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Light Fighters... interesting article and worth a read IMHO.

https://warontherocks.com/2022/02/the-light-fighter-is-the-air-forces-manned-unmanned-team-solution/

Author leaves room for discussion for what I would call mission requirements vs platform requirements, that is what is the mission and then what is the platform required or capable of meeting those technical / performance requirements. 

How many UCAVs / UAVs would it need to control, at what distance, how resilient to EA to that supplied link, how much organic capability for offense/defense for this platform, etc... most of that I think would be a result of what the cognitive load is determined to be put on the crew, I think a two crew platform is necessary if in control or directing more than 2 unmanned vehicles.  Highly scientific WAG but reasonable I think.

Stretched and modified version of the T-7 could work

T-7A-Red-Hawk-1280x720.jpg

Range / Endurance is the original sin I could see adapting what is already a modestly sized jet but high bypass engine option, CFTs, stretch to add internal fuel might fix that.  

Launch, ingress 500 NM with an hour on station, supersonic dash for self protection, carry two defensive missiles.

Edited by Clark Griswold
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1 hour ago, nsplayr said:

Good article and the author is a good dude I’ve flown with before, can vouch for his smarts.

Good deal, I googled his bio and read his abbreviated CV from Bogi Dope, sounds like a 20 lb. brain type.

I hope the concept he's promoting (manned/unmanned teaming) can throw a life line to Scorpion as it is already flying and has done this, albeit probably at level of capability less than envisioned in his article but its a starting point to expand from.  

https://theaviationist.com/2018/08/10/interesting-video-of-the-textron-scorpion-cockpit-in-manned-unmanned-teaming-demonstration/

An improved Scorpion could also fit this role probably, might need higher performance with other capes integrated into it (ECM, A-A radar, expanded comms capabilities, etc..).  Probably a bigger, heavier aircraft and more expensive to accquire/operate then but likely still very affordable.  

Just a thought but Scorpion is likely adaptable to an unmanned version or optionally manned, that could bring an economy of scale to the procurement (both manned/unmanned platforms sharing 69%+ parts) to get a platform built for this and other missions, not just adapted from another platform designed for another.

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Not to turn the focus away from the jets and the overall new potential approaches to aerial combat, but I've gotta wonder if those developers and program managers at Textron realize just how phenomenally cool and seemingly unmatched in complexity and impact their work is/could still be.

I'm the absolute furthest from an expert on this topic, but it seems the only limits on a "situational awareness and informed action" hardware/software platform like Synturian is the data available to it, and then ability of the developers behind the scenes to harmonize that and present the results to the team in the jet in the most clear, actionable way. To do that, then have your hardware/software platform potentially adopted/acquired by the US Air Force, and then one day get positive feedback from the pilots in the air and the guys on the ground benefitting in real-world combat scenarios...hard to imagine a more fulfilling civilian gig.

Having spent a good amount of time in "Big Tech", even the coolest projects I've seen or even helped deliver in some fashion with tens of thousands of lines of code or more can't hold a candle to something this. Not even close (and the screenshot of the noted UI--assuming that's the actual UI and not a sim/proof of concept--is surprisingly easy on the eyes, too, to boot!).

I can't wait to see what the future holds here--truly incredible technology and potential!

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Light fighters can’t get to the South China Sea. On top of that they aren’t survivable at all. For the peer threat, I see no niche.

Also, MUMT is the AI of the 2010s. It’s getting funding, but good luck making it economically scalable.

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I love the concept but realistically why do this from a fighter sized aircraft? The main argument is due to fighter type speeds so why not use something with more legs but also higher Mach number capable speeds? Put a Gulfstream out there and control this swarm and not have to worry about the handoffs as often. My $0.02.

I liked the part about how there’s not a cognitive difference between RPA aircrew and fighter pilots. I believe that but cognitive abilities aren’t why some people are more gifted in airplanes (not saying all fighter pilots are better pilots than other types of pilots but you get my point). I’m sure we’ve all flown with 140 IQ types that suck and knuckle draggers that couldn’t spell cat with two lifelines but are brilliant pilots. It’s just way beyond brain power (even though that is important).
 

If this is a creative attempt to go from a RPA to a fighter, then I wish these dudes luck. 

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2 hours ago, Negatory said:

Light fighters can’t get to the South China Sea. On top of that they aren’t survivable at all. For the peer threat, I see no niche.

Also, MUMT is the AI of the 2010s. It’s getting funding, but good luck making it economically scalable.

Legit critique as to SCS but in fairness most fighters, land or carrier based are gonna have trouble operating there with their existing ranges and the inherent vulnerability of tankers and other support assets as the PLAAF grows in A2AD and A2A capes with weps like PL-15, SA-400, etc... all that till the IADS, A2AD threat is suppressed, most of the fireworks initially till all that is done will be at long range with stand off weps lobbed at anything of value detected

Not to quibble but I will debate the level of survivability they could possess and given the intention of how they are to be used, in a type of stand-off tactical coordinator role, they (they manned part of their manned-unmanned team) will likely only be slightly to modestly inside the WEZ as the unmanned players they could be controlling will be getting up close and personal with the threat or target to be attacked.

They could fill other roles if the loyal wingmen are attrited or as needed: sensor node, weapons truck, jammer, etc.. in the big fights and in the other missions like homeland defense, uncontested ops, training, etc... they make dollars and sense as they will not be overkill and thus avoid opportunity cost problems in the overall budget, they will enable savings to afford bigger better toys needed for other missions where the requirements are higher.

1 hour ago, Danger41 said:

I love the concept but realistically why do this from a fighter sized aircraft? The main argument is due to fighter type speeds so why not use something with more legs but also higher Mach number capable speeds? Put a Gulfstream out there and control this swarm and not have to worry about the handoffs as often. My $0.02.

I liked the part about how there’s not a cognitive difference between RPA aircrew and fighter pilots. I believe that but cognitive abilities aren’t why some people are more gifted in airplanes (not saying all fighter pilots are better pilots than other types of pilots but you get my point). I’m sure we’ve all flown with 140 IQ types that suck and knuckle draggers that couldn’t spell cat with two lifelines but are brilliant pilots. It’s just way beyond brain power (even though that is important).
 

If this is a creative attempt to go from a RPA to a fighter, then I wish these dudes luck. 

I thought the same thing, business jet modified for this role too.  More crew, more space for gear, more fuel, more range / endurance, etc... but without getting close to anything classified, it would depend on the capability of the links, range of the links, to the unmanned platforms. 

If they can operate at a range great enough that the platform is out of the WEZ, then a non-tactical platform could work, if not I see the need for something that could turn at 5+Gs and accelerate above M1 to defend itself as it had to get inside a WEZ to do its mission or close enough to be attacked by leakers.

That is the $69,000 question, the capability of the links in a heavy EA / EW environment to make this concept work, that can not be discussed on the BO SCIF's pages.

I think the idea of a modified T-7 seems the most practical to me for this platform (if acquired) like the AT-6B for AOW because of the piggybacking on an existing program / aircraft.  There already exists a logistical supply network, maintenance, operational knowledge, trained crew, etc... 

Concur on the assessment of intellectual ability and airmanship / flying ability. 

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The concept has legs, but things like the T-7 won't be anywhere near it. RPA wingmen need to keep up with B-21/NGAD/5th Gen.  Will be really interesting to see what comes of this in the future.

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The concept has legs, but things like the T-7 won't be anywhere near it. RPA wingmen need to keep up with B-21/NGAD/5th Gen.  Will be really interesting to see what comes of this in the future.

So do you think a heavyweight is needed?
Something like a Superhornet or 15EX?

Modified Growler might work or if we wanna repurpose what we have, modified Strike Eagle, with a crap load of money for the software/hardware needed but if you could locate that in pods with the capability of interacting and using what the Mudhen has now that might enable rapid fielding

Purpose designed platform would be great but unless the size of the fleet was pretty large it would suffer the curse of small numbers and big price tag for a specialty aircraft


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If it’s just going to be a stand off datalink enabler, I struggle to see why it should be manned whatsoever, at least for the peer fight. SAMs have made it too threatening to have a 4th Gen or less fighter like platform just chilling outside.

Why not just go the other way and use a platform like a repurposed B-1/B-21/KC-46. Yes, all of those platforms have issues, but my point is having a larger aircraft that actually doesn’t require 15 air refuelings to get towards the fight could be beneficial. Plus, larger airplane = more cooling, electricity, payload, apertures, and options.

There are still niches for fighters, I think. The niche is direct platform confrontation with enemy fighters. If you’re just trying to fight a j-20, don’t hand me an unmanned aircraft until AI is ready. But if you’re confident in the abilities of the unmanned platforms, the only thing the mothership needs is fuel and connectivity - not to have afterburners or be single seat.

What the author proposes would be useful in the N Korea/S America/Iran/etc confrontation. But we really need to get ourselves to focus on what we want to succeed at. Trying to be the service that can simultaneously effectively fight terrorism and 5th Gen fighters is a large contributor to why we feel less ahead than we have in the past. Get a friggin acquisition strategy together and don’t walk the line balancing both priorities!

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1 hour ago, Negatory said:

If it’s just going to be a stand off datalink enabler, I struggle to see why it should be manned whatsoever, at least for the peer fight. SAMs have made it too threatening to have a 4th Gen or less fighter like platform just chilling outside.

Why not just go the other way and use a platform like a repurposed B-1/B-21/KC-46. Yes, all of those platforms have issues, but my point is having a larger aircraft that actually doesn’t require 15 air refuelings to get towards the fight could be beneficial. Plus, larger airplane = more cooling, electricity, payload, apertures, and options.

There are still niches for fighters, I think. The niche is direct platform confrontation with enemy fighters. If you’re just trying to fight a j-20, don’t hand me an unmanned aircraft until AI is ready. But if you’re confident in the abilities of the unmanned platforms, the only thing the mothership needs is fuel and connectivity - not to have afterburners or be single seat.

What the author proposes would be useful in the N Korea/S America/Iran/etc confrontation. But we really need to get ourselves to focus on what we want to succeed at. Trying to be the service that can simultaneously effectively fight terrorism and 5th Gen fighters is a large contributor to why we feel less ahead than we have in the past. Get a friggin acquisition strategy together and don’t walk the line balancing both priorities!

Valid points but to discuss the concept the author proposes (light fighters specifically for this role) is that he is cost conscious in the future budget environments. 

Light fighter fleet with advanced C2 capability for UCAV employment is probably more affordable than large platform C2 fleet, inferring that from his total argument(s) made in his article and I also think it provides a level of redundancy / resilience to the overall mission capability when the shooting starts.  Not to be cold but somebody is likely to get shot down, if you have an inexpensive and many fleet vs an expensive and few fleet that overall capability survives long enough to help the Joint Team achieve the objectives vs being destroyed on Night 1 or 2 and now what? 

As to our acquisition strategy, we have stumbled but we have to fight over the range of conflicts not just the high end fight.  Not saying you are saying we should only focus on that just stating my belief it is a bitch of a problem to correctly spread resources over constantly changing operational requirements, it's always going to be lagging somewhat.

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8 hours ago, Clark Griswold said:

Purpose designed platform would be great but unless the size of the fleet was pretty large it would suffer the curse of small numbers and big price tag for a specialty aircraft

Repurposing is N/A to the peer fight, so yeah we need to figure out how to build a bunch of new RPAs for MUMT in a timely and cost-effective manner. I hope they succeed. 

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9 hours ago, Clark Griswold said:

Valid points but to discuss the concept the author proposes (light fighters specifically for this role) is that he is cost conscious in the future budget environments. 

Light fighter fleet with advanced C2 capability for UCAV employment is probably more affordable than large platform C2 fleet, inferring that from his total argument(s) made in his article and I also think it provides a level of redundancy / resilience to the overall mission capability when the shooting starts.  Not to be cold but somebody is likely to get shot down, if you have an inexpensive and many fleet vs an expensive and few fleet that overall capability survives long enough to help the Joint Team achieve the objectives vs being destroyed on Night 1 or 2 and now what? 

As to our acquisition strategy, we have stumbled but we have to fight over the range of conflicts not just the high end fight.  Not saying you are saying we should only focus on that just stating my belief it is a bitch of a problem to correctly spread resources over constantly changing operational requirements, it's always going to be lagging somewhat.

I agree with your points. Everything should be somewhat attritable. I guess the biggest issues with little fighter like that are that they won’t the power, cooling, or apertures to make datalinks effective from a long range. And they won’t have the legs to not require tankers everywhere. It’s a tough problem.

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7 hours ago, brabus said:

Repurposing is N/A to the peer fight, so yeah we need to figure out how to build a bunch of new RPAs for MUMT in a timely and cost-effective manner. I hope they succeed. 

Concur

3 hours ago, Negatory said:

I agree with your points. Everything should be somewhat attritable. I guess the biggest issues with little fighter like that are that they won’t the power, cooling, or apertures to make datalinks effective from a long range. And they won’t have the legs to not require tankers everywhere. It’s a tough problem.

Valid points, for my two non-influential cents this is an idea worthy of a test & concept proving project (if there is not a classified one currently running now - no idea, not even remotely connected to that world).

Try it on multiple platforms, light fighter / bomber / modified biz jet, variety of conditions.  Gather data, profit.

 

This (a US produced light fighter) needs to be part of the portfolio of affordable systems we produce and sell to less economically capable allies and partners to continue those relationships we made with supplying systems like the F-5, A-37, Hawk SAM system, etc...  

Manned light fighter, UCAV, Manned light attack, Drone swarm / Swarm defense, etc...

One other stray thought on the article and the idea proposed by the author is kinda chicken or egg question to me?  What system is this going to control?  One developed simultaneously or one developed after some data and experience gathered controlling RPAs we have now (MQ-9s or MQ-25s)? 

Light Fighter has potential, ideal for ANG / Reserve service, FMS, etc...

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18 hours ago, ClearedHot said:

Shocked people don't see why these platforms need to be manned.  Have you heard of China and their capabilities?

Which “platforms” are you specifically referring to?

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24 minutes ago, brabus said:

Which “platforms” are you specifically referring to?

assume he's referring to the capability to interfere with links with respect to the platforms being unmanned and i agree

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assume he's referring to the capability to interfere with links with respect to the platforms being unmanned and i agree

That’s where local AI backup and autonomy would kick in…

There is a spectrum of autonomy between remote control drones that go stupid and only do what they are preprogrammed to do and the autonomous metal killing machines herding mankind into camps once we turn SkyNet on…

If we want to compete with the ever shortening collection/decision/coordination/action sequence of events any next war will be fought in we are going to need to get comfortable with the idea of the machines making a lot of their own decisions.


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There may be a spectrum of autonomy where that capability could exist, but have you seen our current level of demonstrated autonomy in action, whether military drones or like full on commercial airline autopilots? Leaves a LOT to be desired.

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There may be a spectrum of autonomy where that capability could exist, but have you seen our current level of demonstrated autonomy in action, whether military drones or like full on commercial airline autopilots? Leaves a LOT to be desired.

I mean sure, but some of us are old enough to remember when the Air Force said auto land for a Predator was impossible and the Navy said there is no way you could safely bring a drone aboard a carrier. It’s gonna take effort no doubt. Meanwhile we are busy trying to figure out what will be best to drop bombs in Toyotas with.

The bigger thing is as bad AI and drone autonomy may mess up now… the pink component in the jet trying to dodge/duck/dip/dive umpteen threats while dealing with weather, worrying about fuel, where the hell is my wingman, What was that last radio call, and put steel in target…. It won’t do any better. There is only so much that bio organic computer in the cockpit can process it doesn’t matter how optimized the displays are.

We are a few years out from seeing real wide scale tactical level fielding of directed energy weapons and dealing with an enemy that enjoys precision and depth in targeting that used to be our sole domain who is actively embracing AI augmentation in its targeting/decision cycle…

Start spending and researching now so in 6-9 years when the bill comes due we can send the robots.


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I mean sure, but some of us are old enough to remember when the Air Force said auto land for a Predator was impossible and the Navy said there is no way you could safely bring a drone aboard a carrier. It’s gonna take effort no doubt. Meanwhile we are busy trying to figure out what will be best to drop bombs in Toyotas with.

The bigger thing is as bad AI and drone autonomy may mess up now… the pink component in the jet trying to dodge/duck/dip/dive umpteen threats while dealing with weather, worrying about fuel, where the hell is my wingman, What was that last radio call, and put steel in target…. It won’t do any better. There is only so much that bio organic computer in the cockpit can process it doesn’t matter how optimized the displays are.

We are a few years out from seeing real wide scale tactical level fielding of directed energy weapons and dealing with an enemy that enjoys precision and depth in targeting that used to be our sole domain who is actively embracing AI augmentation in its targeting/decision cycle…

Start spending and researching now so in 6-9 years when the bill comes due we can send the robots.


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In the future I might buy that, and agree we should pursue aggressively because in the present my LNAV/VNAV system still pushes the throttles up as it simultaneously tells me drag is required to meet the next altitude/airspeed in the descent. And predator based systems still turn the illogical direction given the choice…but that’s probably just one GA software engineer from the 90s still screwing the AF.

P.S. George if you just don’t add power you’ll be on path and it will be fine.
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Pardon the ignorance as most of this talk is over the tactical level I think of on a daily basis and moves a lot faster but it seems like this is focusing on lighter fighters as an all or nothing and not the integration of it with everything else. We don’t need a plane, manned or unmanned, that can do everything alone.

I’m sure there has to be a way to scale light fighters, MUMT, AI, etc. discussed on this thread and others. If you have a dedicated platform, like a light fighter, it can be upgraded and advanced with the advancement of the tech. Even the relatively new C-130J is getting a block upgrade finally to give us the ability to finally fly RNAV and its all in the computer(s).  Then you can scale to the fight/threat based on the level AI.  Low AI, keep it within the Loyal Wingman system where it has close control from a manned fighter. Better AI, let a KC-46/AWACS type C2 system sit back out of the WEZ and pick targets on a map and let them go do their thing.

While you are doing a plug and play with the AI why not the mission focus as well. The concept was used with the Littoral Combat Ships with modular mission modules.  Need a missile truck well load the bad boy up with AIM-120s. Need EW/EA, fill the mission bay with jammers. ISR, sensors and a sniper pod or something.  Need more range on the link then throw a relay in the plane.

Scale it to the threat with formation make-up.  Flying DCA/OCA then probably more missile wingman. SEAD, maybe a mix of EW and missiles. Depending on the level of AI it won’t matter if it’s an F-35 controlling 1-7 of them of a larger C2 plane controlling multiple flights.

Without knowing a lot, a light fighter seems to fit the bill. Small enough RCS to be survivable enough in a peer fight to make the potential loss justifiable with the ALR. Fast enough to employ with manned fighters. It would also be cheaper to employ in a lower level flight were we can now save flight time of manned fighters on other more pressing engagements.

Again, sorry it this is irrelevant to the thread or if I am talking out my ass. It’s been known to happen more times than not. Standing by for spears.

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Then you can scale to the fight/threat based on the level AI.  Low AI, keep it within the Loyal Wingman system where it has close control from a manned fighter. Better AI, let a KC-46/AWACS type C2 system sit back out of the WEZ and pick targets on a map and let them go do their thing.


You've got it backwards. The fundamental problem here is the autonomy not only needs to be at a high level for an unmanned fighter to be useful, but also how it integrates with the manned systems needs to be figured out, to include how goal setting/communication, human/AI teaming, and to train the people managing the unmanned fighters. This is an area DoD and defense contractors have been bad at; human factors and human system integration many times becomes an afterthought, often because the requirement is "do human systems integration" without defining any real metrics for what "good" is.

Asking a single seat fighter pilot to manage 1+ unmanned wingmen places a lot of new and different cognitive demands on that pilot, all on top of flying and employing their own jet. The more monitoring the AI needs, the better suited it is for having the "pilot" control it from the back of a tanker or AWACS so the human in the loop can focus on controlling/coordinating the actions of the unmanned fighter. Especially since you have the benefit of now having a person controlling the fighter out of harm's way.


While you are doing a plug and play with the AI why not the mission focus as well. The concept was used with the Littoral Combat Ships with modular mission modules.  Need a missile truck well load the bad boy up with AIM-120s. Need EW/EA, fill the mission bay with jammers. ISR, sensors and a sniper pod or something.  Need more range on the link then throw a relay in the plane.


The more mission sets you add to the AI's capability set, the higher and harder your integration demands become.

The LCS is used as a case study in human factors/human systems integration as an example of a failure. The ship was designed to operate with a minimal crew, with automation doing most of the heavy lifting.

Manning the ship and training the crew became a nightmare. By reducing the manning, the crew that was left has to be system experts, not only in their specialty but in multiple specialties to provide some resiliency within the crew. This drove higher/longer training requirements in addition to needing a higher selection criteria for entering training. Throw in modular mission sets and you've increased your integration and training tail.

It also created a retention problem, since their prime pool of sailors for the mission would be at the point of deciding to stay for a career or getting out of the Navy. However, going to LCS meant they wouldn't be doing "normal" NCO stuff (supervising junior sailors), and made them less competitive for further promotion.
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Another idea… yeah I know...

If standoff and LOS are at a premium then you have to go high to keep in contact with your flying A-69 Terminator UCAVs.

This violates the author's idea of a cheap and plentiful platform(s) but a high flyer at 60,000' has LOS to over 250 NM.

https://www.everythingrf.com/rf-calculators/line-of-sight-calculator

Maybe a compromise and a two seater high flyer that has other mission capes

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50 minutes ago, Clark Griswold said:

Another idea… yeah I know...

If standoff and LOS are at a premium then you have to go high to keep in contact with your flying A-69 Terminator UCAVs.

This violates the author's idea of a cheap and plentiful platform(s) but a high flyer at 60,000' has LOS to over 250 NM.

https://www.everythingrf.com/rf-calculators/line-of-sight-calculator

Maybe a compromise and a two seater high flyer that has other mission capes

Yep, better platform than a light fighter is required for things like this + power + real estate on the aircraft for apertures/radio connectivity. I agree 100%.

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