mm489: Blast from the Past! No. 46 – Abolish the Air Force

September 4, 2008
© Carbouval | Dreamstime.com

© Carbouval | Dreamstime.com

MUDGE’S Musings

Events, continue to conspire, making it unacceptably late to start a fresh project, but hey, recycling is IN, right? We’re all about doing the right thing here at Left-Handed Complement, and in that spirit we’re recycling some of yr (justifiably) humble svt‘s favorite electrons.

I hereby stop apologizing for observing the prime directive of blogging: Thou Shalt Blog Daily!

And, I’m guessing that most of you weren’t here nine months ago. As one of my favorite paper publications used to say as they flogged unsold back issues: “If you haven’t read it yet, it’s new for you!”

lhc76019043_thumb24_thumb2_thumb2_th[2]

Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last fall, and always in season, especially since it’s back to school time for millions, originally posted November 2, 2007, and titled “mm183: Abolish the Air Force.”

MUDGE’S Musings

From the “If it’s the weekend, it must be military” department, we bring you this fascinating analysis from The American Prospect.

Was sent this earlier today by MUDGE‘s ex-Navy son, who was interested, as is his parent, not due to his parochial leanings toward the maritime forces, but rather due to his interest in history, especially military history.

And the thesis here is based, not only on the present straitened circumstances in which the U.S. Air Force finds itself, fighting in conflicts using techniques in which it has little interest, and causing as a result inexcusable amounts of what is delicately called collateral damage.

No, the analysis expertly recounts the troubled history of the Air Force, built from the first on a flawed premise: the value of strategic bombing.

americanprospect

Abolish the Air Force

What it does on its own — strategic bombing — isn’t suited to modern warfare. What it does well — its tactical support missions — could be better managed by the Army and Navy. It’s time to break up the Air Force.

Robert Farley | November 1, 2007

In August of this year, reports emerged that British Army officers in Afghanistan had requested an end to American airstrikes in Helmand Province because the strikes were killing too many civilians there. In Iraq, the Lancet Study of Iraqi civilian casualties of the war suggested that airstrikes have been responsible for roughly 13 percent of those casualties, or somewhere in the range of 50,000 to 100,000 deaths.

This watershed comes at a particularly important time, as the Air Force observed its 60th anniversary this past September.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm426: Blast from the Past! No. 32: Go to war – play videogames

July 1, 2008

There’s most read, and then there’s favorite. This is a post which yr (justifiably) humble svt is, regrettably, but not regretfully, not at all humble about. It also marks the beginning of an occasional series in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©, comprising 10 parts thus far, called “The changing face of military aviation.”

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

mm142

2

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

3

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

4

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

5

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

6

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

7

A shared obsession is a satisfying thing

mm225

8

Videogames. Real warfare. An unsettling

mm288

9

Go figure! Even our robot forces…

mm326

10

Help! Rescue that droning man!

mm369

lhc250x46_thumb2

Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last summer, originally posted September 28, 2007, and originally titled “mm155: Go to war — Play videogames.”

MUDGE’S Musings

The changing face of military aviation

Second of an occasional series

With no greater expertise than that of one fascinated with technology, its history, and its future, we embark on an exploration of the future of military aviation, as exemplified by the increasing numbers of remotely piloted aircraft, UAVs (Unmanned aerial vehicles) and UCAVs (… Combat … …).

The impetus was this recent posting about the creative use of the Predator UAV by an enterprising officer, Greg Harbin, who has been lobbying the Pentagon for increased use of a tool that brings the output of surveillance performed by Predator directly to the front line without delay.

I’d been aware of the growing use of robot aircraft for some years. Not because I encounter them in my daily life! Because I have long had an “armchair” interest in aviation. Long years ago, I frequently read Flying magazine, dreaming of one day taking lessons and taking to the air.

Never happened, although my late brother-in-law apparently long harbored a similar dream, which in the years before cancer took him he was finally able to realize, together with his young son, who now is in his senior year in the Air Force ROTC program at a major university, having earned his pilot’s license, and qualified for combat training upon his graduation next spring.

But MUDGE has confined his interest to the armchair, telling himself that real life has superceded idle imagination.

I no longer read Flying, haven’t for decades, since its audience are the doctors and captains of industry who actually do fly themselves around. MUDGE is neither doctor nor captain, and just can’t relate.

Instead many years ago I found an intriguing publication out of England (home of the Economist, best magazine on the planet — what is it about the British?) called Air International.

AI covers the global aviation field, both military and civil, manufacturers and their air force and airline customers, and is sometimes complete to the point of obsession. Some fun, huh? Well MUDGE thinks so.

They’ve had some features through the years about the UAV/UCAV phenomenon, but, I’m thinking, as flyers themselves, the editors must share an ambivalence about the entire topic of robot flying with professional pilots, military especially, who may well believe that they represent the last generation of their kind.

So, I did some independent research, with the assistant of the globe’s favorite research assistant, Google.com.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm398: Military intelligence — time to start using some

June 2, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

We have devoted a number of posts in this space to topics military. And why not? We are fighting wars in two far-away nations simultaneously, and have done so for nearly seven years.

That’s quite expensive, and it has been downright draining of our expensively trained manpower.

But, beyond the cost of prosecuting the “global war on terror,” we have been spending overwhelmingly on defense programs that, while lucrative to the home states of the military contractors and their congressional representatives, are impossible for a rational thinker to justify based on the nature of current and future threats.

Making this point most eloquently in an opinion piece in the LATimes was Robert Scheer, of truthdig.com.

latimes

Indefensible spending

America’s massive military budget is irrational, costly and dangerous. Why isn’t it a campaign issue?

By Robert Scheer |June 1, 2008

What should be the most important issue in this election is one that is rarely, if ever, addressed: Why is U.S. military spending at the highest point, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than at any time since the end of World War II? Why, without a sophisticated military opponent in sight, is the United States spending trillions of dollars on the development of high-tech weapons systems that lost their purpose with the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago?

You wouldn’t know it from the most-exhausting-ever presidential primary campaigns, but the 2009 defense budget commits the United States to spending more (again, in real dollars) to defeat a ragtag band of terrorists than it spent at the height of the Cold War fighting the Soviet superpower and what we alleged were its surrogates in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The Pentagon’s budget for fiscal year 2008 set a post-World War II record at $625 billion, and that does not include more than $100 billion in other federal budget expenditures for homeland security, nuclear weapons and so-called black budget — or covert — operations.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm369: Help! Rescue that droning man!

May 4, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

lockheedvulture

The changing face of military aviation

tenth in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

mm142

2

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

3

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

4

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

5

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

6

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

7

A shared obsession is a satisfying thing

mm225

8

Videogames. Real warfare. An unsettling

mm288

9

Go figure! Even our robot forces… mm326

Two of our most useful military news links in our blogroll are Danger Room and Early Warning. After all, we’re at war.

Faithful reader of this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© will recall that the subject of UAVs, Unmanned Air Vehicles or drones, is one of those topics that has consistently intrigued us. Look no further than the linklist above.

Robot aircraft of all sizes and scales hit the military commentariat several times on April 30, and reminded us of a related story (see no. 1a below) we had been waiting for the right opportunity to surface.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm326: Go figure! Even our robot forces are undermanned!

March 23, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

This nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© is always intrigued when one of its obsessions interests pops up as news.

Danger Room is a military affairs blog (part of Wired.com) we don’t check into sufficiently often, but today we were rewarded with a new Predator tale.

The changing face of military aviation

ninth in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

mm142

2

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

3

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

4

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

5

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

6

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

7

A shared obsession is a satisfying thing

mm225

8

Videogames. Real warfare. An unsettling

mm288

predatorfromdangerroom

Read the rest of this entry »


mm288: Videogames. Real warfare. An unsettling fusion

February 17, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Mark Benjamin, writing in Salon.com, opened our eyes this weekend with an exclusive look inside the U.S. Air Force’s operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And the illuminating article allows this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© to return to an abiding interest, what’s going on up there in the sky?

The changing face of military aviation

eighth in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

mm142

2

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

3

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

4

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

5

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

6

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

7

A shared obsession is a satisfying thing

mm225

The videogame theme has struck yr (justifiably) humble svt before. Take a look.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm225: A shared obsession is a most satisfying thing

December 18, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The changing face of military aviation

seventh in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

mm142

2

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

3

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

4

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

5

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

6

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

Many of the above links refer wholly or in part to UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles. So one might imagine that MUDGE is somewhat taken with the concept, and one would be correct.

But, this is not solely the byproduct of some feverish boyhood-hatched hobbyist daydreaming; this is mainstream, folks. The first link above referenced a fascinating story on UAVs at war that appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Mentioned during the Wright Brothers post that it had been my intention to use Orville and Wilbur as the jumping off point (as it were) for a large scale story we’ve been accumulating regarding this intriguing development — remote controlled aircraft at war. But, that post took off in another direction (aiw), and we hangared the UAV for another day.

Then, casting around this evening for tonight’s topic (last night’s wrote itself — one gets spoiled), I finally arrived at the best magazine on the planet, The Economist whose print edition I confess that I’ve fallen a bit behind in reading.

And there, in their Technology quarterly, a couple of intriguing aircraft stories, including a well written (of course) analysis of the most common UAV, Predator.

Unmanned and dangerous

Dec 6th 2007 | From The Economist print edition

Aviation: Unmanned aerial vehicles are a vital tool of modern warfare. Once-harmless drones are now deadly attack aircraft. Where did the technology come from, and where is it going?

 RNLA

DUSK falls over Baghdad and Kabul, and the Predators take their places in the skies overhead, ready for action. Western soldiers prefer to fight in the dark, when their night-vision gear gives them the advantage over insurgents. They know that with drone aircraft scanning the ground, with unblinking eyes able to see by day or night and radars that can see through cloud, they “own the night”.

For the Predators’ pilots, however, it is still bright daylight. Sitting in cramped metal containers in bases across America, they fly their machines by remote control from thousands of miles away, via satellite links. The video from the drones is gathered in a makeshift operations centre in the Nevada desert and distributed to leaders in the Pentagon and commanders on the ground. In the Predator operations centre, one screen monitors the weather around the Arabian Sea (Predators do not like rain or high winds), another shows the location of each aircraft on a map, and a third projects a mosaic of video images from each plane. One image shows a house under close observation in a palm grove in Iraq; another shows a road being scanned for hidden bombs. A laptop computer system known as Rover allows troops on the ground to watch the footage, and will soon let them mark out targets.

After a useful history of the development of UAVs that begins, of course, in Britain in the 1930s (much inventive military technology either originated or was perfected in England, including that oh-so-American entity the modern aircraft carrier, whose offset deck and steam catapults are English imports), we arrive at Israel in the 1980s.

Ultimately it was Israel, not America, that revived the use of drones in warfare. It had seen at first hand in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war the damage that modern air defences can cause. In the 1982 Lebanon war, the clever use of small Israeli-built UAVs (incorporating technology developed in America’s disappointing programmes) helped win a startling air campaign in which Syria’s anti-aircraft batteries in the Bekaa valley were destroyed and up to 100 Syrian jets shot down against no losses for Israel. In carefully choreographed moves, drones were used to spy on the Syrian defences, fool their radars and gather the electronic intelligence needed to destroy them.

Unlike America, which sought to operate large UAVs at long distances through hostile air space, Israel’s drones operated from its own defended territory, and real-time video was transmitted through short line-of-sight data links. Israeli UAV technology became all the rage in the Pentagon, especially after the American navy lost three aircraft over Lebanon in 1983. Predator is in fact derived from a design devised by a former Israel Aircraft Industries engineer.

Before providing you the link, need to share this wonderful diagram.

predatoreconomist

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Unmanned and dangerous | Economist.com

As The Economist points out UAV technology is evolving rapidly beyond primitive (in technology terms) Predator, which is tricky to fly, greatly prefers good weather, and gulps down huge swaths of commercial satellite bandwidth.

Such aircraft as Reaper and Global Hawk are already flying, with improved size, payload, range and autonomy (Global Hawk famously flew non-stop US to Australia, and that’s just scratching the surface of its accomplishments — check this out!)

The Wright Brothers started flying kites; now pilots control their high flyers with invisible strings, or just with strings of program code. What an awesome circle this makes, in just over 100 years.

But, what are the flyguys going to do with all that surplus “right stuff” if callow 20 year olds in Nevada perched in front of consoles are doing all the flying and war-winning?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm215: A Maginot Line for the 21st Century?

December 8, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The changing face of the military

Fifth in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

2

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

3

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

4

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

5

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

The one where we get our boots muddy… but still can read about UAVs!

fcs1

As I begin to write, it is still December 7. Still lives in infamy, although those alive to hear President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ringing phrases are leaving us every day.

But an altogether fitting day to write about the military (okay, we’re at war. Every day we should be remembering and writing about the military, supporting and honoring our citizen soldiers stuck, truly stuck in the [quick]sand of Iraq).

Guess the Washington Post thought so too.

armymakeover

washingtonpost

The Army’s $200 Billion Makeover

March to Modernize Proves Ambitious and Controversial

By Alec Klein

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 7, 2007; Page A01

EL PASO — A $200 billion plan to remake the largest war machine in history unfolds in one small way on a quiet country road in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Jack Hensley, one of a legion of contractors on the project, is hunkered in a slowly moving SUV, serving as target practice for a baby-faced soldier in a Humvee aiming a laser about 700 yards away. A moment later, another soldier in the Humvee punches commands into a computer transmitting data across an expanse of sand and mesquite to a site 2 1/2 miles away. On an actual battlefield, this is when a precision attack missile would be launched, killing Hensley almost instantly.

Welcome to Future Combat Systems: warfare for the wireless era…

In the Army’s vision, the war of the future is increasingly combat by mouse clicks. It’s as networked as the Internet, as mobile as a cellphone, as intuitive as a video game. The Army has a name for this vision: Future Combat Systems, or FCS. The project involves creating a family of 14 weapons, drones, robots, sensors and hybrid-electric combat vehicles connected by a wireless network. It has turned into the most ambitious modernization of the Army since World War II and the most expensive Army weapons program ever, military officials say.

FCS was devised in the 90s in response to the Army’s recognition that its responsiveness to the new paradigm of asymmetric warfare was altogether too sluggish.

Of course, the government, especially its military, cannot plan to spend $200billions without controversy. Hugely ambitious, those plans have consistently, like every government program, delivered less than promised, later than promised.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Army’s $200 Billion Makeover – washingtonpost.com

It probably is no surprise that every time FCS hits the news, its quoted costs rise, from $92billion when launched in the 90s, to $117billion in this interesting overview from 2004, to today’s $200billion and counting.

Danger Room, a member of L-HC‘s blogroll2 noted the Post’s story, and pointed to a most illuminating analysis published last May at a site, new to this writer, GovernmentExecutive.com.

Four years into the program, the Army still has not fully defined what the program’s vehicles, drones, robots and computer networks are required to do, GAO’s Francis says. Software needed to control FCS has doubled from initial estimates to a staggering 63 million lines of code, three times the amount being written for the Joint Strike Fighter. Of FCS’ 49 critical technologies, only one is fully mature. GAO noted that immature technologies are “markers for future cost growth.” The Army says 75 percent of FCS critical technologies have reached prototype stage. GAO disputed those claims, backed by an independent review team’s assessment that less than half the critical technologies were close to the prototype stage.

63 million lines of software… breathtaking. And, sure to grow. And then there’s the issue of component weight.

GAO pointed to the FCS vehicles’ burgeoning weight as signs of a program that remains poorly defined and predicated on technological breakthroughs that so far have failed to materialize. The Army originally wanted FCS vehicles to weigh less than 20 tons, and Boeing promised to meet that goal. But so far, engineers have failed to develop the high-tech, lightweight electromagnetic and composite armors required. Last year, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the Army acquisition deputy, said vehicles would weigh 24 tons. Army budget documents released this year said FCS vehicles would tip the scales at 27 tons. Weight growth of a vehicle meant to be rapidly deployable by air is not an immaterial concern.

The analysis does a most comprehensive job of illuminating the planning and design flaws of the system. The tilt-rotor heavy lifters, whoppingly expensive with insufficient cargo capacity, and fatal vulnerability to even today’s inexpensive ground and air defense systems. The remote sensor systems that even today are fragile and proving inadequate to the realities of Iraq and Afghanistan. Armored vehicles that, as designed, would be unable to prevent fatal damage from even today’s IEDs, improvised explosive devices, which have killed or maimed so many U.S. personnel and their transports, much less future weaponry an enemy would be expected to field such as automatic cannon.

And always the issue: however brave the intention, FCS is a response to past conditions that most certainly will again endorse the adage that generals are doomed always to prepare to fight the last war.

But this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©‘s fascination with UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) was ratified with this illustration, encountered at HowStuffWorks.com while researching FCS.

And, it’s diesel-powered!

fcs2-uav

So as some of us reflect on warfare, and our preparedness to fight the next one, on this weekend where we remember the “day that will live in infamy” that found this country only semi-prepared to fight a world war that had started nearly 10 years before, one can only sigh.

FCS: A 21st century, mobile, high-tech version of the Maginot Line?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm183: Abolish the Air Force

November 2, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

From the “If it’s the weekend, it must be military” department, we bring you this fascinating analysis from The American Prospect.

Was sent this earlier today by MUDGE‘s ex-Navy son, who was interested, as is his parent, not due to his parochial leanings toward the maritime forces, but rather due to his interest in history, especially military history.

And the thesis here is based, not only on the present straitened circumstances in which the U.S. Air Force finds itself, fighting in conflicts using techniques in which it has little interest, and causing as a result inexcusable amounts of what is delicately called collateral damage.

No, the analysis expertly recounts the troubled history of the Air Force, built from the first on a flawed premise: the value of strategic bombing.

americanprospect

Abolish the Air Force

What it does on its own — strategic bombing — isn’t suited to modern warfare. What it does well — its tactical support missions — could be better managed by the Army and Navy. It’s time to break up the Air Force.

Robert Farley | November 1, 2007

In August of this year, reports emerged that British Army officers in Afghanistan had requested an end to American airstrikes in Helmand Province because the strikes were killing too many civilians there. In Iraq, the Lancet Study of Iraqi civilian casualties of the war suggested that airstrikes have been responsible for roughly 13 percent of those casualties, or somewhere in the range of 50,000 to 100,000 deaths.

This watershed comes at a particularly important time, as the Air Force observed its 60th anniversary this past September.

But it’s time to revisit the 1947 decision to separate the Air Force from the Army. While everyone agrees that the United States military requires air capability, it’s less obvious that we need a bureaucratic entity called the United States Air Force. The independent Air Force privileges airpower to a degree unsupported by the historical record. This bureaucratic structure has proven to be a continual problem in war fighting, in procurement, and in estimates of the costs of armed conflict. Indeed, it would be wrong to say that the USAF is an idea whose time has passed. Rather, it’s a mistake that never should have been made.

As a child of the 50s and 60s MUDGE cut his teeth on Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, which ought to be required reading for all (and which I believe helped make draft dodgers out of huge swathes of the sons of the Greatest Generation, whose Air Force Heller eviscerates).

So I’ve long been suspicious of the value of strategic bombing, which was designed to undermine the enemy’s ability to prosecute war by crippling its industrial base, and as the years have passed, and my reading of history has expanded well beyond the comic novel, my suspicions have become sureties.

Before we continue, I need to stop.

What is written here is meant to cast no aspersions on the competence, courage and loyalty of the personnel in the cockpits and the equally dedicated people who support them on the ground. Indeed the official nephew of Mr. and Mrs. MUDGE is completing his senior year at a major university as a high performing member of Air Force ROTC and we couldn’t be prouder.

This is about the generals and the politicians who coddle them. Strategic and not tactical. I love you gals and guys in the trenches, and the shiny (or anti-reflective stealthy as the case may be) warbirds you fly and you keep in the air. This is only about those who direct you from the air conditioned D.C. offices. Those guys.

Okay, back to the story.

During the first years of the U.S. involvement in the European theater of World War II, strategic bombing was the only way for the U.S. to take the fight to Germany, but was a terribly costly way, and did not provide the overwhelming blow that its then Army Air Force proponents promised.

But, strategic bombing is what the Air Force was selling, and just after the successful end of the war Congress bought it.

Strategic bombing performed by the now independent Air Force did lots of work, but failed to win the wars against North Korea, or North Vietnam.

Arguably, airpower did succeed on its own in bringing victory in the 1999 Kosovo War. For 78 days, the NATO alliance bombed Serbian military and infrastructure targets in order to force Serbia’s withdrawal from the province of Kosovo. After increasingly serious threats of a ground invasion and the end of Russian support, Serbia succumbed to the NATO occupation of Kosovo. Even acknowledging the decisiveness of the airstrikes, however, the ability of a small country to stand against the world’s most powerful military alliance for almost three months does not speak well of the coercive capacity of modern airpower.

And now, strategic bombing seems to have an uncertain place in the type of asymmetric warfare the U.S. is fighting today.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Abolish the Air Force | The American Prospect

There has been something “off” about the Air Force, especially in recent years. The scandals at the Air Force Academy, which as one of the comments to the American Prospect story reminds us, is increasingly fundamentalist Christian in its orientation (anyone recall separation of church and state?) and where sexual harassment (an unfortunate and nasty feature at all of the military academies) has been particularly ugly.

Another aside: During the years the official son of Mr. and Mrs. MUDGE was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, we were proud members of the local parents organization, so we were in a better position than most to understand the very much harder than hard road that women midshipmen and cadets face at all of the Academies. And now one of those stalwart women, who went on to distinguished service in Japan, the Gulf and Washington, D.C., is now our lovely daughter-in-law. Are we lucky!

A third aside: I remember distinctly learning from a Naval Academy recruiter at one of those parents association meetings in the early 1990s that at the time, due to the post Cold War drawdowns of forces, there were actually more flight berths on offer to graduates of the Naval Academy (remember, all those floating airports, the Navy’s carriers) than for the Air Force.

Off.

Finally, as covered in several posts here recently, the air is increasingly filling with remotely piloted aircraft, the UAVs and UCAVs, most of them flown by enlisted personnel at consoles thousands of miles away. Not exactly Eddie Rickenbacker or Chuck Yeager, is it?

predatora

Did you catch the heart of the argument?

If strategic bombing won independence for the Air Force, yet strategic bombing cannot win wars, it’s unclear why the Air Force should retain its independence.

Indeed.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

Note!: the link to Amazon.com used above is for the convenience of faithful reader and represents no commercial relationship whatsoever. Left-Handed Complement should be so fortunate as to ever collect remuneration of any kind for this endeavor. I can link, so I link. It’s technology. It’s cool. Deal with it.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


mm155: Go to war — Play videogames

September 28, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The changing face of military aviation

First of an occasional series

With no greater expertise than that of one fascinated with technology, its history, and its future, we embark on an exploration of the future of military aviation, as exemplified by the increasing numbers of remotely piloted aircraft, UAVs (Unmanned aerial vehicles) and UCAVs (… Combat … …).

The impetus was this recent posting about the creative use of the Predator UAV by an enterprising officer, Greg Harbin, who has been lobbying the Pentagon for increased use of a tool that brings the output of surveillance performed by Predator directly to the front line without delay.

I’d been aware of the growing use of robot aircraft for some years. Not because I encounter them in my daily life! Because I have long had an “armchair” interest in aviation. Long years ago, I frequently read Flying magazine, dreaming of one day taking lessons and taking to the air.

Never happened, although my late brother-in-law apparently long harbored a similar dream, which in the years before cancer took him he was finally able to realize, together with his young son, who now is in his senior year in the Air Force ROTC program at a major university, having earned his pilot’s license, and qualified for combat training upon his graduation next spring.

But MUDGE has confined his interest to the armchair, telling himself that real life has superceded idle imagination.

I no longer read Flying, haven’t for decades, since its audience are the doctors and captains of industry who actually do fly themselves around. MUDGE is neither doctor nor captain, and just can’t relate.

Instead many years ago I found an intriguing publication out of England (home of the Economist, best magazine on the planet — what is it about the British?) called Air International.

AI covers the global aviation field, both military and civil, manufacturers and their air force and airline customers, and is sometimes complete to the point of obsession. Some fun, huh? Well MUDGE thinks so.

They’ve had some features through the years about the UAV/UCAV phenomenon, but, I’m thinking, as flyers themselves, the editors must share an ambivalence about the entire topic of robot flying with professional pilots, military especially, who may well believe that they represent the last generation of their kind.

So, I did some independent research, with the assistant of the globe’s favorite research assistant, Google.com.

So, let’s get started. Here’s the first Predator, Predator A:

predatora

In Jan 1994 an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) programme to develop a Tier II Medium Altitude Endurance UAV was awarded to General Atomics. General Atomics already had the GNAT-750 series of UAVs flying, and this version was developed to eventually become the Predator A. The Predator A has the same low-wing monoplane design, consisting of a high aspect ratio wing attached to a fairly narrow fuselage and a fully articulated inverted V tail – the vehicle is constructed from carbon-epoxy / Kevlar composites. The fuselage houses both the payload and all the fuel for the vehicle. At the rear of the fuselage is an 80hp four-cylinder Rotax 912UL fuel injected four-stroke engine, driving a 4ft 11in variable pitch pusher propeller. Subsequently, the 912UL engine was replaced by a 113hp Rotax 914 four cylinder four-stroke turbocharged engine. A fixed nose mounted colour TV camera is used for remote piloting and a GPS internal navigation system is also installed. The mission equipment consists of a Northrop Grumman AN/ZPQ-1 Tactical Endurance Synthetic Aperture Radar (TESAR), developed from a system planned for the cancelled A-12 strike aircraft and a Wescam Versatron 14TS Infra Red / Electro-Optical (IR/EO) sensor turret. Line of sight control and transfer of data is accomplished by C and Ku band datalinks. However, the biggest difference in the Predator from the GNAT-750 is the addition of a Ku-band SATCOM link, with the antenna housed in a bulge above the nose.

From the same article, here’s a view of the controllers’ module (one to fly, one to control the payload);

predatorcontrol

Predator B is the much more capable current model, the subject of the Greg Harbin story. Here’s some of what spyflight.co.uk, the source for this section, has to say about Predator B.

The next stage in the Predator development is the Predator B, a much larger and more capable machine. … The biggest difference, apart from the more conventional ‘upward’ V tail, that Predator B has over the Predator A is the increased payload from 450lbs to 475lbs and the ability to take this payload up to 50,000ft for 25hrs if necessary.

predatorb

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

General Atomics Predator

Think about it. Human pilots have life support requirements. An aircraft built to accommodate a pilot and weapons controller: with sufficient stores of oxygen, hydration and nutrition; built strong enough to handle 50,000ft altitude with the necessary pressurization equipment and protection; space to take a break (25-hour flights!) — more likely a second crew with space and stores for them; fuel to carry it all… now you’re talking a pretty big aircraft.

Take the mammals out of the equation, or at least out of the air, and the problem of extended flight at extended altitudes becomes resolvable with a much smaller (read: harder to see/kill) aircraft.

Have to wonder what happens to all the fighter jocks? Maybe they’ll find work, sooner than they thought, flying for the airlines

Pilots of remotely directed aircraft like Predator sit in comfortable chairs, flicking buttons, handling joysticks, watching screens, very much like those heroes of yesterday, and yes, today; those guys with the right stuff.

Except these new age pilots are ON THE GROUND. Often, thousands of miles away from their aircraft, insulated from all danger more immediate than carpal tunnel syndrome.

Anyone remember the movie, The Last Starfighter? Its kookie premise: alien military recruiters find likely candidates among expert shoot ’em up videogame (or the ’80s equivalent) players.

Wonder how the Air Force found the guys who fly Predators out of Nevada?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE