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US Navy air warfare director sees manned-unmanned split for future air wing

Eventually, most of US Navy (USN) future air wing could consist of unmanned platforms, said Rear Admiral Gregory Harris, USN Air Warfare Division director, on 30 March during a Navy League naval air discussion.

“Right now, we’re driving towards an air wing with a 40–60 unmanned-manned split,” Rear Adm Harris said.

The navy, he added, was driving to at least half of the air wing being unmanned, while, over time, he foresaw a 60–40 unmanned-manned split.

However, he noted, future air wing operations would be anchored a “system-of-systems” approach that would team manned and unmanned platforms and systems. However, he also voiced concern about the tasking of some operations for unmanned systems, such as air warfare.

He cited recent computer simulations in which a computer defeated an F-16 aircraft in a simulated environment. However, he noted, the computer had been programmed with the exact “energy state” of the F-16 – the aircraft’s speed, altitude, and other flight parameters.

“In the real world, that’s something the pilot is making judgment on,” Rear Adm Harris said, relying on information gleaned from watching the adversary and training in air combat, which is not so easily programmed into an unmanned platform.

“Having an unmanned platform out there as an adjunct missile carrier, that’s not a step too far or too soon,” he said. That unmanned vehicle, though, would be directed to shoot by another manned platform or system.

However, he added that he found an unmanned platform that makes its own decisions on which targets they want to shoot on to be “a stretch”.

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