We’re deadly. I like the idea of RPVs.
NYT. Combat remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) are ready for prime time. The recent combat success of Predator recon RPVs armed with Hellfire missiles has broken the ice on this concept. Prior to this success, the official estimates were that by 2020, up to 1/3 of military aircraft would be RPVs. I suspect that the situation has changed due to the experience we had with the Predator in Afghanistan. My current estimate is that up to 2/3 of all military aircraft will be RPVs by 2020.
Why? There are more than a few reasons:
[John Robb’s Radio Weblog]
Pilots are not able to handle heavy G-loads. The newest planes (since the debut of the F-16) have a performance envelope that take them well outside of the human tolerable range. As a result, new fighter aircraft were programmed not to exceed ~15 Gs (15x the force of gravity). Typically, 12 Gs is the max, but Israeli pilots developed a technique that involved ratcheting a turn that allowed their pilots to endure a 13G average. New RPVs like the Boeing X-45 will be able to easily exceed 20 Gs in combat. That means that they can more easily evade missiles and out turn manned-fighters in combat.
RPVs are inexpensive. The X-45 is expected to be 1/3 the cost of the new F-35. They also don’t need expensive pilots (for example, the cost to the US taxpayers to train me was ~$2.5 m).
RPVs don’t result in US combat casualties. This makes it much easier for national decision makers to deploy them in combat. It also removes the potential of rescue efforts to reacquire downed pilots.
The capabilities of RPVs march in synch with Moore’s law. In time, they may actually become totally autonomous.
Control, speed, and endurance. The ability to keep planes aloft for 24-36 hours over targets, to dictate instructions to those aircraft in real-time, to launch planes on warning with little ramp-up time, to gather data from the arena of battle in real-time, and to centralize command authorization is a military commander’s wet dream. RPVs make it possible.