Robotic systems can’t replace a pilot’s gut instinct
BY COL. JAMES JINNETTE, USAF
Unmanned combat systems have fundamental limitations that can make their technology a war-losing proposition. These limitations involve network vulnerabilities, release consent judgment and, most importantly, creative capacity during air combat and close air support (CAS) missions. Although futurists might assume these problems away with grand ideas of technologies yet to be developed, during the next few decades these limitations will remain critical constraints on our ability to provide airpower in the joint fight.
AIR FORCE COL. JAMES JINNETTE is director of the Air Force Element at the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and a recent Army War College graduate. Prior to his current posting, Jinnette was an F-15E squadron commander. He has completed three close air support deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Good article……………. I agree with the author………. This is what you guys have been preaching for years………
Thanks Bud — not that we didn’t have help from high places in getting the message across, perhaps most eloquently and convincingly by (now retired) MG Jim Molan, Australian Defence Forces, who during his tour as Iraqi Coalition Authority Chief of Air Forces, personally witnessed the fire & smoke of air-to-ground warfare many times. Based on his observations and experience over there, he argued continually against the U.S. Air Force paradigm for heavy reliance on unmanned aircraft and fast movers in the COIN environment, and for the increased deployment of right-sized, forward based manned aircraft in support of the CAS and ISR missions, with particular emphasis on covering shortfalls in maneuver warfare support.
My complements to Colonel Jinnette for his courage in coming forward with a brilliant presentation of themes that although frequenly discussed and commonly understood, run counter to the ‘approved beliefs’ now holding sway among Defense Air Warfare gurus. I note that he covered all the bases without once mentioning the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) Loop. This is an important oversight. As documented by the Congressional Research Service and other sources, the all-force average OODA Loop time of eight minutes is for engaged ground forces about as treacherous as eight seconds on a wild bull. Both scenarios are likely to play out badly without immediate support close by.
Although implicit in his discussion, Colonel Jinnette might have placed heavier emphasis on other inherent deficiencies of remotely controlled unmanned flight, such as: bandwidth-limited higher order functions; no ‘self’ preservation instinct or reflex; no ‘see and avoid capability’ (essentially rendering their airspace ‘off-limits for manned aircraft, or other high-value UAVs); no inflight failure and/or combat damage diagnostic and repair/work-around capability; inability to multi-task; limited spatial awareness (the so-called ‘soda-straw’ syndrome); lack of organic higher order ‘intelligent functions: cultural awareness and memory, value judgment, risk assessment, inductive and deductive reasoning; and most important — poor military effectiveness, based on 1) a combination of a lengthy, tender, and expensive logistics tail to support forward area operations located half-way around the world, and 2) literally tens of thousands of empty and passive ‘staring’ hours logged per each confirmed useful actionable event or combat action.
Despite these compelling arguments for manned alternatives to a proliferating UAV force — even with their acknowledged limitations — that have been circulating through the back channels of warriors’ blogs and the writings of air power cognoscenti for years, much less the occasional hand-wringers that make it out the door of GAO — very little has changed over the past few decades; nor is any significant change in the offing into the foreseeable future. Why? Because Defense Acquisition has been subverted by a Congressional-Industrial Complex that — all the prolix declarations to the contrary notwithstanding — ranks Military Requirements and Effectiveness a distant third behind political featherbedding and short term profit-taking. The long view, emphasizing realistic preparations for the war we have, and are likely to have, is swept away in the revolving door of personnel replacements in DOD and the private sector, and by the political tides always awash on The Hill. One might argue that Congress is the one body empowered by Law to restore long-term discipline to the process; but face it — as presently acculturated, asking congress to do that is akin to asking a surgeon to give himself a heart transplant.
So the beat goes on — and the Jim Jinnette’s, Jim Molan’s, Dan Moore’s, Greg Wilcox’s, Dick Osborne’s, and many, many more who should be listened to have had their say and moved on: and instead of Seekers and Cessnas and turbo-Mustangs and turbo-Skyraider equivalents, and YO-4s, and even some ‘dusted-off’ OV-10s, we send our ground warriors Hawks, Predators, and Reapers, and then tell them that “help is on the way.” (In eight minutes.) Maybe. Read on …
Phi Beta Iota: This may well be the single most important aritcle we have read in this decade, for it places the common-sense professional perspective of a human in direct juxtaposition with the idiocy of an Air Force bureaucracy run amok. The Colonel lays out what we have all known for some time, that 360 degree situational awareness is not something that can be programmed into a computer or sensed remotely. We are deeply moved by Col Jinnette’s utterly profound and impecably presented argument. Col John Boyd, USAF (Ret) would be saluting him, and all of us who are disciples of John Boyd salute him now. The U.S. Air Force, and to a lesser but still incapacitating extent, the U.S. Navy, have completely lost sight of what their missions are and should be, to the point that we believe that Close Air Support (CAS) should be taken away from the Air Force and the Navy as missions, and turned over in their entirety to the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps (inclusive of sea-based CAS, if we can ever get the Navy close enough to shore to be useful). The DoD “grid” that the Air Force is largely responsible for via the satellite constellation, is archaic, dysfunctional, vulnerable, and a marvelous Potemkin Village ready to be burned down by the first Chinese cigarette in outer space (we mix metaphors, but you get the idea). We need a long-haul Air Force that can execute two Berlin Airlifts at once, the first with organic air and the second with conscripted commercial air (FedEx and UPS without the fees). We need a Navy that can do Peace from the Sea. We need a whole bunch of stuff, and the Air Force is not helping as it rushes from one PES to another chasing technical fantasies that never materialize into the Full Money. Go figure.