Taking out the human factor

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Taking out the human factor
By Staff writer
Sat 02 Dec 2006 04:00 AM

Going remote — relying on unmanned aerial platforms to hit the enemy — may sound like Star Wars, but it is an option that has become one of the key debating issues within the RAF and the Ministry of Defence.

However, if the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught the military nothing else, the value of close air support for troops on the ground from manned fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters have been emphasized almost every day.

There is no question that in 30 years the RAF will be relying more on unmanned platforms to drop bombs and fire guided missiles. However, this does not signal the demise of the human factor in the air force business. RAF chiefs and fighter pilots agree that the eyes and brain of a highly trained professional man or woman in the cockpit will still be required in plans for the future.

Sceptics sold on the idea that technology will provide all the answers for hitting the enemy from the air might argue that the RAF is simply fighting for its survival.

But those planning this country’s defence strategy over the next three decades will need to retain two concepts: Balance and flexibility. So, exploit the best technological advances but maintain the skills of the men and women who can make a difference on the battlefield.

Aircraft without pilots are not new. The US used unmanned Lightning Bugs in Vietnam for reconnaissance sorties, and the British are using Phoenix and Desert Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for reconnaissance and targeting.

The MoD is negotiating with the Americans to buy two Predator B UAVs. When tracking and eliminating terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan or across the deserts of Iraq, there is no better system than the awesome Predator B.

The future holds unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs), but youngsters dreaming of becoming fighter pilots need not despair — there will still be a job for them.

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