back to article US killer robo-plane makes strike without remote pilot

A US killer drone has carried out a lethal strike from the skies above Iraq, for the first time remotely controlled entirely by non-aircrew-rated, enlisted soldiers. The milestone would seem to foreshadow redundancy for large communities of military pilots in coming years. Corporate art of an armed Warrior-Alpha We don't …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That is one scaring looking mother!

    Do you think that's deliberate??!

    I would love to see some meaningful stats comparing the number of errors you get with these flying (and now killing!) laptops, and human pilots.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I forsee...

    ....a diminishing amount of penis waggling between the towel slapping boys in the future...heck these guys may even hit the target...

  3. Mark Nelson
    Black Helicopters


    So much for Pilot Arrogance from now on.

  4. Albert Gonzalez

    OK but iweneed some alternatives ...

    As long as there is NO WAY to operate the plane without a human in the loop, i can be comfortable. BUT i'm in no way comfortable at beign exclusively dependant on robots to fly. There HAS to be some trained corps able to fly mechanical planes ... just in case.

    Also there have to be some fully manual planes aroud ... also just in case.

    Call me paranoid if you wish.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Makes sense

    First of all, the US military has had non-officer pilots going back to World War II. Nothing new there. (e..g. The P-38-equipped 82nd Fighter Group during WWII had "sergeant pilots".) The high level of automation of these RPV's does a better job at the mechanics of flying that a fully manual flight system anyway, regardless of who is at the controls. Having said that, a Predator has no more firepower than an artillary piece traditionally fired by enlisted men, it simply has different advantages, strengths, and limitations. The real change needed is some type of control handoff or real-time video link to the platoon leadder on the ground calling in the airstrike.

    Sergeant Pilots:

  6. Lionel Baden

    damn stinking titles

    ahh i can see it now battle ships surrounded by swarms of automated defense drones

    can i buy mini ones for my home please :)

    mines the one without the remote control in it

  7. LPF

    This means nothing

    This is the same as troops calling in arterliry, or tanks to provide cover. This is not going to reduce manned flight!

    This is only possible when you have complete aircontrol with no opposition. Somehow I dont think this

    would be happening if there was an opposing airforce to shoot them down.

    And got forbid, anyone, works out a way to jam satellite comunication systems, because then bye bye

    drone control.

    Drones are like any other weapon of war, they are only of use as part of an intregrated army.

  8. Kevin Campbell
    Thumb Down

    History repeating itself

    Once again, the military establishment (at least over here in the US) has failed to learn from history and is therefore doomed to repeat it.

    Prior to the little excursion into Vietnam, military planners/designers thought the (aircraft) gun obsolete. After all, missiles could do all that from a safe distance, with greater accuracy, blah blah blah.

    Reality, as most folks know, turned out to be rather different. Relatively simple and inexpensive MiGs and their cannon were kicking butt at the beginning of the war while complex and expensive missiles failed in that miserable environment. Defense contractors and military planners had to jury rig gun pods onto early model F4 Phantoms. Later edition Phantoms had internally mounted cannon, lessons having been learned the hard way...

    If we proceed too far down this path, we are going to lose an even MORE valuable military option than aircraft mounted cannon. Even though properly trained pilots are expensive (and occasionally rather obnoxious in their swagger), they are an essential option in any military equation. Just as you can't win a war without "boots on the ground,"* there will come a day when you can't win a war without a HUMAN in the air.

    * before anyone starts, I remind you of the tried and true maxim "conquest is easy, control is not". There are many ways to conquer without boots on the ground, but not control.

  9. Pete Silver badge

    outsourcing opportunity?

    There are only two jobs that an airforce has to do:

    * destroy stuff

    * carry things (and people) around

    Now it seems like the first of these functions has been deskilled to the point where normal people can do it, So all that leaves is the logistics/air-ambulance role. Presumably, the vast majority of this work could be given to DHL or RyanAir or somesuch. The only bit they might have a problem with is moving wounded people out of a combat zone - or getting them (in an unwounded state) there in the first place.

    If that is all that an airforce is destined to be, it kinda begs the question of whether they still qualify as a separate branch of the armed services, or should be treated as another specialised group within the army - such as the Engineers, or Signals.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Can I hack this?

    I have a couple of hedge fund managers and dirtball banks that I'd like to have this device pay a visit to. They've screwed all of us over, perhaps it is time we return the favor.

  11. George

    Great news...

    ...but I only forsee one issue, if there are several grunt officers calling for one asset (death dealing asset!) then how would it make the decision of which is priority. Being able to talk the pilot into a target is a much used tactic and also allows some human thinking and rationilisation on weapon useage.

    So what if one grunt fancies laying down some massive firepower on a non-immediate threat but somebody else is up to their neck in it, how does the computer decide?

  12. Steven Hunter
    Black Helicopters

    Uh, can we get a real picture?

    The photo in this article is either a screen cap from a video game/simulation or real life needs better anti-aliasing...

  13. Scott

    @Kevin Campbell

    ISTR the problem in Vietnam was that the US RoE demanded visual confirmation before engagement, so close-range dogfights were inevitable, and the F-4 and its missiles weren't ideal for that kind of thing.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    @Kevin Campbell

    "before anyone starts, I remind you of the tried and true maxim "conquest is easy, control is not". There are many ways to conquer without boots on the ground, but not control."

    That's so not true. We only have that problem because modern warfare is NOT centered around killing everything in a 50 mile radius.

  15. Stevie Silver badge

    Right Brothers

    This is as clear an example of a violation of strict demarkation of duties as ever I saw in my years with the ASTMS (The Association of Stroppy, Tossbag, Meanial Scum), and we're not standin' for it!

    I calls for a walkout, followed by a week of sick-outs, go-slows and works-to-rule until management, in this case the supreme command, understand that they can't just trample 200 years of tradition at will!

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Steven Hunter


  17. Colonel Panic

    A modest proposal...

    We live in hard times, and expense must saved.

    We have more and more drones, more and more surveillance footage, and fewer and fewer qualified intelligence analysts and pilots prepared to take the strain.

    The surveillance drone footage can be made available on the interweb, and members of the public can log into view it live.

    If someone spots a person of ill-intent bent of destroying our way of life, he can log onto one of the drones flying in a holding pattern in theatre, take control and light that sonofabitch up.

    It would keep costs down, keep more eyeballs on targets and give frag-hungry teenagers something to do. Hell, people would even pay for the privilege. Win-win proposition.

  18. Mark Nelson


    We would not have this problem if the USAF would respond promptly when the guys on the ground called for help.

  19. Andus McCoatover

    When I was a lad... school in warwicksire, my mates - I had a couple, honest.. -

    and I debated making a model concorde. Daft as it sounds, one mate - "Chris" - reckoned he could get small jet engines going. He was fairly well qualified as:(1 - because we were at the same school where Sir Frank Whittle went - Leamington College for boys, and 2) Cos his dad was an engine designer for Rolls-Royce in Derby.*

    The other mate - Leon - made random number generating machines for his science teacher. Using RTL (Resistor-Transistor Logic-- precursor to DTL - Diode-transistor Logic, then PAL - peace At Last with Transistor-transistor logic) to see if fish had sixth sense. (Shroedinger's cat-like). Control logic, if you will.

    Me? I had fun making model planes. Big ones. 10cc engines - one on each wing. Half a fuc*king moped on balsawood and a prayer, in full control on a radio channel shared on CB (childrens band) by some bloke called "Big Ducky".

    That plane could've had someone's eye out if you weren't careful...

    Rememer, this was the era of Harold Wilson's "white-hot heat". We were right at the "Foreskin of Modern Technology"

    So. Good group of engineers. EXCEPT...

    We were fifteen years old at the time.

    Point being, I reckon I could make a "Predator" and shoot/crash anything/anyone I wanted with the technology I can get now.

    Worrying thing, I reckon I could make it viable for less than a grand. I don't need to fuc*k around buying fertiliser, and arousing the interests of BAM/YTFL/ökasg/ - whatever the Secret Plods are called now.

    * We tried Jetex - solid fuel efforts, but they were about as effective as lighting farts.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So if one shoots one of these planes down, is it man slaughter, murder or self defense?

  21. John Smith Gold badge

    @LPF, AC@14:44

    "This is only possible when you have complete aircontrol with no opposition. Somehow I dont think this would be happening if there was an opposing airforce to shoot them down."

    Good thing Johnny Jihadist can't get his hands on any man portable SAMs is it not?

    Oh wait...

    Can I hack this?

    Yes you can. (probably)

  22. raving angry loony

    next thing you know

    They'll just put these "arcade" things in schools and let kids fly "missions". And if you're good enough, you get invited to participate in "lan parties" where the missions have that extra bit of realism!

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is time we asked what we need in our armed forces...

    Maybe we don't, any longer, need a separate air force. Maybe UK isn't big enough to afford, doesn't have the enemies, is delegated specific tasks within NATO... so that a considered review of what our De/offense forces need to have is long overdue. Do we need a separate Nuclear deterrent when when we have HBOS, RBS, Lloyds/TSB and the boats crash into the other side anyway? Do we need aircraft carriers that can't launch/retrieve aircraft we are planning to use. Do we need aircraft carriers/Gunboats in any event as we have no Empire to project control over? What sort of wars do we expect to fight? When we've answered those questions we can say what sort of air superiority we intend to have and how THE UK!! intends to acquire and/or manufacture it.

  24. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    re: raving angry loony

    Sounds good until you start getting burn out in the kids flying missions all the time, until eventually one of them goes "F*** it" and nukes whatever country we're at war with.

  25. Anonymous Coward


    Sure -- where there are no surface-to-air defenses to worry about and no complex situations to deal with a remotely controlled strike is fine. Against anything like a comparably-equipped enemy who is not totally "out-teched" the situation is entirely different. Try flying one of these drones into Russian air-space :)

  26. Anonymous Coward


    Consider these drones as fit for purpose - blowing up stuff in 3rd world cesspits like Afghanistan, somalia etc. You don't need stealth or superjets and Tom 'Maverick' Cruise for that.

    Against a more powerful adversary, yes, better kit is needed. But that doesn't preclude using more advanced drones. Though you don't want them too smart, otherwise we may need to prepare to welcome our new drone'o'death overlords.

  27. John Smith Gold badge

    or indeed anyone with an actual air force.

    Even, possibly, an air force of other drones. Provided they have some kind of air to air weapon.

    Also note that this thing is well above the size of even a large RC plane. Its c 48' in wingspan and 26'. according to Whether or not it can remain at its normal operating height when acting as both a weapon carrier and controller (c26kft) is another matter. while its rotary engine should be a difficult target for heat seekers it may not be impossible. I think its more a question of contrast against the sky background.

    Or you could just get a reasonably sized RC model and crash it into the tail. In countering the complex threat you sometimes forget the simpler options.

    The good news is a real RC plane should have formidable trouble getting to the altitude and speed (120Kn flat out). History teaches that relying on altitude for immunity from attack has a very limited shelf life. The V bombers and the U2 demonstrated this is not a long term option.

    You could build a UAV which could pull 15g(or more) turns at very high angles of attack and shoot down anything else in the sky. But how much cheaper than an equivalent crewed aircraft would it be? These UAVs are not designed for that and maybe that's the point.

    When push comes to shove UAVs are expendable. Take their telemetry, learn from it for the next upgrade. A possible option (like some of the Vietnam era drones designs) would be to make some parts (especially the sensor packages) recoverable by better crash protection or some kind of ejection & parachute.

    It might be interesting to find out what Israeli practice has been. Their use of UAVs in the Lebanon were in some cases into areas with heavy air defence. I think they expected most of them to be destroyed.

  28. Gianni Straniero

    Same same, but different

    Who has firing control for Tomahawk Cruise missiles? Those don't need a pilot to fly them, so in a sense this is no different. Except that, having destroyed its target, the Predator UAV comes home, usually in one piece.

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