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The F-35 JSF in all its glory
Lockheed has proposed a JSF that fly by remote control

Lockheed Martin’s new single-engine F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the latest Swiss Army Knife of fighter aircraft for the US military.  The plane, which is destined to replace the F-16, AV8-B, A-10 and F/A-18, will be available in three variants:

  • F-35A: Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL)
  • F-35B: Short Take-Off Vertical Landing (STOVL)
  • F-35C: Carrier Based Variant (CV)

Lockheed is now proposing a fourth variant that it has been working on for the past two years. The design proposal is for an unmanned version of the F-35 that could operate as a hybrid -- that is, it could be configured to either fly by remote or if need be with a human pilot in the cockpit. Many have stated that the F-35 would be the last manned fighter jet for the Air Force as the military has been pouring more and more dollars into unmanned combat systems. Lockheed's proposed unmanned J-35 would bridge the gap between the past and the future of aerial combat. From the Washington Post:

The Pentagon, looking to save money, has accelerated spending on unmanned systems since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. This year, it allocated $2 billion for unmanned aircraft and millions more in the supplemental budget, compared with $363 million in 2001. The figure is projected to reach more than $3 billion by the end of the decade. What has resulted is a hodgepodge of unmanned vehicles, such as small, bomb-seeking robots that can be carried in a backpack, and airplanes that provide surveillance for days at a time. The systems have become bigger and more expensive in recent years, such as the Predator, built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., and the Global Hawk, which has a 134-foot wingspan, comparable to the Boeing 737.

Lockheed has been playing second fiddle to other names in the industry, namely Boeing, when it comes to unmanned aircraft. The price tag of the F-35 program has also ballooned from $201 billion to $276 billion. The price increase along with the government's increasing fascination with unmanned drones is probably why the initial order for 2,000 planes could likely drop significantly in the near future.

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By Ringold on 8/17/2006 5:18:53 PM , Rating: 2
Some of you seem to work in the field or have extra insight, so curious what feedback I'll get..

Two problems, one moral, one strategic.

1) If anybody looks at the list of contractors it becomes immediately clear that war or the breakdown of current alliances would make production of the F-35 impossible. Excluding that, even a serious strike against a major contributor, like England, would mean serious supply chain problems. Am I the only one that thinks this is insane to have the ability to replenish our own forces being beholden to other coutnries that could essentially stop shipments of vital finished parts and sections if their government disagreed with our own? What about these UAVs, are they in a similar situation with contractors? Would it be worth it to have our own isolated defense complex?

2) The moral issue. War is avoided and diplomatic deals are brokered because war is hell. There was an episode of The Original Series that dealt with this. When war no longer means body bags for the US, the slipery slope becomes all the more slick. Meanwhile, opponents win the hearts of their homelands in these middle eastern countries because of two reasons: a chunk of metal is no replacement for a human face, and it looks exactly what it is: cowardly. Where is the line drawn? Is it right to remotely control some device, drop a bomb, kill some civilians as often as the enemy, and then get up from your computer game-like job and have a beer at the bar?

I have a feeling enemies wont have such moral qualms, if we didn't have UAVs then Russia and China would start running circles around our manned aircraft and we'd hear from laughing clear from Moscow, but I at least think it'll be important for our generation to keep in mind. War hasn't touched us but for one day, in one small place, since the Civil War for the most part. Even as it is today, does it feel like we're at war in Walmart?

RE: Problems
By rrsurfer1 on 8/17/2006 8:01:22 PM , Rating: 2
To the first question - The nature of global economy and also research into these advanced weapons systems often requires expertise of countries other than the U.S. Sure we could do it all ourselves... probably, but it would take longer, and probably be even more costly.

To the second - Just like you stated, I think it is inevitable that other countries will develop these unmanned weapons, it's already occuring. We either have to keep up or risk not being on a level playing field. In an ideal world we could all just get along, unfortunetely we don't live in that world.

I don't know where you draw the line. I do know, that if we could fight the war in Iraq with no human losses on the US side, we would have. And that seems to be the direction everything is going.

RE: Problems
By Ringold on 8/18/2006 6:17:48 PM , Rating: 2
Every time a commander on the ground on Iraq forces his soldiers to present a more human face (making sure their faces are clearly visible, no sunglasses or goggles or masks, knocking on doors instead of knocking them down, etc) more success is seen, and cases of that get reported weekly. Last one I read was in Newsweek, in Ramadi, something like a 30% drop compared to neighboring areas. A robot doing that kind of human job would just create an even deeper hatred, would it not? Cowards, they'd call us, and since its not a traditional "force on force" conflict, wouldn't it be true? How could steel win "hearts and minds"? And it cant be denied success can be had without that.

On the economic issue though, thats true, the costs would possibly skyrocket, but it definitely wouldn't be impossible. Some of it could pay for itself indirectly as well if we kept the door open for slightly used military tech being released to private industry for whatever use the tech may have. To do that now we'd have to get all of Europe it seems to agree to releasing secret military tech. Strategically, I guess it's just a matter of preference, but I'd think the higher cost would be worth being absolutely invulnerable to the whim of our fairweather allies.. Same allies that wanted peace in Lebanon but are now too big of cowards in the face of Madrid and London's attacks to actually commit troops. Great allies!

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