Water Cooler Talk: Autonomy, Swarms, and AI

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Message posted by Smythers (Member since 04/27/2023) on July 13, 2023 at 10:10:35 PST:

Water Cooler talk time because we are astounded, frankly astounded that the internet chatter about AI and autonomy is so, well, for the want of the better word, misguided.

Let me be clear on this one thing. In 2005 to 2010, we had available fully autonomous air vehicle technology in both the X-45 (Boeing) and UCAR (Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft), and UCAR was the defacto pinnacle of perfection, and a truly autonomous hunter/killer that just needed a mission outcome and permission to hit targets of opportunity). Then, both got canned and swept from the halls of the DoD, and forgotten about.

Fast forwards to 2023 and we read daily that 'we cannot do X', 'They cannot do Y', 'It isn't possible because...'. Well, a little Water Cooler Talk.

A) UCAV air to air tanking is done and dusted. If the DoD allowed it to spread out into a wider audience, it would happen overnight as all of the tech is either on unmanned airframes or sat inside projects that are a decade old or older in some cases.

B) Unmanned autonomy is available off the shelves. Dust it off, prep it up, and we would be able to field true hunter/killer teams inside an 18 months window.

C) If we hear 'unmanned are hackable and cannot communicate if in dense electronic warfare scenario' one more time? I think we will burst a collective blood vessel.

Here is what we have in 2023, and it is best to give an example.

Twelve unmanned escorts and a manned asset are headed into enemy territory. Manned asset selects say, 'ensure my survival', and starts their run. Around them, every single unmanned asset will now look at the route between their initial instruction point and the target, and start intense SEAD. Manned asset goes dark, but then gets bounced by a lucky group of fighters.

'Ensure my survival'

Without questioning, without any further instructions, the swarm questions itself as a whole as to whom has the best weapons, whom has the most fuel, and finally whom amongst them has the best sensor lock. Fight is on, and the UCAV, without instructions, turn on the enemy fighters.

Here is the clever part. Air to air combat is highly kinetic, and can be overwhelming, but the UCAV swarm has two tricks up their sleeve. MADL and laser Comm links. If MADL is jammed? They revert to laser. This way, an unseen 'mesh' is active between all of the involved UCAV and gives them immense situational awareness even as the manned asset slips away.

So how do they regroup with a stealthy manned asset without breaking its cloak of secrecy? Lasers. The surviving UCAV try to link back up directly, but if they are out of comms distance, they will revert to the satellite constellation, get their own position, get the position of the manned asset, and work their way BACK to an escort position if they have enough fuel and weapons to do so. If they don't? They simply inform the manned asset that they are returning to base.

That's available now. Right now. An airborne mesh of un-jammable lasers that expand and contract per mission requirements and it does not need any other input what so ever.

"Ensure my survival". What happens next is solely down to the UCAV escorts, and yes, they will even do a CHAMP and attempt to burn the aircraft from out under the enemy pilots. If you think that is impossible, you should see what an angry Growler will do to you if it turns all of its attention onto your airframe. No one can fly an airplane that has no control authority.

So here we are in 2023, and if the truth is told bluntly: Fear of losing pilots in seats created the single most disadvantageous scenario the US DoD has ever faced. We are behind in fielding ultra-long ranged UCAV strike assets for no other reason than a resistance to change.

Ironically here, had the low cost UCAV been in place since 2005, the manned assets could have been far more exquisite and far far more capable than they are until NGAD and Naval NGAD come on line.


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