The well-sourced insidedefense.com website reports this week that the Navy will spend $6 billion over the next five years on unmanned aircraft such as the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) system. Proponents of using unmanned aircraft for every mission under the sun might feel that one percent of the Navy’s budget isn’t enough for these supposedly revolutionary systems, but as I note in an issue brief posted elsewhere on today’s Lexington homepage, the proponents are probably wrong. Despite their endurance and versatility, unmanned aircraft are fragile systems that will seldom survive contact with a real enemy. So spending scads of money on them just because the Taliban can’t shoot them down probably doesn’t help us to prepare for more serious challenges.
On a related matter, Michael Hoffman reports in the August 17 Defense News that Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz wants “a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles to do virtually every mission” in the future. Hoffman is a meticulous writer who understands the Air Force inside out, so the story is presumably accurate. But unmanned aircraft won’t survive unless the U.S. has control of the air space in which they operate, so we better stop killing manned aircraft programs before we lose the air dominance that makes other missions possible.
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