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23 comments

UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

Posted October 16, 2010 8:01 AM

The U.S. military is now training more personnel to operate remote-controlled UAVs than conventional aircraft pilots. Using remote-controlled UAVs in place of conventional aircraft not only saves lives, but is also less expensive in terms of initial cost, fuel, and maintenance. With that in mind, what percentage of conventional aircraft do you think could be replaced with UAVs?

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#1

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/16/2010 11:39 AM

Right now UAVs are not actively engaged in air superiority roles (SEAD), so no change there for now.

However, these things will change over time. UAVs already are taking on the roles of the U2 and act as platforms for air to ground missiles. More aircraft are being developed for air combat roles.

This will take time (decades), but more and more missions will be assigned to UAVs and autonomous vehicles as time and weapons platforms are developed and tested.

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#2

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/16/2010 11:28 PM

Perhaps it would be interesting to see some robotic aerial dogfits between uav's, similar to the 'robot wars' on tv.

that would inform and evolve designs.

Chris

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/17/2010 10:36 AM

Dull, dull, dull. From a spectator's viewpoint it would be as dull as watching paint dry.

Most engagements are BVR (Beyond Visible Range). Radar locks a target and dispenses a missile at it long before either aircraft can be seen visually.

The day of the "Dogfight" is long, long gone. I don't know when the last tactical engagement using guns was used, but it probably was before you were born.

Pilots still train for the maneuver, but guns are almost exclusively used for engaging ground targets.

Modern day engagements are done on the MFD by pointing and selecting the targets you want to engage and the firing order. The aircraft then launches those missiles and the pilot then disengages from the fight (Fire and Forget) to perform the next engagement or duty. In some cases those engagements are over the horizon. Yes, we have over the horizon radar now days. So, the aircraft with the better radar and missile wins. This is why reducing radar signature (stealth) is so important and why developing better radar is also important as a counter move.

The F-22, for example, can not only use its own radar to lock a target, but can use radar data from other aircraft (or even multiple aircraft) to engage a target. All you need to do is get within missile range.

For that matter, air to air combat is almost unheard of. The US Air Force is second to none and so powerful that typically no enemy aircraft gets off the runway (unless it is fleeing). Aircraft are used for close air support of ground forces and patrol missions.

This is why the UAV is doing so well in these roles. They patrol at altitudes that make them invisible to ground forces, loiter for extremely long periods of time, and relay real-time battlefield logistics to troops.

Special Forces troops and CIA operatives on the ground are used to select and paint specific targets on the ground for those UAVs that have missiles.

The only aerial dog fights that take place anymore are done with RC planes. The aircraft trail a ribbon behind them and the two pilots try to chop off some of the opponent's ribbon with their prop. This constitutes a "kill" in the game. You would probably enjoy watching that or maybe you would even enjoy getting into the sport yourself. Fun, fun, fun. ;-)

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#4
In reply to #3

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/17/2010 4:09 PM

True; the USAF is second to none.

BVR is the desired way to go, if you can.

That said, may I remind you of the lesson learned from the first production runs of the F4 Phantom. They were built with out a gun.

The thought of the day was "the dogfight is over". This was not the first time that this idea came into the flavour of the year.

What was learned in Vietnam, was the opposite. Pilots were not allowed to fire until they had visual confirmation. At that point missiles were useless (they were too close). The solution was too equip the planes with a 20mm Vulcan cannon in a pod slung off of the aircraft. Later runs of the F4 included a canon built into the fuselage. Missiles are great for long or intermediate range (If they worked), but at close range they were ineffective.

To this date; all tactical fighters are equipped with a cannon.

If your opponent dives down to the deck, the ground clutter will make the odds of a sure missile hit unlikely. There always has to be an option "B". That is were the cannon comes into play again.

As for engaging enemy ground targets. It is done either by a laser guided bomb,dropped from a safe altitude (in the case of a multi million dollar aircraft) or dedicated ground pounders, like the A10 Warthog or the Apache Helicopter, they are meant to take that kind of pain.

The newest multi million dollar fighters are not designed for in close air support, unless they are dropping ordnance from a high altitude.

Even that, is not as good as it can be. Yes they can drop a pickle in to the barrel. The problem is; who's barrel? Friendly fire is still a problem. These aircraft are meant to be"Air Superiority" fighters first. Yes they can do ground run,s but they are not meant to.

Air to Air combat has been and always will be a possibility in any conflict.

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#6
In reply to #4

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/17/2010 5:17 PM

First, the gun dogfight is, for all intents and purposes, over. There may be that one rare kill using guns air to air, but it would be a very unusual situation. The HUD (or helmet mounted display) still supports the gun, although. The F4 is way behind the times. Things have changed radically.

The reason all aircraft fighters are equipped with a cannon (gun) is for air to ground. That is a useful function.

You wrote, "If your opponent dives down to the deck, the ground clutter will make the odds of a sure missile hit unlikely."

Again, you are thinking of yesterday's technology. The probability of kill for modern missiles is very close to 100% when engaged within their range. The actual performance is kept secret.

How do I know all this? Simple, I am in the business of training fighter and UAV pilots. Look closely at my avatar. That's me holding one of our legacy products for the F-16, the F-16 side stick. Just completed another UAV training station today that will ship Monday.

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#8
In reply to #4

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/17/2010 7:51 PM

"The newest multi million dollar fighters are not designed for in close air support, unless they are dropping ordnance from a high altitude."

I don't know where you are getting this information, but the F-35 is designed for CAS. It is called a modern multi-role fighter.

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#5
In reply to #3

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/17/2010 4:28 PM

I agree that missiles are top of the weapons list... for now... (although there are f15 pilots who not agreeing, even though they are being phased out)

I was speaking of a scenario similar to rc aircraft... but actually robotic, and armed with guns of various sorts, and actually dogfighting, with the traditional gun cameras rolling...

missiles are not perfect... and they are inertial objects... it is possible to make vehicles that can avoid them, even if detected. and then there is always the phalanx gun solution, as employed by warships

still, you are largely correct. ga.

Chris

ps.. I'm working my way up to being an rc pilot. I have a realflight simulator g5... and you can do some gun stuff online. kinda fun. (if you don't mind dying a lot at the hands of experts)

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#7

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/17/2010 7:08 PM

If we don't have a UAV dogfight capability then others will work very hard to try to find ways to take advantage of our weakness. Therefore, it is very important that we have UAV dogfights, even if they only occur in training.

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#9

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/18/2010 10:28 AM

The answer to the USAF's superiority is overwhelming numbers. When our pilots shoot off all their missiles, they're gonna need guns. Granted, we don't have an enemy capable of that yet, but if we forget how to dogfight it'll suck when such an enemy arises.

UAV dogfights would be pretty cool to watch. A UAV designed for air combat maneuvering would be able to pull 20g's or more, would be lighter, smaller and quicker than the most nimble F-16 or F-22.

If I were 20 years old again (and could hear normally), I'd be psyched to train as a Predator pilot.

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#10

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/19/2010 10:51 AM

There will always be a need for guns on a fighter to engage the enemy's fighter in a dogfight. No missile is perfect and even fighters of today carry a limited amount of them, so after you've expended your missiles then there's the real possibility of going to guns to nail the other guy.

I disagree with the statement that guns on fighter are only needed for air-to-ground, or close air support mission.

For instance, I believe the last time "guns" were used by an American pilot was during Desert Storm (Persian Gulf War) engaged and shot down an Iraqi helicopter.....the snap-shot to fire an AIM-9 Sidewinder was too tight for the pilot in this instance and he had to resort to using his AGU-8 Avenger 30mm gatling gun.

The need for fighters to carry and use guns in a dogfight has and always be needed because there are instances where missiles just cannot be used...

The mention of the early F-4 Phanton II fighters (F-4B through F-4D) by another poster as not being equipped with the M-61 Vulcan cannon was spot on. The failure of having the gun in in the early F-4's during Viet Nam cost the US many pilots, and not until its inclusion in the F-4E airframe did the tide of air-to-air kill ratio improve against the NVAF. Using missiles during a dogfight was luck at best because that generation of Sidewinders and Sparrow missiles had a dismal track record for tracking as wells as many tecnical failures. Luckily for the US, the USN still had fighter aircraft during that war that carried guns...the Vought Chance F-8 Crusader and the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk.....and the records show that the kill ratio was much better then that of the USAF's.

Even in this day and age of high tech advanced A-A missiles and "look down shoot down " pulse doppler radar, a fighter pilot will be hard pressed to obtain a solid "lock- on" due to the ground clutter, so guns are going to be needed.

Also, how do you "force" down another airplane that has wandered into the CONUS airspace or a restricted airspace or an airplane that is a suspected drug smuggler with no FF transponder signal? You, as the intercepting fighter pilot wound be hard pressed to fire off a missile (way too expensive), but you can resort to shooting your guns across the other guys nose to get his attention!

Just adding my two Cents worth...

Signed CaptMoosie

Brother of a former F-16C Fighting Falcon pilot (NJANG -- "The Jersey Devils")

ps: For those who don't know this, but recently the 174th Fighter Wing "Boys from Syracuse" transitioned from F-16C's to UAVs. I don't think this was a good move on the part of the USAF and the NYANG, as the "Boys" were one of the most highly capable unit in the CAS role, and that includes the USAF, the AF Reserve and the ANG.....such a waste of real talent!

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#11
In reply to #10

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/19/2010 12:08 PM

The instance you are citing is for an A10 aircraft, which is not a fighter aircraft.

To clarify what I stated before, manned fighter aircraft still have guns, but they are not typically used for air-to-air dogfights. That doesn't mean that pilots are not taught how to use them, but the likelihood of using them is slim to none.

Things have changed quite a bit since Vietnam and Gulf War I. You won't see guns on UAVs either and it isn't practical for a UAV to engage in a dogfight when the pilots are sitting in Arizona. The time lag alone would prohibit it.

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#12

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/19/2010 4:24 PM

Anon. Hero, granted that the A-10 Warthog isn't a fighter. It's an Attack Aircraft purpose built for ground support and killing tanks. I've personally have seen in actual combat what the Hog is capable of doing after having had to call-in a CAS strike on Iraqi Republican Guard positions during GW I. Back then I was the CO of a Reinforced Engineering Company.

My point is that I brought up the A-10 engagement to point out that a fighter pilot may not always have the option to go to missiles (and instead used guns) due to the actual dynamics of the furball. It's damn foolish of military planners and think tanks to even contemplate leaving the gun option out of fighters, nor do I think it's prudent to rely on entirely on UAV's in the future. UAV's have their place, but will never replace the human being at the controls of a fighter.

===CaptMoosie

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#14
In reply to #12

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/19/2010 7:02 PM

First, Thank You for your Service, Sir!

The A10 is an awesome bird. Pilots love that canon.

I know of a GW I F-16 driver and his squadron (421st) that used guns on enemy ground columns. They just set up kill boxes and worked them for as long as they could until the end of hostilities. Not aware of any air to air gun engagements, but the only enemy aircraft flying were heading for Iran if they could make it.

I agree that it would be hard to see removing all pilots from aircraft. However, there are autonomous fighter aircraft on the "drawing board" and undergoing some testing. The autonomy is needed to be able to react real time to the situation, but there will always be a ground pilot in the loop.

Oddly, now that the F-22 program got cut short we are suddenly getting inundated with orders for flight controls from all different places. That is truly an amazing aircraft... And yes, it has guns. ;-)

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#16
In reply to #14

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/20/2010 9:40 AM

Anon. Hero, You're very welcome.

Yes, the A-10 is one awesome weapons platform, and thank God we had it in the Gulf and afterwards....those A-10 pilots surely saved my "bacon" and those of my troops back during DS. Whenever I run into an old A-10 pilot I always buy them a drink if they have the time (mainly in base O-Clubs and VFW halls). I'm still looking for the pilots from the 23rd TFW that provided us with CAS on one particular day when we were taking an Iraqi airfield in SE Iraq during the "Hail Mary Play" of the ground offensive (by the 18th Airborne Corp.). Ditto with finding records for some F-16 drivers that followed suit that fateful day, but I don't know what Sqn./Wing they were from. That sort of info (records) is extremely hard to come by from the USAF due to "National Security" red tape....oh well....

Being an Engineering Company, we were tasked with removal on unexpended ordinance from trashed Iraqi armor and other softer vehicles. I can attest to what damage a 30mm DU round from the A-10 Avenger Gatling gun can do to a tank (or anything else) ...in through one side of the turret and out the opposite side. Like punching a hot ice pick through soft butter. Nothing inside the tank survives the resulting plasma jet, and yes the results on the crew are catastrophic and grotesque.

Too bad that the Congress canned the F-22 Raptor program prematurely. It's one fantastic a/c and we definitely need more of them, especially in light that the Russians and more notably the Red Chinese have embarked on their own copies of the Raptor. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a real life F-22 Raptor from the Fighting First at an airshow or in the air anywhere. Maybe someday.

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#19
In reply to #16

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/20/2010 11:49 AM

Dayton Air Force Museum (The largest in the world) has the YF-22 sitting on display and is the place to go. You can walk right up to it, just like the SR-71 and countless other aircraft they have there.

When I was living in Dayton I used to frequently visit that museum.

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#21
In reply to #19

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/20/2010 7:27 PM

I've been to the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB twice before, but that was before they received the YF-22A. Since the last time I was there (1997) I'm sure they've added a whole host of A/C and other displays. Love the place and could spend months there!

I was fairly lucky to have a 1st cousin that lived down in Cincinatti. who brought me there to the museum along with my father. Cousin is a former CO of the 178th TFW (OHANG) based in Springfield OH. And since Cous visited the mumeum quite often doring research for a book he was writing he also knew the museum curator personally, so we got a private tour of the back rooms where they restored the aircraft. Truly awesome! What really made my day was when he announced one morning (the day after the Dayton Intl. Airshow) that I was going up in a F-16D with him......after undergoing a whole lot of training and medical exams that seemed to take forever I finally got my wish.....an awesome ride of a lifetime!!! I'll admit thatI lost my cookies at least 4 times. I sure doesn't help to be hung over! Cous is an evil man as he's the one that drag us to the nearby Hooters and got me plastered on Captain Morgan & Cokes the night before the hop!!! I've been up in a B-17G, a B-25J Mitchell, an Avro Lanacaster, and a P-51D Mustang, but none of those rides came even close!

It sure pays to be a longtime member (and volunteer) of the now-disbanded National Warplane Museum (Geneseo and Elmira NY), as well as a friend of a Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum member (my best man!).

Now if only I could get a backseat ride in a F-15E Strike Eagle!!!! ***EVIL GRINZ***

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#22
In reply to #21

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/20/2010 8:28 PM

That museum has just about doubled in size now. The added a whole new building and the place is packed.

Great on snagging that F-16 ride!

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#23
In reply to #22

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/20/2010 9:43 PM

Well I'm going to have to make a special trip out to Dayton to see what's inside that new museum building! Yaaahhhhooooooo here I come!

Yeah, the '16 ride was better than any roller coaster ride, ever! I thank my lucky stars that my cousin had enough pull to work (& w/ favors) called for about 6 months through all the red tape to get me into that cockpit! You'd think that my brother, also a F-16 pilot would have done the same, but even as a Lt. Col. he didn't have the resources or cash in some favors...oh well. At least I have done it once and lived a dream. I even got to play with the HOTAS and fly the beastie some! Good thing I had enough practice (well, sort of) flying my "Falcon" flight sim on the PC for a bunch of years! Of course it's not quite the same pulling real G's....never got past 5.5 Gs awake, even using the "grunting manuveur" to force the blood into these feeble brain cells.

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#13

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/19/2010 5:26 PM

off topic... I recently acquired a very interesting 1952/53 Jane's All The World's Aircraft book. It even smells a bit like 1952... anybody have any idea what it is worth?

chris

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#15
In reply to #13

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/20/2010 9:16 AM

Chris, I haven't a clue what it's worth, but I dare say that it's probably worth more than what it was originally purchased for back in '52/'53?

I envy you for finding such a jewel! Where on earth did you find it????? *GRINZ*

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#17
In reply to #15

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/20/2010 11:17 AM

yardsale.

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#18
In reply to #17

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/20/2010 11:44 AM

Chris, a yard sale of all places? LOL

Okay, how much did the book cost ya? $1 Canadian? **grinz**

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#20
In reply to #18

Re: UAVs vs Conventional Aircraft

10/20/2010 12:42 PM

2.99 $CDN

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