The Insane Future of War: Drones as Force Multipliers

F-35 Flight Helmet

Advanced technology built into the pilot helmets of US military aircraft such as the F-35 and F-22 (and now the F-15 and F-16 Block 70/72) will allow a single pilot to control dozens or hundreds of deadly drone aircraft flying in swarms.

Fighter-jet controlled drones could… be programmed to fly into heavily defended or high-risk areas ahead of manned-fighter jets in order to assess enemy air defenses and reduce risk to pilots. Furthermore, given the fast-evolving efficacy of modern air-defenses, drones could fly into high-threat or heavily contested areas to conduct ISR, scout enemy assets and even function as a weapons truck to attack enemy targets.

Advances in computer power, processing speed and AI are rapidly changing the scope of what platforms are able to perform without needing human intervention. This is mostly developing in the form of what Air Force scientists describe as “decision aide support,” meaning machines will be able to better interpret, organize, analyze and communicate information to a much greater extent – without have humans manage each individual task.

__ Manned/Unmanned Fighter/Drone Teams

Some older F-16 fighter planes are being converted into drones, some of which will be made into autonomous attack craft. Others will be semi-autonomous, flying as advance escorts to scout out enemy positions and firepower along the route.

But having F-16 drones plan and fly their own missions is only part of a much larger picture. The future of the U.S. Air Force may well depend on advanced platforms like F-35s commanding fleets of unmanned drones which can act as additional ears, eyes, and shooters in the sky during battles.

The Air Force has what’s called an “open mission system” where it designs all platforms to network together and share information. Essentially, even an unmanned drone will have decision-grade data fed to it from everything from satellites in the sky to radars on the ground.

Lockheed Martin calls it the “loyal wingman” program, where drone systems like old F-16s can seamlessly network with F-35s and think on its feet.

F-16 Drones
F-16 Block 70/72

The F-16 fighter jet is being constantly updated and is expected to be in service until 2060. But large numbers of older F-16s are already considered obsolete to the US military. Conversion of these older aircraft to pilotless drones can be done relatively economically. Such drones will carry significant armament in a wide range of roles.

Ukraine Wasn’t Ready; Taiwan Will Be

Brian Wang offers an insightful look into Taiwan’s defensive capability which will be arrayed with deadly force against any attack that communist China may bring against the island nation:

China would try to pound Taiwan first with missiles and planes. Taiwan has about 400 fighter jets to defend. Taiwan has thousands of missiles for antiaircraft and antiship. Taiwan is 60% mountains which makes it very easy to place missiles in rock caves where they are difficult to find and destroy. It seems likely that less than half of an amphibious assault force and troops in helicopters could reach the beaches of Taiwan. This would mean the first wave would be outnumbered 8 to 1.

The current Russia-Ukraine war shows that all of China’s modern jets are vulnerable to US missiles.

Taiwan is doubling its Harpoon missile inventory to 500. The Harpoon is considered among the best and most advanced missiles in America’s arsenal. Harpoons are antiship missiles. Harpoon missiles cost about $1.4 million each.

Taiwan has forty new Paladin mobile howitzer artillery. The M109A6 Paladin is capable of firing up to four rounds per minute to ranges of 30 kilometers (16 miles). The US has precision munition upgrades for these guns.

Taiwan is mass-producing domestic land based antiship missiles. The current-model Hsiung Feng II and III missiles and mobile launchers are being deployed from 2022 to 2026. The second phase is the mass production of extended-range (400 km, 240 mile) Hsiung Feng III missiles and mobile launchers from 2023 to 2026.

China Will Fail Against Tawan

Russia’s Putin had many delusions about the ease and speed with which Russia could take over its impoverished neighbor Ukraine. It is likely that Xi has many of the same delusions with regard to Taiwan. Perhaps Mr. Xi should read Brian Wang’s article above, before he commits a grave mistake even worse than the one that Mr. Putin has committed.

Turning Small Amphibious Attack Ships Into Deadly Aircraft Carriers

Much Cheaper Than a Full Sized Aircraft Carrier

 The idea to basically turn big-deck “Gator Navy” amphibious assault ships into light aircraft carriers packed with F-35Bs first emerged five years ago, but it has its roots in AV-8 Harrier operations going back decades. A whopping 20 F-35Bs will be conducting sustained operations followed by surge operations from the USS Tripoli. The event will test the ability of the Marines to operate two full F-35B squadrons from one ship at one time and could have major impacts on what the stealthy jets, and the ships they deploy on, can bring to the fight in the future.

What 20 F-35s Can Do

F-35 fighters have demonstrated the ability to knock out drones, drone swarms, cruise missiles, and enemy aircraft long before being spotted. These 5-gen fighters are also being given the capability to knock out ICBM nuclear missiles in the boost phase.

But it is the F-35’s ability to serve as the “mother-ship” for drones, drone swarms, and other advanced unmanned attack platforms that highlights the futuristic aspects of this new breed of multi-purpose war aircraft. The improvised small aircraft carrier pictured above can easily carry 20 F-35 VTOL planes, each of which could potentially serve as an “in the air” controller for dozens or hundreds of drones flying complex missions.

Twenty F-35s, each controlling one hundred potent semi-autonomous drones means that about 2000 deadly aircraft will be set in motion by this one small amphibious assault ship. And each of the 2000 drones in the swarm formations may be armed with between 2 and 10 specialized precision missiles and bombs.

In effect, having a single pilot operate multiple drones offers a massively expanded sphere of attack angles and possibilities, greatly complicating an enemy’s ability to respond. The intent is to sustain a varied, high tempo of combat power with lower risk to pilots and at greater ranges than manned aircraft can operate. More dispersed areas of attack, including different kinds of air vehicles, altitudes, sensors and weapons, present substantial challenges for enemies hoping to defend against them. 


The technical advance is quite significant, as it not only reduces latency in terms of data transmission but naturally massively streamlines command and control, such that fifth-generation fighter aircraft such as the F-22 and F-35 jets can control the flight path, mission scope and sensor payload of nearby drones to test enemy defenses, blanket areas with forward-surveillance or even fire weapons when directed by humans. Perhaps F-35 jets could operate a small forward fleet of mini-drones to jam enemy radar, overwhelm sensors or network targeting data back to air and ground nodes.

Multiple Drones and Drone Types Fulfill Multiple Missions

The complex attack capabilities of the F-35 and F-22 5-Gen fighter craft could be augmented appreciably by real-time intelligence from the U2 high altitude reconnaissance aircraft, of which 32 are still in service.

An emerging Lockheed Martin Skunk Works program called Project Hydra just demonstrated this kind of air-to-air and air-to-ground connectivity in an exercise with the Air Force and Missile Defense Agency. The experiment, according to a statement from Lockheed’s well known and historically secretive Skunk Works division, “successfully linked a U-2, five F-35s and an F-22 in the air and provided real-time 5th Generation data to operators on the ground.”

U2 High Altitude Reconnaissance Linked with F-35, F-22

No one is saying that this type of high level coordination is taking place now in the skies over Eastern Europe. But it can be said that U2s can be modified to fly as high altitude drone reconnaissance aircraft, and that if their real-time intelligence can be linked via F-35 and F-22, it can also be linked via advanced F-15s and F-16 Block 70/72s. In other words, a modified unmanned U2 can be a crucial player in the coordinated drone swarm attack force.

Drone swarms can be designed for use in virtually any environment — land, sea, air, or space. Swarms of all types might be launched from aircraft, rockets, submarines, surface ships, or on land. The possible configurations and combinations of attack are too numerous to list. Thinking about attack and defense in the context of complex drone swarms of an autonomous and semi-autonomous nature, stretches the mind to an uncomfortable degree.

For weeks, we have been observing the unprovoked invasion of a poor and relatively unarmed sovereign nation by a much more powerful neighbor. The style of invasion by Russia in 2022 seems little different than the way that the Bolsheviks invaded Poland in 1920, or that the USSR invaded Finland in 1939.

But in the future, expect to see the use of more and more drones. Lots of drones. In swarms.


Russian drones in Ukraine underperform

Possible US drone options for Ukraine

China’s new amphibious assault ships lack key tools for effective use

Blackhawk helicopter drone conversion

Marines sink ships using drone rocket launcher

US Navy drone ship can neutralize a wide range of threats

New US stealth long range bomber drone aimed at China

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