back to article Airbus shows off uncrewed AI-powered Wingman for fighter pilots

AI-piloted drones that accompany and assist human-piloted fighter jets are very much on military minds – and Airbus is showing off its take on the technology.  The aerospace giant was at the International Aerospace Exhibition (ILA) in Berlin this week with a full-scale model of its Wingman drone – an "unmanned escort for …

  1. Filippo Silver badge

    So, it's R-Type's bit device?

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Coat

    "details on how pilots control and interact with Wingman"

    Simples. They just ask Siri to bomb that target . . .

    1. Andy Non Silver badge

      Re: "details on how pilots control and interact with Wingman"

      No, they will ask Alexa, she will bomb the target and automatically reorder more missiles from Amazon, next day delivery.

      1. Lazlo Woodbine

        Re: "details on how pilots control and interact with Wingman"

        If you give Amazon the address of the target, they'll deliver them to site using their own drone fleet...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "details on how pilots control and interact with Wingman"

          They'll even gift wrap them if you tick that box.

          Nice username. Do you always comment in first person?

          1. Lazlo Woodbine

            Re: "details on how pilots control and interact with Wingman"

            I only ever comment from my office or Fangio's

            1. MyffyW Silver badge

              Re: "details on how pilots control and interact with Wingman"

              "Have another day"

        2. TeeCee Gold badge

          Re: "details on how pilots control and interact with Wingman"

          Well, they'll lob them over the fence next door actually, but it's the thought that counts.

      2. rg287 Silver badge

        Re: "details on how pilots control and interact with Wingman"

        and automatically reorder more missiles from Amazon

        Are you saying you don't have your missiles on Subscribe and Save?

    2. jokerscrowbar

      Re: "details on how pilots control and interact with Wingman"

      Pilot: “Bomb target Penrhydygroes”

      Siri: “Bombing Houses Of Parliament”

      1. Andy Non Silver badge

        Re: "details on how pilots control and interact with Wingman"

        So, autocorrect does work then! ;-)

  3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    FCAS

    I think Airbus are Germany's lead partner in the FCAS program - with France using Dassault. There's been a lot of infighting, because Dassault were trying to claim most of the intellectual property on the plane element of the program - as the guys who designed and built the Rafale. The French seemed to envisage the project as France getting the aircraft they wanted, with them getting the lion's share of the work and Spain and Germany helping to pay - then a drone program which would be led by Germany. Except that France already has several drone programs ongoing, so you do wonder if this is basically a way for France to get at Germany's chequebook in order to finance the hideous costs of a 6th generation fighter program.

    It's interesting that Britain, Italy and Sweden left the program a while ago (historically the French have been bloody hard to work with), to start up their own FCAS. Fortunately we've now changed the name to GCAP, and Sweden have decided they're not interested at the moment, but Japan have joined up.

    To keep the maximum confusion going, the US have two 6th-gen fighter programs on the go. Both called NGAD. The Navy and Air Force having separate programs.

    I have a personal theory that a lot of these loyal wingmen things won't happen. If you're going to the horrible expense of building a modern strike fighter, that can do 9g turns, mach 2 and supercruise, then the pilot is not the most expensive bit. Sure without one, you can now pull much higher g's. But how much higher, before the wings fall off? Or at least, you've put so much stress into the airframe that it can only do a few sorties before its in the bin. And I bet you can't build an airframe that can out-turn a missile - and missiles are much, much cheaper.

    But if your drone is smaller, it can't carry as much fuel. So why not have lots of drones that are also missiles? They're only single use, but the most expensive UK air-to-air missile is Meteor, at £2 million a pop - so just have more of those and increase the capabilities?

    I can see drones as missile trucks. A loyal wingman to carry a bunch more missiles for you. Maybe the next deveolopment will be air-to-air-to-air missiles? Mini AAMs to shoot down the AAMs fired at your plane, while you shoot AAMs at your enemy and try to use electronic warfare to protect your own missiles.

    Something like drone tanker aircraft, and drone aircraft carrying sensors and jammers - plus spare missiles to be directed by other planes seem a lot more promising.

    1. Justthefacts Silver badge

      Re: FCAS

      Feels like fighting yesterday’s war.

      “If you're going to the horrible expense of building a modern strike fighter, that can do 9g turns, mach 2 and supercruise, then the pilot is not the most expensive bit.”

      And why would you want to do any of that? 9G turns are only useful in a dogfight. 100 really cheap drones cost less than one sixth-gen fighter, and win every time. They really don’t have to be very smart: any fighter can’t carry more than 20 missiles. The cheap drones just loiter BVR and get shot down immediately; leaving 80 cheap drones BVR vs one manned fighter very good pilot but fighting with guns only. All 80 cheap drones surround it from 50 miles away and simultaneously fire one missile; how can the manned fighter possibly outmanoeuver a 50 missile salvo? Doesn’t work.

      And that’s *still* the old view. What has Ukraine taught us? That any fighter, no matter how capable, cannot fly too low otherwise it gets hit by cheap shoulder-launched SAMs that it can’t avoid in the 3 seconds it has to respond. And if it flies any higher it becomes visible to a very capable S300 or equivalent will remove it from the sky from 150 miles away. The assumption was always that Wild Weasel would target anti-radiation missiles onto the S300s. Apparently this doesn’t work reliably enough to allow the Russian airforce to do much more than sit on the ground twiddling its thumbs. Again, the only way to defeat S300s seems to be to target them with long-range artillery, or overwhelm them with drone strikes.

      What is the *purpose* of a 6G fighter in a war like that? We seem to be debating the best way it can defend *itself* and defeat its equals. But even if it can, it seems to be sweet FA use in doing anything to defeat any other weaponry or troops. Why bother.

      1. Adair Silver badge

        Re: FCAS

        Why bother.

        Because money.

        The 'defence industry' will willingly punt any concept, like a baited fishing line, in the hopes of getting a bite.

        Once bitten, even if the project gets canned before ever seeing action, money will have been made. Hopefully quite a lot of money.

      2. lglethal Silver badge
        Go

        Re: FCAS

        I'd actually argue that Air Superiority is still as relevant today as any time. Ukraine is proving that. Russia has Air Superiority, and there is almost nothing Ukraine can do about the Glide Bombs that Russia launches from long distance to strike Ukraine.

        Drones cant help against those. And it's true the Russians have resorted to these tactics because of the dominance of MANPADS and SAMs. But if Ukraine had an effective Airforce the equivalent of Russia (and hopefully the F15's that they are due to receive soon will help there), then even the Guide Bombs could be taken care of.

        There's still a place for Air Superiority. And while "I Ain't Spartacus" is right that the Pilot is not the most expensive in straight material costs. They ARE the most expensive from a political cost. No one really questions if a plane crashes. But if a pilot is killed, there is definitely hell to pay. In that regard, an automated jet holds a lot of advantages for an air force.

        Do we really need to develop a whole new plane for this though? I'm not convinced, take a Eurofighter-F16-F/A18-etc., remove the cockpit, and in that space install all the electronics needed to make it autonomous. Boom, you have a fast, effective, proven aircraft, that is now your wingman. And the costs would be massively reduced. Hell if you're America, and you want that extra special Superiority, do this with the F117 or F22. An entirely new chassis, just feels like a waste personally.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: FCAS

          Iglegal,

          Quick correction. We're sending F16s to Ukraine, not F15s. I don't think they'll have a huge impact on war. They might allow Ukraine to gain temporary air superiority over a particular bit of battlefield - if they can neutralise Russia's air defence. But mostly I think they'll be used for trying to shoot down Russian missiles - and for similar tactics to Russia - of lobbing weapons onto the battlefield from beyond air defence range. However they are rated for many of NATO's shinier modern air-launched weapons. It's been a proper bodge to get HARM and Storm Shadow onto the SU-24 - and this means using older models that are programmed on the ground, and the plane just fires. The more modern ones, that can update targetting info from the cockpit - need compatible computer systems., which F16 has.

          But I don't think they'll have the numbers, the experience or the supporting assets required to seriously take on Russia's air defences or air force. So you'll end up with two limited capability air forces, operating behind a shield of SAMs.

          The US do have a program to turn old F16s into drones. To see if they make good AI aircraft. And this may be one way to go. But I don't think we know what drone aircraft can do yet. Hence lots of expensive experimentation is happening.

      3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: FCAS

        Justthefacts,

        9G turns are only useful in a dogfight.

        Firstly, the end of the dogfight has been repeatedly predicted since the 1960s. And hasn't yet happened. We keep improving our tools to allow the pilots to engage at range, which should mean that now the dogfight is dead - or something you only do when you've run out of missiles. However there's also stealth and jamming, which could reduce engagement ranges. Also if your tools have broken down, you may be able to engage a target at range, but not know if it's a friendly or not. You could volley off a missile, and find out the hard way, but often in the past pilots of closed to visual identification range, and ended up in dogfights. If you designe a plane without the ability, and you're wrong - you're left with a very expensive aircraft with 30 years of life in it - that you can't use. Oops.

        Also, if the enemy fires missiles at you, the ability to make high-g turns, may be the difference between life and death.

        100 really cheap drones cost less than one sixth-gen fighter, and win every time.

        I see that you're full of confidence in your ability to know the future. There are no 6th gen fighters and there are very few multi-million dollar drones in existence that could defeat a fighter, and those that could are prototypes and cost way more than millions of dollars, at least at the moment. Things like Predator cost in that price range, and coould defeat a current fighter if equipped with a suitable missile. if they got very lucky.

        if you mean drones costing a few thousand, then it would have to be kamikaze style. Fly for the engines or the windscreen and hope for the best. Cheap drones are very effective at dropping grenades on soldiers' heads - but are not fast enough or maneuverable enough to do anything to a modern fighter unless they got really lucky. So you're essentially making an untestable prediction about some future system, fighting another future system.

        You also fail to understand how air combat works. It's all about detection. If I detect you five minutes before you detect me, then there's a good chance that the first time you know about it is when the missile turns up to say hello. This means that stealth and the power and quality of radars really matters. This further means, that cheap drones are less likely to detect expensive aircraft first. Also laser weapons are a thing. They're a long way off being powerful enough to destroy big things, but for anti-drone work they may be ideal. The Royal Navy are fitting them to all their warships, in the anti-drone role - and the GCAP sixth-gen fighter program has special high power-generating engines in order to have lots of leccy to power both lasers and jammers. Power really matters with both of those, and for that power you need big, expensive engines. So the top air forces are betting on having better access to toys on their expensive planes, that they can defeat more numerous small drones with their poorer sensors (due to less available power / less cost).

        Your final point about Ukraine is why all air forces are investing in 5th and 6th generation aircraft. MANPADS are a threat, but they're very hard to use on low flying aircraft. Although AAA (anti-aircraft artillery) is also a big threat. I suspect an increasing one too, as it's a great way to deal with drones - and I suspect all armies are going to be investing in it. But SEAD (suppression of air defence) is not like the old Vietnam days of a Wild Weasel wandering around trying to provoke a SAM site to shoot at it, so it can finish it off. If you've got F35, you can get a lot closer to ground-based radars, there's also electronic attack (offensive jamming - and possibly attacks on the enemy's air defence network), plus targetted missile strikes and other things. To take down an integrated air defence network is very hard, and Russia was not thought to train to do this (as they've show in Ukraine) - but NATO have been training for it for decades. And building stealth aircraft and much more capable anti-radar missiles for the job. The tranche 4 Typhoon that Germany have just ordered - and the UK are already upgrading to can use its radar for electronic attack (jamming) - while also carrying anti-radar missiles and large numbers of small missiles to attack the launchers (Spear 3). F35's radar may also be able to do similar things, sources I've read are cagey about it, but it can also get closer to the launchers - so may be safer not using jamming itself. Though nothing's stopping other planes from jamming from further away at the same time. Russia's AD networlk would be a dangerous and hard nut to crack - but Ukraine does not show if this is possible, because neither side has the technology to even try. Although it's noticeable that S300 and S400 can't even stop relatively low speed ballistic missiles like ATACAMS. Ukraine has shown how bad it is to fight without air superiority, but Russia's failures of training and doctrine - and Ukraine's lack of a modern air force mean it's hard to learn any lessons from it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: FCAS

          Good that Europe industry and politics are on this train. Go European industry Go and 100% made in Europe

          Lets hope its compatible with US and Asian allies platforms/programs to..

          But how many Wingman can/does one Eurofighter 5b th or 6th generation (FCAS program ) command or need ? 2.. 3 max ? over which distance ? and will its main task be defense of the 6th generation airplane and its pilot ?

          The communication aspect between the 6th generation Eurofighter and its Wingman(’s) must be the key factor I guess.

          In a real hostile environment scenarios ..

          (heavy jammed sky with big sensitive enemy ears .. and ready to shoot

          satellites are out, ground antennas/radars are jammed or out , even the AWACS planes are no longer effective sky command ship to help guide the Wingman(’s) in defending the 6th gen Eurofighter and its pilot.

          As attack vehicle, a ground target ?, a enemy plane ?, a satellite?, a ship ?, isn’t that overkill (expense) vs sending future European made and developed Hypersonic missiles to the target ? (also after a mission, reconditioning time and cost of these Wingman array + the Eurofighter .. )

          I’m just thinking out loud.

          We will need them, but it’s a complete package of systems we need to get it successful against a peer enemy and on industrial scale.

          F-16 drones has the same issue I think (communication bandwidth and stability )

          Maybe as a carrier to a point not to warm to drop or lance a missile at higher start speed .. (still expensive )

        2. Justthefacts Silver badge

          Re: FCAS

          “the end of the dogfight has been repeatedly predicted since the 1960s. And hasn't yet happened.” Is a statement that has been made since the 60s and consists only of edge-cases.

          In the Ukraine war, over 1000 aircraft have been shot down, of which *zero* have been air-to-air gun victories. At least one aircraft has been downed by *small arms fire from the ground*. The last air-to-air gun kill was in 1992 by Venezuelan F16. I mean, seriously, this just doesn’t happen in reality. You can write stories of how it *might* happen, and how you’d want a gun if you were in trouble, but actually it doesn’t.

          Possibly you misunderstand the threat scenario. Scenario is swarm of mid-capability drones in the Bayraktar class, each carrying one AMRAAM. It’s pure attrition by numbers. Each drone itself is rather incapable, and not much more than a meat-shield / drain for the fighters limited six AMRAAM. But after the fighters missiles are drained, it’s only offence is close-range, and then it’s stealth is irrelevant. Inside ten seconds, the battle becomes splash six drones, then remaining thirty BVR missile-trucks launch simultaneously against one basically unarmed high-G fighter. The fighter has only six directions it can go, so it’s toast. It’s stealth advantage was completely lost both by launching, then triangulating itself with six missile tracks, and by going full active radar. The purpose of stealth advantage is that you were supposed to be dead by then.

          Offensive Fighters also labour under a massive disadvantage: they have to carry their own radar, which makes it quite small, and going active paints themself as a target. Drone swarms on the defense can leverage potentially hundreds of powerful active radars on the ground, in bi-static mode. Given even approximately comparable technology, it’s not a remotely fair fight. American stealth fighters only looked troublesome because they were up against opposition *fifty* years behind them technologically.

          1. EvilDrSmith Silver badge

            Re: FCAS

            "In the Ukraine war, over 1000 aircraft have been shot down",

            Hmm, not really. If you include all the unmanned systems that are low performance and operating at low level, then based on the Oryx figures, you get around that number in total for air-system losses.

            However, taking their numbers for Damaged+destroyed+captured, it's 114 Russian fixed wing aircraft and 88 Ukrainian, so 202 losses from all causes (including losses on the ground), with a further 137 Russian helicopters + 46 Ukrainian, but they are not really relevant to the discussion at hand.

            However, I do not dispute that air-to-air cannon kills are vanishingly rare.

            However, your scenario is also somewhat dubious - what enemy is going to have the capability to put up 36 'BVR missile truck' drones against a single unsupported (or supported by 1 or 2 'loyal wingman' drones) fighter?

            Combat aircraft do not tend to operate singly. You'd expect a pair of combat aircraft as a minimum, but assuming you know the enemy have these 'BVR missile truck' drones, you likely send 4, or 8, manned aircraft. so you now have 16* air to air missiles on your four fighters plus as many again on your loyal wingmen, so you match the BVR drones for missiles, But you have semi-expendable wingman drones, plus jammers and decoys on board.

            So unless the opposition can afford to make/purchase, operate and maintain 36 drones for every fighter you have, it's a tough first day and you lose some aircraft and people, and on day 2 you still have half+ your manned aircraft, and they are out of drones.

            (*Typhoon standard load out is 2 Asraam [or Iris-T] plus 4 Meteor, so actually 6 per aircraft, and it can carry at least a further 2 Asraam if need be. Typhoon also has onboard jammers, plus a towed decoy system, plus dispensers for chaff, flare and mini-jammers, and the capability to launch MALDs: Miniature air-launched decoys).

            One of the potential uses of 'loyal wingman' drones is also that the manned fighter does not need to emit to launch missiles, maintaining stealth / low observability..

            The radar on the wingman cues the manned aircraft's IRST, which is a passive sensor, and/or the missiles on the launch aircraft directly.

            Yes, launching missiles may make the aircraft detectable at that point, but that doesn't provide a constant signal that a missile can home in on, only the first awareness that something is there - which you must already have, else how / why would you know to launch your drone swarm in the first place? More modern radar guided missiles do not need constant radar illumination of the target by their launch aircraft, they 'go active' and find the target themselves within a certain range, and I think Meteor is quite happy to fly to a fixed point in space (without radar guidance), and then hunt for it's own target.

            The missile truck drone as defense against manned aircraft sounds rather like the argument for replacing all manned aircraft with missiles, the main achievement of which was seriously damaging the UK aerospace industry.

            Also, I'm not quite sure how you get to US stealth aircraft opponents being 50 years behind technologically. The F22 is a mid-90's aircraft, so that's saying it was taking on piston-engined propeller aircraft, which might have stress-skin construction, but might still be fabric covered, armed with cannon or machine gun, with no radar, decoys or missiles.. Plus, the US air force is generally troublesome using very much unstealthy F15s and F16s, that date back to the 1970s, but have been updated, and are flown by well trained aircrew, in a sizable and well balanced air force. It's those last points - training, mass and balance, that make the USAF the effective force that it is.

            1. Justthefacts Silver badge

              Re: FCAS

              I still don’t think you are seeing how this scales. Assume the enemy can match you in *spending*, if not in tech capability. That wing of 8 manned fighters is going to cost you nearly a billion dollars. Assuming an *equal airforce budget* they are going to be up against *500* simultaneous Bayraktar drones. 500 vs 8 is not a fair fight. “So unless the opposition can afford to make/purchase, operate and maintain 36 drones for every fighter you have”….well if they are a peer airforce, then they not only can, it’s about 50-70:1, not 36:1.

              “It’s a tough first day and you lose some aircraft and people, and on day 2 you still have half+ your manned aircraft, and they are out of drones.”. Nope. What happens is that in the “equal fight” of 7000 Bayraktar vs 140 sixth Gen fighters: on day 1, the Bayraktars lose 1000 drones within a couple of minutes, and then the fighters have to circle back to base for reload. The *other* 6000 drones continue on towards the base airfields and totally obliterate them while on the ground.

              This entire 6Gen Fighter doctrine is based on the assumption NATO side having complete budget and technical superiority *anyway*. Traditional asymmetric warfare assumes the technical underdog doesn’t have much cash either. But that’s not necessarily true.

              “Also, I'm not quite sure how you get to US stealth aircraft opponents being 50 years behind technologically….The F22 is a mid-90's aircraft” well, that depends how you look at it. It’s still an apex predator in 2024. The F16s being talked about for Ukraine are beasts from 1978. The bulk of potential F22 opponents would be using Mig29s from the 70s.

              Perhaps this one might give you pause: the war being fought in Ukraine is mainly an artillery war. The U.K. doesn’t have any artillery to speak of, presumably because the Channel is in the way so we won’t need them in a hurry. We have just forty M270. But none of the artillery pieces so effective in the Ukraine would have any difficult firing across the Channel. In fact, HIMARS could pound U.K. coastal defences from as far away as Brussels, or vice versa; or hit central London from Calais. In that context, spending 1/500th of total defence budget on a single fighter that carries just six missiles is more than slightly eccentric.

              1. EvilDrSmith Silver badge

                Re: FCAS

                Hmm, I seem to have a moving target: originally it was 6 drones get shot down and the remaining 30 are left to kill the fighter, 36 total; now you are saying up to 70 to 1.

                Just going with 50-1, you've allowed $2mil per drone (500 drones for 1 Billion).

                It was reported ~3 years ago that the Saudis bought 280 Amraam (plus launchers) for $650 million [https://www.airforce-technology.com/news/us-aim-120c-amraam-missiles-sale/], so your cost allowance per drone doesn't actually cover the cost of the missile that they are due to fire, let alone the drone itself.

                That above factor also ignores the practicalities of building and maintaining that many airframes: Your fleet of "7000 Bayraktar" are presumably autonomous (otherwise they need ground control, and ground based pilots), so they have a relatively high-technology 'brain' and sensors. So apart from the cost of building them, you will need a production line capable of churning them out at sufficient base to maintain that fleet size - a very secure production line, obviously, because it would be embarrassing if someone meddled with the software. Then you need to find airbases for them (with security, to protect from interference), and the maintenance personnel to keep them in flying condition.

                The F16 may be an unstealthy beast from the 1970's, but the F22 doesn't have 50 years technological lead on it, since the F16 has been through various upgrades. the airframe design is old, but the engines, avionics, ECM, weapons fit, etc are all more recent. If the F22 is taking on MiG29's they are a 1980's airframe, with 1990's/early 21st C avionics, etc.

                The UK doesn't have much artillery. because our defense basis is (firstly, that there are no votes in defense, so we can cut back our defences) that we are part of NATO, and therefore only need to provide 'our share', and we prioritise air capability (Typhoon with Brimstone and Storm Shadow, submarines with land attack Tomahawk).

                The question you have not yet addressed is why do we think that an enemy might be sitting in Brussels firing rockets at London? Given today's date, there is a certain historical basis for it happening, but it doesn't seem a particularly credible scenario in the near future.

                Whereas we do, routinely, send up manned fighter jets to intercept civilian passenger jets that have failed to respond to air traffic control, or to chase away Russian military aircraft that are snooping around UK and Eire airspace. We do, almost routinely, want to drop a few Paveway smart bombs or brimstone missiles on terrorists ("terrorists", if you prefer). It's conceivable that we might need to launch small scale air strikes against hostile powers that are less than peer competitors, perhaps to take out Iran's nuclear capability, or maybe destroy some element of Venezuelan military capability if their threats to Guyana were to escalate in to actual war, most likely to deal with some situation that was entirely unpredicted (and hence wasn't avoided by diplomacy).

                Manned fighters are useful and work. We are (hopefully) not developing future military technology on the assumption that we will be fighting world war III, and therefore the only use our new equipment has to have is to fight WWIII.

                And if drone swarms are so cheap and easy, we can rapidly develop them, using the technology we will develop for 6th gen fighters and loyal wingman projects, going the other way, not so much.

          2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: FCAS

            Justthefacts,

            In the Ukraine war, over 1000 aircraft have been shot down, of which *zero* have been air-to-air gun victories.

            Do you have a source for that claim? It's believable, because there's been relatively little air-to-air combat in Ukraine - apart from the first week (when Ukraine's air defence kit was mostly in hiding / and both sides had to be positioned for the front lines). It's mostly been a war of little tactical use of air power, limited by strong air defences, mostly firing from behind freindly lines.

            My impressin is that Russia has had some success lobbing very long-range radar guided missiles at low flying Ukranian tactical air from MiG-31s inside Russia. It's a low probability move, but Russia can do it, and Ukraine can't retaliate.

            However, even if there have been no gun kills - you don't just dogfight with guns. You also dogfight with heat seekers. While it looks like most fights are going to involve very long range kills with radar guided missiles - your statement that:

            “the end of the dogfight has been repeatedly predicted since the 1960s. And hasn't yet happened.” Is a statement that has been made since the 60s and consists only of edge-cases.

            Edge cases like say, the entire Vietnam War? The US had to completely rebuild their doctrine because of the early spankings they got in Vietnam - from an enemy that did their best to avoid a missile fight, they were going to lose, and so managed to arrange a lot of close-in fighting. There hasn't been a huge amount of peer-on-peer air warfare, with modern kit on both sides in recent years. So not a lot to go on. But seeing as you have to design tactical aircraft to go fast, in order to reach the target in time, it's not that much more expensive to give them the ability to turn - lest you find out your assumptions are wrong - and you have to stop using your expensive $100m aircraft after only a few years.

            Possibly you misunderstand the threat scenario. Scenario is swarm of mid-capability drones in the Bayraktar class, each carrying one AMRAAM.

            How does your Bayraktar fire its AMRAAM? It doesn't have a radar. It's too slow to get into the fight, and its engine isn't powerful enough to fit a decent radar. If you're talking about this defensive drone swarm as just a bunch of passive carriers for missiles to be controlled by a ground based radar, then why not save money and just build more SAMs? The Bayraktar is also too small, but something Predator sized could do the job, though still probably doesn't have the engine power for a decent radar. However your idea of one fighter taking on hundreds of drones is silly. The enemy won't just bring one, they have squadrons of the things. And your cheap slow drones can be outdone in missiles by their more expensive missile-truck drones. Which will be fast enough to keep up with the attacking force - while yours are too cheap, and too slow to maneuver very much.

            Basically the cheap drone is an extension of your ground based air defences. And you are correct that attacking is harder. But you're wrong if you think the potential attacker doesn't know this. It's why he's looking at having anti-drone lasers on his aircraft (if they turn out to work of course) and will have loyal wingmen to carry extra ammunition. With his more expensive drones, he can outnumber your cheap, local defence ones at any particular point and destroy them, and slowly take apart your relatively static air defence system. Unless you build more expensive,. more mobile drones of the same type, to be loyal wingmen to your own tactical aircraft.

            the defense can leverage potentially hundreds of powerful active radars on the ground, in bi-static mode. Given even approximately comparable technology, it’s not a remotely fair fight. American stealth fighters only looked troublesome because they were up against opposition *fifty* years behind them technologically.

            This sounds like straight Russian propoganda though. It's possible that Russia has wunderwaffe that can checkmate the evil NATO with no effort at all. But if so, why are Russia also investing in stealth aircraft? It's like all the internet experts who tell you that China doesn't care about US aircraft carriers - because they'll just destroy them with their ballistic missiles in a jiffy. While at the same time, China are building 3, US-style large carriers. It's unlikely that both of those statements are going to be true at once.

            Also while stealth has its limitations, the US actually practise against allies, and many of those allies (having seen the results of that training) have also gone out and bought F35 stealth aircraft. China is investing a huge amount in stealth - Russia's 2 major stealth projects seem to have run out of cash - one has multiple prototypes/early production models though. Also we have several massively expensive follow-on stealth projects on the go from most of the major powers. It's a complex, and rapidly changing field. Drones are going to change things, but it's hard to predict how. However any clever idea can be countered. There's very rarely been a single I Win button in military history, and when there has been, it's not usually lasted that long. It's usually a combination of training, doctrine, and having the right mix of kit - plus the money to pay for it - that wins wars.

    2. Luiz Abdala
      Pint

      Re: FCAS

      "I can see drones as missile trucks."

      Exactly. Give it a basic set of priorities, like guard the pilot and his aircraft, and attach missile authority over to the human pilot.

      That R-Type paradigm works really well here. An agile ship that lugs extra firepower and is programmed to sacrifice itself in the place of the decision-maker pilot. And since it doesn't need to lug around 500kg of human survival gear, it can carry extra fuel and ammo for itself and the manned aircraft.

      And since it is flying almost in formation at all times, inside visual range at worse, it would be near impossible to jam comms between both.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FCAS

      a good base resume of these wingman type of drones https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-s0fbZ85_DE

  4. H. sapien Floridanus

    Top SCRUM

    Pilot: Bogey 10:00 evasive maneuver.

    AI: Manure is a nitrogen byproduct of organic…

    Pilot: Is this a joke?

    Ai: OK, a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar…

    1. Danielr_667

      Re: Top SCRUM

      I wonder how all this progress compares to say the MQ-28A Ghost Bat for the RAAF. Seems they are moving along ahead of the Airbus "concept" and just about anybody else at the moment...

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