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On AF B-Day Are Pilots Soon to be Stamped ‘Obsolete?’

by christian on September 17, 2010

Our boy Bryant Jordan will run a story tomorrow morning on Military​.com to commemorate the Air Force’s 63rd birthday and ask the above question: More than six decades after the establishment of the USAF, are we near the last birthday where the service will celebrate human pilots?

[The]specter of obsolescence is beginning to haunt some of the most tech-savvy men and women in America – Air Force pilots – as the service looks toward an unmanned air fleet capable of any and every kind of combat and support role, from close air support to cargo and refueling; a fleet “smart” enough to work together, even “swarming” to carry out tactical and strategic missions.

But according to Jordan, who is a long-time reporter on the Air Force beat, doubts remain whether computers can take on the mission of humans in today’s complex battlefield.

Just when this sci-fi drone swarm becomes a reality is anyone’s guess. But according to a former career fighter pilot who also worked on UAV programs, it could be a while before the Air Force has autonomous aircraft capable of performing tactical missions in which targets are moving and friendlies are in the area.

“It’s going to be a phased or stair-step evolution” to this kind of capability, former Air Force Maj. Robert “Rocky” Kendall told Military​.com. “If you say, okay, we’re going to have an … unmanned combat air vehicle go out and do a tactical mission — that’s a lot.”

And the questions aren’t just technological, Jordan finds, there’s a moral/ethical question too.

“Then you have the ultimate thing that someone likes to throw out so they can watch someone squirm – the moral issue of a machine killing a human” based on an autonomous “decision.”

“The machine will make the call because it’s out there by itself. It’s not going to send over a ‘Mother, may I?’ message,” he said. “Otherwise, why go through all the [bother] of building the avionics so it can go do that if it going to have to stop and ask.”

Be sure to see the entire story tomorrow on Military​.com…and happy birthday United States Air Force!

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