Sunday, April 03, 2005

TCS: Tech Central Station - Robotic Death from Above

TCS: Tech Central Station - Robotic Death from Above

The handwriting was on the wall -- or in the sky as it were -- when an unmanned Predator aircraft destroyed a Taliban target in late 2001 with a Hellfire missile. We're now ushering in an era of fighter-bombers that will strike targets with deadly efficiency while putting no American pilots in harm's way.

Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAV) will make today's piloted planes seem like flying bricks by comparison, with advantages too long to list here. For starters though, no pilot means a lighter, smaller, and cheaper aircraft. Large canopies, pilot displays, and environmental control systems will disappear.

"The UCAV offers new design freedoms that can be exploited to produce a smaller, simpler aircraft, about half the size of a conventional fighter aircraft," according to the Federation of American Scientists. It would weigh only about one-third to one-fourth as much as a manned plane. Costs will also be slashed. Boeing's X-45 UCAV will probably be a third the price of the forthcoming manned F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, according to the defense policy website

Moreover, typically 80 percent of the useful life of today's combat aircraft is devoted to pilot training and proficiency flying. Therefore a UCAV would require a fraction of the maintenance time and spare parts of a manned vehicle.

You can forget about pilot fatigue since controls can easily be handed off to somebody else. Pilot error will be greatly reduced since the controller will never be worrying about losing his own skin.

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