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« Robots as Strategic Corporals | Main | Response to Brynen »

Culture Change (In the Near Future)?

One of the implications of the use of unmanned aerial vehicles(UAV) - remotely piloted - is a direct challenge to the culture of the USAF (and likely other air arms). By way of background, in the 30s and early 40s, there were "flying sergeants" in many air arms such as the USMC and the RAF. By the end of WWII the enlisted pilots were gone or on their way to being gone, and when the USAF was established in 1947, all Air Force pilots were commissioned officers.

Meanwhile Army aviation became a critical component built around the helicopter and most helicopter pilots were Warrant Officers as they stilll are today. "Line officers" (not an Army term) do fly but mainly to perform the standard officer roles in units of command and staff functions. While this never seemed to bother the Air Force or the Navy, it does seem likely that the introduction of UAV - both armed and unarmed - may well impact on Air Force Culture. This is likely because Army UAV are piloted by enlisted soldiers while "rated" commissioned officers pilot Air Force UAV. (One of my students here was recently selected to become an Air Force pilot and expressed concern that he would be required to "fly" from an office 7,000 miles away from his targets.)

So, the question arises as to how air arms can justify the expense of officer pilots for drones while the Army is using enlisted soldiers to do essentially the same job. As much as the USAF would like to maintain its currrrent policy, the economics (especially in this era of competing demand for scarce resources) of the situation fairly dictate enlisted UAV pilots in the USAF with a consequent expansion of the enlisted ranks and a concommitant reduction in commissioned ranks.

Such a tangled web we weave! 

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