It’s the end of an era; the end of daredevil fighter jocks, who could outmanoeuver and outshoot enemy planes in heroic dogfights, and wreak havoc on their targets. The end of pilots with the ‘right stuff’. They’ve been made redundant by technology.
Artificial intelligence, missiles, and drones are the new face of the Air Force. Perhaps that should be the AI Force, as smart systems have proved themselves more than capable of defeating humans in air combat, and are vastly more proficient in navigation and reconnaissance. Looking for enemy missiles or vehicles? AI does it best!
Which is not to say that all combat and support aircraft are fully autonomous. Ground crews still need to refuel and prep them for missions, and precision strikes are still guided by remote control. But now the nerds are in charge, and you don’t need to be able to withstand 9G forces if you’re flying a screen from central Colorado.
The Navy has resisted this change the longest; after all, it takes real skill to land a jet on an aircraft carrier. But even these behemoths are being repurposed as floating drone bases, with drone factories below decks, to make replacement aircraft on demand. That’s the best reason to let AI do the flying, and the fighting. Zero human casualties means you can keep fighting indefinitely – robots are expensive, but expendable.
Veteran fighter pilots haven’t all been retired; there’s still a place for them developing training programs for the AI systems, and teaching the college geeks who run the remote-control missions. But for many it’s time to hang up their wings or join the Space Force. Air Force Generals have known for a while that there could come a day when planes no longer need humans.