back to article USAF ramps up kill-bot fleet following Gates sackings

US defence secretary Robert Gates has ordered further reinforcements for America's aerial killer robot flotillas patrolling the skies of Southwest Asia, according to reports. Gates' freedom to assign the extra drones is widely being seen as following on from his recent firing of top US Air Force chiefs, possibly inclined to drag …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    H00 3EEE ... something a Drone is unlikely to say

    If I was a British serviceman in Irak or Stan, I'd much prefer the drone.

    Why? Less chance of some d1ckhead Hot Jock pretending he's in Top Gun and deciding to "get me some bad guys, Hooaaa!!!!!!!!!" - subsequently wasting several NATO service personnel and then getting his Govt to cover it up and deny that any inflight video existed, oh and refusing to come to the official inquest (adding insult to injury...and,er, death).

    Mines is the one with the reflector material saying "DON'T SHOOT - WERE SUPPOSED TO BE ALLIES"

  2. Matthew Speed

    This policy needs to change

    It is unfortunate that the USAF is excluding a great number of excellent candidates from their pool with this "actual pilot" requirement. There exist a great number of people possessing great intelligence and situational awareness who could not meet the physical rigors of piloting a real world fighter plane who would probably be great computer aircraft pilots. They could make it a warrant officer position like the helicopter pilots in the Army and could probably find a fair number of disciplined, post high school gamers to take turns and keep the UAV pilot ranks filled.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Fly the Friendly Skies

    99% of the time the drones can be flown by clipped wing turkeys, with Real Pilots in the ready room playing gin rummy.

    If anything important comes up, the pilots can take over. Usually one knows ahead of time when a 'technical' needs a bit of attention, or the spooks have a hot target, or whatever. This way, the Real Pilots can skip the boring bus driving phase orbiting the friendly skies and go directly to the exciting bit about blowing things up.

    Instead, the AF insists airframe seat time meatsacks have to do the boring bus driving phase that even a pre-ROTM robot can handle.... of course, maybe the Real Pilots are afraid that the bus drivers might end up more qualified even for the exciting bits!

  4. Graeme

    Non pilot's incharge of UAV's

    this may have somthing to do with the resistance of the pilot community

    the USAF was looking to bring a UAV pilots career stream, "pilot" doesn't nessesarily have to equal expensivley trained Fast jet type, though the are proabaly the best people we have avialible right now

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Pilots are like horsemen

    Their time is past. Enter the 21st Century. No buggy whips needed.

  6. Brandon

    humans are obsolete - we need sleep!

    Given a few hours of instruction and sim time, I could fly that thing... or at least land it and make it take off successfully. Operating all the weapons systems... now that's another story... but they can leave that up to a trained non-aviator anyway. Hell, you can get your ultra-light license with just 20 hours of flight training... how much harder could it be to pilot this fly-by-wire thing? Is the FAA actually a model of efficency here?

    These things are all going to be piloted autonomously soon anyway (see the following video). Sure, military techys and soldiers will still maintain effective control on the weapons systems, but the actual flying, landing or taking off of the plane doesn't need a human at the helm... taxiing and dealing with other ground traffic, maybe....

  7. Martin Usher

    Inertia and Investment

    The USAF doesn't actually train that many pilots every year -- well under a thousand -- and each pilot costs millions of dollars to train. In recent times hot-shot pilots have found themselves doing shiftwork in a cube flying those UAVs, its a bit of a comedown (which explains the stress levels -- you learn to fly, and you really work at it to make it in the Air Force -- precisely so you don't have to spend your life in a cube).

    Unfortunately all those things you're trained to do as a pilot mean squat when flying a UAV. You have to maintain the mystique, though, because otherwise how can you justify the cost of training (and your salary). Hence the resistance to allowing non-pilots to control (hardly 'fly') UAVs.

    Airliners are almost the same, BTW. There are still things the pilots have to do, especially when flying into and out of the boondocks, but mostly the're kept in the plane for the same reason as we have ships' captains -- they don't actually drive the thing, they're there to carry the can for when the machines fail. (Also, paying passengers like to see someone up front who appears to know what they're doing.)

  8. Nigee

    This is a

    US problem. When relatively unlamented Phoenix UAV was designed for the British Army in the 1980s it was designed to fly itself, all the NCO operator did was guide it to where it was wanted 'flying the footprint' it was sometimes called. Of course it used a launcher and parachute/bag landing so avoided the issue of automated takeoff and landing from a runway (which were assumed not to exist given its limited duration and hence need to operate close to the front).

    The UK govt is now spending lots of money to make the Israeli Hermes 450 UAV into auto takeoff/landing for Watchkeeper so that it can keep using NCO operators.

  9. Jim Black

    A bit of history

    Pre-WW2 the US Marines, US Navy, Germans, and British all had fighter and other cockpits filled with enlisted men, usually Sergeants. The only computer on board was the one under their hair. And they did very well, thank you. With computer support, there is even less rationale for having only flight rated officers at the controls of a UAV. Manned/womened aircraft can do things that UAVs cannot do and UAVs can do things men/women cannot do. The missions are complementary, not competing.

    The previous suggestion of using Warrant Officers seems especially good here - many Army WOs are highly qualified in both fixed and rotary winged aircraft including gunships. But a lot of rice-bowl protection seems to be the rule in the USAF. They need to go back to the mission instead of concentrating on egos.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    When is Microsoft going to join in the fun

    They have had Flight Sim out for many many years now.It's the same 'out of the aircraft' feeling. All you need is a 'drone add-on' feature pack and you too can fly around Afgan mountains looking for tunnels !!!

    My dad could fly the boring bits for the US if they ask nicely - he's spent years behind the joystick/keyboard combo.

    Helicopters - cos they are outside the USAF remit as well (didn't they see the trend start back in 'Nam) ?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Airliner pilots

    I heard the ideal flight team for a modern airliner is a pilot and a dog.

    The pilot's job is to feed the dog and teh dog's job is to bite the pilot if he touches anything.

  12. Wayland Sothcott

    Any type of face hair

    Not having to wear a breathing mask the pilots could grow really amazing beards and tashes.

    As for pilots, you could insert these into an online war game as a mission. Online gamers would be quing up, virtually, to fly these from their bedrooms. If you gave them guns then even better they could shoot things.

  13. Pascal Monett Silver badge


    They don't like the job, and they can't stand the thought of anyone else doing it.

    Sounds like the USAF needs a good slap in the face.

  14. Alex

    People will always be... people

    How would you like someone coming along and taking away that one thing you always wanted to do? Your dream job that you worked all your life for being taken away just like that!

    Why is outsourcing seen as a bad thing when it happens to you but fine when it happens to someone else?

    @Pascal Monett - The problem is they love their job exactly the way it is (like many of us) and they don't want to lose it.

    I for one can fully understand their position and I feel for them.

  15. james
    Black Helicopters

    pilots are asses

    more than a few years ago i was RAF groundcrew (aviation technician - mechanical, dontcha know) and on fast rotations we would hover the helis a few inches off the ground and slide them into the hangers and around inside the hangers to get where we needed to park them for working (quicker on most but especially for lynx and griffins, since they have no wheels you cant taxi them), usually having around 5 feet of clearance above and around the blades on entry, to us it was no big deal we were all qualified to pilot rotary winged aircraft and light to medium prop craft.

    the pilots got wind of this and because they didnt believe it was possible came down to watch - they nearly shit themselves good and proper, not one had the balls to attempt it themselves and formal complaints were lodged (which were later thrown out) not for it being risky but because 'unqualified' aircrew were repeatedly taking liberties by flying the pilots shiney toys.

    tossers - every one of us could fly rings around them and they knew it, the complaints were thrown out because like it or not we were qualified to fly regardless of their bruised ego posturing.

    stick them all in little boxes and make em fly drones i say, teach them that theyre there to fly and save lives not to bloody pose

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Need a slap down

    The USAF only want Pilots to fly them.

    Sooo they tell the G'vmt what to do?

    Goverment: We are going to ship out 300 drone planes, need some guys to fly them, nothing special, pretty mundane stuff. mainly there to keep ground troops safe and spy on Mr Bad guy

    USAF: We'll need fully qualified Pilots, but they won't do the job, it's dull.

    G'mnt: Ok f**k Off, we'll give them to the Army, In fact, we won't bother getting you new planes, the Army have said they'll happily have 600 of the, so they have less need for you guys.

    USAF: Waaahhhhhhh, no fair, I won't play, ba hoo hoo....

    G'vmnt: Well that's saved a few cents.

  17. Fazal Majid

    Pilots vs. real soldiers

    The flyboys would rather have taxpayers front up for expensive toys like the F-35 that are a response to no credible threat, than in actually doing work that saves real soldiers on the ground's lives, like flying the A-10 Warthog ground support plane, ugly but heavily armored and invaluable for ground combat. In an era of ever smarte missiles and UAVs, it's only a matter of time before manned fighters are as obsolete as the battleship Yamato.

    There's a reason why the new USAF Chief of Staff has been picked from the ranks of transport pilots rather than fighter jockeys. The war in Iraq, and the Israeli war in Lebanon have shown how air superiority does not translate to control over the ground. Both were instigated by former fighter pilots, by the way, Donald Rumsfeld and Dan Halutz.

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