09 February 2007

Predator Kicks Raptor Ass

The U.S. Air Forces new F-22 fighter is expensive (over $200 million each) partly because of its extensive array of electronic sensors. The air force, looking to get this expensive bird some work, considered sending a few to Iraq. There, the F-22 would use its sensors to detect enemy activity on the ground. Problem is, the F-22 sensors are tuned to detect much fainter signals present during a high altitude air-to-air combat.

When tested closer to the ground, the F-22 sensors were overloaded. The fix for that problem was to re-tune the F-22 sensors, and the spiffy new F-22 sensors and hardware are amazingly reconfigurable. But at this point someone pointed out that, it was a lot cheaper to buy more Predators, especially the larger Predator B (which cost about less than five percent of what the air force is paying for F-22s). The Predator is cheaper to operate, can stay in the air longer, and can be easily fitted with less expensive sensors, better suited to the noisy ground level environment.

The big bottleneck with Predators is training crews fast enough. Since Predators stay in the air for 24 hours or more per sortie, you need several shifts of crews. New operator stations (using multiple flat screen displays and display software based on computer game technology) now enable one operator to handle two Predators simultaneously, but the new stations were supposed to make it possible for one pilot to run up to four UAVs at once. Didn't work out that way, although improvements in the operator station software, and the availability of more experienced UAV jockeys, might fix that.

In the meantime, F-22s are being sent to the Pacific. There, as air superiority fighters, they pose a very real threat to the Chinese and North Korean air forces.


What makes more sense? $200 million for one fighter that yet has to fire a shot in anger, or 40 UAVs that are proven in combat and have racked up dozens of kills?? Yeah, yeah, I know the Raptor is supposed to be a kick ass air superiority fighter, but right now there is no air war going on. All of the fighting we're doing is in the dirt and the Grunts would benefit more from 40 Predators than they would from one Raptor.

Besides, between the F/A-18s, F-15s and F-16s that are already in the inventory, we can knock any other Air Force outta the sky. But there are two things working against the idea:

(1) The USAF is commanded by fighter-jocks who want the newest, coolest toys.

(2) It makes too much sense.

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