Author Archives: lvctrevor

The pilot: a fuzzy future?

In the seventies, the aviation technical press was full of stories about the unmanned aircraft and its future potential. Pilots were aghast. How can they fly aeroplanes without that all important man in the loop, they argued. Machines are all very well but decision making must be left to the human in the hot seat; after all, that person is a PILOT!

Even the most superficial study of commercial airline accidents shows that the majority of accidents are caused by human error. Logically, it therefore follows that if the human is removed, the accident rate will decline.

You won't win!

You won’t win!

In the nineties, after it was announced that commercial aircraft could be flown perfectly safely without a pilot, the public became a little concerned. To placate this concern it was agreed to still control the aircraft from the ground but put a pilot and a dog on each flight deck. The role of the dog was to bite the pilot if he tried to touch anything and the task of the pilot was to feed the dog.

Pilot sensitivity about unemployment continues and has been aggravated by the rise of the unmanned aerial vehicle. The UAV has been accepted nomenclature for ages but those poor, under threat and insecure pilots needed to emphasise that although unmanned, there was still a pilot in the loop hence, a platform name change to remotely piloted air system or RPAS.

Alas that security blanket has been largely removed as the USAF is now recruiting non-aviators to fly its UAVs. What, I hear you say, a person flying a UAV who hasn’t got thousands of hours on fixed wing aircraft – how can that be?

If it wasn’t already bad for the pilot fraternity, a recent trials report published in the Journal of Defense Management and authored by a team from Psibernetix Inc, the University of Cincinnati and the US Air Force Research Laboratory has shown that pilots flying against artificial intelligence-based adversaries in a combat mission simulator always came off second best.

It would appear that the fuzzy logic employed in Psibernetix’s ALPHA AI architecture is superior to the brains and experience of our fast-jet jocks. Is this really the beginning of the end of the pilot? Their future is certainly fuzzy.

Look mum, no hands.

Why is the world’s global military procurement system in such a mess?

Probably the largest investment that any person will ever make in their lifetime will be a house. This may be a first-time buy or the need to upgrade to a bigger house due to children, aspiration or job relocation.

Let’s presume that this house will cost $750,000. For the average person that amount of money is significant, so a process to buy the house must be in place, along with a funding stream, before the torturous business of viewing the good, the bad and downright ugly can begin.

House for sale in west London

Before embarking on such a domestic procurement, most individuals, frequently in conjunction with their partners, will draw up a list of requirements that can be achieved within their budget. Some are essential and some are ‘nice to have’. Houses are then judged against these criteria – number of bedrooms, convenience of public transport and outside space being examples – prices are then compared and the deal is done. Simple.

This buying or procurement process is not particularly intellectually trying or difficult to comprehend; it’s common sense and that is why the military procurement authorities adopt exactly the same methodology when procuring military platforms, training equipment or services.

Firstly, they recognise the need to move house (let’s say procure a new aircraft to replace an older one); they then obtain a funding stream from their treasury (get their mortgage); they draw up a list of requirements that the new aircraft must possess (not number of bedrooms but you get the drift) and; finally, look at the good, the bad and the ugly.

The advantage that those who procure for the military have over the average house buyer however, is that they have a staff of hundreds or perhaps thousands to look in detail at how the aircraft meets the list of requirements (technical specification).

One then has to ask, if it’s that simple, why is the world’s global military procurement system in such a mess?
According to Business Insider, during the 2000s, the DoD spent $51.2 billion on procurement programmes that were eventually cancelled. They’re too numerous to list in full, but programmes like RAH-66 Comanche, VH-71 Presidential Helicopter, Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and CSAR-X will be recognised by many.

Rah-66

Cancelled – the Boeing–Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche

In Australia, the current Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyer is currently three years late and an estimated A$1.2 billion ($870 million) over budget.

In the US, when programmes are awarded, it has become the norm for them to be automatically contested by a losing competitor. A case in point is the US Army’s fixed-wing pilot training programme that was awarded last year, but is now dormant while the DoD addresses the protest.

According to some senior executives in the US training and simulation industry, the DoD’s adoption of its lowest price, technically acceptable policy is leading to a stifling of innovation and is still failing to prevent the filing of protests after contract award.

Another factor that specifically affects training surrounds platform data. When a country buys an aircraft for example, the manufacturer has a data package for that aircraft that is central to the design of the simulator.

If the procurement authority doesn’t ensure that the data package is included with the aircraft, it must be procured separately at high cost. It’s a bit like buying a house and wanting to take your first shower, and realising that there’s no connection to the water mains.

Despite many initiatives over the years, governments seem incapable of efficiently procuring military equipment. Delays, cost-overruns and failure to address the details seem to be the norm.

Collectively, this leads to delaying in-service dates, the creation of capability gaps and accepting equipment or training services that don’t meet the requirement. In other words, we’re now living in a shack!