The Air Force and the Navy have their own little rivalry going.
Granted, United States Navy pilots are pretty good in many respects, and so are the planes, but the Air Force claims they’ve got air superiority. So when they need to buy a plane from the Navy, it’s… awkward — especially when it involves bombers, something that should be the purview of the Air Force.
Here are six of the most…notable acquisitions the Air Force ended up making from the Navy.
1. Douglas A-24 Banshee
While better known as the SBD Dauntless, the Army Air Force bought a number of these planes. Aviation historian Joe Baugher noted that some were intended to help defend the Philippines, but the outbreak of World War II saw them diverted to New Guinea. Others saw action in the Aleutians and Gilbert Islands.
2. Curtiss A-25 Shrike/Helldiver
The Army Air Force got the SB2C — the notorious “Son of a [Bleep] Second Class” — during World War II. Joe Baugher noted that the Army Air Force never even bothered using them in combat, either exporting them to the Royal Australian Air Force or handing them over to the Marine Corps for use from land bases.
3. Douglas B-66 Destroyer
When the Air Force was looking for a replacement for the A-26/B-26 Invader as a tactical bomber, they settled on a version of the Navy’s A3D Skywarrior. However, the Air Force planned to use it very differently, and so a lot of changes were made, according to Joe Baugher.
The B-66 turned out to be an ideal electronic-warfare platform. One was famous under the call-sign “Bat 21,” leading to one of the most famous — and costly — search and rescue efforts in history.
4. Lockheed RB-69A Neptune
The Air Force was looking for some planes for electronic intelligence missions around the Soviet Union and China when they settled on taking seven P-2 Neptune maritime patrol planes from the Navy, and designating them as RB-69As.
Aviation historian Joe Baugher reveals that the exact origin and ultimate fate of these planes is a mystery, probably intentionally so, given the top-secret nature of intelligence-gathering flights over China and Russia.
5. Douglas A-1 Skyraider
Joe Baugher reported that the Air Force found this classic warbird to be so suitable for the counter-insurgency mission in 1962, they took 150 A-1Es from Navy surplus. The planes were modified for dual controls.
In fact, the Air Force wanted the plane as early as 1949, but harsh inter-service rivalry (including controversy stemming from the “Revolt of the Admirals”) meant the Air Force had to wait to get this plane. It was a fixture on search-and-rescue missions during the Vietnam War.
6. Vought A-7 Corsair
This is probably one of the most successful purchases of a Navy bomber by the Air Force. As was the case with the Air Force basing the B-66 off the A3D, they made changes to the A-7.
Most notable was giving it the M61 Vulcan and a thousand rounds of ammo. Yes, the Air Force gave the A-7 the means to give bad guys the BRRRRRT! The A-7s saw action over Panama in 1989, and were even used to train F-117 pilots. The A-7D was retired in the early 1990s with the end of the Cold War.
These days, aircraft designers aren’t exactly household names. Quick, can you tell me who designed the F-22? How about the F-35? No? Don’t worry, not too many can.
Back in the day, aircraft designers were big names. Kelly Johnson of Lockheed is rightly famous for designing the SR-71 and P-38, among other planes. But only one man can say that he designed aircraft that helped avenge both Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks.
His name is Ed Heinemann, and he holds the distinction of having designed both the plane that won one of the most pivotal battles in naval history and today’s best multi-role fighter. According to the National Aviation Hall of Fame, he became the chief engineer at Douglas Aircraft Corporation’s El Segundo plant in the 1940s.
While there, he designed the A-20 Havoc and, more notably, the SBD Dauntless. The SBD is most famous for what it did in the span of roughly five minutes on the morning of June 4, 1942, about 175 miles north-northwest of Midway Atoll. In that timeframe, three Japanese aircraft carriers, the Akagi, Soryu, and Kaga, were fatally damaged by dive-bombers launched from aircraft carriers USS Enterprise (CV 6) and Yorktown (CV 5).
The SBD wasn’t all. While with Douglas Aircraft Corporation, Heinemann also designed some Cold War standbys of the United States: The A-3 Skywarrior and the A-4 Skyhawk.
Heinemann left Douglas in 1962 to join a company called General Dynamics. In the wake of the Vietnam War, that company would be one of two asked to develop a lightweight fighter for the United States Air Force that took into account lessons learned from fighting the Communists. Heinemann oversaw the project team, which would produce a multi-role fighter that would become almost as widely exported at the Skyhawk, until his retirement in 1973.
That plane, Ed Heinemann’s last aviation creation, would win the competition, and even get to star in a movie, all while becoming the backbone of the United States Air Force in Desert Storm (where it served alongside some modified A-3s) as well as the War on Terror. According to a book he co-authored on aircraft design, Ed Heinemann, in the last days of his career, oversaw the development of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Pyongyang tripled down on Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s claim that North Korea is close to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile Wednesday.
“We have reached the final stage of preparations to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile,” Kim said in his New Year’s address, adding that, “Research and development of cutting edge arms equipment is actively progressing.”
“The ICBM will be launched anytime and anywhere,” the Korean Central News Agency said Sunday, quoting a North Korean foreign ministry spokesperson.
“Just because the U.S. is located more than ten thousand kilometers away does not make the country safe,” the Rodong Sinmun, the primary publication of the ruling Worker’s Party, asserted Wednesday.
“Soon our ICBM will send the shiver down its spine,” the paper warned. “There is nothing we are afraid of. In the future, phenomenal incidents to strengthen our national defense power will take place multiple times and repeatedly.”
“We have miniaturized, lightened and diversified our nuclear weapons, and they can be loaded on various delivery systems to be launched anytime and anywhere,” the Rodong Sinmun boasted.
In response to any such theoretical action, the U.S. promises shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile “if it were coming towards our territory or the territory of our friends and allies,” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said Sunday.
“If the missile is threatening, it will be intercepted. If it’s not threatening, we won’t necessarily do so,” Carter explained Tuesday.
The effectiveness of America’s missile interception capabilities is debatable.
The U.S. has a “limited capability to defend the U.S. homeland from small numbers of simple” North Korean nuclear-tipped ICBMs, the Pentagon’s weapons testing office warned in its annual report, according to Bloomberg.
“I am very confident in the systems and procedures” the U.S. Northern Command “will employ to intercept a North Korean ICBM were they to shoot it toward our territory,” Vice Admiral James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, told reporters.
Pyongyang “has set the goal of developing miniaturized nuclear weapons that can fit atop a missile capable of reaching the U.S. by the end of 2017,” former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho told Yonhap News Agency Sunday.
“North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!” President-elect Donald Trump tweeted a day after Kim made North Korea’s ICBM ambitions clear.
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One day in 1964, TV producer Sherwood Schwartz received a strange message – from the U.S. Coast Guard. And that wasn’t the only message. Schwartz received a series of telegram forwards from the Coast Guard. He had just launched a new show on CBS about seven castaways stranded on a desert island…and Americans were demanding that the Coast Guard mount a rescue.
In a paper for the Center for Media Literacy, William F. Fore wrote that Schwartz was “mystified” by the telegrams. Concerned and delusional viewers were angry that the Coast Guard couldn’t spare one ship to send for those people.
“For several weeks, now, we have seen American citizens stranded on some Pacific island,” one viewer wrote to the Coast Guard. “We spend millions in foreign aid. Why not send one U.S. destroyer to rescue those poor people before they starve to death?”
Part of what was mystifying to the producer was the existence of a laugh track on the show.
“Who did they think was laughing at the survivors of the wreck of the U.S.S. Minnow?” Schwartz told Entertainment Weekly. “It boggled my mind. Where did they think the music came from, and the commercials?”
In his book “Inside Gilligan’s Island,” Schwartz recalled discovering the telegrams for the first time. When the show was only ten weeks old, Schwartz received a call from a Commander Doyle of the U.S. Coast Guard. Having spent time in the Army as a Corporal, Schwartz was still impressed by rank, and took the call.
Doyle told Schwartz he would tell him the important message over the phone, but he wasn’t sure the Hollywood producer would believe him. So a few days later, Doyle was in Schwartz’ office, presenting the producer with a number of envelopes containing messages, like the one above, demanding to rescue the Minnow.
The telegrams he received from Doyle stayed with Schwartz his whole life. He noted that there is a subset of people watching who believe everything they see.
“It seems to me a great opportunity for producers to accentuate the positive in those viewers,” Schwartz wrote, “Instead of inspiring the negative.”
What’s it like to take part in a modern air battle, flying some of the most sophisticated planes ever to take to the sky? We’re talking the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon here, during the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot.
The F-15 and F-16 have seen a lot of action, the vast majority of which has taken place in the Middle East. One of the most notable engagements these airframes saw was the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot. During the 1982 Israeli-Lebanon War, the Israelis were dealing with terrorist attacks from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The PLO had relocated to Lebanon shortly after wearing out its welcome in Jordan.
After a PLO assassination attempt that targetted the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, the Israelis went into Lebanon to deal with the terrorists. The thing was, the PLO was backed by Syria. So, when the Israelis went in, the Syrian Army went in to stop them. A crucial part of the Syrian strategy was to take control of the air.
This wouldn’t work out so well for the Syrians. Not only had Israelis just acquired the latest and greatest fighters from the United States, they had also acquired the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye. This radar plane was perhaps the biggest advantage for the Israelis. Ground-based radar stations have a lot of trouble seeing low-altitude planes and cruise missiles. Airborne radar, however, has much less difficulty.
Between June 9 and 10, nearly 200 fighters from both the Israeli Defense Force and the Syrian Air Force clashed over the Bekaa Valley. When the shooting had stopped, all the Israeli planes returned safely to their bases. Over 80 Syrian combat planes were not so lucky, destroyed in the ferocious air battle.
You can see what this battle was like from an Israeli pilot’s perspective in the video below. There probably aren’t very many Syrian perspectives available.
Back in the 1980s, the US supported Afghan “freedom fighters” against the Soviet Union. Those fighters later morphed into the Taliban. And now, the Russians seem to be returning the favor.
Moscow said last month it was in contact with the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, with the stated reason being that Russia was sharing information and cooperating on strategy to fight the local ISIS affiliate there, according to The Wall Street Journal. So far, cooperation apparently doesn’t involve cash or guns.
But it understandably has US commanders there spooked.
Gen. John Nicholson, the top American military commander in Afghanistan, has spoken out against Russia’s extension of an olive branch to the Taliban as offering “overt” legitimacy to a group intent on toppling the Afghan government.
Russia’s “narrative goes something like this: that the Taliban are the ones fighting Islamic State, not the Afghan government,” Nicholson said at a Pentagon briefing last month. “So this public legitimacy that Russia lends to the Taliban is not based on fact, but is used as a way to essentially undermine the Afghan government and the NATO efforts and bolster the belligerents.”
Surprisingly, even Taliban officials say the excuse of offering help to fight ISIS doesn’t add up. Two officials disputed that characterization, including the group’s spokesman, who toldReuters that “ISIS is not an issue.” In fact, both groups forged a shaky truce in August 2016 to turn their guns away from each other, and instead target US-backed Afghan forces.
“In early 2008, when Russia began supporting us, ISIS didn’t exist anywhere in the world,” one senior Taliban official told Reuters. “Their sole purpose was to strengthen us against the US and its allies.”
As the Journal reported, it’s still unclear how a Trump administration will handle Afghanistan. The situation there has steadily declined since the Obama administration ended its “combat mission” in the country in 2014, and government forces only control about two-thirds of the country now, according to Reuters.
Besides potential Russian meddling, Afghanistan is rife with political corruption and tribalism, while many civilians report to a “shadow” government run by the Taliban instead of the national one.
The Pentagon announced it was sending roughly 300 Marines back to the southern Helmand province this spring, where Marines haven’t been on patrol since leaving in 2014.
When I was speaking at a university a few years ago, a student who DJ’d at the local college radio station and had read my book asked me to come on as a guest. He had me put together a list of music I listened to in Iraq, and then interviewed me between songs. It was a really cool experience for me to revisit my deployment through music.
This isn’t limited to my time in Iraq, but is evocative of both my deployment and homecoming. Here it is:
1. Live, “Mental Jewelry”
I started listening to Live in high school and have fond memories of seeing them play. For some reason, the lyrics came into my mind often in Iraq, always making me feel a little melancholy.
2. Bad Religion, “The Process of Belief”
This album came out while I was at DLI, and I listened to it throughout the summer of 2002 while I was at AIT in Texas. Once we got to Iraq, this song in particular made me ache.
3. “Story of My Life,” Social Distortion, Social Distortion
This is one of my favorite albums. Went to see them play in Dallas the summer of 2002 – and spent the whole time feeling a little alienated from civilians. As for this particular song, I left my hometown when I was 15, and every time I’ve gone back have felt that weird sensation of my old neighborhood not being the same. That got even stronger after I joined the Army. I like how this song captures a particular feeling of frustration.
4. “So What,” Ministry, The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste
I was angry as a teenager, and spent a lot of time angry while I was in the Army, too. This is a great song to be really pissed off to. (Random aside: I saw the movie this song has samples from on Mystery Science Theater 3000 once, which was awesome. It’s totally absurd, you should check it out: The Violent Years.)
5. “Holiday in Cambodia,” Dead Kennedys
So there isn’t a lot of DK on Spotify that I could find. The song I wanted to put was “Life Sentence” (the lyrics “you don’t do what you want to but you do the same thing every day” could describe half my time in the Army!), but this is a good one, too. Fits in with the theme of anger.
6. “Jaded,” Operation Ivy,” Operation Ivy
As angry as I got, I never gave up those hopeful kernels, and still clung to that conviction that I could make the world a better place. “Sound System” is another good one off that album, about how music can bring you back up when you feel shitty.
7. “Cactus,” Pixies, Surfer Rosa
I have no idea why this particular Pixies song is the one that I got totally fixated on in Iraq. The mention of the desert? Who knows.
8. “Then She Did,” Jane’s Addiction, Ritual De Lo Habitual
When I was younger and, um, enjoyed experimenting with mind-altering substances, the song “Three Days” was what I loved the most – it took me on this whole mental odyssey. But in Iraq I fell in love with this one, a more reserved and introspective one.
9. “In the Arms of Sleep,” The Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
I would listen to this one over and over and over in Iraq, longing to … be there, have those feelings.
10. “I Know, Huh?,” The Vandals, Hitler Bad, Vandals Good
This reminds me of the giddy, heady, happy days of being just home from Iraq, before the bad parts of reintegration kicked in. I have memories of driving around with Zoe singing along with this, being goofy and ridiculous.
11. “8 Mile,” Eminem, 8 Mile
When things started to get really shitty, I would listen to this song (oh, so cheesy! I know!) and tell myself I could push on for just a little longer and couldn’t give up.
The Army is officially closing down the last of its long-range surveillance companies with the three active duty units slated for closures in January and the four National Guard companies shutting down in 2018.
The move comes amid changing Army priorities and a series of computer simulations that decided the units were high-risk, low-reward.
This is the second time the Army has deactivated all of its company-sized, long-range reconnaissance units. It previously removed LRRP companies in 1974 before bringing them back as LRS units in 1981.
According to a Stars and Stripes article, the current deactivations came after Total Army Analysis computer models said that LRS units weren’t in high demand by command teams.
But not everyone is happy with the Army’s decision.
Retired Army Special Forces Brig. Gen. John Scales protested an earlier LRS drawdown when he found that computer models claiming that LRS units were at high risk in combat were improperly written. The model unrealistically assumed that any infantry unit that spotted the enemy would engage that enemy force, pitting six-man LRS teams against entire enemy formations.
While the new assessments use different coding that Scales was not privy to, he has voiced concerns that getting rid of LRS units isn’t the best idea.
Scales told the Stars and Stripes about the current LRS drawdowns that, “I worry based on my experience with the model that [long-range surveillance units are] getting shortchanged, and the Army is getting shortchanged.”
This isn’t the first time that the Army has tackled this question, and an earlier batch of LRS deactivations that also resulted from a Total Army Analysis were done against the protest of ground commanders.
The decision to deactivate these intelligence collection units was not based on a change of doctrine or a change in the mission requirements for LRS. The decisions were not made by one of the two proponents of LRS in order to protect another unit or asset. Quite the contrary, both proponents recognize the importance of HUMINT on the battlefield and support LRS employment and training. As discussed in chapter two, the decision to deactivate all heavy division LRSDs and two of four LRSCs was made over the objection of both proponents and units, by the office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations as a result of the Total Army Analysis (TAA) process. Consequently, under the current force structure, there are not adequate numbers of LRS units to effectively execute the potential future missions the Army will face.
While satellites and drones can cheaply provide detailed imagery in an open desert, they struggle to watch the movements of enemy forces through heavily forested and urban areas like those troops would face in a war with China or Russia where enemy units could be dispersed under cover and camouflage.
This is something that Eastern Europe armies know well, leading them to invest in the types of reconnaissance units that the U.S. Army is backing away from.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Army got rid of its dedicated long-range reconnaissance companies. In 1974, it deactivated the last of the old Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol companies. Just four years later, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, Lt. Gen. Edward C. Meyer, ordered a classified study to ascertain, among other things, who could conduct the LRRP mission moving forward.
By 1979, the Army was writing doctrine for the new “Long-Range Surveillance Units” which were nearly identical to the extinct LRRP companies. But some division commanders saw the need for human eyes on the battlefield as too vital to wait for Department of the Army.
The 9th and 3rd infantry divisions and the 82nd Airborne Division all stood up LRRP units to provide critical intelligence to battlefield commanders. The 82nd divisional LRRP platoon was deployed to Operation Urgent Fury.
Operational commanders may find that they have to again construct their own long-range surveillance units if they still want the capability. The last of the LRS companies are scheduled to deactivate in August 2018.
The US Marine Corps just set forth its vision of a battle plan to take on growing threats around the world — and it calls for small “Lightning carriers” armed to the teeth with F-35s.
The 2017 Marine Aviation Plan acknowledges the burgeoning “missile gap” between the US and adversaries like China, who have a number of “carrier killers” — long-range precision weapons specifically designed to hit land bases and aircraft carriers before they can hit back.
While the US Navy is working on the MQ-25A Stingray as an unmanned refueling system to extend the range of its carrier aircraft, the Marines seem ready to press ahead with a similar concept in “Lightning carriers.”
Basically, the Marines will already have enough F-35Bs to equip several of their smaller amphibious assault ships, sometimes known as helicopter carriers, while the Navy waits on their F-35Cs to sort out carrier-launch issues for its larger, Nimitz-class carriers.
“While the amphibious assault ship will never replace the aircraft carrier, it can be complementary, if employed in imaginative ways,” reads the plan. The Marines refer to one such creative use of the smaller carriers as a “Lightning carrier,” or an amphibious assault ship with 20 F-35Bs and an “embarked, organic aerial refueling capability” to extend their range.
The Marines plan to further reduce reliance on land and sea bases with “mobile forward arming and refueling points” that employ decoys and deception to confuse the enemy and keep US aircraft spread out and unpredictable.
The F-35B with its stealth, unparalleled intelligence gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, plus extended range, can match the long range missiles fielded by Russia and China and help the Marines secure land and sea bases by allowing them to see first, and if need be, shoot first.
Additionally, the F-35 won’t just increase capabilities, but if acquired faster to replace the aging F-18s and Harriers in the Marines’ fleet, it could save $1 billion, according to the US Naval Institute.
But the Marines aren’t just waiting on the F-35B to save them. The service has big plans to network every single platform into a “sensor, shooter, electronic warfare node and sharer – able to move information throughout the spectrum and across the battlefield at light speed.”
With upgraded data sharing and command and control abilities, every asset from boots on the ground to satellites in the sky will work together to provide decision-quality information to war fighters, whether they’re on carriers, land bases, or taking a beach.
While China cements its land and sea grab with militarized islands in the South China Sea, the Marines’ aviation plan takes on a new urgency. The plan details how the first F-35B squadrons will deploy to Japan and the US’s West Coast.
More than seven decades after the start of World War II, Germany and Japan have begun to rearm.
These days, the countries are two of America’s closest allies. But they can’t singlehandedly project military power outside of their own borders.
In fact, the building of an offensive army is prohibited by the post-WWII constitutions of both Germany and Japan. And when the Cold War ended, it took a lot of the emphasis on building a strong military away from those vanquished nations.
There just wasn’t an enemy to fight that rivaled the threat posed by the Soviet Union.
The rise of transnational terrorism sparked renewed efforts in developing Germany and Japan’s defense capabilities. The two countries’ defensive posture was designed around limited self-defense capabilities.
The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 after the terror attacks on Sept. 11 was the first time NATO allies rallied and mobilized for mutual offensive action. Now, the threat of ISIS has made the need for an expanded military capacity even more pressing.
The name rings bells. It’s got the glitz, having been the subject of two different Hollywood films complete with big-name Hollywood actors such as Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Michael B. Jordan, and Terrence Howard. That is wonderful and, I’m sure, absolutely appreciated by the surviving members and their family. There are some things that may not immediately pop out but are, nonetheless, extremely interesting.
The Tuskegee Airmen were one of the most accomplished groups of service members of any generation, but most can’t tell you why their name is so revered. Below are some of the most praiseworthy feats ever accomplished.
One of the first defenders of the Tuskegee Airmen
(Image courtesy of OnThisDay.com)
Supreme Court Thurgood Marshall? Yes, that Thurgood Marshall. Before you go off saying he wasn’t a Tuskegee Airmen, you have to consider his tie to them. While he was a young lawyer, he represented 100 black officers who were charged with mutiny after entering a club that was then considered off-limits to them.
He would eventually get them all released.
The photo that opened many doors.
(Image courtesy of RedTail.org)
The Tuskegee Airmen came to during an age of segregated America. While the Tuskegee Airmen, or the Tuskegee experiment as it was then known, was great it still lacked the prerequisite respect and support.
It wasn’t until a visit from FLOTUS Eleanor Roosevelt that support would begin to flow in. Photo and film from a flight around the field would be the push needed to get the support to really come in.
Lieutenant General Benjamin O. Davis Jr.
(Image courtesy of AF.mil)
Three different members, or graduates, of the Tuskegee experiment, went on to become Generals. The first was Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. He was the first commander of the 332nd Fighter Group and the first Black General of the U.S. Air Force.
Daniel “Chapple” James was appointed brigadier general by Richard Nixon and also went on to become a General. The last, Lucius Theus, would retire at the rank of Major General after a 36-year career.
Batting a thousand..
The Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 700 bomber escort missions during World War II. They wound up being the only fighter group to achieve and maintain a perfect record protecting bombers.
A news broadcaster affiliated with the terrorist group ISIS has released an Android app that teaches children the Arabic alphabet — and it’s full of references to weapons and jihad.
Al Bayan Radio, which broadcasts ISIS propaganda on radio waves in the Middle East and through its Android apps, made the app available to supporters on the encrypted messaging app Telegram and other platforms ISIS commonly uses. The app isn’t available on the Google Play store, but can be accessed through files shared online.
This app is the latest step in Al Bayan’s expansion — the radio network broadcasts on FM frequencies in the Middle East, but has also recently released other Android apps and Telegram channels that distribute its propaganda to a wider audience.
The app has games for memorizing and how to write the Arabic letters in addition to including a nasheed (a cappella Islamic songs) designed to help teach the alphabet. The lyrics in the nasheed are littered with jihadist terminology, while other games within the app also include militaristic vocabulary with more common, basic words. Words like ‘tank,’ ‘gun,’ and ‘rocket’ are among the first few taught within the application.
The site took posted these screenshots from the app:
The website noted that this is ISIS’ first app, however, aimed exclusively at children.
But it’s far from the only example of ISIS (which is also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh) trying to indoctrinate children under the pretense of educating them.
The group has also released textbooks that teach various subjects using weapons and other terrorist motifs.
Children have also featured prominently in photos and videos that ISIS has distributed through its various propaganda networks. They are shown at training camps and in schools, leading experts to worry that children living in ISIS territory are being indoctrinated with terrorist ideology at a young age, which could be difficult to reverse whenever ISIS is defeated.
The Air Force Chief Scientist said F-35 pilots will be able to control a small group of drones flying nearby from the aircraft cockpit in the air, performing sensing, reconnaissance and targeting functions.
At the moment, the flight path, sensor payload and weapons disposal of airborne drones such as Air Force Predators and Reapers are coordinated from ground control stations.
In the future, drones may be fully operated from the cockpit of advanced fighter jets such as the Joint Strike Fighter or F-22, Air Force Chief Scientist Greg Zacharias told Scout Warrior in an interview.
“The more autonomy and intelligence you can put on these vehicles, the more useful they will become,” he said.
This development could greatly enhance mission scope, flexibility and effectiveness by enabling a fighter jet to conduct a mission with more weapons, sensors, targeting technology and cargo, Zacharias explained.
For instance, real-time video feeds from the electro-optical/infrared sensors on board an Air Force Predator, Reaper or Global Hawk drone could go directly into an F-35 cockpit, without needing to go to a ground control station. This could speed up targeting and tactical input from drones on reconnaisance missions in the vicinity of where a fighter pilot might want to attack. In fast-moving combat circumstances involving both air-to-air and air-to-ground threats, increased speed could make a large difference.
“It’s almost inevitable people will be saying – I want more missiles on board to get through defenses or I need some EW (electronic warfare) countermeasures because I don’t have the payload to carry a super big pod,” he explained. “A high powered microwave may have some potential that will require a dedicated platform. The negative side is you have to watch out that you don’t overload the pilot,” Zacharias added.
In addition, drones could be programmed to fly into heavily defended or high-risk areas ahead of manned-fighter jets in order to assess enemy air defenses and reduce risk to pilots.
“Decision aides will be in cockpit or on the ground and more platform oriented autonomous systems. A wing-man, for instance, might be carrying extra weapons, conduct ISR tasks or help to defend an area,” he said.
Advances in computer power, processing speed and areas referred to as “artificial intelligence” are rapidly changing the scope of what platforms are able to perform without needing human intervention. This is mostly developing in the form of what Zacharias referred to as “decision aide support,” meaning machines will be able to better interpret, organize, analyze and communicate information to a much greater extent – without have humans manage each individual task.
“A person comes in and does command and control while having a drone execute functions. The resource allocation will be done by humans,” Zacharias said.
The early phases of this kind of technology is already operational in the F-35 cockpit through what is called “sensor-fusion.” This allows the avionics technology and aircraft computer to simultaneously organize incoming information for a variety of different sensors – and display the data on a single integrated screen for the pilot. As a result, a pilot does not have the challenge of looking at multiple screens to view digital map displays, targeting information or sensory input, among other things.
Another advantage of these technological advances is that one human may have an ability to control multiple drones and perform a command and control function – while drones execute various tasks such as sensor functions, targeting, weapons transport or electronic warfare activities.
At the moment, multiple humans are often needed to control a single drone, and new algorithms increasing autonomy for drones could greatly change this ratio. Zacharias explained a potential future scenario wherein one human is able to control 10 – or even 100 – drones.
Algorithms could progress to the point where a drone, such as a Predator or a Reaper, might be able to follow a fighter aircraft by itself – without needing its flight path navigated from human direction from the ground.
Unlike ground robotics wherein autonomy algorithms have to contend with an ability to move quickly in relation to unanticipated developments and other moving objects, simple autonomous flight guidance from the air is much more manageable to accomplish.
Since there are often fewer obstacles in the air compared with the ground, drones above the ground can be programmed more easily to fly toward certain pre-determined locations, often called a “way-points.”
At the same time, unanticipated movements, objects or combat circumstances can easily occur in the skies as well, Zacharias said.
“The hardest thing is ground robotics. I think that is really tough. I think the air basically is today effectively a solved problem. The question is what happens when you have to react more to your environment and a threat is coming after you,” he said.
As a result, scientists are now working on advancing autonomy to the point where a drone can, for example, be programmed to spoof a radar system, see where threats are and more quickly identify targets independently.
“We will get beyond simple guidance and control and will get into tactics and execution,” Zacharias added.
Wargames, exercises and simulations are one of the ways the Air Force is working to advance autonomous technologies.
“Right now we are using lots of bandwidth to send our real-time video. One of the things that we have is a smarter on-board processor. These systems can learn over time and be a force multiplier. There’s plenty of opportunity to go beyond the code base of an original designer and work on a greater ability to sense your environment or sense what your teammate might be telling you as a human,” he said.
For example, with advances in computer technology, autonomy and artificial intelligence, drones will be able to stay above a certain area and identify particular identified relevant objects or targets at certain times, without needing a human operator, Zacharias added.
This is particularly relevant because the exorbitant amount of ISR video feeds collected needs organizing algorithms and technology to help process and sift through the vast volumes of gathered footage – in order to pinpoint and communicate what is tactically relevant.
“With image processing and pattern recognition, you could just send a signal instead of using up all this bandwidth saying ‘hey I just saw something 30-seconds ago you might want to look at the video feed I am sending right now,'” he explained.
The Army has advanced manned-unmanned teaming technology in its helicopter fleet –successfully engineering Apache and Kiowa air crews to control UAS flight paths and sensor payloads from the air in the cockpit. Army officials say this technology has yielded successful combat results in Afghanistan.
Senior Air Force leaders have said that the services’ new next-generation bomber program, Long Range Strike Bomber or LRS-B, will be engineered to fly manned and unmanned missions.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has said that the service’s carrier-launched F-35C will be the last manned fighter produced, given the progress of autonomy and algorithms allowing for rapid maneuvering. The Air Force, however, has not said something similar despite the service’s obvious continued interest in further developing autonomy and unmanned flight.
Also, in September of 2013, the Air Force and Boeing flew an unmanned F-16 Falcon at supersonic speeds for the first time at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The unmanned fighter was able to launch, maneuver and return to base without a pilot.
At the same time, despite the speed at which unmanned technology is progressing, many scientist and weapons’ developers are of the view that human pilots will still be needed – given the speed at which the human brain can quickly respond to unanticipated developments.
There is often a two-second long lag time before a UAS in the air can respond to or implement directions from a remote pilot in a ground station, a circumstance which underscores the need for manned pilots when it comes to fighter jets, Air Force officials said.
Therefore, while cargo planes or bombers with less of a need to maneuver in the skies might be more easily able to embrace autonomous flight – fighter jets will still greatly benefit from human piloting, Air Force scientists have said.
While computer processing speed and algorithms continue to evolve at an alarming pace, it still remains difficult to engineer a machine able to instantly respond to other moving objects or emerging circumstances, Air Force scientists have argued.
However, sensor technology is progressing quickly to the point where fighter pilots will increasingly be able to identify threats at much greater distances, therefore remove the need to dogfight. As a result, there may be room for an unmanned fighter jet in the not-too-distant future, given the pace of improving autonomous technology.