November 1, 2012  

Flying backwards

To the Air Force for attempting to return to the thrilling days of yesteryear, when manned jets ruled the skies.

Looks like Bob Gates called this one. A few months before he retired, the outgoing defense secretary warned that Air Force leaders would try to tear up the inroads that UAVs had made into the service’s pilot-centric culture. Sure enough, the service now intends to hustle new Global Hawks into storage, halve its Reaper buy and abandon research into the next generation of midsize UAVs. The USAF’s defenders may blame the defense downturn, but they didn’t cut manned aircraft as a result, only the ones without cockpits.

There’s no use denying that remotely piloted aircraft are a disruptive technology. Compared to manned aircraft, they deliver a large fraction of capability for a small fraction of the price. Historically, organizations that cling to the old in the face of the new are ultimately forced to change or die.