Crew optional KC-135 drone motherships

This automation stuff is getting out of hand. I understand why, I just don’t agree with it. And I really don’t like tankers deploying multirole drones. Tankers are already targets; this makes them bigger ones.

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What I worry about is the loss of tanker crews who go beyond their assigned tracks to help pilots in need. From Vietnam to the GW, we’ve all read about tanker crews who either ignored or loosely interpreted orders in order to rescue aircraft that wouldn’t have made it home otherwise.


I’m still waiting for the AI that replaces the bureaucrats or the bloated admin structure :wink: :wink: :stuck_out_tongue:

  • I’ve been [trying to live with something kind of related here (in my mind - may be a stretch but) with our local fire department - they can find money to pay those people that administer things, which is fine, (and there’s a lot of them) - but guess who doesn’t get paid? It’s not AI of course but the underlying symptoms are similar.

On the last call I felt like I was having a heart attack - I’m getting old - (big mistake telling the medical system about this), came back smelling like a BBQ gone wrong, ‘civilians’ complaining they didn’t think we were doing “enough”, bleeding even (the paramedics loved it - they got to do something), etc. Looked around and thought, there’s something wrong here. The local bureaucrat(s), both of which I know, one personally: “we don’t have any money…”.


I am not looking forward to old age which is now just around the corner. But I would not trade it to be young again today. I grew up an adult in a world without mobile phones and internet. And without robots flying our planes, driving our cars and teaching our kids. Yes, I read that now and I clearly see Charlton Heston telling protesters to “Get off my lawn!”. That’s why old people should die. Not just because the brain and body become feeble. But because the future is too painful to continue to be part of.


Nevermind Eric. There is room for you in our Zombie apocalypse survival bunker*.

You just need to get to the other side of the world and we can shout at clouds together.

  • No. I don’t really have a bunker.

Reminds me of the bridge and the guard story @jross . I am unable to find it but here is what I remember.

A town builds a bridge and decided they needed a guard to watch over it so it would not be vandalized. Then they decided the guard needed a supervisor to make sure he was doing his job and finally the supervisor needed a manager to oversee the entire staff. This went on for a few years and then money got tight and the town needed to figure out how to save money so they fired the guard and only the guard.



Tankers are legitimate high value targets. It’s not like they’re talking about launching drones of a hospital ship. If we’re going to be operating the tankers already, then the more value we can get out of the airframe being up in the air, the better. We already have to support it, escort it, etc. lets get more value out of that time.

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You raise a good point. However, as counterpoint: maybe eventually (a generation or three down the road), we’re more willing to risk an unmanned tanker aircraft (perhaps even one that’s cheaper (yeah right!) to build/operate than a current manned KC. Maybe we build a fleet of MQ-25 type aircraft and integrate them into the strike package even more closely than current tanker assets?

Eventually (and I hate this), many of the fighters won’t be manned anymore. Having an unmanned tanker asset probably makes sense, and move the acceptable risk horizon to the right just a tad, doesn’t it?


Something like the MQ-28?

The biggest problem I have with ‘drones’ is that as ground, air and naval forces become more automated, without sons & daughters coming home in body bags, the barrier to using them becomes less. However, the loss and suffering of non-combatants and civilians caught in the crossfire is no less real.

And. This sword cuts both ways because while one ‘side’ might be able to monopolise the tech for a short period, it won’t be long before everyone has it.

All this is while we have people involved in the decision process (i.e. kill-chain). Remove them and we are truely through the looking glass.


Maybe. But it’s just hard to imagined that removing the human factor from the go/no go decision is always beneficial to the guys and gals putting their asses on the line. Thinking of the tanker that flew into North Vietnam airspace to rescue a shot up Phantom and an incident in GW1 when a Strike Eagle was down to a few hundred lbs, couldn’t raise the tanker on the radio due to damage, but that the tanker just materialized far away from their assigned track, saying that they had heard someone was in bad shape so the headed their way out of their own initiative. I guess that could be someone operating from a ground station as well.

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They are absolutely targets. we agree. I don’t like the possible implications; the law of unintended consequences if you will. Those drones will reduce the amount of fuel that tanker can offload,will reduce combat range, will reduce flexibility to do things like drag an airplane because who knows what critical mission may be counting on the drones from the tanker. I think it will increase workload on the crew. I think it opens the door for mishaps when those drones try to dock on a flying gas can. And, again, it’s a bigger target for OPFOR and goes up on the priority list than it already is. It’s one thing to shoot down a strategic tanker. It’s another if that tanker also has drones that supply information and support to the war fighter.

I also don’t like the idea of “Crew Optional”. There needs to be two brains & four eyeballs in large aircraft. I don’t care how safe they claim it is, You need the human in the loop.

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