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FB: No AI in fighters. While the Navy looks to all-unmanned strike fleet, the Air Force says it will need pilots in its future combat aircraft.
The Air Force will not follow the Navy into an all-unmanned future strike fleet, as
pilots will be needed in the cockpits of most of its combat fleet for the foreseeable future.
"Having the human brain as a sensor in combat is still immensely important in our view," Welsh said today at an event sponsored by Defense One in Washington, D.C.
Welsh's comments follow a statement last week from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus that the service's F-35C "should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly." The Navy will need fighter pilots for possible dog fighting, but unmanned aircraft will handle strike missions, Mabus said.
"Unmanned systems, particularly autonomous ones, have to be the new normal in ever-increasing areas," Mabus said April 15 at the Sea-Air-Space Exposition outside Washington.
The Navy is increasing its development of unmanned systems by creating a new staff office for unmanned weapons systems and a new position for deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for unmanned systems.
The Air Force wants to increase its reliance on unmanned aircraft in situations where it would be best, such as long-term flight and the need to keep a view on a target for a long time, and to "not worry work about the limitations of the human body," Welsh said. The service is working on this move by increasing the use of its RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude surveillance drones while moving to retire the unmanned U-2 spy plane. The service is buying more MQ-9 Reaper drones and looking to pare down its U-28A and MC-12 Liberty surveillance fleet.
Even the next-generation stealth bomber will be optionally manned in the future, while it will start out with pilots in its cockpit.
However, tThe F-35 will not be the Air Force's last manned fighter, however, Welsh said.
"The Air Force needs a number of platforms, and in this time frame, manned platforms will be the most beneficial," Welsh said.
The human brain is a sensor that is extremely important in combat, and cannot be replicated well enough in unmanned systems, he said.
The Air Force is studying what its future fighter fleet will look like through the creation of the Next-Generation Air Dominance Program, which will include scientific experts and engineers from agencies such as the Air Force Research Labs, major commands and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The group will study what will be needed for air superiority in 2030, and will create ing a roadmap for how to achieve those technologies.
"We are looking at sixth-generation capability," Welsh said. "Air superiority is a mission. It's not a platform, it's a mission."
The difference of opinion on the future of unmanned aircraft is the second issue time in recent months where the Air Force and Navy have differed on future plans for the country's combat aircraft. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told a Washington audience Feb. 4 that the use of stealth could be "overrated" in future fighter aircraft.
"What does the next strike fighter look like?" Greenert asked. "I'm not sure if it's manned, don't know that it is. You can only go so fast, and you know that stealth may be overrated. … Let's face it, something moves fast through the air, disrupts molecules and puts out heat — I don't care how cool the engine can be, it's going to be detectable."
The head of the combat Air Forces, however, said stealth is "hugely important" for future Air Force fighters, and it will also be important how the aircraft can integrate its sensors and command and control abilities.
"Stealth is wonderful, but you have to have more than stealth," Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command, said in February. "You have to have fusion, you have to have different capabilities across the spectrum. It will be incredibly important. It won't be the only key attribute, and it isn't today."