Will The F-35 Be The Last Manned Fighter Jet? Physics, Physiology, and Fiscal Facts Suggest Yes

Earlier this month Navy Secretary Ray Mabus remarked that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter “should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly.”  This sparked a lot of discussion both inside and outside the military about the advantages, vulnerabilities, and ethical concerns of armed remotely piloted aircraft.  I think Secretary Mabus is likely to be proven correct in his prediction because physics, physiology, and fiscal facts are on his side.

First, the way air-to-air combat is conducted has changed.  As my CSBA colleague, Dr. John Stillion, notes in a recently released report, Trends in Air-to-Air Combat: Implications for Future Air Superiority, ”over the past few decades, advances in electronic sensors, communications technology, and guided weapons may have fundamentally transformed the nature of air combat.”  He goes on to write that for about the first fifty years of aviation, “pilots relied on the human eye as the primary air-to-air sensor and machine guns and automatic canon as their primary weapons.”  But the human eye can only spot an aircraft-sized target up to about 2 nautical miles in range, and aircraft cannon are only effective to less a nautical mile.

>>>Read the full article in Forbes