So if I am reading this right, wetware is cheaper?
The US Air Force wants to spend around $5.8 billion on up to 2,000 pilotless AI-powered drones, to serve alongside human pilots. Earlier this month, colonel Tucker Hamilton, chief of the Department of Air Force's AI Test and Operations accelerator, reported that the aerial arm of the US military flew the 30-foot-long (9.15 …
Contrary to headline, $6bn is considered chicken feed for US military. In fact, it rather looks as if the US Air Force is trying to smother this, because they still like Top Gun, with the nice words “but we’re funding it, what more do you want”. Nevertheless, assuming it works and really why shouldn’t it unless there is scope creep, the US would get 2000 new combat aircraft, which would be the worlds third largest airforce as a side salad.
But it’s the scaleability which is the killer. An airforce of 20,000 would cost $60bn. An airforce of 200,000 would cost $600bn. Spread over maybe 10 years, $60bn per year is just 3% of US annual Defense budget which is $1.8tn. This all assumes no economies of scale. In those quantities, the price would be quarter: R&D fully depreciated plus larger factories. It’s easy to reach a capability of 1 million strong airforce. Try training and maintaining a million Top Gun pilots.
Nobody said that AI has to fight on a level playing field. AI doesn’t need to be able to defeat even a single missile fired by an opposing manned aircraft. A fleet of 50 just have to drain the 6 or 8 missiles carried, by dying in quantity, and then the opposing aircraft is essentially defenseless to Beyond Visual Range missiles. No aircraft in history has ever exceeded dominance of more than 20:1. Kill ratio of 100:1 doesn’t mean a single aircraft can go up against 100 enemies, it means that in 20 fights of against 1 against 5, you only lose once.
Every fight lost the vast majority of the combat data will be beamed back home in near real time, to be analysed and added to to the AI's training. Eventually AI will become too good and human part of combat formation will become nothing but beyond visual range command and control, until that becomes too dangerous and then it's all remote control, humans will be required purely for decision making and how long before that is replaced by an algorithm signed off by a countries lawyers but deemed illegal by others?
> 3% of US annual Defense budget which is $1.8tn.
You might be interested to note that DoD 2023 is $773bn https://www.defense.gov/News/Releases/Release/Article/2980014/the-department-of-defense-releases-the-presidents-fiscal-year-2023-defense-budg/
I also have doubts about those 100:1 and 20:1 so nonchalantly bandied about. And "It’s easy to reach a capability of 1 million strong airforce." What actual data do you have to back those numbers?
DoD is not the whole of US Defense spending, by any means. For example, military pensions come out of Department of Veterans Affairs, and that’s another $300+ billion. Intelligence is also outwith DoD, and thats another $90bn’ish. Also US nuclear weapons are under Department of Energy, not DoD. There’s a few more dribs and drabs of $30-50bn here and there in various departments.
The US military-industrial complex is mind-bogglingly big.
Total Fed spending is in the $6T range. https://fiscaldata.treasury.gov/americas-finance-guide/federal-spending/ Fed is a 6 slice pie - 4/6th go to mandated programs, like pensions. Including military pensions, which have zilch to do with drone purchases - they're pensions. 2/6 discretionary remaining get split as 1/6 general spending, 1/6 defense.
There is NO way Defense is gobbling $1.8% - 30% of that spending. You're off by a factor of two and speaking with all the self-assurance you want to use claiming otherwise ain't gonna change that fact.
I'd just like to point out that the whole idea screams "scope creep".
Notice how vague is the description of the drone's combat role. I get the impression they haven't even tried mounting weapons on it yet, so presumably that's R&D still to be done. And how exactly are they planning to reconcile "AI control" with "human decision making"?
The amount of work still to be done is boggling. I shall confess myself astonished if they have even one of these things ready for deployment within five years, never mind a fleet of thousands. That's just applesauce intended to get the money out of Congress.
Notice how vague is the description of the drone's combat role. I get the impression they haven't even tried mounting weapons on it yet, so presumably that's R&D still to be done. And how exactly are they planning to reconcile "AI control" with "human decision making"?
I think that's back to the overall goal. There were some videos from DARPA a while ago showing human vs AI dogfights, and the AI did pretty well. But I guess a lot depends on the rules of the game. To my simple mind, something like an F-16 vs a drone, and the drone should always win. The drone can probably be smaller, lighter, faster and can out-turn an F-16 because it doesn't care about the passenger and isn't carrying all the systems needed to support a pilot and let them control the aircraft. Then if the drones can be built cheaply enough, or in quantity, the drone can be the weapon because it's disposable.
I also think the decision making can be pretty simple. So task drone swarm to close on an aircraft. Human can decide if aircraft is a threat, or not. Order swam to engage, or disengage. There seem to be a lot of breakpoints for humans to intervene, and it should be possible to programme in abort scenarios, if the drone's being jammed or spoofed.
In terms of monetary cost, I should imagine the pilot of the aircraft is probably the cheapest bit. You get one for spending a couple of million on training, then a few tens of thousands of whatever your local currency is a year..
The real cost is in providing a plane with the facilities a pilot would need, such as a system to pump fluid around their flight suits, air and heat, as well as the fuel and extra engine power required to carry both the pilot and the equipment needed to keep them alive and conscious so they can function.
An unmanned drone requires none of that. So, even if it does carry the same amount of fuel as a manned plane, it will be able to fly for longer. it will also be able to fly faster, and perform manoeuvres a manned plane wouldn't because it doesn't have to keep it's pilot alive and conscious as said pilot, assuming they exist, will likely be sitting in front of a computer in an airbase thousands of miles away.
However, before we start speculating about having an air force one million AI drones strong, we do need to consider some of the problems.
The self-flying aircraft bit is relatively easy. It's pretty much a solved problem, and unlike self-driving cars you don't have quite so many other road-users to deal with. Which is why self-driving cars aren't going to be in general use for years - but there are already various unmanned drones in operation that are remotely piloted for some (but not all) of the time.
Pilots cost a few million to train. So they're expensive, and hard to retain, since they then have valuable skills.
But if we're really only getting rid of pilots in order to avoid them getting killed and to allow the drone aircraft to make higher G turns, then we're still stuck with having to buy umpty-million dollar aircraft - to do all the fancy things that umpty-million dollar aircraft do. Sure there's a need for el-cheapo things like Bayraktar or Reaper, to just circle over the combat zone and observe, plus drop the odd missile. But as the war in Ukraine has shown, they're not very useful in peer-to-peer conflict. They're not even that useful in near-peer conflict. They're too easy to shoot down.
But the shiny fast jets that do long-range strike, air superiority or SEAD/DEAD suppression/destruction of enemy air defence - those will have to have stealth capabilites, long range, even higher G tolerance (hence composite materials), plus honking great gas-guzzling jet engines. All very expensive. All also requiring very expensive maintenance, also by highly-trained ground crews. And the more aircraft you need, the more maintenance crews you need, the more airfields you require, which need to be manned, guarded, and maintained.
Plus, even if we've totally removed any pilots from the equation, you'll still need people to run the communications. Troubleshoot the AIs. Command the operations. Plus plan the air operations, and do the intelligence work to know what air operations to plan etc.
I don't think any major air force is currently predicting the phasing out of human pilots. What they're planning for is cheaper aircraft to operate as force-multipliers for the expensive, manned stealth aircraft. Some of them may be as capable as the best manned aircraft, but others will be much more limited. The US Navy have a working prototype of a carrier based air-to-air refeulling drone, for example. Which saves airframe life of your expensive strike jets playing tanker if your carrier is out of range of land-based tanker assets.
Then you've got cheap and cheerful stuff like the Iranian Shahed (around $100k each I believe), that Russia are using so heavily in Ukraine. It's either a re-usable recon drone, or a missile. Up to the more expensive recon drones with optional missiles that NATO countries use, which are still prop-driven but have better sensors and cost a few million a pop.
Once you stick jets on your drones, and give them a few thousand miles of range, and the sensors and weapons required to do all the things that fast jets do, then they're suddenly going to cost what fast jets do. $40,000 per flight hour for an F35. I believe that's the cheapest stealth aircraft to operate, and supposedly the B21 will have fewer problems with maintaining the stealth coatings - so presumably this will come down in future. 4th gen aircraft are cheaper - but still ruinously expensive - to operate.
They see what is happening in Ukraine, and that drones largely make human piloted aircraft irrelevant (we'll see if the deployment of F16s in six months or so make the difference they're hoping it does) Now the Pentagon needs to learn the rest of the lesson, and see that there hasn't been a lot of difference in Ukraine's success with more expensive drones versus stuff that's barely above hobbyist class.
2,000 $3 million drones is superior to 60 $100 million manned aircraft, but inferior to 200,000 $30,000 drones.
Twitter and YouTube are filled with drone footage on the front-lines. Heck, remotely piloted seadrones are taking out huge marine infrastructure.
Cheap drones are having drop-bombs and explosives attached to them, often connected to local radio or Starlink satellite internet.
The sheer number of very expensive tanks and radar systems that are being destroyed by the simplest drone fitted with a few kgs of explosives dropped.
It looks like a computer game the way they are playing it. Although quite sad watching both sides attack trenches with direct drone strikes.
Like they say, if I had a choice between 1x AI powered drone-plane, or a swarm of 3000 fast commercial stunt drones all internet connected targeted the enemy with proximity explosives..... it would be a rounding error in the budget. Loitering drone-munition has been a challenge also (drones that sit around stationary waiting for the enemy to arrive)
They are not flying starlink... A starlink dish is well rather heavy compared to the size of the drones and planes that are flying.
if you watch the videos you will notice many are using ARDU OSD or a fork.. The font and grid size are easily spotted.
THey are very cheap a minimosd board costs less than $10 along with a cheap OSD gives you the OSD. I wont give more details but its not much more to start building long range planes powered by ARDHPILOT etc.
> Maybe someone needs to send the military's top brass a copy of Arthur C. Clarke's "Superiority" short story
I get a feeling that story was directly inspired by Germany's experiences during WW2, especially around their tanks and warplanes.
On paper, their tanks were generally superior to Allied tanks, but were significantly more prone to mechanical failures as compared to the Sherman tanks being churned out by the USA.
Equally, while Germany could have put a jet fighter into the air in 1943 - a good year or so before Britain managed to roll out the Gloster Meteor, but was delayed thanks in part to Hitler demanding it be redesigned to act as a bomber; the engines were also heavily prone to reliability issues, thanks in part to Germany lacking access to speciality metals needed for high-temperature alloys.
And then there was the V2 rockets, the V3 cannons...
Betting everything on expensive and complicated super-weapons has always been a risky tactic; you could arguably go back a bit further to France's Maginot line for another example.
As regards the USAF though, I think the main surprise is that its taken them this long to publically announce an active interest in drone capabilities. I guess the stuff coming out of Ukraine has finally managed to make a dent on both the flyboy superiority complexes and the pork-barrel defence-industry politics...
An interesting parallel IMHO with drones and WW2 would be an AI-powered ME163 equivalent, fielded by a country like China that has sufficient manufacturing chops.
- cheap and reusable, dogfight-capable if armed with cannons, swarmable
- no pilot to kill on landing, a somewhat regrettable shortcoming in the original
- short range, air-defense only. simple algorithms, no need to worry about identifying civilians in cities and the like. should be possible to saturate an area with those drones to keep the opponent away from your battlezone. And that includes Wild Weasel aircraft.
- ethics? safety? human kill loops? why bother? on a hot battlefield if it's flying and it's not yours, it's good to shoot. \(Malaysia's MH-17 doesn't count as it wasn't a full war and they should have expected civilian jets). And in a US-China war, who's going to punish a country for breaking rules.
In short the idea - using this or similar drone technologies - would be too present the USAF with the same tactical conundrums as those faced by Russia in Ukraine: your manned aircraft can't be risked in close air support, making this a very different type of war than that the US has been used to fighting in the last 80 years. And the advantages of not having to train real life pilots are all the more relevant in a a country that has a limited experience of actual air combat - like China.
> - ethics? safety? human kill loops? why bother? on a hot battlefield if it's flying and it's not yours, it's good to shoot.
For all that I'm a huge fan of Keith Laumer's Bolo series[*], realistically (and perhaps thankfully), we're probably still several decades from having Terminator-esque HK bots roaming around a post apocalyptic wasteland.
AI simply isn't yet up to the task of that level of tactical/strategic independence, and no military commander is going to want to hand over full autonomous strategic control of the battlefield to something which can be easily tricked [**].
E.g. your drone swarm spots an enemy battletank running it's engine, and some drones are sent in to attack it. However, the tank is actually just a wrecked car dollied up with a bit of cardboard and plastic tubing, complete with a disposable BBQ to provide a heat signature.
Result: one big waste of time and munitions, and with the drones drawn out of position, the enemy is free to attack elsewhere.
Similarly, there's also the issue of sensors and comms equipment. Cameras, IR sensors, microphones, radar, comms equipment, IFF transmitters, etc: these all carry a financial cost, and add to the drone's weight, as well as it's power and local-processing requirements.
And that's before you consider the fact that all of this equipment needs to be EMP hardened, proofed against jamming *and* carry a low electromagnetic profile.
And it then needs to be repaired, maintained and refueled. Which again carries a financial cost, needs more humans and limits the range and runtime of your drones.
Realistically, the two big uses for drones at present is surveillance/scouting, and targetted bombing. And as such, I suspect the really big focus for the next few will be on jamming, detection and targetted takedown mechanisms, much as happened in WW2 with things like the German directional guided bombing runs, and the later V1 buzz-bombs.
And there's certainly been a lot of lessons learned about all of the above, especially by Ukraine.
> And the advantages of not having to train real life pilots are all the more relevant in a a country that has a limited experience of actual air combat
As per above, for the foreseeable future, there's still going to have to be at least one human in the loop, to make strategic decisions and deal with out-of-context situations (with all credit to Iain M Banks for the term). Admittedly, training these will be cheaper and quicker than "real" pilots, but they are very much still needed.
[*] Giant AI battletanks, who dutifully obey their orders despite the general incompetence and occasional anti-AI sentiments of their commanders...
[**] To be fair, I've just listed lots of examples of *humans* being easily tricked. But the key point here is that the adaptation/learning loop for humans is a lot quicker than with our current AI mechanisms
You're putting words in my mouth I didn't use.
Of course humans are going to be in the loop to decide where to launch which drones against which enemy forces. I never claimed otherwise. You can bring in the "loyal wingman" concept the USAF is thinking about: a pilot orchestrating a swarm.
> drone swarm spots an enemy battletank
But I specifically stated they should be optimized for air-to-air, nothing else. The AI should worry about shooting bogeys out of the sky in its area, that's all.
And if you have a truly autonomous AI for the duration, you don't need to worry near as much about jamming. It just needs to find its way back home in a GPS-degraded environment. That's certainly solvable with terrain following radar.
> Cameras, IR sensors, microphones, radar, comms equipment, IFF transmitters, etc: these all carry a financial cost, and add to the drone's weight,
Weight and cost considerations for the sensors are nice, except a meatbag aircraft has: a pilot, a cockpit and an ejection. Those all add weight and give minimal dimensions. Plus the the same sensors. And a hard 9G limits on turns.
> Realistically, the two big uses for drones at present ...
I am not saying we are there yet. But this, or something different but in the same vein, will be by the time the F35 reaches its old age, in the 2070s. So taxpayers funding gen 5 and gen 6 jets need to worry if we are hitting a battleship moment.
Last I'd appreciate it if you didn't base all your arguments on SF. Fan of Banks as much as any, but we ain't talking Attitude Adjuster drones here and Banks' tech is way too handwavium. Bruce Sterling or the like would be a better bet.
> Last I'd appreciate it if you didn't base all your arguments on SF.
I'm going to be awkward and respond to this one first ;)
In the first instance, I didn't base all of my arguments on sci-fi; I provided actual historical evidence of jamming/spoofing activities from WW2 and the UN intervention in Serbia.
Secondly, what we're talking about is currently sci-fi: we're several generations away from anything which could be considered true autonomous AI. We're entirely in the mode of speculating and extrapolating from the current day!
And I have to admit, I've not read Bruce Sterling's stuff for a decade or two; I found his writings to be a bit dry and a bit too similar to the Niven/Pournelle/Barnes american-high-technology approach, even if he did take a more cyber/grimdark approach to his stories.
Beyond that, I don't think Banks was that handwavium. Unlike Neal Asher, whose early Polity stuff had some interesting stuff, but has since moved into pure "science is magic" realms. And as earlier mentioned, I do like Keith Laumer's Bolo stuff, not least because Baen got a load of other writers to create stories in that universe, which led to some interesting alternative takes on how military AI units would work (or fail). And then of course, there's Fred Saberhagen's Berserker series...
Anyhow, back to where we were...
> You're putting words in my mouth I didn't use.
You've been saying things like "on a hot battlefield if it's flying and it's not yours, it's good to shoot". Which implies full autonomy - and also carries a dangerous assumption: what if it's a medivac chopper? Or a red cross plane carrying emergency civilian supplies?
There's plenty of scenarios where "shoot first and ask questions later" is the wrong approach, and public opinion - even or especially that of your enemies - is still a critical part of war. After all, it helps to encourage people to buy war bonds if you can prove that the enemy is deliberately killing civilians; just ask the German leaders during WW1 about how well things went after a submarine sank the RMS Lusitania...
> You can bring in the "loyal wingman" concept the USAF is thinking about: a pilot orchestrating a swarm.
So... they're not autonomous, then? ;)
Honestly, I think they're going to struggle to make the wingman principle work. Despite what the movies claim, humans can generally only focus on one thing at a time, so a human "pilot" is only going to be able to issue general orders which the drones will then have to figure out how to implement. And that also then means that your swarm is restricted to the speed of human reaction times - plus any latency inherent in the comms system, especially if the pilot is comfortably sat in a bunker several dozen miles away.
So fundamentally, your drones are going to be at a significant disadvantage against an enemy which gives their drones more autonomy. But that again leads to the fact that you're both taking human decision making out of the loop, and trusting the AI to do the "right" thing.
And as we've seen with things like ChatGPT and it's hallucinations, that's not guaranteed.
> But I specifically stated they should be optimized for air-to-air, nothing else
So... the enemy can just drive a wedge of tanks straight under your drones?
The problem is that any AI unit needs to be part of an integrated battle system. And each element of it needs to have both offensive and defensive capabilities; as the British found out with the very first ever tank assault in WW1, tanks are a great force multiplier, but proved to be pretty much useless without infantry support, both to defend the tanks and to hold the ground which they've taken.
Similarly, in WW2, British Matilda tanks proved to be surprisingly effective in Africa... apart from the fact that their guns were underpowered.
> Weight and cost considerations for the sensors are nice, except a meatbag aircraft has: a pilot, a cockpit and an ejection. Those all add weight and give minimal dimensions. Plus the the same sensors. And a hard 9G limits on turns.
A F-22 Raptor weighs up to 32 tonnes when fully laden; I'd be surprised if the pilot's support system comes to more than a tonne of that. So I suspect that the actual weight difference will be fairly minimal, once you've finished bolting in all the extra sensors, comms equipment, computer hardware, plus all the backup systems thereof, plus physical/EMP shielding, etc.
Equally, there's the fact that while a drone can potentially handle extra G, the airframe, fuel systems, etc will all need to be upgraded to support that. Which will further add to the weight, cost and maintenance overheads.
> And if you have a truly autonomous AI for the duration, you don't need to worry near as much about jamming. It just needs to find its way back home in a GPS-degraded environment. That's certainly solvable with terrain following radar.
The problem there is that radar is both easily jammed *and* trackable. Flying low and waving a bright radar beam around is a prime way to get a guided missile sent directly to your exhaust ports...
To be fair, it's a problem that's at least somewhat solvable via passive sensors and dead reckoning, but it's yet more stuff that the AI needs to be capable of doing. And it needs the sensor capabilities to be able to do it!
> So taxpayers funding gen 5 and gen 6 jets need to worry if we are hitting a battleship moment.
I think we are approaching that sort of moment, but I do wonder quite what the shape of things will be.
Fundamentally, military equipment has been getting exponentially more expensive over time, thanks to the eternal arms race between offensive and defensive capabilities.
E.g. a WW2 spitfire cost around £800,000 to build (accounting for inflation). A Eurofighter Typhoon costs up to £120 million!
And any truly capable/AI-autonomous drone is going to need to be given just as much defensive capabilities as a human-piloted drone would have. If not more, since by it's nature, it's going to need a lot more active sensors and comms capabilities.
Which in turn means that they're going to be incredibly expensive to produce and maintain.
Or you can go the other way, and opt for quantity over quality, with cheap, mass produced drones.
Which takes us back to the WW2 and the different approaches taken by the Allies (quantity) and Germany (quality).
Or even this little experiment which was recently discussed on Ars Technica:
The answer will probably lie somewhere inbetween, but it'll be interesting to see how we get there!
As one Josef Stalin put it "Quantity has a quality all of its own" And the Russians had an awful lot of T34s.
In the same vein perhaps, the PLA, with their essential limitless supply of soldiers, allegedly noted during the Korean war "To win, we just need one more bullet than the other side has men"
Now the Pentagon needs to learn the rest of the lesson, and see that there hasn't been a lot of difference in Ukraine's success with more expensive drones versus stuff that's barely above hobbyist class.
That's pretty much true across the board. HIMARS! Game Changer! Sure, for a short while, then Russia figured out how to counter the guided missiles, or get more effective about destroying the launchers and ammunition depots. Leopards! Game Changers! Ukraine will smash through the defences and split the land bridge in 5 days! Except MBTs are MBTs and vulnerable to a cheap drone carrying an RPG warhead or a slight more expensive, dedicated drone like Russia's Lancet.
F-16s will no doubt suffer the same fate. I think the way Ukraine says it's going to use them highlights the challenges. So planning to use them to shoot down incoming missiles, or maybe launch long-range missiles like Storm Shadow. As missile defence, it seems an expensive way to do it. As a missile launcher, it just has to get into range. Both sound like jobs drones could do for a lot less cost. Also not convinced there's any need for dogfighting. Launch say 10 drones per incoming aircraft in a simpler chase mode and the attacking aircraft will quickly run out of fuel, missiles or gun ammo. Guess the challenge there would be mostly collision avoidance. But you don't necessarily have to shoot the bandit down, just make it go away.
Russia was able to take time (years in the case of Crimea and parts of the Donbas) to build up defenses, so it is going to be a slog for Ukraine regardless. But Russia has been taking by far the heaviest losses in equipment, and is spending far more on stuff like fancy Iranian drones to continue their terrorism campaign against Kyiv.
Their spending is clearly unsustainable versus their oil/gas revenue, so as long as US maintains its resolve and doesn't give in to MAGA morons who want to cut off Ukraine and let their boy Putin win it is clear Russia will run out of money to support their war or will be forced to neglect the homefront so much there will be further attempts at a coup. Hopefully next time by someone less terrible than Putin rather than more terrible like Prigozhin would have been.
"Russia has been taking by far the heaviest losses in equipment"
It was only mentioned in the news the other day that Ukraine doesn't release numbers on soldiers killed in action so what makes you think either side will release any numbers at all other than propaganda? That needs a "We have been told" on the front of it. I find it very strange that people are just accepting what they are told by the media these days especially during a conflict.
Maybe you should use your brain or maybe you could point me to this information where Russia says it's has lost lots of machinery. Note the "Where Russia says" because anything else is propaganda or speculation.
I know you can't so I rest my case.
It should also be noted Russia will be doing the exact same thing with their media.
Furthermore a couple of months back it was reported Ukraine were making gains yet the front line hasn't moved for nearly a year and at that point no journalists were allowed on the front line. Just because you believe in a cause doesn't mean you blindly believe everything you are told. This is why the world is in a mess. No one questions anything and no one applies really basic logic.
"Maybe you should use your brain or maybe you could point me to this information where Russia says it's has lost lots of machinery. Note the "Where Russia says" because anything else is propaganda or speculation."
There is a web page which lists Russian equipment losses based on pictures or video available. The current total is a about 12000 land/sea/air vehicles. Probably many more vehicles have been lost. The same site lists about 4300 Ukrainian vehicle losses currently.
Isn't 12000 vehicles lost "lots of machinery" in your book?
"Note the "Where Russia says" because anything else is propaganda or speculation."
No, why do you consider only the Kremlin narrative to be perfectly factual and void of propaganda?
"Ukraine doesn't release numbers on soldiers killed in action..."
No they don't and neither do Russia, and neither side will release any details except propaganda, that is to be expected. However there are many journalists on the ground and 'private' (non-governmental) analysts have very good access to satellite pictures and the like. So there are some pretty good estimates available. AFAIK, Ukraine are facing the usual problem that anyone does when facing Russia, which is that Russia have a seemingly limitless amount of cannon fodder to send to the front lines, so exchanging casualties 1-for-1 or even at a much more advantageous ratio is still a losing proposition in the long term. Russia also has a large artillery advantage, mostly because Ukraine has the cannon but doesn't have enough shells and NATO can't manufacture them fast enough.
Ukrainian drones destroying much more expensive Russian equipment is happening, but so far not in a large enough volume to matter. The scale required is difficult to grasp.... even if Russia is 'only' occupying less than a fifth of Ukrainian territory, it's still an area akin to the size of England. Much as I would like it to happen, Ukraine isn't going to re-occupy it's territory any time soon.
That may be the case but it is still speculation so the "We have been told" is appropriate rather than saying something as an absolute fact. Language is important.
I agree they are destroying much more expensive equipment but at the end of the day we don't know how much equipment that is or how much they had at the start. They are also using drones inside Russia which imho is not going to end well and no I am not saying they shouldn't do it and I'm not saying they should stop fighting either. It's only going to end with Ukraine giving up, Russia completely flattening Ukraine or a wider conflict which no one wants (or maybe some do? we do have a history of war when the economies go to shit and on the plus side the grain shortage gets the public on board).
What economies have "gone to shit"? OK it looks like the UK is in pretty poor shape but I think a lot of us on the outside looking in will say "well what the hell did you expect from that moronic Brexit decision?"
The US economy is in great shape. Yes there's inflation but that's coming down, unemployment is still near 60 year lows, GDP is growing, the stock market is at record highs. Grain shortages will affect poor countries not the US/EU and that's not a good thing but since when have rich countries ever gone to war over grain shortages in poor countries?
What we will see from those grain shortages in poor countries (and have been seeing in central Africa) is civil wars. But how much of that is purely internal versus some external forces like Wagner Group or China trying to stir things up, just like Europe had been doing there previously since the colonial days? If the rest of the world could leave them alone, maybe they could resolve their own problems eventually. But I guess so long as there is gold or diamonds or whatever to be taken there will always be outside powers trying to pit their people against each other to distract from having their wealth stolen.
It's a simple equation. With high interest rates and lack of housing mortgages and rents goes up. With grain problems food prices go up. With energy issues those prices go up. With blatant greed everything goes up.
There are very few cities in the world where these are not huge issues. Add to that stagnation of wages. What do you think is going to happen when people can't afford the things people produce?
"The US economy is in great shape". You do know it can't just keep printing money forever right and once the dollar loses value there will be a willingness to sell oil in non-dollar currencies? Which the US will never ever allow. Lets not talk about China selling all it's US bonds but whether that's an issue is one for economists and not me.
As for civil wars in Africa it's funny Sudan turned to shit just after Russia decided to start building a naval base there. Funny that isn't it? Bit like most South American countries over the last decade when they don't bow down to their American masters and ended up with evil dictators giving out that amazing American "Freedom".
You do know it can't just keep printing money forever right and once the dollar loses value there will be a willingness to sell oil in non-dollar currencies?
People have been saying that's around the corner for longer than I've been alive. Oil has been sold in yuan for years, it hasn't hurt anything. In fact, since China keeps the yuan tightly linked to the dollar it is basically a twin of the dollar. Only if China allows their currency to freely float without any intervention would that represent a change to global trade. China has those dollar denominated bonds because that's the mechanism by which they keep the exchange rate of yuan to dollar in their desired range. They can't sell off all those bonds without breaking that link they can't afford to break.
The problem for all the "trade will no longer be conducted in dollars" crowd is that there is no alternative that would be acceptable to a wide variety of parties. Yuan is just another dollar so so long as China keeps it linked - and they have to do so to maintain their trade balance. The euro has limited appeal outside of Europe. The yen even more limited appeal. Everything else is too small.
I'm sure the crypto crowd would love for trade to be conducted in bitcoin, but yeah...never happening.
Not sure where you are getting this idea about "stagnation of wages", because that's not happening in the US. They've been growing at over 6% over the past year or two. Yeah below the peak of inflation but above it now. What is different this time is that wage increases have been predominately among those at the lowest end of the income scale. Republicans hate that, they want all the raises to go to rich people because they still believe in their trickle down fable and think giving a minimum wage person more money will cause runaway inflation.
"... it's funny Sudan turned to shit just after Russia decided to start building a naval base there..."
Not sure what exactly you are referring to. The only recent trouble in Sudan that I know of was the civil war and eventual secession of South Sudan. South Sudan is 1000 miles from the strip of Red Sea that is Sudan's only coast. So how are those dots connected???
"...can't just keep printing money forever..."
True, but the money that is 'printed' (not really printed but just introduced into circulation) is usually a temporary measure in recessions. As the economy improves, a lot of this money is removed from circulation again. Overall the amount of dollars in circulation still goes up, but it's partly compensated for by the increased population (and therefore increased amount of goods and services in the market). The aim is to keep the money supply a bit higher (ie a small inflation is targeted - whether that is desirable is a complete different discussion)
True, but the money that is 'printed' (not really printed but just introduced into circulation) is usually a temporary measure in recessions. As the economy improves, a lot of this money is removed from circulation again
Which is happening in the US. The Fed has been shrinking their balance sheet at quite an aggressive pace (mostly by allowing bonds they hold to mature without replacing them) alongside the rate increases. i.e. just the opposite of what they did when they cut rates to zero and only had "quantitative easing" as a last resort to further loosen policy", and exactly what you'd expect when they are in a tightening cycle. The money supply has been shrinking fast for well over a year now.
What they see is China's Air Force getting bigger and bigger (2,000+ combat aircrafts) and technically more and more advanced (see Chengju J-20). So the predicate that technology will be enough to outweigh the number may be false. The plan to counter China seems to be to massively develop and use "cheap" drones instead of buying 2,000 F-35
But many of the drones being used in Ukraine cost less than $30,000, like circa $400 (before weapons fit out).
Looks like the US hasn’t fully learnt the lesson from the Talban et al, who made effective use of Toyota pickup trucks and SUVs as a cheap and highly mobile weapons platform.
$400 drones are incredibly limited. In Ukraine, these are used for very short range reconaissance and to drop a few grenades. They're also incredibly vulnerable to electronic warfare, and can be relatively easily shot down. Hence the average drone in Ukraine last less than a week. Which is fine, they're cheap - and there are loads of them.
They're not much of a threat to combat aircraft. I'd imagine the radar guided gatling gun is going to be making a return to many armies, as a way to deal with these.
For some long range strike missions we already use cruise missiles. Which are basically cheap (ish), single-use aircraft. But they're less useful for complex missions, and you only get to use them once.
" I'd imagine the radar guided gatling gun is going to be making a return to many armies, as a way to deal with these"
All the development (and money) that's been put into Direct Energy Weapons (i.e. lasers) over the last few years will probably prove to have been a useful investment; I suspect the technology is plenty effective enough to knock down these cheap drones: they seem to be slow, low-flying (so easy to hit) and relatively fragile (so easy to kill).
The lasers work. But don’t seem to have got out of the prototype stage. I wonder if they can’t get the rate of fire required? Or if it’s reliability problems?
We’ve still got radar controlled Gatling guns on ships. The UK, and I think the US also, took some and mounted them on trucks for base protection in Afghanistan. I think ours were given back to the Royal Navy. But the tech could easily be put on the battlefield. Germany mothballed their Gepards years ago. Then gave some to Ukraine. Which are doing admirable service on the frontline, and defending cities. But quick and dirty truck mounted units are easily possible. I suspect lasers are still a few years off. And may have too high power requirements. Unless there are anti-drone ones, too small to shoot down full-sized aircraft.
Don’t disagree, however, it does seem the US are going for (relatively) small numbers of expensive stuff rather than larger numbers of cheaper stuff that can be used in swarms. Tonight’s news noted Ukraine are consuming circa 10,000 drones a month, so it would seem tomorrows battles will require a full range of drones…
The US have both. They’ve already deployed Switchblade in large numbers, and other small squad level drones. And lots of these have been gifted to Ukraine.
RUSI have done some excellent reporting on the drone war in Ukraine. The last thing I read suggested that Ukrainian frontline troops often preferred the el cheapo AliExpress drones, because they were used to them, and they were easier to use. This may be a training issue, or it may be that the NATO forces are over-complicating their requirements and are buying too many bells and whistles? Or a mix of both. Many lessons will be learned. However electronic warfare takes a heavy toll on drones, and sometimes whole sectors of the battlefield are denied to both sides drones. And that’s where spending the big bucks pays off.
This is what I was thinking. Let the drones fight it out and the soldiers (from both sides) can head off to the pub. Let the politicians, army generals, or religious leaders fight it out amongst themselves instead of sending someone else to go and get killed for their starving ideals.
Sadly, that's not how it will work.
With the invention of the machine gun, one soldier could fire more bullets, faster, than a 20 man platoon previously. Did that mean armies shrank by a factor of 20 and the rest of the guys got to stay home?... No. No, it didn't.
Drones are the same. A force multiplier is no reason to field a smaller force.
"each one costing around $3 million – well below the price of crewed fighter jets like the F-35 or F-22".
Well, yes, accurate, but in the same way it's accurate to say that the height of my original Kenner Yoda action figure (about 6cm) is "well below" my own height (six foot in my socks). For the price of an F-22 you could buy nearly FIFTY of these things.
Indeed. And they have 177 F-22. That's a quarter as much as they initially planned, because the costs were too high. The goal of 2000 units is still impressively high — it's as much as the total number of combat planes they currently have, half of which, surprisingly, seems to be F-16s:
I doubt it. By the time the project has gone through it's inevitable delays and cost overruns the $3M price tag will be closer to $10M, and I'm not sure which side of $10M either.
They should still get a lot of these for the cost of a modern manned fighter, but 50 is optimistic.
When they stopped requiring high skill levels to fly.
R/C aircraft need a pilot who can actually keep it in the air via directing the control surfaces and engine(s).
Drones need an operator who can click on waypoints. The operator never adjusts a control surface, only provides inputs to the autopilot.
There's a certain overlap in the quadcopter space. A quadcopter is impossible to fly manually as they're fundamentally unstable. Older quads only have stabilisation so are really R/C aircraft. Newer ones have a full waypointing autopilot.
Yes that is a god question.
We have unmanned aircraft called drones and also unmanned helicopters called drones and they are so very different but still still called drones.
I actually think it was the unmanned aircraft that were first called drones.
Personally now, I think a drone should be able to hover and move slowly and vertically, land and take off and so forth.
But the drones we now discuss do none of that.
Putting my back into the pocket.
It's been answered already, but I'll chuck in my 2p-worth - years ago I flew paragliders. There were a few guys who'd turn up to the same hill(s) to fly RC gliders. One night after all the wind had dropped and we'd all walked back to the car park, one of them pulled one of these newfangled "drone" thingies out of his boot and wazzed it up and down and around for a bit. It was impressive. He'd built it himself out of 3d printed parts and bits he'd bought off the net. I think an Arduino was involved. I asked him how hard it was to fly. His reply was succinct: "I'm not flying it. I'm just telling it where to go. It flies itself." He demonstrated by putting the controller on the ground. The drone hovered dutifully where he'd left it. We carried on chatting for a few minutes, him ignoring the thing, me giving it more and more frequent nervous glances. After a few more minutes, it flew back over to the car park and landed next to his car. He'd never touched the controller. Apparently he'd programmed it to fly back to its launch point when the battery was getting low. That would have been ten years ago.
They became drones when you could take them out of the box and IMMEDIATELY, with no training, make them hover and fly to anywhere you want with no training or practice. It's like the difference between driving a car and having chauffeur.
I expect one reason for the (for drones) rather high cost is that they need to be supersonic to work alongside manned fighter jets. I don't think any supersonic fighter drone is in production at this time (though there are several prototypes, including the British BAE Taranis, though not much has happened with that lately). China has a supersonic surveillance drone in production (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AVIC_WZ-8), but you need higher manoeuvrability for fighter drones.
But there are countless advantages of unmanned fighter jets: You don't need life support, they can (for that reason) be smaller, which aids manoeuvrability, and they can withstand much higher G-force than a human. I agree that there should be limits to autonomy: They should definitely not choose their targets, but it might be interesting to allow the AI to refuse a target if it finds too many civilians nearby. And the AI can definitely handle navigation and evasive manoeuvres on its own.
As the USA has no land border to worry about, one has to assume, these "drones" are designed for a very different attack on the USA, (or used by the USA somewhere else).
They would fitt NATO too in certain scenarios.
I don't think there is any good reason to compare these "drones" to the ones used and needed in Ukraine today.