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"Elon Musk Was Right: The Manned Fighter Jet Era Has" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP24 Mar 2020 9:26 p.m. PST

…(Almost) Passed.

"Elon Musk recently stunned a large gathering of Air Force officers at an annual Air Force Association (AFA) symposium by telling them that "the fighter jet era has passed" and confidently predicting that "locally autonomous drone warfare is where the future will be." Scores of current and retired fighter pilots in attendance were gobsmacked. It's one thing for a Musk or a Jeff Bezos to talk about autonomy to a room packed with shareholders looking to maximize productivity and profit. It's another thing entirely when the shareholders happen to also be the workers on the frontline and their jobs are at stake. Welcome to the harsh world of speaking truth to a military that does not want to hear it.

In the days since Musk's remarks, several articles have been written, mostly by former fighter pilots, proclaiming that "air superiority" will depend upon manned fighters like the F-35 for decades to come. Two major arguments have been put forth: 1) human situational awareness and mental processing power will remain necessary to win aerial close combat or "dogfights" for the foreseeable future; and 2) autonomous aircraft are inherently unreliable and accident prone. These critiques are, at best, tenuous. More importantly, however, they obscure other trends in air warfare that support Musk's core contention that the days of the manned fighter are numbered…"
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arealdeadone25 Mar 2020 1:39 a.m. PST

Whatever Musk or anyone says, the US is actually cutting drone programs aka MQ-9, MQ-4 and MQ-25 and ramping up acquisition of manned aircraft including first F-15s ordered in over 20 years.

Oberlindes Sol LIC25 Mar 2020 10:16 a.m. PST

An interesting asymmetry will probably develop.

Air forces with cultures that support jet fighters will continue to procure them. That's obviously the USA. I don't know about the other serious jet fighter producing nations, Russia, China, the UK, France, Germany, Israel, and Sweden.

Meanwhile, countries and non-governmental organizations that can't make their own jet fighters will turn to cheaper and easier to produce drones. Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, India, Taiwan, Vietnam, probably every country in Europe and much of South and Central America can make weaponized drones.

USAFpilot25 Mar 2020 11:10 a.m. PST


Asymmetry developed because one side is substantially more powerful than the other side. Symmetrical warfare on a large scale is pointless between peers. The only reason why we don't need manned fighter jets is because we have them. If we didn't have them, then we would need them. A force based upon deterrence is a force which never has to be used. That doesn't mean we don't need it. Kind of a circular argument.

rmaker25 Mar 2020 12:29 p.m. PST

And Elon Musk is an expert on this why?

Mark Plant25 Mar 2020 10:58 p.m. PST

Elon Musk is apparently an expert on everything.

He's your usual booster -- talking up AI as suitable in warfare while apparently unaware that it can't even sort things out when people are in the open yet. How it will cope in a world of camouflage, chaff, dummies, etc?

An airforce with only drones would be exactly one hack away from attacking its own side in a spectacular own goal.

I'm sure AI will be increasingly important in warfare, but only an idiot would have a system with no manual over-ride.

Incidentally, why not unmanned tanks? Unmanned submarines? In many ways those are easier to program.

arealdeadone26 Mar 2020 5:52 a.m. PST

The funny thing is a lot of air forces are degrading to manned turbo prop armed trainers and helicopters. Popular choices include the Embraer Super Tucano armed trainer, Cessna Caravan armed utility aircraft and AT802 Skytractor which is an agricultural aircraft.

Even 1960s Hueys continue to sell albeit modernised to Huey II standard but they are still late 1960s vintage airframes that probably served in Vietnam!

Fighter jets are increasingly a dying thing. For many third world air forces even a MiG-17 would represent a massive leap in combat capability, let alone a MiG-21Bis or F-5E Tiger.

So much for advanced UCAVs!

Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP26 Mar 2020 9:28 a.m. PST

IF they are obsolete, then where are the active, unmanned, air-superiority replacements fielded by various nations?

Are they top secret, so we don't know about them?

Granted, pilot-less aircraft may one day replace manned fighters, but in the near term I suspect they'll be doing more mundane things like acting as bomb trucks, cargo haulers, and aerial refuelers.

Clearly, they can pull more Gs in air-to-air combat, and have other advantages, but they need secure data links, and/or over the top AI in order to conduct autonomous dogfighting and other aerial combat and win in the 21st Century.

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