Indian Air Force

The future is unmanned

By The Statesman

The manned fighter aircraft is dead!

The Air Warfare Symposium, conducted by the US Air Force Association on 27 and 28 February, 2020, may go down in history as an event where history was foretold. It was here, on the morning of 28 February, 2020, that Elon Musk, the quintessential disruptor, set the cat among the pigeons.

In a room overflowing with Air Force personnel, many fighter pilots among them, Musk famously predicted the end of the manned fighter aircraft. Much consternation followed, and copious amounts of newsprint was invested in the counter-narrative that flowed, mainly from the US Air Force and its veterans.

Notably, much of the criticism of Musk’s proclamation was aimed at targeting him personally as a ‘head-line grabber’, rather than to disprove his assertion through solid logic and evidence. This is probably indicative of the fact that Musk’s prediction may hold more than a modicum of truth.

History Tells a Story. History is replete with examples of path-breaking inventions being viewed with disdain at inception, and thought either impractical or even impossible. For instance, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in 1918 was quite dismissive of aviation, and had famously said that “airplanes are interesting toys, but of no military value.”

The past Century, and the significant role that air power has played in conflicts therein, from WWI and WWII to the Gulf Wars as well as the 1971 Indo-Pak wars, bear testimony to the inaccuracy of Marshal Foch’s proclamation.

However, in a similar vein, it may be imprudent to wish away the monumental technological advancements of recent years and the potential for change that they portend, merely because such changes may be undesirable, sound improbable or, in some cases, seem outlandish.

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