back to article MoD Minister: This is the last generation of manned fighters

In a bizarre repeat of history, a British defence minister has given it as his opinion that we are currently witnessing development of the final generation of manned combat aircraft. The comments made last week by Quentin Davies MP echo those made in a 1957 government white paper by the then Defence minister, Duncan Sandys. Mr …


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  1. Thomas 18
    Black Helicopters


    That is until we invent EMP cannons and Signal Jammers. But that will just pave the way for shielded autonomous AIs capable of picking their own targets dynamically to fulfil predetermined unambiguous goals such as 'protect yourself', 'defend the earth' and 'kill the puny meatlings'.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'd suggest they watch Macross Plus to see how well manned fighters turn out mmmmmhmmmmm

  3. Martin Gregorie

    When roboplanes are harmful

    I suspect that the American UAV bombing in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan is doing more harm than good and heres why.

    The tribal societies in those areas are largely regulated by personal honour. That's what governs everything from inter-tribal feuds to the day to day behaviour of every individual. A man without personal honour doesn't survive long in that society.

    Now, lets look at a Predator operator from the Pashtun viewpoint - and don't make the mistake that they don't know about Predators. They are not stupid. They see somebody sitting in perfect safety in the US of A bombing and killing them while being too cowardly to meet them face to face. This attitude will affect their view of all Americans, giving them no reason to believe anything said by such a dishonourable bunch.

  4. Sceptical Bastard

    Pics or Playmobile please

    Quote: "... scandalous photos showing an unidentified chap receiving intimate oral favours from the (married) Duchess of Argyll."

    Where are the pictures?

    Failing that, where is the Playmobile re-enactment?

    Mine's the one with the smudged copy of Burke's Peerage in the pocket.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    As long as these have to be controlled remotely, they'll be susceptible to signal jamming and/or the possibility of being fed false instructions. Also, assuming the need for a radio link back to base (either directly or through a kind of flying internet) that's a really good way of giving the plane's position away. So they'll have to go with a combination of spread-spectrum transmission and, probably, bursty transmissions, where the plane will have to fly semi-autonomously between command bursts, but with the ability to fly/engage by itself, without direct control for at least short periods where there is active jamming/poor signal/the need not to broadcast its position to anyone with an EM scanner. Then, of course, there are the CNC relays, which should probably be even easier to detect, will likely not be anywhere near as mobile, and will need to be heavily defended as taking out key transmitters when the birds are in the air will probably make some fraction of them simply fall from the air or otherwise lose track of what they should be doing.

    So, yeah... really?

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Flight time of Lightning

    Wasn't the Lightning primarily an interceptor, ie very fast, very high, for very short times, in the same vein as the much quicker Mig-25A? Hell that could only muster a few mins at full belt depite being a flying fuel tank.

  7. breakfast Silver badge


    As far as I can tell from what the RAF have been saying over the last year or so, you won't need to even deliberately jam them. If they fly over a wind farm they will instantly lose contact with their controllers and possibly go rogue and start attacking all humans.

  8. Dave Bell

    And when did they start designing the Eurofighter?

    Whatever ends up flying for the RAF in 2030 will soon need to be on the drawing boards.

    This is not unlike fighting the Battle of Britain with Sopwith Camels.

    And these projects are, like certain financial institutions, too big to fail.

  9. Graham Marsden

    I'm sure...

    ... this should be under Rise of the Machines...

  10. Fred 1


    I say Sq1ffy, I don't quite understand your binary.

  11. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Uncle Jack says ..."You can't handle the Truth" ....... and he aint wrong....

    ..... So IT is going to Handle and Present it for you.

    "That is until we invent EMP cannons and Signal Jammers. But that will just pave the way for shielded autonomous AIs capable of picking their own targets dynamically to fulfil predetermined unambiguous goals such as 'protect yourself', 'defend the earth' and 'kill the puny meatlings'." .... By Thomas 18 Posted Friday 7th August 2009 10:14 GMT

    Once you have the former is the latter unnecessary, Thomas, and the paved way you describe could be already well travelled for all anyone is likely to know about such sensitive research fields.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    At least Sandys had been through the war and was well aware of rocketry development.

    Is suspect former-Tory Davies relies upon what the arms developers tell him.

  14. E 2


    Just imagine if Blair & Bush had had fully automated military and police forces in 2002! Nobody would even know there was an Iraq war, the tortured and mutilated bodies would still be piling up in Abu Graib, Iran would have been invaded (because well, wtf, why not?, it's not like it would kill brits or yanks) as would Syria, N.Korea, Canada (for letting the 9/11 terrorists in, ahem), and so on.

    Call me a luddite, I just don't trust politicians with this much direct power.

  15. Nigel Wright

    Pay attention to history...

    ...history has shown many times that it is folly to leave the defence of the nation to politicians. That brilliant man Hugh Dowding demonstrated that in 1940.

    The American's can't secure their networks against a bloke in his bedroom (McKinnon) so, what hope they can secure remote control of their fighting vehicles.

    Wars and conflicts will always need personal involvement, after all, that's how they begin and end.

  16. goggyturk


    "At least Sandys had been through the war and was well aware of rocketry development."

    But he was still woefully unaware of the shortcomings of missile guidance systems at that time and he was also alone in the conclusion that he reached. Every other nation in the world with an aviation industry continued to develop manned combat aircraft while Britain pissed the few advantages it had left up against the wall. The Sandys doctrine was used as a stick to beat the industry with in the 60s and indirectly led to the cancellation of projects like TSR.2 (Tornado on steroids) and P.1154 (supersonic Harrier) that would have given the RAF some really superior equipment right through to the present day.

    I agree that the aviation industry in the UK was over-bloated at that time, but the way the situation was dealt with was a joke.

    As for UAVs, all they really are capable of at the moment is taking off, landing and flying in straight lines (which is quite an achievement btw), so the assumption behind Sandys 2.0 is that stealth tech will make these planes survivable in any future war, but stealth is like any other counter measure - eventually someone will find a way around it and such craft will be easy meat. Maybe this has already happened - the Russian S-400 is designed for such a task.

    Until a UAV can beat the meatsacks in a dogfight and make equally good decisions, I don't see this happening. Maybe it will happen in 2030, maybe it won't, but it will take something a lot more sophisticated than what we have right now.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nonsense then nonsens now

    Complete Nonsense.

    The options woudl be autonomous decision making by the missile/plane or a remote control interface.

    Autonomous decision making is fantasy at the moment and doubly sio when the decisions would involve d would have massive consequences on both sides.

    Remote control is extremely problematic againest a opnent whio has technological parity. Jamming or homing onto the signals required would be serious problems, not to mention time delays.

    Predators and similar devices used by Israel are being used against completely defenceless, mainly civilian targets. Even in the 50s targets like this could be attacked without a pilot. It is not at all clear this sort of approach would work against someone with a sophisticated airforce contesting air superiority.

  18. Martin 6 Silver badge

    Going to make war movies crap

    Cue 80s power-balled soundtrack, cut to rounded figure of fighter pilot as he pulls on his thinkgeek T-shirt (XXXL) and sits down at his monitor.

    See him reach for the joystick with one hand while simultaneously grabbing the can of red bull with the other.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    I can't wait to reply to

    an automated reply to open the hangar doors with "I'm sorry HAL. I'm afraid I can't do that"!

    The Linux penguin, because I am sure that in the utoptian cyber-warriored world of the future the superiority of Linux in all things will have been recognized by the enlightened citizenry of tomorrow....

  20. dreamingspire
    Thumb Up


    A one-time colleague told me about the effect of the Lightning. He had been an RAF radar operator, and said that they had regularly been spotting high flying incoming from the west, which always turned out to be Yanks who had failed to file flight plans - but we didn't have interceptors who could reach them. Then the Lightnings were deployed, and they did exactly what AC suggested: "Wasn't the Lightning primarily an interceptor, ie very fast, very high, for very short times". They went up and up and past the Yanks... After that, the Yanks filed flight plans.

  21. Mr Mark V Thomas


    Well, considering Surface to Air Missiles, such as the Bloodhound 3 missile, (based on the cancelled 100 mile range missile codenamed Blue Envoy), intended to carry a 10Kt nuclear warhead, codenamed Indigo Hammer, were potentially about to enter service in the early 1960's, you can understand why Duncan Sandys was dismissive of manned fighter aircraft...

    The reason why Bloodhound 3 never entered service, with Indigo Hammer onboard, was that British nuclear reactors could not produce enough weapons grade fissile material at the time, to make it...

    As for TSR-2 & P1154 failing to enter service, you could argue that was the fault of the Royal Navy (Who wanted their precious Queen Elizabeth class "Super Carriers" built), & Rolls Royce (Reason - Both Projects were powered by their rival's (Bristol Siddley) engines, namely the Olympus, in the case of TSR-2, & BS.100, a larger version of Pegasus, intended to use reheat/afterburning to achieve Mach 1.5 at altitude).

  22. Astarte

    re Mr Mark V Thomas

    Your mention of TSR2 inspired me to post this, particularly in the context of the headline. I remember a national newspaper showing a cut-away drawing of TSR2 (I was on the project then). The drawing showed the significant points of interest and included an arrow pointing to the cockpit labelled 'Two nearly redundant RAF pilots'. The idea of unmanned weapons platforms was around even then.

  23. Peter Mc Aulay

    The false economy of automated warfare

    UAVs are rather cheaper than manned craft so you can deploy lots more of them, no matter if they can't actually survive any dogfights with humans. This must be very attractive. Of course this strategy will fail miserably against an opponent like, say, China (it wouldn't have worked against the USSR either for that matter)...

  24. TeeCee Gold badge

    Re: Lightning.

    I heard that when the septics introduced the SR-71, they flew it through Danish airspace on a regular basis. Any complaints from the Danes were met with a barefaced denial that any aircraft with such performance characteristics existed.

    It was common knowledge at the time that Yank reconnaissance flights operated under the strict instruction that should anyone aquire a missile lock on them they were to bugger off home sharpish. This courtesy of the Gary Powers/U2 fiasco.

    Armed with this handy information, the Danes went and bought a squadron of Lightnings from Britain. By removing everything that wasn't essential and fitting only one Sidewinder missile they managed to get one stood on its tail on full reheat, with its engines gasping for breath at that altitude, to aquire a weapons lock on that evening's SR-71 flight. This promptly followed orders, turned round and shot off in a westerly direction.

    Future SR-71 flights avoided Danish airspace.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    No Pilot ?

    So, planes with no pilots. That might just catch up with politicians and policy makers with no brains, then ? Military Intelligence with a complete lack of intelligence. I suppose I could be cynical and say that it matches up with our soldiers with NO KIT !!

  26. Mr Mark V Thomas

    Re: Last Lightning post

    Apparently, the U.S offered the Genie, a/k/a "Ding Dong", nuclear "missile", although it was more of a unguided rocket, fitted with a 1.5 Kt W-25 nuclear warhead, to the RAF, in order to equip Lightning interceptor squadrons, during the late 1950's/early 60's...

    Due to cost reasons, however, each Lightning could only carry 1 Genie, & to prevent aerodynamic problems, the weapons pylon, on the opposite side of the fuselage, would carry a 6 round 2.75 inch rocket pod...

    Now, imagine a Lightning armed with one of these, VS a SR-71...

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