Tags: drone warfare, Ray Mabus, UAV
As the human hand moves further from the throttle and tiller, the nervousness of leadership is unavoidable. Although drones are integral to ISR, OTH strike, and explosives disposal, they remain a force multiplier, never the force. It is an important step beyond that trepidation for the Secretary of the Navy to have illustrated in clear terms the inevitability of unmanned and automated drones’ frontline future in his article, “The Future Has Arrived.”
The key concept change is the discussion of drones as a force that “put[s] fewer sailors and marines in harms’ way, and… push[es] the area of potential action even further from the decks of our ships” particularly from carrier bases. This puts drones on the front lines of America’s on-demand forward deployed forces. The subtle tip of the cap to truly automated platforms is the statement that, “unmanned carrier aircraft do not require flights to maintain pilot proficiency.” Even remote pilots need to “fly” remote aircraft to maintain proficiency. However, automated platforms do not. To mince the point, the Secretary is a bit optimistic. Yes, flight requirements will be far lower. However, drones will ultimately still have to be flown to test the limits of programming and for those programs to learn. Otherwise, we use programming that is too rigid for tactical evasion or air-to-air engagement. That said, the general concept is sound, Drones will become our defense-in-depth, fighting at the front rather than the fringe.
Some might claim Secretary Mabus’ optimism is too early; the XB-47 has failed 50% of its attempts at landing. However, the fact it can be done is more important than the technical setbacks in regularity. The Secretary doesn’t declare policy implementation today, but rather its inevitability tomorrow.
“Not only will the future carrier air wing be more combat effective, they will cost less to build, and less expensive airframes mean we can build more and use them differently, like developing swarm tactics and performing maneuvers that require more g-force than a human body can withstand.”
“Will,” not, “may.” Certainty is a change from the tone of possibility and trepidation that has typically colors official discussions of drone technology since Harry Crumpton and the CIA wanted to mount a missile on Predator. From firearms to flight, technical difficulties do not dismiss the next big thing. Hopefully with greater support at the very top, military leadership will get more comfortable with what Secretary Mabus calls, “the winning argument.”