Thursday, September 29, 2011

Are Drones replacing our Aces?

In recent years, the advancement of computers has led to technological innovations in all industries, particularly the defense industries. The manufacturing of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, has grown dramatically and leading to a new version of warfare where the soldier is staring at a screen selecting targets for the drone to eliminate. The growth of UAVs has led to a major change in the function of modern fighter aircraft because the risk of losing a $20 million UAV is better than an $89 million state-of-the-art aircraft and a trained pilot as well. For the last 100 years of aerial warfare, manned aircraft have been the only competitors, and now advancements in technology have led to the decrease in demand for manned fighter jets. Advancements in aviation technology have led to "generations" of fighter aircraft which have adapted to the ever-changing battlefield. Over 30 years, 33 Fourth generation fighters have been manufactured worldwide (averaging about 1 new aircraft a year!). However, in the last 10 years, only 8 designs have been introduced. Of those 8, only 4 aircraft have been produced worldwide (averaging about 1 new aircraft every 2 years). This change in production of aircraft has changed from the change in demand for manned fighter aircraft. In contrast, over 30 military UAVs have been produced or are in production in the last 20 years in the USA alone! In conclusion, the evolution of technology has led to a decrease in the production of manned fighter aircraft because of the demand for the aircraft to become smarter as well as the growth of the UAV industry. While manned fighter production is on the decline, it will not be lost completely to the UAVs.


Victor L said...

Why will the UAVs not replace all our planes. Manually flown planes are on the down turn. More and more money and resources are being moved out of airplanes and into UAVs. UAVs are the logical tactical and economical choice. They cost less to build and even less to train pilots. The UAV is replacing the manual flown airplane.

Ian Marks said...

Victor, UAVs are currently limited by computer storage and processing. Until an adaptive Artificial Intelligence can be created that is self-aware, humans are the best computers. While I understand how UAVs will replace pilots, there will still be squadrons of manually flown aircraft.

Your point about how UAVs will dominate the fighter aircraft market is true, but the UAV will likely never eliminate manned fighters. While sounding cliche, computers will stay true and follow their program, even if the mission changes. Human pilots are able to adapt well to combat scenarios and know when to fire on a target. With a fighter pilot, he/she wouldn't destroy a school. With a computer, it would not consider the morality and would execute its mission.