Warplanes: March 7, 2002


The Afghan War has seen the first widespread use of drones armed with missiles to attack ground targets, and it was the CIA not the military which did it. This should not be surprising; the military aviation community is run by pilots who see armed drones as threats to their jobs. Drones have many advantages. They are cheaper (lacking all of the gear that a pilot needs) and can be sent on suicide missions. The normal risk of combat flying for manned aircraft leaves pilots suffering in POW camps, adding a political complication to any war. Combat drones could pull 20 "G"s (the limit imposed by the materials available to build airframes) while human pilots are limited to about 9 Gs. During peacetime, drone pilots can train on simulators while their expensive drones sit in storage without requiring expensive maintenance. Relatively junior drone pilots could fly their aircraft to the target area where senior ace pilots (fresh from the cafeteria rather than a boring two-hour flight) can make the final attack. Drones (without human pilots and the heavy equipment they need) could be pushed to Mach-15 while human pilots can barely handle aircraft a Mach-3. The smaller drones can be made much more stealthy, not least because the cockpit is a major radar trap requiring expensive treatments to reduce its effect. Pilots insist that even if drones can take over attack missions, they could never handle air-to-air combat, but such combat is becoming extremely rare. It lasted only a few days over Iraq in 1991, and there was none over the Balkans or Afghanistan. New generations of deadly air-to-air missiles with huge "no escape zones" would mean that even unmaneuverable drones could sweep the skies of the enemy's older fighters.--Stephen V Cole


Article Archive

Warplanes: Current 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close