II(AC) Sqn pilots see unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) as a viable alternative to the manned aircraft for certain missions, particularly suppression of enemy air defences, and because of the political pressure to avoid casualties. A flight commander says the difficulty with UCAVs "is the physical pushing of the button. Is that a target? The humanitarian aspect of the job is a very big issue." A II(AC) pilot, however, says that if a targeting picture can be datalinked in real time back to the control cabin, there is little difference between what the UCAV operator sees and the view of the Tornado navigator flying at medium and high altitudes.

Using unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) for tactical reconnaissance is commonplace. A II(AC) pilot says: "With a state-of-the-art sensor, they will be as good as us. The only thing that would be lost is the targets of opportunity [when a pilot may point the cameras at a previously unknown target]."

RAF Chief of the Air Staff Sir Richard Johns says UCAVs are a consideration for the Tornado replacement. He says: "The job of air forces is to generate air power, not to keep aircrew in aircraft cockpits."

The Royal Netherlands Air Force's commander Lt Gen Ben Droste is less sure about offensive UCAVs because of the desire to avoid collateral damage. Station Commander RAF Wittering agrees. A human can decide whether to drop the weapon, pull off or hit another, more valuable, target.

Source: Flight International