be in the loop for when a deviation from the programmed
mission is required. This might entail an aircraft in distress
calling for the tanker to proceed directly to it. Other plausible scenarios include the UAV tanker’s program needing
to be altered.
UAVs are not infallible. Yes, humans fly UAV reconnaissance missions and make decisions on where to go and
what to look for. They fly UAV attack missions and “pull the
trigger” to ensure target accuracy. But even when humans
are in the loop, mistakes are made and lives are lost.
Everyone is aware of the phenomenon called the “fog
of war.” The term seeks to capture the uncertainty in situational awareness among warfighters in the heat of battle,
despite their full 360-degree, spherical knowledge of the
environment. They make mistakes or misinterpret what
they see or sense. When a UAV is placed into battle, even
with a human controller, the problem is compounded.
Controllers can see only what the cameras on the UAV
show them. While they can train those cameras to get a
better view, the cameras cannot create a complete picture of
the environment. And the controller cannot use his or her
senses to fill in the blanks. Only a human pilot in an aircraft
can do that. And even then, mistakes can be made, as has
been demonstrated on too many occasions.
In the constantly changing environment of combat,
either in the air, at sea or on the ground, only a human
being with an unconstrained core processor that can
change programs in a millisecond can stay abreast of—or
ahead of—ongoing events. Human cameras, human sensors and human brains far outperform a computer-driven
machine in these fluid scenarios. You can call me old-fashioned, but I still believe I can outperform machines
in an unscripted conflict.
There are many excellent uses for UAVs in the civilian,
commercial and military arenas. But their value must be
weighed carefully against the desired outcome and mission
to ensure the best application for the devices.
Adm. Richard C. Macke, USN (Ret.), is a former Joint Staff
J- 6 and a former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command.
contact: Adm. Richard C. Macke, USN (Ret.),
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