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Adm. Mike Mullen

F-35: Last Manned Fighter?

Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, seems to think that may be the case.

So, what the aviation side of this is, I think, is very much focused on this change. And I think we’re at the beginning of this change. I mean, there are those that see JSF as the last manned fighter — or fighter-bomber, or jet. And I’m one of — you know, I’m one that’s inclined to believe that. I don’t know if that’s exactly right. But, this all speaks to the change that goes out, you know, many — obviously, decades, including how much unmanned we’re going to have and how it’s going to be resourced.

I’m not one inclined to believe that necessarily (at least not with the technology today). Although I did read that the Air Force will, this year for the first time, train more UAV pilots than fighter pilots, I think there will always be a role for fighter pilots in combat. Why? Because of the air superiority role. UAVs – drones if you prefer – can fulfill the close air support role, and even a tactical and strategic bombing role. But, at least with the technology we have today, I simply can’t see an unmanned “fighter” having the advantage over a manned fighter in the air superiority role.

And without air superiority, you don’t fly UAVs.

Here’s someone who agrees with Mullen:

I guess I’m with Mullen; there are currently jobs that manned warplanes can do that drones can’t perform (human pilots are more visually capable than even the best drones, for example), but a) drones are getting better, b) drones are so much cheaper, and c)taking the pilot out means that you can do a lot of funky, interesting things with an advanced airframe. This isn’t to say that the F-35 (or even the F-22) have no role; they’ll continue to be useful frames for the jobs they’re intended to do for a substantial period of time. But I don’t think there’s a next “next generation” of fighter aircraft.

Addressing b) above, things like this don’t help the manned fighter side.  But then “cheap” doesn’t always translate into “most effective” either.