No Robot in the Loop Here!



Just when you didn't think things could get any more nonsensical, here's a story that makes you just shake your head with frustration.

Now, I'll caveat this by saying I'm welcome to be convinced otherwise, but it strikes me as downright stupid that the Air Force insists on having Airmen pilot their Predators all the way to touchdown.

Now, I can understand having a close-tethered "man-in-the-loop" for weapons releases or snap recon taskers, but my reporting on automatic landing systems leads me to believe that there's no reason whatsoever to have pilots landing drones from Nevada (or wherever else they're remotely piloting those drones) every time.

Colin reports in his interview with outgoing AT&L chief John Young that the Pentagon purchasing czar was miffed that the Air Force declined to retrofit their Predators with autonomous landing systems. He cites dozens of crashes that might have been avoided had the service embraced the system.

Youngs spokesman, Chris Isleib, later sent an email to reporters slightly changing the numbers. "Since 1994 the Air Force has procured 195 Predators. 65 have been lost due to Class A mishaps," he said. Isleib added that of the 65 mishaps, 36 percent are laid at the door of human error and "many of those attributable to ground station problems." About 15 percent of the total was destroyed during the landing phase, Isleib clarified in his email.

The Army, on the other hand, typically uses ALS for their Warrior drones and has a lower casualty rate, Colin reports.

Is this a direct causal relationship? I'm sure there are mitigating circumstances and opinions on the matter with some of the mishaps. But it seems to me a needless attempt to cling to the Red Scarf mentality of a service that's evolving more and more into a digital force of systems operators than the swashbuckling zoomies of yore -- and that's really not a bad thing at all.

Let's hope there's some other logical and practical reason than tradition here, but I'm worried Occam's Razor is at play.

-- Christian

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