Electronic Weapons: AI Powered Diagnostics


February 24, 2024: Combat aircraft spend about a quarter of their down-time just being examined and checked for problems. This is going down because, in the last decade, more and more aircraft have been equipped with diagnostic circuitry and software similar to what is found in most new automobiles and trucks. Aircraft maintenance crews connect a laptop computer to a data port on the aircraft and instantly find out what's not working. The diagnostic software is usually upgradeable through the data port. While the diagnostic software doesn't precisely identify all problems, it narrows them down in most cases. Moreover, when problems the software couldn't catch are encountered, details are downloaded and the diagnostic software is upgraded to accurately, or more accurately, detect the problem next time.

The software diagnostics system is often used in flight as well, giving pilots more accurate information on current and impending failures. These diagnostic software systems, plus easier access to aircraft components and more reliable components, are actually reducing the amount of aircraft maintenance required for each hour in the air. The number of man hours of maintenance required per hour of flight is now getting down to five. In the 1950s it was 30-40 hours, although that was about cut in half by the 1970s and further reduced since then using new diagnostics technology that is built into the aircraft. The F-16 requires about 19 hours of maintenance per flight hour, and the F-22 will be under ten hours. By the 2020s the F-16 needed 17 man-hours of maintenance per flight hour. The F-15 and A-10 had similar maintenance hour requirements to the F-16. The new F-35 requires fewer man-hours of maintenance per flight hour than the F-16 because these new aircraft were designed to reduce maintenance per flight hour. The F-35 is a new aircraft and still going through the debugging phase. That means more hours of maintenance per flight hour until a long list of technical issues are attended to.

The navy is pushing new technology to its undersea fleet to make it safer, smarter, and deadlier while seeking to develop its next-generation SSN. A final decision on the SSN decision won’t be made until the 2030s. That enables the navy to determine which new technologies are most likely to work in current and future SSNs. One of the key foundational new techs is use of AI (Artificial Intelligence), particularly in a diagnostics system to track and evaluate the performance of new systems and do so continuously. Many new systems are quite complicated and that makes it more difficult to determine if you have tested a new system sufficiently to validate its usefulness and reliability. The full time AI diagnostics system can monitor key submarine systems continually and report potential problems before they develop and become a problem. There are several SSN capabilities that are critical, including speed which is a major asset because SSNs are faster when submerged than on the surface. This is due to their unique teardrop shape. Speed is only useful if it gets a well-armed sub where it needs to be to use the many weapons onboard. Finally, the SSN has to be robust and reliable to be available when needed. This includes the ability to remain on patrol for a long time with all capabilities intact.




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