No problem. I couldn't tell if I needed to take my sarcasm meter in for a check or not.

  • Aresen||

    Exactly. Since the government tells us that EVERYBODY killed by a drone is a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer, drones are always killing terrorists.

    So there is nothing to worry about.

    Unless you've done something wrong.

  • Drake||

    I don't think we have the technology to build berserkers yet.

  • Aresen||

    Just train up the RNC and give them body armor.

  • Drake||

    I'm talking about Fred Saberhagen's giant automated killing machines.

    http://www.baenebooks.com/chap......htm?blurb

  • juris imprudent||

    I know you're being sarcastic but that is exactly why the military doesn't use loads of armed robots - the fear that the thing will kill indiscriminately (including our own).

  • Pro Libertate||

    It's a reasonable concern, of course. Probably one that will remain with us for some time to come.

  • CE||

    Until it happens, after which we'll be dead and it won't matter.

  • juris imprudent||

    You have a hard time convincing the test guys to go down range with one.

  • Evil Otto||

    You could keep that under control by programming the bot to shut down when it receives a certain code via em comm. Barring a Skynet or Viki type thing happening, that should prevent any large scale tragedies.

    As for the small scale ones, that already happens when a human soldier goes batty.

  • Aresen||

    Considering the number of "friendly fire" casualties that the military has historically sustained, I'm not sure that robots would be worse.

  • ||

    In the late 1940s the Air Force almost shut down the plane’s development out of concerns that it would be obsolete by the time it entered service.

    Well, no. If your fighter jets have achieved air superiority, then you don't need cutting edge bombers. You can fly a relatively slow moving bomber in in broad daylight and drop the bombs, and only worry about anti-aircraft fire.

    Fighters is where you need cutting edge stuff.

  • jasno||

    I'd bet we're 20 years away from a proliferation of energy weapons like the free-electron laser. It will be interesting when AA doesn't have altitude limits and doesn't -ever- miss.

    That's why I always had a problem with Star{Trek,Wars}... if you have energy weapons and targeting computers... no misses. You pick what you want to hit and you hit it.(LOL)

  • ||

    Of course, if you have stuff on the ground that has weapons that don't miss, you can bet you'll have stuff in the air with the same weapons.

    Then it becomes a contest of who can build stuff that can't be found to be targeted in the first place, or where you send cheap UAVs to draw AA fire, and then drop a missile on anything that kills the UAVs.

    Then you send the B-52s lumbering in after all the ground and air threats have been eliminated.

  • T||

    First law of land warfare: what can be seen can be hit. What can be hit can be killed.

    The implications are left as an exercise for the student.

  • Entropy Void||

    Lessons on "How not to be Seen?"

    Paint everything to look like a Larch!

  • Evil Otto||

    What about evasive maneuvers? Especially evasive maneuver delta. That one's really tough to predict.

  • Michael Morrison||

    protofeed--

    The problem with fighters was their short range. It wasn't until the end of WW II that the U.S. developed a fighter aircraft capable of escorting bombers all the way to their targets in Germany, and fighters never were able to keep-up with B-29s over Japan.

    To some extent, this is still the case. Our last few wars have been against enemies with poor air defenses and limited air forces. But that's very different from fighting an honest-to-gawd enemy who can bite back.

    Gaining Air Superiority in Russia or China would be very, very difficult.

  • Knoss||

    And they were wrong. None of the planes designed in the 50's were useful in combat

  • Michael Morrison||

    Knoss--I beg to differ:

    The B-52, C-130, F-4, F-105, and many other notables were designed during the 1950s.

  • ||

    My father flight tested the B-52s at Edwards Air Force Base. That's a part of the reason those buggers are still flying -- he was obsessed with reliability and longevity.

  • kinnath||

    You can lose UAVs all day long without losing any pilots,

    This is one of the stupidest things I've seen published by Reason.

    It matters where you lose a UAV and why you lose a UAV.

    C-O-L-L-A-T-E-R-A-L
    D-A-M-A-G-E

  • MOFO.||

    I think the biggest target for automation should be combat support aircraft that are limited by thier crews ability to loiter. Air-to-air refueling and AWACs. The E2C and E3 should be automated, and all airborne tankers should as well.

    For tankers, they could just convert old 737s to automated tankers for a fraction of the cost of the new tanker program.

  • kinnath||

    Not familiar with the mechanics of air-to-air refueling are you.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I do wonder when AI will get good enough to take over most flying from pilots. I don't think we have to reach "true AI" to get there, though maybe that would be necessary for totally independent and pilotless aircraft.

  • Loki||

    About 90% of what pilots used to do is already automated now. Even on commercial flights most of the time the pilot is just sitting there watching the intruments while the computers fly the plane.

  • kinnath||

    Yes and no

  • Pro Libertate||

    That's what I was thinking--we're quite a way down that road already.

  • kinnath||

    Take a vintage WWI biplane and fill it with fuel. Start the engine and walk away without properly securing the chucks. Come back and find there is no plane on the airfield. Call the authorities and suggest they shoot it down. They decline. The plane flies for several hours in a mostly straight line at a mostly constant altitude. It runs out of fuel. Then it falls down.

    Planes are designed to fly.

    Navigation, guidance, communications, and surveillance are a little bit more complicated. Computers can and do help.

  • kinnath||

    Google NextGen or SESAR and see what your future has to offer.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I've always figured that a real move to flying cars has to be presaged by something close to fully automated aircraft.

  • MOFO.||

    Yes i am familiar with the mechanics of air to air refueling. Whats your point?

  • kinnath||

    Explain you take the people out of getting the little bitty spigot into the little bitty hole at 400 knots.

  • Michael Morrison||

    The KC135, the mainstay of the cold war tanker fleet, was a converted Boeing 707.

  • weslinder||

    Sure, unmanned aircraft are cheap now. Just wait until they are big ticket projects and every critter in Congress has to have something manufactured in his district before he'll authorize the spending. Then how cheap will they be?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Just wait until they get the vote.

  • Evil Otto||

    At least the unions can't recruit them.

  • Michael Morrison||

    weslinder: Good Point!

  • Loki||

    Considering that our allegedly anti-war president can intervene in an internal Libyan civil war and both he and his supporters brain dead partisan hacks can justify by saying "it's all good, there were not boots on the ground", do we really want our presidents to be able to commit to wars without even having to consider the possiblity of ordering a US citizen to their death?

    Call me crazy, but I'd prefer future presidents to still have to at least think about that possibility before ordering a "kinetic military action". Also, SKYNET!!!!!!!

  • Lord Humungus||

    General "Buck" Turgidson: If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

  • CE||

    More striking than the B-52’s military longevity, however, writes Tim Cavanaugh, is the question of why we’re still putting pilots into the cockpits of military aircraft at all.

    Ummm... to prevent SkyNet from completely wiping us out without an airborne opposition?

  • CE||

    More striking than the B-52’s military longevity, however, writes Tim Cavanaugh, is the question of why we’re still putting pilots into the cockpits of military aircraft at all.

    Ummm... to prevent SkyNet from completely wiping us out without an airborne opposition?

  • Translucent Chum||

    It can track you if you comment more than once.

  • Translucent Chum||

    And that's a Red Dawn reference, fuckers.

  • Michael Morrison||

    I'm one of those old, obsolete B-52 crew members from the days before GPS--I was the navigator--The guy who used sextants, pressure patterns, charts, and a circular slide rule to figure-out where the plane was. Later, I was responsible for jamming radars and missiles.

    All of those jobs are now done by clever machines.

    But I worry...What happens when somebody learns to Jam GPS, or the uplinks/downlinks used to control the Predator? What happens in real combat when situations change faster than the ability of computer programmers--Who have never seen combat--to update and modify their software?

    Nothing against drones, but MacNamara's failure in Viet Nam pretty well demonstrated the fallacy of placing economy ahead of an effective fighting force.

  • k2000k||

    Agreed. I think Reason is wrong on this one. While UAV and automatation will play a larger and larger role in warfighting I doubt the human element will be removed. It's like how we thought air power would decide wars in the future, and while it plays a tremendous role in state v state warfare, it didn't make the guy with the rifle on the ground obsolete. Viatnam, AFgahnistan, or Iraq II are great examples of the limitations of air power. Just as there are limitations to fighitng a war via air theere are limitations using drones. In the end you will have one guy with a point stick trying to kill another guy with a pointy stick.

  • Michael Morrison||

    k2000k: Agreed

    Shock and Awe didn't work out so well, did it. : -)

  • GILMORE||


    k2000k|4.12.12 @ 5:56PM|#
    Agreed. I think Reason is wrong on this one. While UAV and automatation will play a larger and larger role in warfighting I doubt the human element will be removed

    Also agreed (about your whole point) - look at the ridiculous attempts of the Future Cobat System program to shoehorn loads of gadgets into combat roles, most of which force 'operators' to become people playing with gadgets, spouting acronyms, and staring at screens instead of simply better understanding their environment, the people, the enemy, and be able to act and react *without* all these prothetic enhancements... often the 'enhancements' end up having to be constantly managed, so instead of 'fighting a war', they are babysitting 'combat systems'. In a threatening environment, what do you want to be doing = using your eyes and ears, local intelligence, physical presence to dictate engagements? or staring at the 'blue force tracker' and constantly radioing each other with jargon-speak such that your focus is the technology rather than the situation at hand? I see most of these things as burdens largely hampering fighting capability. Its all top-down conceived from the beginning as well... how many young sergeants are begging officers for more equipment for their platoon to hump around? For fuck's sake, they spend billions of dollars on researching all this techno-junk, all while ignoring the massive lack of Arabic speakers all throughout the deployed force... Its absurd.

  • GILMORE||

    Case in point -

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8izG26i_lTY

    "I wouldn't leave the FOB without it!"

    Is that really what we want?

  • GILMORE||

    And yes, I know that was cancelled in 2007 - but the point is, WTF were they thinking about this crap at a point when they were dealing with a rapidly deteriorating situation in the theatre, and still nearly no one spoke arabic? Its like, "oh, well computers strapped on our asses might help!"....!?

  • Michael Morrison||

    Gilmore: I don't have any particular knowledge of the Future Cobat System, but my overall observations are similar to yours: The Pentagon tends to obsess over whatever gadgets the military industrial complex wants to sell them.

    There certainly are useful technologies, but new gadgets should be vetted before we waste money on them...

    And yeah, your point about the lack of Arabic speakers is well taken.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    I'm just waiting for my multi-cam exoskeleton issue.

    I guy I know, who happens to have been a Special Forces Communications Sergeant, once told me, "In my 20 years my rucksack was always loaded with a hundred pounds of light weight gear."

    There is a direct correlation between the amount of high speed gear and the number of mission requirements. Lighter weight stuff just means that you can carry more, and if you can carry more you can ostensibly, do more.

  • ||

    Inevitably, any automated military machine is going to be picked up by your local city cops and used against you. The cheaper the machinery, the more of it you'll see. Robocop at least contained a human brain. What happens when a Janet Reno type, with a small army of killbots at her command, decides she's had it up to here with you not respecting her authoritah?

  • Brian from Texas||

    Take the human element out of war, you take whatever humanity is left out of war.

  • GILMORE||

    Righto +1

  • Knoss||

    " It was considered old-fashioned even before its operational life began. In the late 1940s the Air Force almost shut down the plane’s development out of concerns that it would be obsolete by the time it entered service. "

    In the 1950's it was thought that supersonic bombers and fighters were the future. Nearly all designs during this time were supersonic, but these planes proved easy to see on radar and inefficient on fuel.

  • Burke||

    Current unmanned systems are vulnerable to disruption by attack on their satellite communications links. Chinese and Russian war plans against the US include such attacks, so the US simply cannot trust that unmanned aircraft will be operational in the event of war with China or Russia. The future therefore necessarily includes a mix of manned and unmanned military aircraft systems.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement