The moment of truth is approaching at the cruising speed of an unmanned air system (UAS). Is this the end of the manned military aviation? Will we see unmanned vehicles replacing combat aircraft?
The debate is between industry people and those who have spent hours in the cockpits of fixed-wing aircraft and rotorcraft.
It featured earlier this week in a speech by retired Maj Gen Eitan Ben-Eliahu, former commander of the Israeli air force. After mentioning all the missions currently performed by UAS, he said that it is premature to talk of the end of manned platforms. “ An unmanned air-to-air mission is not a fantasy, but belongs to the future,” Ben -Eliahu said.
The retired general, who is now the chairman of an Israeli UAS manufacturer, added that while unmanned systems offer considerable savings in acquisition, life-cycle and training costs, they lack deterrent power.
“UAVs will not contribute enough to deterrence to prevent war,” he said.
These words were not accepted by many that attended the AUS&R conference on land, air and naval unmanned systems in Israel, which ran from 26-28 November 2013.
So the debate is heating up. Israel has not reacted to reports from Gaza about UAS attacking people who are, according to Israel, terrorists .
But if you look around, the picture is very clear. It will not happen soon, but many missions, including very complex combat ones, will be performed by UAS of all kinds and shapes.
The designers of UAS in Israeli industry are aware of the opposition from the air force, but they point to other evolutions in aviation that at the time were presented as impossible. “Think about going from four engines to two engines [on] airliners and from three- to two-man cockpits in the same airliners and you can see the direction. The technology can be stalled but cannot be stopped,” said an Israeli defence source.
But at the same time, asked if a computer-controlled platform could substitute manned combat aircraft, one of Israel’s top UAS designers said: “We are very, very far from that point and unless some dramatic breakthrough happens in technology, the human mind will continue to control the war in the air.”
So the debate is on and is very hot. Only time will tell who is right.